Difference between graffiti and mural

I would like to properly document the use of artwork_type=graffiti, a previously undocumented but widely used tag, to clarify the difference (if any) between a graffiti and a mural (artwork_type=mural).

These are the definitions included on the Key:artwork_type page:

A mural is any piece of graphic artwork that is painted or applied directly to a wall, ceiling or other permanent substrate.

A notable graffiti work

The Polish version of the wiki provides additional details:

Graffiti. Od muralu różni się tym, że jest malowane sprayem lub sprayem przez szablon i tworzone najczęściej anonimowo, bez zez zezwolenia.

Machine translation:

Graffiti. It differs from a mural in that it is painted with spray paint or a stencil and is mostly created anonymously, without permission.

Mural techniques include fresco, mosaic, graffiti and marouflage (see Mural on Wikipedia), so then it might be conflict to establish the difference in that the graffiti uses spray paint. Nor does size seem to make a difference, as there are large-scale graffiti murals. In addition, some graffiti are created by artists whose name is known.

Mural/Graffiti by Lalo Luque (Lalone) on a building. Source: own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) available on Wikimedia Commons.

Any suggestions for properly documenting the use of artwork_type=graffiti on the wiki and explaining the difference with a mural? Any comments would be appreciated.


Usually graffiti has to do with lettering, the subject is always a word. The only exception I know are “graffiti puppets”, but are usually an addiction to the word.


“Tags” are also “words made with spray cans” but they are simple (one line) and not considered graffiti, in which there are usually more layers. Usually they are used as a signature.

It differs from a mural in that it is painted with spray paint or a stencil and is mostly created anonymously, without permission.

I don’t get the “spray paint OR stencil” thing. You can’t paint with a stencil, is just a tool. Stencils are used in graffiti art (sometimes to make precise details) but it’s not the only tool. Art made with spray AND stencil only is not considered graffiti art but street art, such as Banksy which is not considered a graffiti artist but a street artist.

1 Like

There is no clear differentiation between mural, streetart and graffiti. Objects which are name streetart in one comment will be calles graffito in another one. If you read the Wikipedia pages for those terms you will end up with the same result. I believe the most common interpretations are

  • streetart (also called urban art) = general term for all kind of mural and graffiti works + other kinds of artwork in public spaces
  • mural = some official piece of artwork using a wide range of techniques
  • graffito (or graffiti) = illegally placed painting or writing on various objects, commonly applied by spray paint (but not exlusively), often displaying some kind of artistic alienated lettering, in many cases understood as a kind of vandalism.

Once again: This is not an attemt to provide a final definition but just a reflection of the most common interpretation. Imho the wiki pages should reflect the fact that a precise distinction of these terms is not possible. Mappers should feel free to interprete the objects they find and tag accordingly.

A valuable additional tag imho is tourism=attraction ( … Banksy and others …).

OT: A nice collection of street art examples here, although not always easy to differentiate between real objects and photoshop fakes.


I think that in the graffiti scene there’s a clear differentiation about what a graffiti is. “That piece is a graffiti or not?” is a talk I never heard in the scene to be honest.

Uhm I disagree. Illegality isn’t a requirement. A legal Phase2 graffiti is still a graffiti. There are lot of graffiti artist who get invited to perform their art.

The only other way I can think of now is “roller graffiti”. Sometimes they add details with “markers” but of course you can’t complete a piece with those only. Do you know other ways the paint is applied?

1 Like

For me, in simple words:

  • graffiti: lettering, there’s a glossary every graffiti artist knows (e.g. bubble style, 3d style ecc.).
  • mural: a painting applied on a wall
  • street art: everything else, so stencil like Banksy, mosaics like Invader, installations like frankey, sign modifications like Clet Abraham ecc.

People from within the sprayer scene will surely have a different understanding of their doing than common people. A major difference could be that many scene people understand their work as art whereas most other people understand it as vandalism for instance.

Same as before. Note:

Once again: This is not an attemt to provide a final definition but just a reflection of the most common interpretation.

Some graffiti samples:

Source: Wikipedia

As I tried to express above: Definitions are not as clear as one may believe.

Uhm nope, not a graffiti sample. First and second are graffiti (lettering), third one is street-art (stencil).
As a matter of fact that same image is featured in the Street art Wikipedia page, in which they also explain the difference:

“Whereas traditional graffiti artists have primarily used spray paint to produce their work, “street art” can encompass other media, such as LED art, mosaic tiling, stencil art, sticker art, reverse graffiti, “Lock On” sculptures, wheatpasting, woodblocking, yarn bombing and rock balancing.”

“Graffiti puppets” are works like these, right? I would like to add an example image to the wiki and I don’t want to make a mistake:

(Thanks for your comments.)

In my experience puppets are cartoonish animals or humas that are integrated in the graffiti or painted at the sides of it. I would call Example 1 a puppet, the second one seems too realistic and I wouldn’t define it a classic puppet, but I guess with time graffiti artist became more and more skillful. The italian book “Graffiti writing. Origini, significati, tecniche e protagonisti in Italia” defines a puppet as a “figurative element”, meaning the elements that are not stricly connected to the lettering. So I wouldn’t map them as their own, they are part of the graffiti artwork.

These are classic puppets: 1, 2 and 3.

Yes, that is your opionion but the author of the wikipedia page has another opionion and calls it a graffito which goes well along with the definition of graffiti in the german Wikipedia (translated):

Graffiti (Italian; singular graffito) is today a collective term for thematically and creatively different visible elements, for example pictures, lettering or signs, which have been created using various techniques on surfaces or by altering them in private and public spaces. The graffiti is usually produced under a pseudonym and often illegally. Creators of graffiti, especially when they use spray cans, are often called sprayers, but refer to themselves as graffiti artists.

… which is another proof for the statement that there is no clearly definded differentiation between streetart and graffiti.


I would like to add something on the legality and temporality of graffiti to the wiki page. Any suggestions?

António Madeira posted the following on the Tagging mailing list:

I’m mainly focusing on one of the “rules” of OpenStreetMap: Good practice - OpenStreetMap Wiki

A scratching or other kind of paintings on walls or public equipments tend to be temporary. A notable graffiti tends to:

  • originate from a recognizable artist
  • have considerable proportions
  • be legally authorized by local authorities
  • (thus) last longer and are more easily verifiable

Of course, that doesn’t mean that “minor” graffiti can not and should not be mapped. The question is: is it relevant?

Are we assuming that graffiti is by definition illegal will be automatically removed? I would rather consider it a form of steet art. We can let those familiar with piece decide whether to include it based on local conditions such as building owner, property laws, enforcement along with community sentiment.

1 Like

The quote is not mine. It was a post by António Madeira on the Tagging mailing list.

Graffiti is a form of street art. I agree that local knowledge is essential. I would just like to include some general guidelines on the wiki page for the local mapper to understand what “notable” graffiti means. Not strict rules, just enough for the mapper to understand what we mean by “notable” in line with OSM best practice on legality and temporary features.



Very difficult as there are no general regulations or guidelines about this issue. Many city authorities have responded to the illegal spraying and offered spaces where graffiti sprayers are allowed to perform. In other places it may not be officially allowed but the authorities tolerate it (for instance on concrete pillars or abutments of brides, retaining walls and the like). In most of these places the result is clearly visible because the graffiti applied there are of much better quality and can easily be accepted as artwork even if you are not part of the scene.

In most cases illegal are the hastily applied letterings which @ivanbranco called “tags” and which are repeatedly applied dozens or hundred of times on any surface available:

I’d say the more simple and roughly applied a graffito is, the higher is the likelihood that it’s illegal and will be removed soon (and therefore should not be mapped imho). But as you said, local knowledge is essential …

Discovered today, hot out the spray can, about 15m x 3.5m on a reinforced_concrete retaining wall.

The voting may begin what to map this as (a node), tourism=artwork + artwork_:type=…

The voting may begin what to map this as (a node)

something as big would better be mapped as a way I think

1 Like

+1 … and I personally would tag this as streetart as it is unusually large for a graffito but too simple from it’s design to go ahead as mural.

I still haven’t found a great definition of graffiti. It is considered a form of street art because it is outside formal galleries and installions. Never commissioned, requested or even paid for in any way. This could be also be considered as mural since it is on a wall.

Yes, I think the terms overlap. Some graffitis are murals, others aren’t. Some murals are graffiti, others aren’t.

I’m really surprised for example that people here are saying that Banksy isn’t graffiti. It’s easy to find notable sources that disagree (Encyclopaedia Britannica, BBC). I’m equally surprised that people are saying here that tags aren’t graffiti. Maybe the word ‘graffiti’ is used differently in different languages, or the words are used with different meanings by those in the scene compared with how they are used by the general public. (I’m not suggesting that we record every tag in OSM.)

We can try to construct a distinction for the purpose of OSM tagging, but is that really helpful? Maybe we don’t need a clear distinction. It’s good that we have both tags, because there are cases where only one of them works. In cases where both work, mappers have to decide which one is more appropriate, depending on their connotations.

If we wanted to tag it really precisely, maybe we would need a different tagging scheme, such as artwork_type:mural = yes/no and artwork_type:graffiti = yes/no, or artwork_type = mural;graffiti.

1 Like

Cool! IMHO, that can be considered “notable” graffiti.

I have nothing to add to this thread at this moment. Just to say that I read your comments (all of them) and will take them into account to improve the wiki page. I have also borrowed some books from my local library to be better informed on this subject.