Difference between graffiti and mural

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?

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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.

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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

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+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.

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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.


My understanding of each word.

Mural - Wall art

Street art - Art that was created or exists outside the formal art world. Modern version cultural art and handicrafts.

Graffiti - Images and writing applied to buildings and other objects.

You can these definitions or something OSM specific. Their actual definitions are often ambiguous, sometimes contradictory and usually have connotations that are meaningless when applied to the context of mapping them in OSM.

Went back, the text is intricate, several words overlaid and measured it with JOSM and paced it out, the 2 meter spacing of the guardrail posts above making it easy… 32x4, in fact there’s a whole collection there in the to and thru the underpasses cycle and service ways, all artist signed, some I remembered from previous passings, the new one titled ‘Costa Nostra’ (Our Coast) and the City name superimposed on that.


John Mayer’s Gravity plays in me head.

What words would you use to describe this piece of art? It clear painted on a wall of public infrastructure. This would obviously make it a type of “street art” and a mural. As much I want to call it graffiti, I don’t have a clear definition that I can match with the art in question. The one I have one that is muddled with a lot of cultural assumptions and many negative connotations.

For example, does graffiti have be with spray paint. Does it need to be cartoonly or can it depict objects realistically. How does taggeg relate to graffiti or is that something different. We need better definitions to describe this form art in a consistent way.