A new wavelet image coding algorithm was designed for color image compression. This algorithm utilizes a multi-ary symbol set to represent the meaningful coefficients in the wavelet transform domain which are necessary for the image reconstruction in the respective color channel. The scheme works first by color space conversion, followed by raster scanning the individual subband for data conversion to symbol representation. An adaptive arithmetic coder is then used to compress the symbols with high efficiency. Unlike zerotree coding or its variations which are essentially the intersubband coding approach with the complexity in addressing the location relationship across the subbands, this work is a low complexity intrasubband based coding method with context specification within the subband, and termination symbol across subbands. Compared with the zerotree refined schemes, this algorithm results in competitive PSNR values and perceptually high quality images at the same compression ratio for color image compression.