SpriteMe makes spriting easy
I’m excited to announce SpriteMe – a tool that makes it easy to create CSS sprites. It’s a bookmarklet, so it runs in Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. Just drag&drop this link to your bookmarks toolbar or right-click to add it to your favorites: SpriteMe.
A CSS sprite combines multiple background images into a single image. Spriting makes web pages faster because it reduces the number of HTTP requests required to load a web page. The problem is, creating sprites is hard, involving arcane knowledge and lots of trial and error. SpriteMe removes the hassles with the click of a button. Try the tutorial to see SpriteMe in action.
Other sprite tools (like CSS Sprite Generator and CSS Sprites generator) are useful for combining multiple background images into a single sprite image. This is a big help, and I’ve frequently used these tools built by Stuart and Ed, and Stoyan. However, the bigger challenges when creating sprites are finding the background images and knowing how to group them into sprites. Once the sprite image is created, testing the sprite, including changing all the CSS, is time consuming. SpriteMe addresses all of these challenges. Here’s a rundown of SpriteMe’s features.
Finds Background Images: SpriteMe makes it easy to examine the CSS background images used in the current page by listing all the background images and the elements that use them. Hovering over its URL displays the background image. Clicking on one of the image’s DOM elements highlights that element in the page.
Groups Images into Sprites: The logic behind spriting is complex: Background images that repeat horizontally can’t be sprited with images that repeat vertically. Repeating images that are sprited together must be the same width or height, depending on whether they repeat-x or repeat-y, respectively. Background images that are shorter than their containing block should go at the top of a vertically-stacked sprite if their position is “bottom”, but they should go at the bottom if their position is “top”. It’s complex – and this is just the beginning of the logic that’s required to avoid mistakes. SpriteMe contains this spriting logic and uses it to suggest which images to combine into a sprite. Figure 1 shows the varied width background images that SpriteMe recommends combining into a vertically-stacked sprite for eBay.
Generates the Sprite: Clicking “make sprite” combines the images into a sprite using the coolRunnings service from Jared Hirsch. No zipping, no uploading form – it just happens. Figure 2 shows the newly created sprite:
Recomputes CSS background-position: Now comes the math. In Figure 1, the background-position for the #Buy element was “0% 100%”. Most sprite generation tools provide background-positions assuming every element starts off being “0% 0%”. Looking at the Alexa U.S. top 10, only 12% (56/459) of the elements that use a background image have a “0% 0%” background-position. More automated help is needed.
SpriteMe, because it runs in the web page, is able to convert the old background-position (“0% 100%”) to the exact offsets needed to use the sprite: “-10px -27px”. Converting “0%” is easy – the sprite has 10px of padding on the left, so must be offset by -10px. The “100%” conversion is harder. The original background image was 45px high. “100%” means the bottom of the image was aligned with the bottom of the DOM element. The DOM element is 28px high (as indicated by “40×28″ shown in Figure 2), so we want the 17th pixel of the image to align with the top of the DOM element. This requires an offset of -17px, plus the 10px of padding results in an offset of -27px. Easy, right? Thank goodness for SpriteMe.
Injects the Sprite into the Current Page: As developers, we know it’s critical to optimize the edit-save-test cycle in whatever we’re doing. In the past, the edit-save-test cycle for spriting was painfully long: regenerating the sprite image, saving it back to the server’s “/images/” directory, editing and saving the CSS, clearing the cache, and reloading the page. SpriteMe bypasses all of that by modifying the live page as you watch. In Figure 2, the #Buy element’s CSS has been modified by SpriteMe to use the new sprite,
spriteme1.png, along with the new background-position, “-10px -27px”. It might be hard to get excited – success means the page’s appearance doesn’t change at all! But injecting the sprite into the live page means developers can create sprites and verify they work in minutes instead of hours.
In all the excitement about features, I almost forgot about the most important part: how much does SpriteMe help reduce HTTP requests? The savings for the Alexa U.S. Top 100 shows SpriteMe replaces 9 background images with 1 sprite on average, for an overall reduction of 8 HTTP requests per page. These stats are tracked using SpriteMe’s “share your results” feature – after running SpriteMe, you can choose to send the savings to SpriteMe’s Savings page. This savings of 8 HTTP requests results in an average increase of 6K in image size. This is a worthwhile trade-off, but ideas for decreasing the sprite file size are in the works.
SpriteMe is an open source project, with all the usual links: Code, Group, Bugs, and Contact. In the second blog post, SpriteMe (part 2), I talk about my experience at WordCamp that motivated SpriteMe and the logic behind how SpriteMe makes its recommendations for creating sprites. The third post, SpriteMe (part 3), discusses issues around sprite file size (and memory size) and wraps up with thoughts on major next steps.