Sprite Factory (v1.6.1)

The sprite factory is a ruby library that can be used to generate CSS sprites. It combines individual image files from a directory into a single unified sprite image and creates an appropriate CSS stylesheet for use in your web application.

The library provides:

  • both a ruby API and a command line script
  • many customizable options
  • support for multiple layout algorithms - horizontal, vertical or packed
  • support for any stylesheet syntax, including CSS and Sass.
  • support for any image library, including RMagick and ChunkyPNG.
  • support for any css selector style, including :hover pseudo-class selectors
  • support for pngcrush'n the generated image file
  • compatible with Rails 3.1 asset pipeline


$ gem install sprite-factory

An image library is also required. SpriteFactory comes with built in support for RMagick or ChunkyPng.

RMagick is the most common image libary to use, installation instructions for ubuntu:

$ sudo aptitude install imageMagick libMagickWand-dev
$ sudo gem install rmagick

ChunkyPng is lighter weight but only supports .png format:

$ gem install chunky_png

SpriteFactory can also be easily extended to use the image library of your choice.


Use the sf command line script specifying the location of your images.

$ sf images/icons

This will combine the individual image files within that directory and generate:

  • images/icons.png
  • images/icons.css

You can also use the SpriteFactory class directly from your own code:

require 'sprite_factory'


The original image file name is used for the CSS class to show that image in HTML:

<img src='s.gif' class='high'>         # e.g. original image was high.png
<img src='s.gif' class='medium'>       # e.g. original image was medium.png
<img src='s.gif' class='low'>          # e.g. original image was low.png

If original image files are included in sub-folders, the relative path name will be used for the CSS class to show that image in HTML:

<img src='s.gif' class='other_high'>   # e.g. original image was other/high.png
<img src='s.gif' class='other_medium'> # e.g. original image was other/medium.png
<img src='s.gif' class='other_low'>    # e.g. original image was other/low.png

When using a framework such as Rails, you would usually DRY this up with a helper method:

def sprite_tag(name)
  image_tag('s.gif', :class => name)

NOTE: s.gif is the traditional name of a 1x1 pixel transparent .gif used as a dummy src when the true image comes from a css background attribute. Technically, for css sprites, you could just use a div with a class instead of an img, but to keep the markup semantic it is common to use an img tag with a dummy src=s.gif.


Much of the behavior can be customized by overriding the following options:

  • :layout - specify layout algorithm (horizontal, vertical or packed)
  • :style - specify stylesheet syntax (css, scss or sass)
  • :library - specify image library to use (rmagick or chunkypng)
  • :selector - specify custom css selector (see below)
  • :cssurl - specify custom css url (see below)
  • :output_image - specify output location for generated image (default: <input folder>.png)
  • :output_style - specify output location for generated stylesheet (default: <input folder>.<style>)
  • :pngcrush - pngcrush the generated output image (if pngcrush is available)
  • :padding - add padding to each sprite
  • :margin - add margin to each sprite
  • :width - fix width of each sprite to a specific size
  • :height - fix height of each sprite to a specific size
  • :nocss - suppress generation of output stylesheet (run! returns css content as a string instead)
  • :nocomments - suppress generation of comments in output stylesheet

Options can be passed as command line arguments to the sf script:

$ sf images/icons --style sass --layout packed

Options can also be passed as the 2nd argument to the #run! method:

SpriteFactory.run!('images/icons', :style => :sass, :layout => :packed)

You can see the results of many of these options by viewing the sample page that comes with the gem in test/images/reference/index.html.

NOTE: only the common options are available via the command line script (to keep it simple). Specifically, the advanced width, height, and nocss options are only available via the Ruby interface.

NOTE: the width, height and padding options are not particularly useful - you would be better off just making your source images have the correct dimensions by editing them appropriately in photoshop (or your editor of choice)

NOTE: the margin option is used primarily to buffer each image in the generated sprite with > 1px margin to avoid images bleeding into each other when the browser needs to scale them (e.g. when user increases/decreases font size).


The generated image can be laid out in a horizontal or a vertical strip by providing a :layout option (defaults to horizontal). A new option in v1.2.0 is to use a :packed layout which will attempt to generate an optimized packed square-ish layout.

For more details on the bin-packing algorithm used:

Customizing the CSS Selector

By default, the CSS generated is fairly simple. It assumes you will be using <img> elements for your sprites, and that the basename of each individual file is suitable for use as a CSS classname. For example, the following files:


... when run with:


... will generate the following css:

img.high   { width: 16px; height: 16px; background: url(images/icons.png)   0px 0px no-repeat; }
img.medium { width: 16px; height: 16px; background: url(images/icons.png) -16px 0px no-repeat; }
img.low    { width: 16px; height: 16px; background: url(images/icons.png) -32px 0px no-repeat; }

If you want to use different selectors for your rules, you can provide the :selector option. For example:

SpriteFactory.run!('images/icons', :selector => 'span.icon_')

... will generate:

span.icon_high   { width: 16px; height: 16px; background: url(images/icons.png)   0px 0px no-repeat; }
span.icon_medium { width: 16px; height: 16px; background: url(images/icons.png) -16px 0px no-repeat; }
span.icon_low    { width: 16px; height: 16px; background: url(images/icons.png) -32px 0px no-repeat; }

Customizing the CSS Selector Per Image

If you want to specify a custom selector for each individual image, then name the image files accordingly - the library will map '__' (double underscore) to a single space ' ' in any source image filename. For example:


... when run with:

SpriteFactory.run!('images/icons', :selector => 'div.example ')

... will generate:

div.example div.foo span.icon_alert { ... first file   ... }
div.example div.bar span.icon_alert { ... second file  ... }

If you want to specify a psuedo class such as :hover for some of your images, the library will also map '--' (double dash) to a colon ':' in any source image filename. For example:


... when run with:

SpriteFactory.run!('images/icons', :selector => 'span.icon_')

... will generate:

span.icon_alert       { ... first file  ... }
span.icon_alert:hover { ... second file ... }

Customizing the CSS Image Url

Within the generated CSS file, it can be tricky to get the correct path to your unified sprite image. For example, you might be hosting your images on Amazon S3, or if you are building a Ruby on Rails application you might need to generate URL's using the #image_path helper method to ensure it gets the appropriate cache-busting query parameter.

By default, the SpriteFactory generates simple url's that contain the basename of the unified sprite image, e.g:


# generates: url(icons.png)

...but you can control the generation of these url's using the :cssurl option:

For most CDN's, you can prepend a simple string to the image name:

                  :cssurl => "http://s3.amazonaws.com/")

# generates:  url(http://s3.amazonaws.com/icons.png)

For more control, a simple token replacement can be performed using the $IMAGE token. For example, to generate calls to custom Sass helper functions, such as those provided by sass-rails plugin:

                  :cssurl => "image-url('$IMAGE')")

# generates:  image-url('icons.png')

For full control, you can provide a lambda function and generate your own values:

                   :cssurl => lambda{|image| "url(#{image_path(image)})" })

# generates:   url(/path/to/my/images/icons.png?v123456)

NOTE: the :cssurl option replaces :csspath from earlier versions. The previous option only let you customize the path inside of the generated url(...), while this new option allows you to customize the entire value, including the outer url(...) itself.

Customizing the entire CSS output

If you want complete control over the generated styles, you can pass a block to the run! method.

The block will be provided with information about each image, including the generated css attributes. Whatever content the block returns will be inserted into the generated css file.

SpriteFactory.run!('images/timer') do |images|
  rules = []
  rules << "div.running img.button { cursor: pointer; #{images[:running][:style]} }"
  rules << "div.stopped img.button { cursor: pointer; #{images[:stopped][:style]} }"

The images argument is a hash, where each key is the basename of an image file, and the value is a hash of image metadata that includes the following:

  • :style - the default generated style
  • :cssx - the css sprite x position
  • :cssy - the css sprite y position
  • :cssw - the css sprite width
  • :cssh - the css sprite height
  • :x - the image x position
  • :y - the image y position
  • :width - the image width
  • :height - the image height

NOTE: the image coords can differ form the css sprite coords when padding/margin or fixed width/height options are specified)

Using sprite-factory with the Rails asset pipeline

The sprite-factory gem plays nice with the Rails asset pipeline with a few simple steps:

Add the sprite-factory to your Gemfile, including your chosen image library dependency:

group :assets do
  gem 'sprite-factory', '>= 1.5.2'
  gem 'rmagick'

Store your images in Rails 3.1 app/assets/images sub-folders, e.g


Create a Rake task for regenerating your sprites, e.g. in lib/tasks/assets.rake

require 'sprite_factory'

namespace :assets do
  desc 'recreate sprite images and css'
  task :resprite => :environment do 
    SpriteFactory.cssurl = "image-url('$IMAGE')"    # use a sass-rails helper method to be evaluated by the rails asset pipeline
    SpriteFactory.run!('app/assets/images/avatars', :output_style => 'app/assets/stylesheets/avatars.css.erb')
    SpriteFactory.run!('app/assets/images/icons',   :output_style => 'app/assets/stylesheets/icons.css.erb')
    # ... etc ...

Run the rake task

bundle exec rake assets:resprite


  • sprite images in app/assets/images
  • sprite styles in app/assets/stylesheets - automatically picked up by the asset pipeline and included in your generated application.css

You can find out more here:

Extending the Library

The sprite factory library can be extended in a number of other ways.

  • provide a custom layout algorithm in the SpriteFactory::Layout module.
  • provide a custom style generator in the SpriteFactory::Style module.
  • provide a custom image library in the SpriteFactory::Library module.

(see existing code for examples of each).


See LICENSE file.


Thanks to my employer, LiquidPlanner for allowing me to take this idea from our online project management web application and release it into the wild.


If you have any ideas, feedback, requests or bug reports, you can reach me at [email protected], or via my website: Code inComplete.