Wallpaper patterns - the mathematics

Basic transformations

The wallpaper patterns are produced by combining a number of transformations. The basic transformations are
180 rotation 120 rotation 120 rotation
A translation A reflection - M A glide-reflection: a translation follow by a reflection - G
180 rotation 120 rotation 120 rotation 120 rotation
180° rotation - P2 120° rotation - P3 90° rotation - P4 60° rotation - P6


Each wallpaper pattern is based on a pair of translations in different directions. The translations are applied multiple times to give a repeating image. This defined a regular grid of points called a lattice.

The lattice produced by the translations

The blue shape in the program is called the fundamental domain. The image inside it is translated, rotated and reflected to produce the final image. The yellow parallelogram is one cell in the lattice, the image inside every other cell will be identical to this.

Fundamental domain and one lattice cell.

The symmetry lines can be shown. In this pattern the final image is produced by reflecting in the magenta lines. This pattern also has rotational symmetry: each cyan-rectangle is a center of 180° rotation.

Symmetry lines and points of rotation,
There is a certain flexibility in the selection of the fundamental domain and some of the patterns allow you to have curvy edges. If the pattern contains a line of reflection then that line will form one edge of the fundamental domain.

The patterns

Lattice type: parallelogram
P1 patternP1: the simplest pattern, two translations in different directions. P2 patternP2: this pattern has an extra 180° rotation.
Lattice type: diamond
CM patternCM: a reflection along a diagonal CMM patternCMM: two reflections along the diagonal
Lattice type: rectangle, the translations are at right angles
PM patternPM: A reflection PG patternPG: A glide reflection
PMG patternPMG: A reflection and a glide reflection PGG patternPGG: Two glide reflections at right angles PMM patternPMM: Two reflections at right angles
Lattice type: square
P4 patternP4: a 90° rotation P4M patternP4M: a 90° rotation and a reflection P4G patternP4G: a 90° rotation and a glide-reflection
Lattice type: hexagon
P2 patternP3: a 120° rotation P2 patternP31M: a 120° rotation and a reflection P2 patternP3M1: a 120° rotation and a reflection
P2 patternP3: a 60° rotation P2 patternP3M: a 60° rotation and a reflection

Frieze groups, cyclic groups and dihedral groups

As well as the wallpaper groups their are three other families of symetries in the plane.

Whilst the wallpaper groups repeat in two directions the frieze groups only repeat in a single direction

frieze group F1 F1 translation in one direction
Symmetry of the infinite sequence of letters pppppp
frieze group F2 F2 a glide-reflection
frieze group F3 F3 translation and a parallel reflection
frieze group F4 F4 translation and a perpendicular reflection
frieze group F5 F5 translation and 180° rotation
frieze group F6 F6 translation and a perpendicular reflection and 180° rotation
frieze group F7 F7 translation, perpendicular reflection, parallel reflection

Frieze groups are often found in decorative borders. The top border of this page is F2 and the left hand side border is F4.

The cyclic and dihedral groups all have rotational symmetry about a single point. Cyclic groups have n-fold rotation symmetry (rotation by 360°/n). Dihedral groups have an n-fold rotational symmetry and two reflections in lines at 180°/n to each other.

Cyclic groups
C2 cyclic group C2 C3 cyclic group C3 C4 cyclic group C4 C5 cyclic group C5 C6 cyclic group C6
Dihedral groups
D2 dihedral group D2 D3 dihedral group D3 D4 dihedral group D4 D5 dihedral group D5 D6 dihedral group D6

The group D1 is technically classed as a dihedral group it just consists of a single reflection.

D1 dihedral group D1

The code

Each symmetry group is represented by a member of the class TessRule which defines the type of pattern and a set of vectors which specify a coordinate frame. The origin of this frame is the green dot and the two coordinate axis are the lines from the green dot to the red and blue dots. This frame defines at lattice which tessellate the the plane by parallelograms, and the image inside each parallelogram will be the same.

Transformation of coordinate frames

First consider the case of the simplest group P1. To calculate the tessellated image for each point in the image Pdest we wish to find the point Psrc inside the fundamental domain. To achieve this first transform to coordinates in the new frame to give the point Qdest. As the image in each parallelogram is identical we can take coordinates in this frame mod 1 giving the point Qsrc. Finally transform back to image coordinates giving the Psrc. Finally the colour of the pixel at P is set to the color at P.

For other transformations a little more work is needed. Consider Pmm which is obtained by reflection in two lines at right angles. In the transformed coordinates this is in the lines x=0.5 and y=0.5. Let Qmod be the point after the modulus is taken which has coordinates (xmod,ymod) with xmod and ymod in the range 0 to 1. The y-coordinates of Qsrc, xsrc is calculate as follow:

Each other group will have similar condition.

In the above the transformation we have used floating point coordinates. The above calculations can be repeated using purely integer arithmetic, this results in faster algorithms and eliminates any rounding problems. Let O be the position of the green dot and u and v be the two vectors of the frame. Let M be the matrix with u and v as columns, this has the determinant det = (ux * vy - uy vx). . Now the transformation from a point q in the Q-frame to a point p the P-frame is given by p=O + Mq, and the inverse transformation is q = M-1(p-O). The inverse matrix M-1 is calculated as 1/det (vy, -vx;-uy ux). If we multiply through by the determinant giving q' = det M-1(p-O), observe that q' will have integer coordinates. The above method can be followed through using this scaled frame, with the frame vectors being (det,0) and (0,det).

int Qdest[] = new int[2];
int Qsrc[] = new int[2];
int det = ux * vy - uy * vx;

 for(j=0;j<height;++j) {
  // translate
  int x = i - x0; 
  int y = j - y0;
  // calculate Q coodinates of dest
  Qdest[0] = vy * x - vx * y; 
  Qdest[1] = -uy * x + ux * y;
  // apply specific transformation
  // calculate Psrc
  int srcX = x0 + (Qsrc[0] * ux + Qsrc[1] * vx ) / det;	
  int srcY = y0 + (Qsrc[0] * uy + Qsrc[1] * vy ) / det;	
  // copy src pixel to dest pixel
  pixels[i*width+j] = pixels[srcX*width+srcY];
// An example of transformation function for group Pmm 
void fun(int dest[2],int src[2],int det) {
	// find modulus
	int a = dest[0] % det; if(a<0) a+= det;
	int b = dest[1] % det; if(b<0) b+= det;
	// find coordinates of point in fundamental domain
	if(a>det/2) a = det - a;
	if(b>det/2) b = det - b;

Using lattice points

The calculation can be sped up by using the lattice structure of the tessellation. First find the bounding box enclosing one parallelogram in the lattice, and calculate the full pattern in that rectangle. The find all the lattice points in the region to be drawn. For each lattice point copy the pixels in the rectangle to a new rectangle based on the lattice point. This will result in a certain amount of overlap, but this does not affect the speed as coping arrays can be achieve very quickly.

Speeds of integer and floating point

Using integer arithmetic offers considerable speed advantages over floating point in the inner loops. Compare these two methods for finding division rounded down (rather than to 0 as in the language spec for /):

 int a = (int) Math.floor((float) in[0]/det);
 int b = (int) Math.floor((float) in[1]/det);
 int a = (in[0]<0 ? (in[0]+1)/det -1 : in[0]/det); 
 int b = (in[1]<0 ? (in[1]+1)/det -1 : in[1]/det); 
Changing from the first to the second resulted in a four fold speed improvement over the whole algorithm. These two lines represented 67% of the entire speed of the algorithm.

Further information

For more information see