Gwyddion ‘phenomenal’ for philatelists

By Jesse Robitaille

Since its 2004 launch, the free image data processing program Gwyddion has drawn the attention of philatelists for its powerful ability to uncover some of a stamp’s hidden elements.

Czech researchers David Nečas and Petr Klapetek developed the program – free to download on – which can transform engraved and embossed stamps into three-dimensional images. It uses scanning probe microscopy (SPM), which can determine “surface morphology and other local physical quantities with very high resolution,” the researchers wrote in a 2011 Open Physics study reviewing Gwyddion’s special features.

“Its main task is to provide fast and reproducible data-processing routines for SPM users. It allows users to perform all basic operations necessary for a successful evaluation of the data obtained using an SPM,” added Nečas and Klapetek, whose work is supported by the Central European Institute of Technology.

“It basically does a reverse image – almost like a diecast of a stamp – and it’s phenomenal,” said philatelist Darin Cherniwchan, of Chilliwack, B.C., who chairs the Digital Philately Study Group.

Available on Apple, Windows and other operating systems, Gwyddion can analyze the height fields of various images, including stamps and postmarks. It can process greyscale images to see artifacts invisible to magnification along, and it can perform levelling to detect overlays such as cancellations or overprints. Regarding paper analysis, it has filtering and grain marking functions that can also uncover a philatelic item’s often unseen elements.

“You can easily determine if an overlay is genuine or not,” said Cherniwchan, who called Gwyddion “a very powerful software.”

To this effect, users “can do their own” expertization processes similar to the Vincent Graves Greene Philatelic Research Foundation.

“Garfield (Portch, the Greene Foundation president) will appreciate what I’m saying because if you want to send a stamp for certification and you’re not sure, you can do your own little work at home to see whether or not you think you’re on the right track. Gwyddion allows you to do all of that.”


When it comes to using Gwyddion, “the key is to keep it simple,” Cherniwchan said.

“Don’t feel overwhelmed by all the icons.”

Once users download and install Gwyddion, they can upload images to windows the program refers to as “workspaces,” where they can perform a range of analyses using more than two dozen operations, corrections, marks and tools.

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