A mechanism for attaching graphic and overlay annotation to multiple bits/pixel imagery while providing levels of performance approaching that of native mode graphics systems is presented. This mechanism isolates programming complexity from the application programmer through software encapsulation under the X Window System. It ensures display accuracy throughout operations on the imagery and annotation including zooms, pans, and modifications of the annotation. Trade-offs that affect speed of display, consumption of memory, and system functionality are explored. The use of resource files to tune the display system is discussed. The mechanism makes use of an abstraction consisting of four parts; a graphics overlay, a dithered overlay, an image overly, and a physical display window. Data structures are maintained that retain the distinction between the four parts so that they can be modified independently, providing system flexibility. A unique technique for associating user color preferences with annotation is introduced. An interface that allows interactive modification of the mapping between image value and color is discussed. A procedure that provides for the colorization of imagery on 8-bit display systems using pixel dithering is explained. Finally, the application of annotation mechanisms to various applications is discussed.