The theory of image formation is formulated in terms of the coherence function in the object plane, the diffraction distribution function of the image-forming system and a function describing the structure of the object. There results a four-fold integral involving these functions, and the complex conjugate functions of the latter two. This integral is evaluated in terms of the Fourier transforms of the coherence function, the diffraction distribution function and its complex conjugate. In fact, these transforms are respectively the distribution of intensity in an 'effective source', and the complex transmission of the optical system-they are the data initially known and are generally of simple form. A generalized 'transmission factor' is found which reduces to the known results in the simple cases of perfect coherence and complete incoherence. The procedure may be varied in a manner more suited to non-periodic objects. The theory is applied to study inter alia the influence of the method of illumination on the images of simple periodic structures and of an isolated line.