In this work, an attempt has been made to use a super resolution image processing algorithm for preprocessing the images over and above existing image quality enhancement techniques. The improved quality images processed using a machine vision system have been used to assess the quality of the surfaces. To ensure the validity of the approach the roughness values quantified using these images are then compared with widely accepted standard mechanical stylus instrument values. Quantification of digital images for surface roughness is performed using two Fourier transform parameters (major peak frequency and principal component magnitude squared value) and the standard deviation of gray level intensity values. Then the group method of data handling (GMDH) technique was used to obtain an analytical relationship of the roughness parameters calculated using the digital surface image and the stylus instrument values. We present in this paper an analysis based on the comparison to make sure that the present approach of estimation of surface finish based on the digital processed image could be implemented in practice. © 2006 Springer-Verlag London Limited.