Bridging the Gap Between Text and Images in Computer Vision With CLIP

When discussing groundbreaking AI advancements, ChatGPT often garners attention due to its remarkable language capabilities and widespread acclaim. Yet, OpenAI boasts another noteworthy model, CLIP, or Contrastive Language-Image Pretraining, which is equally impressive but has not garnered the same level of recognition.

CLIP, as an influential open-source multi-modal model, distinguishes itself through its remarkable ability to establish connections between images and text. This unique capability unlocks a broad spectrum of applications where cross-modal understanding is paramount. Unlike conventional computer vision models, CLIP is crafted to be highly versatile and demonstrates outstanding performance across various tasks with minimal to no task-specific training requirements.

Comparison with traditional methods

CLIP was developed to address challenges inherent in conventional computer vision methods, such as the high costs associated with datasets and limited generalizability. Traditional computer vision models rely on extensive manually labeled datasets, incurring significant expenses during construction. Moreover, these models are trained to predict a predefined set of categories, disregarding the semantic meaning of class labels and replacing them with numeric identifiers, resulting in a loss of valuable information. While these models exhibit impressive performance in specific tasks, their efficacy diminishes when applied to datasets from diverse distributions, necessitating substantial effort for adaptation to new tasks.

CLIP tackles these issues by employing a successful strategy from the field of natural language processing, specifically pre-training on vast amounts of unlabeled data sourced from the internet. This unsupervised pre-training method eliminates the need for expensive labeled data, as CLIP learns by scraping the internet for images and their descriptions, forming learning examples to pair images with corresponding textual descriptions.

Pre-training on an extensive dataset of image-text pairs empowers CLIP to develop a robust understanding of general textual concepts and establish connections with specific visual features. Leveraging natural language instead of a fixed set of classes enhances CLIP’s flexibility and generality. Remarkably, CLIP can be seamlessly applied to virtually any classification task without additional training, consistently demonstrating competitive performance with task-specific supervised models.

How does CLIP work?

CLIP is a neural network model comprising two integral sub-models: a text encoder and an image encoder. Typically, a transformer-based model serves as the text encoder, while a vision transformer or ResNet functions as the image encoder. However, the versatility of CLIP allows for the utilization of any image/text model in principle. The image encoder processes image input to generate a vector representation, mirroring the text encoder’s function with text input. Both representations are then projected into a shared embedding space where they can be compared.

To ensure meaningful representations, these encoders undergo training on an extensive dataset of image-text pairs, employing a contrastive learning approach. In essence, contrastive learning entails training the model to distinguish between positive and negative examples, where, in CLIP’s context, positive examples are pairs of images and texts that belong together.

Throughout training, CLIP encounters batches of image-text pairs. Images and texts are encoded and projected into the shared latent space. The model calculates pairwise similarity for all projected images and texts in the batch using the dot product. The objective is to maximize similarity between embeddings of related pairs and minimize it for unrelated ones. Consequently, similar images and texts converge closely in the embedding space, while dissimilar ones are distanced.

Upon completion of training, the model becomes a powerful tool for calculating embeddings of images and texts, facilitating semantic searches in any direction. Users can search for similar images based on text or image input or retrieve the most relevant text given an image or another text.

Additionally, CLIP seamlessly extends its utility to diverse classification tasks without requiring additional training. For image classification, users need only provide a list of class names, embed them with CLIP, and select the class with the highest similarity between image and label embeddings.


CLIP’s unique capability to establish connections between text and images positions it as a versatile tool across multiple domains. Here are some applications showcasing its utility:

Zero-shot image classification:

CLIP excels in zero-shot image classification, leveraging its innate understanding of relationships between images and text. This eliminates the need for fine-tuning the model for specific classification tasks, proving invaluable in scenarios where acquiring labeled data for every conceivable category is challenging.

Image tagging:

Image tagging involves assigning keywords to images for improved searchability and organization. This manual process is both time-consuming and error-prone, but with CLIP, automation becomes a time and effort-saving solution. To tag images using CLIP, one simply provides an image and a comprehensive list of potential keywords. CLIP then compares the image against each keyword, determining the most relevant ones.

This automated tagging system proves highly efficient for organizing extensive image datasets, offering applications in product categorization, image search optimization, and streamlined content management.

Image search

CLIP proves invaluable for image retrieval through natural language queries. Users can articulate their search criteria in everyday language, and CLIP will furnish images that align semantically with the query. In contrast to conventional search approaches, CLIP doesn’t depend on image tags or textual metadata, which may be inconsistent or incomplete. Instead, it discerns pertinent images by analyzing visual features, enhancing the relevance and comprehensiveness of search results.

Furthermore, CLIP empowers image-to-image search capabilities, allowing users to seek images akin to a provided reference image.

Image generation

CLIP’s versatile multimodal capabilities and strong image representations have been harnessed in other prominent AI models. Notably, Stable Diffusion and DALL-E 2, which can produce images based on textual descriptions, utilize CLIP as a foundational element for encoding input texts.


Limitations and how to overcome them

Similar to any tool, CLIP does have limitations. Recognizing and understanding these constraints is essential for maximizing its potential. Here, we highlight some challenges associated with CLIP and ways to address them.

Suboptimal Performance in Non-English Languages:

CLIP, primarily trained on English data, exhibits suboptimal performance in languages like Slovene. Researchers have responded by developing multilingual versions, such as CLIP ViT-B/32 xlm-roberta-base, trained on a comprehensive multilingual dataset covering over 100 languages. We’ve observed reasonable performance for Slovene out of the box, with further enhancement achieved through fine-tuning on custom datasets, as discussed in the next section.

Limited Performance in Specific Domains:

CLIP may not excel out of the box for all problems. Fine-tuning on domain-specific datasets provides a solution, allowing CLIP to adapt and specialize in understanding the nuances of a particular domain. This approach significantly improves CLIP’s performance on specific problems.

Challenges with Proper Nouns or Specific Terms Retrieval:

While CLIP’s image retrieval capabilities are impressive, challenges arise with queries involving fine-grained classes or proper nouns uncommon in its training data. For instance, searching for images using the query “explosion at Melamin factory” may yield random images of burning factories but fail to retrieve images of that specific factory.

Enhancing image search in such scenarios involves combining CLIP with classical keyword search. Keyword-based search, relying on image tags and metadata, ensures precise matching of specific terms but lacks context interpretation. By integrating CLIP’s contextual understanding with traditional keyword search, we harness the strengths of both approaches for more accurate and comprehensive search results.


In conclusion, CLIP has achieved a significant breakthrough in the realm of computer vision. With its intelligent design and pre-training on extensive and diverse datasets, CLIP stands out as a highly versatile and robust solution compared to current computer vision models. The capability to comprehend and establish meaningful connections between text and images positions CLIP as a potent tool with vast potential across a multitude of applications.