More Unicode Patterns

02 June 2018

Creating is the most intense excitement one can come to know.

After my last article, I’ve continued to seek new characters to build new patterns. I even borrowed a book about Unicode from a local library.

(That's a really thick book, by the way.)

It's all up to your imagination to see the possible patterns a Unicode character can make. Although not all characters are good as patterns, the process is a good exercise for me.

And, aside from Unicode itself, the methods to build the patterns may not be so obvious. It usually takes a lot of inspiration and trial and error to come up with new ones.

More tiling

There are actually many ways to do tiling. Here’s one of my favorite tile patterns, which can be easily achieved using CSS Grid:

.grid {
  /* using `dense` to fill gaps automatically. */
  grid-auto-flow: dense;
.cell {
  /* using `span` to change cell size */
  grid-column-end: span <num>;
  grid-row-end: span <num>;

Grid Invaders by Miriam Suzanne is a good example of this technique.

Now, what I'm trying to do is put some Unicode characters into this grid. And most importantly, update the font-size value according to the span of its cell.

\2f3c - \2f9f

.cell {
  /* ... */
  --n: <random-span>;
  grid-column-end: span var(--n);
  grid-row-end: span var(--n);
.cell:after {
  /* ... */
  font-size: calc(var(--n) * 2vmin);

It's a bit like the Tag cloud effect but with CSS. Lots of patterns can be made this way.

\2686 - \2689

\21b0, \21b1, \21b2, \21b4

The span of the columns and rows don't always have to be the same value. We can make small modifications by changing how many rows each cell spans:

.cell {
  /* only change the row span */
  grid-row-end: span <num>;

Since the font-size property scales up/down in both directions (vertically and horizontally), the scaleY() in the transform property will be used instead.

\25c6 - \25c8

:after {
  /* ... */
  transform: scaleY(calc(var(--span) * 1.4));

And there's another one, made by rotating the inner container of the grid to some degree.

\25b2, \25bc

The triangles also can be drawn with clip-path and will be more responsive. But it's nice to do something in a different way.

More modifications to the layout:

.column-odd {
  transform: skewY(40deg);
.column-even {
  transform: skewY(-40deg);

Now follow these transformations for each column.

\1690 - \1694


Many Unicode pairs share some kind of shape with different angles. For example, parentheses, brackets, and arrows with different that go in different directions. We can use this concept to combine the shapes and generate repeatable patterns.

This pattern uses less-than and greater-than signs for the base:

< >

:nth-child(odd):after {
  content: '<';
:nth-child(even):after {
  content: '>';

Here we go with parentheses:


:nth-child(odd):after {
  content: '(';
:nth-child(even):after {
  content: ')';

These are characters we use everyday. However, they give us a fresh look and feeling when they are arranged in a new way.

There's another pair of characters, ᚛, and ᚜. Placing them in the grid and scaling to a proper value connect them together into a seamless pattern:

\169b, \169c

It's like weaving with characters! We can even take it up a notch by rotating things:

\169b, \169c


Last week, I joined a CodePen Challenge that challenged the group to make a design out of the sub and sup elements. As I experimented with them, I noticed that the two tags scaled down automatically when nested.

So I tried to put them around a circle:

.first-level {
  /* Slice the circle into many segments. */
  transform: rotate(
    calc(360deg / var(--slice) * var(--n))

Suddenly I realized this method can be use to generate background patterns, too. The results are pretty nice.


sub:after, sup:after {
  content: '\003e';

The interesting thing is that changing a single character can end up with very different results.

\003e, \002e

\25c9, \2234

Wrapping up

That's all for now. The color palettes used in this article are from Color Hunt and Coolors.co.

The examples are generated with css-doodle, except for Ring examples in the last section. Everything here can be found in this CodePen collection.

Hope you like them and thanks for reading!

Note: I only tested with Chrome on Mac. Some of the examples may look awful on other browsers/platforms.

(2018-06-07) Updated colors and the Composition section.

(2018-06-08) Many thanks to Geoff Graham for the review.