To establish the optimum barium-based reduced-laxative tagging regimen prior to CT colonography (CTC). Ninety-five subjects underwent reduced-laxative (13 g senna/18 g magnesium citrate) CTC prior to same-day colonoscopy and were randomised to one of four tagging regimens using 20 ml 40%w/v barium sulphate: regimen A: four doses, B: three doses, C: three doses plus 220 ml 2.1% barium sulphate, or D: three doses plus 15 ml diatriazoate megluamine. Patient experience was assessed immediately after CTC and 1 week later. Two radiologists graded residual stool (1: none/scattered to 4: >50% circumference) and tagging efficacy for stool (1: untagged to 5: 100% tagged) and fluid (1: untagged, 2: layered, 3: tagged), noting the HU of tagged fluid. Preparation was good (76-94% segments graded 1), although best for regimen D (P = 0.02). Across all regimens, stool tagging quality was high (mean 3.7-4.5) and not significantly different among regimens. The HU of layered tagged fluid was higher for regimens C/D than A/B (P = 0.002). Detection of cancer (n = 2), polyps > or =6 mm (n = 21), and < or =5 mm (n = 72) was 100, 81 and 32% respectively, with only four false positives > or =6 mm. Reduced preparation was tolerated better than full endoscopic preparation by 61%. Reduced-laxative CTC with three doses of 20 ml 40% barium sulphate is as effective as more complex regimens, retaining adequate diagnostic accuracy.