A wallpaper group (or plane symmetry group or plane crystallographic group) is a mathematical classification of a two-dimensional repetitive pattern, based on the symmetries in the pattern. Such patterns occur frequently in architecture and decorative art, especially in textiles and tiles as well as wallpaper.
The simplest wallpaper group, Group p1, applies when there is no symmetry other than the fact that a pattern repeats over regular intervals in two dimensions, as shown in the section on p1 below.
Consider the following examples of patterns with more forms of symmetry:
Examples A and B have the same wallpaper group; it is called p4m in the IUC notation and *442 in the orbifold notation. Example C has a different wallpaper group, called p4g or 4*2 . The fact that A and B have the same wallpaper group means that they have the same symmetries, regardless of details of the designs, whereas C has a different set of symmetries despite any superficial similarities.
The number of symmetry groups depends on the number of dimensions in the patterns. Wallpaper groups apply to the two-dimensional case, intermediate in complexity between the simpler frieze groups and the three-dimensional space groups. Subtle differences may place similar patterns in different groups, while patterns that are very different in style, color, scale or orientation may belong to the same group.
A proof that there are only 17 distinct groups of such planar symmetries was first carried out by Evgraf Fedorov in 1891 and then derived independently by George Pólya in 1924. The proof that the list of wallpaper groups is complete only came after the much harder case of space groups had been done. The seventeen possible wallpaper groups are listed below in § The seventeen groups.
A symmetry of a pattern is, loosely speaking, a way of transforming the pattern so that it looks exactly the same after the transformation. For example, translational symmetry is present when the pattern can be translated (in other words, shifted) some finite distance and appear unchanged. Think of shifting a set of vertical stripes horizontally by one stripe. The pattern is unchanged. Strictly speaking, a true symmetry only exists in patterns that repeat exactly and continue indefinitely. A set of only, say, five stripes does not have translational symmetry—when shifted, the stripe on one end "disappears" and a new stripe is "added" at the other end. In practice, however, classification is applied to finite patterns, and small imperfections may be ignored.
The types of transformations that are relevant here are called Euclidean plane isometries. For example:
However, example C is different. It only has reflections in horizontal and vertical directions, not across diagonal axes. If we flip across a diagonal line, we do not get the same pattern back; what we do get is the original pattern shifted across by a certain distance. This is part of the reason that the wallpaper group of A and B is different from the wallpaper group of C.
Another transformation is "Glide", a combination of reflection and translation parallel to the line of reflection.
Two such isometry groups are of the same type (of the same wallpaper group) if they are . Thus e.g. a translation of the plane (hence a translation of the mirrors and centres of rotation) does not affect the wallpaper group. The same applies for a change of angle between translation vectors, provided that it does not add or remove any symmetry (this is only the case if there are no mirrors and no glide reflections, and rotational symmetry is at most of order 2).
It follows from the Bieberbach theorem that all wallpaper groups are different even as abstract groups (as opposed to e.g. frieze groups, of which two are isomorphic with Z).
2D patterns with double translational symmetry can be categorized according to their symmetry group type.
Isometries of the Euclidean plane fall into four categories (see the article Euclidean plane isometry for more information).
The condition on linearly independent translations means that there exist linearly independent vectors v and w (in R2) such that the group contains both Tv and Tw.
The purpose of this condition is to distinguish wallpaper groups from frieze groups, which possess a translation but not two linearly independent ones, and from two-dimensional discrete point groups, which have no translations at all. In other words, wallpaper groups represent patterns that repeat themselves in two distinct directions, in contrast to frieze groups, which only repeat along a single axis.
(It is possible to generalise this situation. We could for example study discrete groups of isometries of Rn with m linearly independent translations, where m is any integer in the range 0 ≤ m ≤ n.)
The discreteness condition means that there is some positive real number ε, such that for every translation Tv in the group, the vector v has length at least ε (except of course in the case that v is the zero vector, but the independent translations condition prevents this, since any set that contains the zero vector is linearly dependent by definition and thus disallowed).
The purpose of this condition is to ensure that the group has a compact fundamental domain, or in other words, a "cell" of nonzero, finite area, which is repeated through the plane. Without this condition, we might have for example a group containing the translation Tx for every rational number x, which would not correspond to any reasonable wallpaper pattern.
One important and nontrivial consequence of the discreteness condition in combination with the independent translations condition is that the group can only contain rotations of order 2, 3, 4, or 6; that is, every rotation in the group must be a rotation by 180°, 120°, 90°, or 60°. This fact is known as the crystallographic restriction theorem, and can be generalised to higher-dimensional cases.
Crystallography has 230 space groups to distinguish, far more than the 17 wallpaper groups, but many of the symmetries in the groups are the same. Thus we can use a similar notation for both kinds of groups, that of Carl Hermann and Charles-Victor Mauguin. An example of a full wallpaper name in Hermann-Mauguin style (also called IUC notation) is p31m, with four letters or digits; more usual is a shortened name like cmm or pg.
For wallpaper groups the full notation begins with either p or c, for a primitive cell or a face-centred cell; these are explained below. This is followed by a digit, n, indicating the highest order of rotational symmetry: 1-fold (none), 2-fold, 3-fold, 4-fold, or 6-fold. The next two symbols indicate symmetries relative to one translation axis of the pattern, referred to as the "main" one; if there is a mirror perpendicular to a translation axis we choose that axis as the main one (or if there are two, one of them). The symbols are either m, g, or 1, for mirror, glide reflection, or none. The axis of the mirror or glide reflection is perpendicular to the main axis for the first letter, and either parallel or tilted 180°/n (when n > 2) for the second letter. Many groups include other symmetries implied by the given ones. The short notation drops digits or an m that can be deduced, so long as that leaves no confusion with another group.
A primitive cell is a minimal region repeated by lattice translations. All but two wallpaper symmetry groups are described with respect to primitive cell axes, a coordinate basis using the translation vectors of the lattice. In the remaining two cases symmetry description is with respect to centred cells that are larger than the primitive cell, and hence have internal repetition; the directions of their sides is different from those of the translation vectors spanning a primitive cell. Hermann-Mauguin notation for crystal space groups uses additional cell types.
Orbifold notation for wallpaper groups, advocated by John Horton Conway (Conway, 1992) (Conway 2008), is based not on crystallography, but on topology. We fold the infinite periodic tiling of the plane into its essence, an orbifold, then describe that with a few symbols.
Consider the group denoted in crystallographic notation by cmm; in Conway's notation, this will be 2*22. The 2 before the * says we have a 2-fold rotation centre with no mirror through it. The * itself says we have a mirror. The first 2 after the * says we have a 2-fold rotation centre on a mirror. The final 2 says we have an independent second 2-fold rotation centre on a mirror, one that is not a duplicate of the first one under symmetries.
The group denoted by pgg will be 22×. We have two pure 2-fold rotation centres, and a glide reflection axis. Contrast this with pmg, Conway 22*, where crystallographic notation mentions a glide, but one that is implicit in the other symmetries of the orbifold.
An orbifold can be viewed as a polygon with face, edges, and vertices which can be unfolded to form a possibly infinite set of polygons which tile either the sphere, the plane or the hyperbolic plane. When it tiles the plane it will give a wallpaper group and when it tiles the sphere or hyperbolic plane it gives either a spherical symmetry group or Hyperbolic symmetry group. The type of space the polygons tile can be found by calculating the Euler characteristic, χ = V − E + F, where V is the number of corners (vertices), E is the number of edges and F is the number of faces. If the Euler characteristic is positive then the orbifold has an elliptic (spherical) structure; if it is zero then it has a parabolic structure, i.e. a wallpaper group; and if it is negative it will have a hyperbolic structure. When the full set of possible orbifolds is enumerated it is found that only 17 have Euler characteristic 0.
When an orbifold replicates by symmetry to fill the plane, its features create a structure of vertices, edges, and polygon faces, which must be consistent with the Euler characteristic. Reversing the process, we can assign numbers to the features of the orbifold, but fractions, rather than whole numbers. Because the orbifold itself is a quotient of the full surface by the symmetry group, the orbifold Euler characteristic is a quotient of the surface Euler characteristic by the order of the symmetry group.
The orbifold Euler characteristic is 2 minus the sum of the feature values, assigned as follows:
For a wallpaper group, the sum for the characteristic must be zero; thus the feature sum must be 2.
Now enumeration of all wallpaper groups becomes a matter of arithmetic, of listing all feature strings with values summing to 2.
Feature strings with other sums are not nonsense; they imply non-planar tilings, not discussed here. (When the orbifold Euler characteristic is negative, the tiling is hyperbolic; when positive, spherical or bad).
To work out which wallpaper group corresponds to a given design, one may use the following table.
Each of the groups in this section has two cell structure diagrams, which are to be interpreted as follows (it is the shape that is significant, not the colour):
On the right-hand side diagrams, different equivalence classes of symmetry elements are colored (and rotated) differently.
The brown or yellow area indicates a fundamental domain, i.e. the smallest part of the pattern that is repeated.
The diagrams on the right show the cell of the lattice corresponding to the smallest translations; those on the left sometimes show a larger area.
The two translations (cell sides) can each have different lengths, and can form any angle.
(The first three have a vertical symmetry axis, and the last two each have a different diagonal one.)
The rotational symmetry of order 2 with centres of rotation at the centres of the sides of the rhombus is a consequence of the other properties.
This corresponds to a straightforward grid of rows and columns of equal squares with the four reflection axes. Also it corresponds to a checkerboard pattern of two of such squares.
Examples displayed with the smallest translations horizontal and vertical (like in the diagram):
A p4g pattern can be looked upon as a checkerboard pattern of copies of a square tile with 4-fold rotational symmetry, and its mirror image. Alternatively it can be looked upon (by shifting half a tile) as a checkerboard pattern of copies of a horizontally and vertically symmetric tile and its 90° rotated version. Note that neither applies for a plain checkerboard pattern of black and white tiles, this is group p4m (with diagonal translation cells).
Imagine a tessellation of the plane with equilateral triangles of equal size, with the sides corresponding to the smallest translations. Then half of the triangles are in one orientation, and the other half upside down. This wallpaper group corresponds to the case that all triangles of the same orientation are equal, while both types have rotational symmetry of order three, but the two are not equal, not each other's mirror image, and not both symmetric (if the two are equal we have p6, if they are each other's mirror image we have p31m, if they are both symmetric we have p3m1; if two of the three apply then the third also, and we have p6m). For a given image, three of these tessellations are possible, each with rotation centres as vertices, i.e. for any tessellation two shifts are possible. In terms of the image: the vertices can be the red, the blue or the green triangles.
Equivalently, imagine a tessellation of the plane with regular hexagons, with sides equal to the smallest translation distance divided by √3. Then this wallpaper group corresponds to the case that all hexagons are equal (and in the same orientation) and have rotational symmetry of order three, while they have no mirror image symmetry (if they have rotational symmetry of order six we have p6, if they are symmetric with respect to the main diagonals we have p31m, if they are symmetric with respect to lines perpendicular to the sides we have p3m1; if two of the three apply then the third also, and we have p6m). For a given image, three of these tessellations are possible, each with one third of the rotation centres as centres of the hexagons. In terms of the image: the centres of the hexagons can be the red, the blue or the green triangles.
Like for p3, imagine a tessellation of the plane with equilateral triangles of equal size, with the sides corresponding to the smallest translations. Then half of the triangles are in one orientation, and the other half upside down. This wallpaper group corresponds to the case that all triangles of the same orientation are equal, while both types have rotational symmetry of order three, and both are symmetric, but the two are not equal, and not each other's mirror image. For a given image, three of these tessellations are possible, each with rotation centres as vertices. In terms of the image: the vertices can be the red, the dark blue or the green triangles.
Like for p3 and p3m1, imagine a tessellation of the plane with equilateral triangles of equal size, with the sides corresponding to the smallest translations. Then half of the triangles are in one orientation, and the other half upside down. This wallpaper group corresponds to the case that all triangles of the same orientation are equal, while both types have rotational symmetry of order three and are each other's mirror image, but not symmetric themselves, and not equal. For a given image, only one such tessellation is possible. In terms of the image: the vertices can not be dark blue triangles.
A pattern with this symmetry can be looked upon as a tessellation of the plane with equal triangular tiles with C3 symmetry, or equivalently, a tessellation of the plane with equal hexagonal tiles with C6 symmetry (with the edges of the tiles not necessarily part of the pattern).
A pattern with this symmetry can be looked upon as a tessellation of the plane with equal triangular tiles with D3 symmetry, or equivalently, a tessellation of the plane with equal hexagonal tiles with D6 symmetry (with the edges of the tiles not necessarily part of the pattern). Thus the simplest examples are a triangular lattice with or without connecting lines, and a hexagonal tiling with one color for outlining the hexagons and one for the background.
There are five lattice types or Bravais lattices, corresponding to the five possible wallpaper groups of the lattice itself. The wallpaper group of a pattern with this lattice of translational symmetry cannot have more, but may have less symmetry than the lattice itself.
The actual symmetry group should be distinguished from the wallpaper group. Wallpaper groups are collections of symmetry groups. There are 17 of these collections, but for each collection there are infinitely many symmetry groups, in the sense of actual groups of isometries. These depend, apart from the wallpaper group, on a number of parameters for the translation vectors, the orientation and position of the reflection axes and rotation centers.
However, within each wallpaper group, all symmetry groups are algebraically isomorphic.
Note that when a transformation decreases symmetry, a transformation of the same kind (the inverse) obviously for some patterns increases the symmetry. Such a special property of a pattern (e.g. expansion in one direction produces a pattern with 4-fold symmetry) is not counted as a form of extra symmetry.
Change of colors does not affect the wallpaper group if any two points that have the same color before the change, also have the same color after the change, and any two points that have different colors before the change, also have different colors after the change.
If the former applies, but not the latter, such as when converting a color image to one in black and white, then symmetries are preserved, but they may increase, so that the wallpaper group can change.
Several software graphic tools will let you create 2D patterns using wallpaper symmetry groups. Usually you can edit the original tile and its copies in the entire pattern are updated automatically.