Mental imagery provides an essential simulation tool for remembering the past and planning the future, with its strength affecting both cognition and mental health. Research suggests that neural activity spanning prefrontal, parietal, temporal, and visual areas supports the generation of mental images. Exactly how this network controls the strength of visual imagery remains unknown. Here, brain imaging and transcranial magnetic phosphene data show that lower resting activity and excitability levels in early visual cortex (V1-V3) predict stronger sensory imagery. Further, electrically decreasing visual cortex excitability using tDCS increases imagery strength, demonstrating a causative role of visual cortex excitability in controlling visual imagery. Together, these data suggest a neurophysiological mechanism of cortical excitability involved in controlling the strength of mental images.