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This paper analyzes the synthesis of arbitrarily shaped optical pulses by spectral filtering in a fiber-and-grating pulse compressor. Spectral filtering of phase and amplitude is achieved by masking the spatially dispersed frequency components within the compressor. We show that the spectral filter is the convolution of the mask with the beam's transverse intensity profile. We discuss the effect of diffraction from the features of the physical mask, and show how finite spatial resolution limits the range of attainable temporal profiles. The fundamental limitation on spectral resolution is derived. Spectra and temporal pulse shapes corresponding to a variety of physical masks are calculated and are found to be in excellent agreement with experiments done with compressed pulses from a mode-locked Nd: YAG laser.