FADGI Compliance: Making Sense of FADGI

The Library of congress follows the FADGI Digitization Guidelines

Starting January 1st 2023, any digitized document submitted to the National Archives or the Library of Congress must achieve a minimum 3 star FADGI rating. But what does that even mean?!

With this deadline quickly approaching, there has never been a better time to learn about FADGI, NARA’s new requirements, and the implications they may have when the time comes to digitize your records.

Our article below will demystify these new requirements and teach you everything you’ll ever need to know about FADGI.

What is FADGI?

The Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative, also known as FADGI, is an ongoing effort among U.S. federal agencies and independent experts to create a set of standards and guidelines for digitizing cultural heritage materials.

Within the initiative there are two distinct groups, the Still Images group, and the Audio-Visual group, each responsible for standardizing archival processes for their respective mediums. 

Working in tandem, the efforts of these two groups has led to the creation of a wide range of recommendations covering everything from specific metrics and technical specifications to general digitization processes and methodologies.


What is the purpose of FADGI?

At its core, FADGI is a government initiative to move away from paper records toward digital record keeping.

FADGI was founded on a shared belief that a single set of standardized guidelines would enhance the exchange of research, encourage collaboration among federal agencies, and provide the public with a product of uniform quality.

The main goal of FADGI is to address the evolving role of digitization in historical preservation, and the importance of faithfully reproducing records held in the public trust. 

What are the FADGI Digitization Guidelines?

The 2023 revision of the Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials is a working document created by the FADGI Still Image group that builds on more than two decades of shared experience of the cultural heritage imaging community.

This document contains technical specifications and best practices for federal agencies who need to digitize cultural heritage materials, including textual content, maps, photographic prints, and image negatives.

The intended audience for these guidelines are cultural heritage digital imaging professionals, and those who will be planning, managing and approving digitization projects for federal agencies.

The FADGI Guidelines are intended to be paired with the appropriate image analysis software, which is an essential component of any FADGI-conformant document imaging program. 

What is the FADGI star system?

The FADGI star system is an unbiased 4 star ranking system used to grade the quality and accuracy of a digital reproduction. 

Instead of relying on confusing specifications and exaggerated marketing slogans, the FADGI ranking system outlines 4 distinct quality levels of digital imaging, ranging from one to four stars. Higher star ratings indicate a higher quality image, with 4 stars being the maximum score. 

FADGI recognizes that not every digitization project requires perfect digital reproduction. Limited budgets, time constraints, and actual need all play a role in the level of quality required for a given project. 

In fact, there are many instances where creating higher tier images offers no clear advantage. FADGI addresses this directly with its 4 star rating system, clearly indicating the use cases for every quality level. 

The 4 possible scores of the FADGI star system are:

One Star Score:  This level of reproduction is acceptable for images that will be used to reference an original document, or when there is no intent on repurposing the content. 

Two Star Score:  This level of reproduction is appropriate for at home / in office scanning applications, when a second copy is needed for informational purposes only.

Three Star Score:  A three star image would be considered an accurate reproduction, good enough for almost every professional purpose, including professional reprinting, archival, and Optical Character Recognition (OCR). A three star minimum will be required for all government records submitted to NARA starting on January 1st, 2023.

Four Star Score:  Four-star images are state-of-the-art reproductions created at the highest quality level practical today, and are suitable for any application. 

How are FADGI star ratings calculated?

A digital image’s FADGI star rating is determined by evaluating a wide array of characteristics, including:

  • Sampling frequency
  • Tonal response
  • White balance error
  • Lightness uniformity
  • Color accuracy
  • Color channel mis-registration
  • Spatial frequency response
  • Reproduction scale accuracy
  • Sharpening
  • Noise
  • Skey
  • Geometric distortion
  • Field artifacts
  • Color management
  • File format and compression

These specific image characteristics were selected and validated by years of use at participating Federal Agencies. 

Specialized software known as digital image conformance testing tools offer precise and repeatable analysis of these variables, putting image consistency at the forefront of FADGI conformance. 

Two popular examples of such software include:

Digital Imaging Conformance Evaluation (DICE)

The Digital Imaging Conformance Evaluation program, or “DICE” for short, is a software tool developed under contract to the Library of Congress that has become an indispensable tool for image quality assessment within the cultural heritage community. 

DICE evaluates image quality in three major categories: tone scale, color accuracy, and resolution analysis, and assigns a score based on the FADGI grading specifications.

Unfortunately, the license for the DICE software (GoldenThread NXT) is expensive, putting the software out of reach for organizations with limited budgets.


OpenDICE is an open license (as its name implies) alternative to DICE capable of analyzing digital image files for conformance with the FADGI imaging guidelines. Its analyses are consistent with the results obtained with the ISa GoldenThread software, and OpenDICE is free to use.

There are many other measurement programs available that can be used to analyze the quality of an image. FADGI does not validate software as that is outside of the scope of their mission. They do recommend software that complies with ISO 19264

What is FADGI Compliance?

The FADGI technical guidelines combined with the DICE testing and monitoring system provide the foundation for a FADGI-compliant digitization program.  

The goal of the FADGI-Conformance Program is to reduce image quality variability when digitizing important historical records and to ensure the most accurate digital representations of these records are created. 

To do this, FADGI relies on a set of established practices, objective measurements, and quality assurance methods contained within their recommendations . 

The four main components of a FADGI compliant digitization program are:

Technical Guidelines 

This includes the Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials created by FADGI, as well as any other guidance deemed  appropriate, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), equipment manufacturers, professional associations, and imaging consultants.

Best Practices

These are tried, tested, and true workflows and processes that address common challenges or situations encountered when digitizing historical records. 

Digital Imaging Conformance Evaluation

All FADGI-conforming digitization programs must incorporate repeatable and reliable methods of

validating the consistency and accuracy of their digital reproduction.  Once conformance is established, no further changes should be made to digitization workflows or production environments. Testing should be conducted any time that any conditions change.

Staff Training and Certification

FADGI compliant digitization is a highly technical process that requires experience and specialized training. Any staff member involved in the digitization process needs training in the proper care and handling of materials, and an understanding of the digitization process from start to finish. FADGI conformance isn’t possible for digitization programs that do not have appropriately trained staff.

Who is FADGI Conformance for?

Over the last few years, FADGI conformance has become a popular topic of conversation among industry experts.  

However, FADGI conformance is relevant in only a very small percentage of proposal requests, and most of those are still federal / government projects. You should only be concerned with FADGI-conformance if:

  • You are a federal agency, or are responsible for digitizing records for a federal agency
  • Your organization is digitizing historical records that will be sent to the National Archives  or the Library of Congress
  • Your organization currently possesses digital records that will eventually be sent by the National Archives or the Library of Congress

Why is FADGI important for government agencies?

Government agencies are required to archive records with sufficient historical or cultural value. Typically, records that fall outside an agency’s retention requirements are transferred to NARA for archival purposes, where they will be permanently stored. 

As part of a larger initiative to transition away from physical documents,  NARA has proposed that all permanent government records must meet a minimum 3 star FADGI rating to be considered “preservation grade” by the agency. This standard will apply to newly created records, as well as any archived materials submitted to NARA  as soon as January 1, 2023. Any records below a 3 star FADGI rating will not be accepted. 

How do I find a FADGI compliant scanning company?

If you’re looking for a FADGI compliant scanning company to help you digitize historical records, you’ve come to the right place.

SecureScan has been a leading provider of secure document scanning services for government agencies for more than 21 years. Our experience, know-how, and top of the line commercial grade scanning equipment will help you produce FADGI compliant digital reproductions of your documents at an affordable cost. Get in touch with one of our scanning experts today for more information or a free quote.

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