Commons:Image classification system

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The use of images dictates they have some form of classification in order to allow reuse. While it is possible to merely give them general purpose classes, someone wanting to find an image with some specific element for use in explaining a concept may not think of the same terms and without a good set of specific classifications it becomes harder to find the exact image someone would want. What would assist this search would be a clear standard giving standardized and precise definitions. The only problem is finding a system to do this.

There are probably some standards for this purpose, but they may be commercial and require licensing such as the Pantone® standard for color matching. What is needed is a freely licensable or public domain standard for defining images by their contents. And as it turns out, there is an existing standard available that fits these requirements.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has developed a system for categorizing images used in trademarks. This system is called the Design Search Code Manual. As this is a U.S. Government created classification scheme it is in the public domain. This system may be useful for classifying images in order that someone may find a particular image by looking for any image marked with the characteristics of that classification.

Wikimedia Commons uses the USPTO system as its basis for categorizing the contents of images, with some minor changes. Here, the primary two-digit entry is called a classification; USPTO sometimes calls it a category, which might be confused with the more familiar "category" links used by the MediaWiki software.

Note that this system does not describe the purpose or typical usage of an image, only its content. For example, an image of a sheriff's badge might describe it as a "seven pointed star," but under this system would provide no details about it being used in law enforcement or other purposes. Thus the system describes the general appearance of an image, not what the image would be used for.

The following explains how to use the system and how to classify an image. If you only want to find an image by classification, scroll down to Table of Classifications. There is also an index to the system available.

Note that the original system used by the USPTO may be expanded by this commons to cover additional classification, divisions or sections not established in the original specification. To prevent conflicts with potential future changes by the USPTO, new parts will use a slightly different numbering system than the original, which will be explained below.


The system provides for a six-digit code number consisting of three pairs of numbers separated by periods. The system is the equivalent of a filing system for paper records, so that one may search for a type of image by the classification number. The General Guidelines provide broad instructions and procedures for interpreting the classification numbers to be assigned to a particular image. The first pair of numbers provide a classification, the second pair of numbers provides a division of that classification, and the third pair, or section, represents a specific type of image or image fragment. Images are classified by all major elements and significant image parts within the whole image. An image that has been assigned all three pairs of numbers to form a six-digit entry is said to be coded, and the entire six digit entry is called a class.

By determining what type of image you are looking for, you will have a better chance of finding it if it has been coded with one or more classes. If it has, and you have a general idea of what you're looking for, looking through those classes may make it more likely you will find the image.

Let's say you wanted a five-pointed star, and so you wanted to look at all the images consisting of five-pointed stars in order to see what five-pointed stars were present in this collection. In order to look for them, you would need to know what class or classes a five-pointed star would be coded under.

For example, Classification 01 represents celestial bodies, natural phenomena and geographical maps. Within Classification 01, Division 01 (01.01) represents stars. Within Division 01, Section 03 (01.01.03) represents five pointed stars. So if you looked under that class you would find any images of or containing five-pointed stars that had been coded in that class.


Let's look at the Wikimedia Commons logo which appears at the top left corner of the page for examining how the system works. To do this, we need to identify the major elements in order to code them. Once an image is coded, one can find similar images assigned to that code.

Major elements[edit]

Major elements are anything in the image that are significant, critical or obvious. For example, in this image the major elements are the circle in the center, the group of arrows pointing to it, the curved border, and the large arrow coming off the border. The arrowheads of these arrows themselves would not be considered major elements, and would not be coded, primarily because they do not stand out by themselves. Nor would the individual arrows be coded; instead they would be coded as "more than one arrow" since they are not distinct or significant in and of themselves.

However, it is important not to exclude anything that is important to the image. One particular premise of the system is that, when there is doubt about whether an element is significant or not, code the element. The intent is to include all relevant information about the content of an image without loading the classification down with trivial, insignificant or unimportant parts of the image.

Given these major elements, the image would fit into classification 24 (for the arrows) and classification 26 (for the circle and the curved border). Now we need to classify the divisions of these categories. In classification 24, it would use division 15 (for arrows), and in classification 26, it would use division 01 (for the circle and the swirl).

The center circle would be coded as

26.01.02 Plain single line circles

The arrows around the circle would be coded as

24.15.01 Arrows forming a circle or an arc of a circle
24.15.10 More than one arrow
26.01.09 Geometric figures, objects, humans, plants or animals forming or bordering the perimeter of a circle.

The curved border would be coded as

24.15.02 Arrows forming any other geometric figure
26.01.26 Spirals, coils, helixes, swirls

Thus the image would be coded with these classes to describe the contents of this image:

24.15.01, 24.15.02, 24.15.10, 26.01.02, 26.01.09, 26.01.26

To find a similar image which has been classified, you would use these codes. You would assign these codes to an image when uploading them by marking the image description page with the ICS macro, using | for the periods, one use of the macro for each code, like this: {{ICS|24|15|01}}{{ICS|24|15|02}} and so on.

Table of Classifications[edit]

Each classification listed below is further divided into divisions, and the divisions are divided into sections. The classifications (which are called categories by the USPTO) are numbered 01 to 29. The divisions in each classification are odd numbers from 01 to 25 (except classification 29, which has some even numbered divisions), and the sections in each division are numbered from 01 to 33.

To prevent conflicts, new classifications created for Commons will be numbered 70 and above, and in any classification (including existing classification) new divisions will be given numbers of 70 and above, and any new sections in a new or existing division will be numbered 70 and above. It is recommended that any new entries be in addition to coding within an existing classification, division and section, and are used primarily for greater precision, and not as exclusive identifiers.

01 Celestial bodies, natural phenomena, geographical maps

This classification includes objects that appear in the sky, including clouds, stars, moons, sun, planets and constellation. Additionally, designs associated with weather conditions such as rainbows, lightning, and snowflakes are found here. Maps of countries and continents are also in classification 01.

02 Human beings

This classification includes representations of men, women and children regardless of the activity they are engaged in or how they are dressed. Stylized humans, those in caricature form, stick figures and parts of the human body are also in this classification.

03 Animals

This classification includes most animals, except mythological animals. Animals found here include mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and insects. Prehistoric animals, stylized animals and animals with human attributes are also coded in classification 03.

04 Supernatural beings, mythological or legendary beings, fantastical beings or unidentifiable beings

This classification includes beings such as devils, angels, leprechauns, witches, and super heroes. Designs that are part human and part animal and mythological animals such as unicorns and Pegasus are in this category. Plants, objects or geometrical figures that represent humans or animals are also in classification 04.

05 Plants

This classification includes almost every type of plant such as flowers, trees, leaves, vegetables, and fruits. Also, decorations made from plants are in this classification.

06 Scenery

This classification includes mountains, lakes, waterfalls, beaches, forests and islands. Also, desert scenery and urban scenery such as skylines and street scenes fall within classification 06.

07 Dwellings, buildings, monuments, stadiums, fountains, structural works and building materials

This classification includes almost any structure that is built by man. All dwellings from igloos to skyscrapers are in classification 07. Interior and exterior portions of buildings along with building materials such as bricks, wood and cinderblocks are in this classification.

08 Foodstuff

This classification includes goods that are edible such as meat, dairy products, sandwiches, and baked goods. It does not include fruits and vegetables, but does include cooked fruits, and fruit and vegetable salads.

09 Textiles, clothing, headwear, footwear and sewing accessories

This classification includes all types of clothing items and textile goods such as towels, curtains, sheets and carpeting. Also sewing products such as zippers, patterns, and sewing machines can be found in classification 09.

10 Tobacco, smokers' materials; fans; toilet articles; medical devices and apparatus including tablets, capsules or powders

This classification includes most tobacco products and medical devices as well as products in tablet or capsule form. Grooming aids such as razors, toothbrushes, and make up products are in this classification. You will also find non-motorized fans, canes and umbrellas in classification 10.

11 Household utensils

This classification includes most items that would be found in a household kitchen, including cutlery, cookware, beverage ware and electric or non-electric kitchen appliances. Other household utensils such as irons, brooms and plungers are in classification 11.

12 Furniture and sanitary fixtures

This classification includes all types of home and office furniture. Sanitary fixtures such as sinks, bathtubs and toilets are found in classification 12.

13 Lighting, cooking, heating, cooling or refrigeration equipment

This classification includes lighting goods such as torches, candles, table lamps and flashbulbs. Stoves, refrigerators, toasters and air conditioners are also in classification 13.

14 Hardware, tools and ladders; nonmotorized agricultural implements; keys and locks

This classification includes all types of hardware, power tools and hand tools. Cables, wires, valves, hammers, locks, and keys can be found in classification 14. Additionally, non-motorized agricultural goods such as pitchforks, plows and rakes are in found here.

15 Machines and parts thereof, including industrial agricultural, home and office machines; electrical equipment

This classification includes all types of machines such as generators, conveyor belts, vacuum cleaners and vending machines. Office machinery such as computers, photocopiers, and cash registers can be found in category 15. Wheels and bearings are also in this classification.

16 Telecommunications, sound recording or reproduction equipment; photography, cinematography and optics

This classification includes goods in the telecommunications and sound recording industries such as antennas, telephones, microphones, tape players, radios and televisions. Goods that are used for cinematography such as cameras and optical equipment, including eyeglasses and telescopes are in classification 16.

17 Clocks, Horological instruments and parts; jewelry; weights and measures

This classification includes all goods that measure time and all jewelry items. Additionally, scales such as the Scales of Justice are found here. Other measuring instruments such as rulers, thermometers and Geiger counters are found in classification 17.

18 Transport; equipment for animals; traffic signs

This classification includes all types of land, water and air vehicles, whether powered by animals, humans or motors. Equipment for animals such as saddles, leashes and horseshoes are found here. Traffic signs including stop signs, road signs and buoys are found in classification 18.

19 Baggage, containers and bottles

This classification includes goods that are used to hold something such as luggage, barrels, bottles, boxes, coffins and baskets. Receptacles for laboratory use such as beakers and test tubes can be found in classification 19.

20 Writing, drawing or painting materials, office materials, stationery and books

This classification includes most items found in a stationery store such as pencils, writing paper, labels and postage stamps. Books, magazines and newspapers are also found in classification 20.

21 Games, toys and sporting articles

This classification includes all types of sporting equipment and toys such as dice, dolls, balls and swings. Merry-go-rounds and amusement park rides are also in classification 21.

22 Musical instruments and their accessories; bells; sculptures

This classification includes any type of musical instrument such as guitars, bagpipes, whistles and tuning forks. Bells, including sleigh bells and the Liberty bell are found here. Any type of sculpture, whether of humans or animals can be found in classification 22.

23 Arms, ammunition and armor

This category includes weapons, firearms, ammunition, and explosives such as fireworks and dynamite. Suits of armor are also found in classification 23.

24 Heraldry, flags, crowns, crosses, arrows and symbols

This classification includes shields, crests and seals with or without words or figures. Coins, medals and prize ribbons can be found in classification 24. Crowns, crosses and arrows have been classified here. Banners and flags, including any American flag, are included in this classification. Lastly, symbols such as the dollar symbol, percent symbol, punctuation marks and the universal prohibition symbol are in classification 24.

25 Ornamental framework, surfaces or backgrounds with ornaments

This classification includes frames for pictures, ornamental borders and backgrounds such as checkerboards and wood graining. Designs consisting of repetitive figures, words and letters are found in classification 25.

26 Geometric figures and solids

This classification includes geometric designs such as circles, triangles, rectangles, oblongs, polygons, ovals, diamonds, squares, quadrilaterals, lines, angles, chevrons, spheres, cubes, and prisms. It is the largest of all the classifications.

27 Forms of writing

This classification includes designs that have letters, numbers, or punctuation symbols that are arranged in such a manner as to form a human, animal, plant or object. Conversely, if the design of a plant, human, geometric figure, or object is arranged to form a letter, number or punctuation symbol, they are found in classification 27.

28 Inscriptions in various characters

This classification includes designs that have non-Latin characters. Inscriptions in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew and Greek are in this classification.

29 Miscellaneous

This classification includes marks that consist solely of color. The codes for color marks are divided by the color, whether a single color or multiple colors are claimed, and whether the color is used over the entire object or only a portion of the object. Classification 29 also includes inconspicuous design elements functioning as punctuation or parts of letters.
Image Classification System
General Index · Index by letter: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
01 Space, sky & maps · 02 People · 03 Animals · 04 Supernatural beings · 05 Plants · 06 Scenery · 07 Structures · 08 Food ·

09 Clothing · 10 Tobacco, fans, toiletry, medical devices and  medicine · 11 Utensils · 12 Furniture and fixtures · 13 Lighting, cooking, heating or cooling equipment · 14 Hardware, tools, farm implements; keys and locks · 15 Machines and electrical equipment · 16 Telecommunications, sound, and optical equipment · 17 Clocks, jewelry, weights and measures · 18 Transport equipment and traffic signs · 19 Baggage and containers · 20 Writing, office materials, stationery and books · 21 Games, toys and sporting equipment · 22 Musical instruments and sculptures · 23 Arms, ammunition and armor · 24 Heraldry and symbols · 25 Framework or surfaces with ornaments · 26 Geometric figures and solids · 27 Forms of writing · 28 Inscriptions · 29 Miscellaneous