An image analysis system is described to study the process of imbibition in white cabbage (Brassica oleracea L.) seeds. The system consists of two components: 1) an environmental system where seeds germinate; 2) a computer imaging system, composed of a Charged Coupled Device (CCD)-imaging sensor, an image frame grabber, a computer and a video monitor. The measurement software can determine area, perimeter, width, length and eccentricity as descriptors of changes in seed size during swelling. The captured images of imbibing seeds allowed estimation of timing of ‘visible germination’ occurrence without any subjective evaluation. Using the area parameter, the imbibition process can be described graphically by a series of curves similar to the triphasic pattern of water uptake, with extension and rate depending on the degree of seed viability and germination medium conditions. Imbibitional osmotic stress, provided by -1.5 MPa mannitol, induced a large delay in germination and, upon stress removal, a more uniform radicle emergence. The versatility and the sensitivity of the method, together with the feasibility to investigate germination rate in individual seeds within a population, suggest that image analysis techniques have high potential in seed biology studies.