A new method for evaluating edge detection algorithms is presented and applied to measure the relative performance of algorithms by Canny, Nalwa-Binford, Iverson-Zucker, Bergholm, and Rothwell. The basic measure of performance is a visual rating score which indicates the perceived quality of the edges for identifying an object. The process of evaluating edge detection algorithms with this performance measure requires the collection of a set of gray-scale images, optimizing the input parameters for each algorithm, conducting visual evaluation experiments and applying statistical analysis methods. The novel aspect of this work is the use of a visual task and real images of complex scenes in evaluating edge detectors. The method is appealing because, by definition, the results agree with visual evaluations of the edge images.