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Snakes, or active contours, have been widely used in image processing applications. Typical roadblocks to consistent performance include limited capture range, noise sensitivity, and poor convergence to concavities. This paper proposes a new external force for active contours, called vector field convolution (VFC), to address these problems. VFC is calculated by convolving the edge map generated from the image with the user-defined vector field kernel. We propose two structures for the magnitude function of the vector field kernel, and we provide an analytical method to estimate the parameter of the magnitude function. Mixed VFC is introduced to alleviate the possible leakage problem caused by choosing inappropriate parameters. We also demonstrate that the standard external force and the gradient vector flow (GVF) external force are special cases of VFC in certain scenarios. Examples and comparisons with GVF are presented in this paper to show the advantages of this innovation, including superior noise robustness, reduced computational cost, and the flexibility of tailoring the force field.