In this study a novel approach based on 2D FIR filters is presented for denoising digital images. In this approach the filter coefficients of 2D FIR filters were optimized using the Artificial Bee Colony (ABC) algorithm. To obtain the best filter design, the filter coefficients were tested with different numbers (3 x 3, 5 x 5, 7 x 7, 11 x 11) and connection types (cascade and parallel) during optimization. First, the speckle noise with variances of 1, 0.6, 0.8 and 0.2 respectively was added to the synthetic test image. Later, these noisy images were denoised with both the proposed approach and other well-known filter types such as Gaussian, mean and average filters. For image quality determination metrics such as mean square error (MSE), peak signal-to-noise ratio (PSNR) and signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) were used. Even in the case of noise having maximum variance (the most noisy), the proposed approach performed better than other filtering methods did on the noisy test images. In addition to test images, speckle noise with a variance of 1 was added to a fetal ultrasound image, and this noisy image was denoised with very high PSNR and SNR values. The performance of the proposed approach was also tested on several clinical ultrasound images such as those obtained from ovarian, abdomen and liver tissues. The results of this study showed that the 2D FIR filters designed based on ABC optimization can eliminate speckle noise quite well on noise added test images and intrinsically noisy ultrasound images. (c) 2013 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.