This study investigated the properties of a class of rotationally invariant and symmetric (relative to the principal diffusivities) indices of the anisotropy of water self-diffusion, namely fractional anisotropy (FA), relative anisotropy (RA), and volume ratio (VR), with particular emphasis to their measurement in brain tissues. A simplified theoretical analysis predicted significant differences in the sensitivities of the anisotropy indices (AI) over the distribution of the principal diffusivities. Computer simulations were used to investigate the effects on AI image quality of three magnetic resonance (MR) diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) acquisition schemes, one being novel: the schemes were simulated on cerebral model fibres varying in shape and spatial orientation. The theoretical predictions and the results of the simulations were corroborated by experimentally determined spatial maps of the AI in a normal feline brain in vivo. We found that FA mapped diffusion anisotropy with the greatest detail and SNR whereas VR provided the strongest contrast between low- and high-anisotropy areas at the expense of increased noise contamination and decreased resolution in anisotropic regions. RA proved intermediate in quality. By sampling the space of the effective diffusion ellipsoid more densely and uniformly and requiring the same total imaging time as the published schemes, the novel DTI scheme achieved greater rotational invariance than the published schemes, with improved noise characteristics, resulting in improved image quality of the AI examined. Our findings suggest that significant improvements in diffusion anisotropy mapping are possible and provide criteria for the selection of the most appropriate AI for a particular application.