An analytic framework and a complete description for the design and optimisation of on-axis centred spatially filtering common path systems are presented. The Generalised Phase Contrast method is derived and introduced as the common denominator for these systems basically extending Zernike’s original phase contrast scheme into a much wider range of operation and application. It is demonstrated that the Generalised Phase Contrast method can be successfully applied to the interpretation and subsequent optimisation of a number of different, commonly applied spatially filtering architectures. Optimal conditions for visibility, peak irradiance and accuracy are derived and shown to be perfectly in line with empirical results from the literature. New graphic methods for advanced analysis purposes are demonstrated supporting these conclusions as well as providing new tools for innovative filter designs and parameter settings. Finally, a number of original applications facilitated by the parallel light-beam encoding of the Generalised Phase Contrast method are briefly outlined. These include among others, wavefront sensing and generation, advanced usercontrolled optical micro-manipulation, optical phase-only encryption/decryption and fully integrated micro-optical implementations.