File:Wallpaper group-p3-1.jpg

A tessellation or tiling of the plane is a collection of plane figures that fills the plane with no overlaps and no gaps. One may also speak of tessellations of parts of the plane or of other surfaces. Generalizations to higher dimensions are also possible. The tessellation is perhaps most well-known today for its use in the art of M.C. Escher.

In Latin, tessella was a small cubical piece of clay, stone or glass used to make mosaics. The word "tessella" means "small square" (from "tessera", square, which in its turn is from the Greek word for "four"). It corresponds with the everyday term tiling which refers to applications of tessellation, often made of glazed clay.

Wallpaper groupsEdit

Tilings with translational symmetry can be categorized by wallpaper group, of which 17 exist. All seventeen of these patterns are known to exist in the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain. Of the three regular tilings two are in the category p6m and one is in p4m.

Tessellations and colorEdit


When discussing a tiling that is displayed in colors, to avoid ambiguity one needs to specify whether the colors are part of the tiling or just part of its illustration. See also color in symmetry.

The four color theorem states that for every tessellation of the plane, with a set of four available colors, each tile can be colored in one color such that no tiles of equal color meet at a curve of positive length. Note that the coloring guaranteed by the four-color theorem will not in general respect the symmetries of the tessellation. To produce a coloring which does, as many as seven colors may be needed.

Tessellations with quadrilateralsEdit

Copies of an arbitrary quadrilateral can form a tessellation with 2-fold rotational centers at the midpoints of all sides, and translational symmetry with as minimal set of translation vectors a pair according to the diagonals of the quadrilateral, or equivalently, one of these and the sum or difference of the two. For an asymmetric quadrilateral this tiling belongs to wallpaper group group p2. As fundamental domain we have the quadrilateral. Equivalently, we can construct a parallelogram subtended by a minimal set of translation vectors, starting from a rotational center. We can divide this by one diagonal, and take one half (a triangle) as fundamental domain. Such a triangle has the same area as the quadrilateral and can be constructed from it by cutting and pasting.

Regular and irregular tessellationsEdit

A regular tessellation is a highly symmetric tessellation made up of congruent regular polygons. Only three regular tessellations exist: those made up of equilateral triangles, squares, or hexagons. A semiregular tessellation uses a variety of regular polygons. The arrangement of polygons at every vertex point is identical. Other types of tessellations exist, depending on types of figures and types of pattern. There are regular versus irregular, periodic versus aperiodic, symmetric versus asymmetric, and fractal tesselations, as well as other classifications.

Penrose tilings using two different polygons are the most famous example of tessellations that create aperiodic patterns. They belong to a general class of aperiodic tilings that can be constructed out of self-replicating sets of polygons by using recursion.

Tessellations and computer graphicsEdit

In the subject of computer graphics, tessellation techniques are often used to manage datasets of polygons and divide them into suitable structures for rendering. Normally, at least for real-time rendering, the data is tessellated into triangles, which sometimes get referred to as triangulation. In computer-aided design, arbitrary 3D shapes are often too complicated to analyze directly. So they are divided (tessellated) into a mesh of small, easy-to-analyze pieces -- usually either irregular tetrahedrons, or irregular hexahedrons. The mesh is used for finite element analysis. Some geodesic domes are designed by tessellating the sphere with triangles that are as close to equilateral triangles as possible.

File:Wallpaper group-cmm-1.jpg
File:Wallpaper group-p4g-1.jpg

Number of sides of a polygon versus number of sides at a vertexEdit

For an infinite tiling, let a be the average number of sides of a polygon, and b the average number of sides meeting at a vertex. Then ( a − 2 ) ( b − 2 ) = 4. For example, we have the combinations (3,6), (3 1/3 , 5), (3 3/4, 4 2/7), (4,4), and (6,3) for the tilings in the article Tilings of regular polygons.

A continuation of a side in a straight line beyond a vertex is counted as a separate side. For example, the bricks in the picture are considered hexagons, and we have combination (6,3).

Similarly, for the bathroom floor tiling we have (5 , 3 1/3).

For a tiling which repeats itself, one can take the averages over the repeating part. In the general case the averages are taken as the limits for a region expanding to the whole plane. In cases like an infinite row of tiles, or tiles getting smaller and smaller outwardly, the outside is not negligible and should also be counted as a tile while taking the limit. In extreme cases the limits may not exist, or depend on how the region is expanded to infinity.

For finite tessellations and polyhedra we have

( a − 2 ) ( b − 2 ) = 4 ( 1 − χ / F ) ( 1 − χ / V )

where F is the number of faces and V the number of vertices, and χ is the Euler characteristic (for the plane and for a polyhedron without holes: 2), and, again, in the plane the outside counts as a face.

The formula follows observing that the number of sides of a face, summed over all faces, gives twice the number of sides, which can be expressed in terms of the number of faces and the number of vertices. Similarly the number of sides at a vertex, summed over all faces, gives also twice the number of sides. From the two results the formula readily follows.

In most cases the number of sides of a face is the same as the number of vertices of a face, and the number of sides meeting at a vertex is the same as the number of faces meeting at a vertex. However, in a case like two square faces touching at a corner, the number of sides of the outer face is 8, so if the number of vertices is counted the common corner has to be counted twice. Similarly the number of sides meeting at that corner is 4, so if the number of faces at that corner is counted the face meeting the corner twice has to be counted twice.

A tile with a hole, filled with one or more other tiles, is not permissible, because the network of all sides inside and outside is disconnected. However it is allowed with a cut so that the tile with the hole touches itself. For counting the number of sides of this tile, the cut should be counted twice.

For the Platonic solids we get round numbers, because we take the average over equal numbers: for ( a − 2 ) ( b − 2 ) we get 1, 2, and 3.

From the formula for a finite polyhedron we see that in the case that while expanding to an infinite polyhedron the number of holes (each contributing −2 to the Euler characteristic) grows proportionally with the number of faces and the number of vertices, the limit of ( a − 2 ) ( b − 2 ) is larger than 4. For example, consider one layer of cubes, extending in two directions, with one of every 2×2 cubes removed. This has combination (4, 5), with ( a − 2 ) ( b − 2 ) = 6 = 4 (1 + 2/10) (1 + 2/8), corresponding to having 10 faces and 8 vertices per hole.

Note that the result does not depend on the edges being line segments and the faces being parts of planes: mathematical rigor to deal with pathological cases aside, they can also be curves and curved surfaces.


"In every civilization and culture, colored tilings and patterns appear among the earliest decorations.... In particular, 2-color patterns arose -- early and frequently -- through a device known as 'counterchange'.... An early paper with remarkable counterchange designs formed by diagonally divided squares -- one-half black, one-half white -- was published by Truchet (1704)."

— Branko Grünbaum and G. C. Shephard. Tilings and Patterns

See alsoEdit

References Edit

External linksEdit