Drawing Sprites with Canvas

One of the first articles I wrote on this blog back in May 2010 was about how useful sprites are and how to use them with CSS. It’s can be an absolute headache to implement simple spriting with CSS. Thankfully drawing sprites is implemented natively within the canvas api.

Getting ready

Before I go in to specifics of drawing on a canvas all of these examples expect a 2D context to be available. I won’t repeat this for each example so here is a quick example of how to get it.

A bit of HTML

<canvas id="canvas" width="500" height="500"></canvas>

Create the 2d Canvas Context

var canvas = document.getElementById('canvas'),
    context = canvas.getContext('2d')

Drawing an image

We’ll use an image sprite sheet I have been using to build a simple Space Invaders game.

var img = new Image();
img.src = 'http://davetayls.me/space-invaders/sprites.png';

Next we can use the 2d context’s drawImage function to pick out and draw the sprite. You can condense this but I’ll separate it out so that it’s easier to follow.

So first we are going to need dimensions and positions:

var spriteWidth  = 350,
    spriteHeight = 170,
    pixelsLeft   = 170,
    pixelsTop    = 10,

    // Where are we going to draw
    // the sprite on the canvas
    canvasPosX   = 20,
    canvasPosY   = 20


See the result here.

Create Reusable Sprite Objects

As I found recently, you will start to write the same code over and over again with sprites so you’ll want to wrap the common code in to a reusable object.

Here’s a Sprite class which will allow you to specify several sprite positions and then draw a particular one just giving the location on the canvas.

function Sprite(img, width, height, positions){
  this.img = img;
  this.width = width;
  this.height = height;
  this.positions = positions;
Sprite.prototype = {
  draw: function(position, x, y){
      var pos = this.positions[position];
        x, y

This is how you would use it:

var sprite = new Sprite(img, 32, 16, [
    // specify a few sprite locations
    [10, 523],  // green
    [131, 523], // pink
    [191, 523]  // hit
sprite.draw(0, 10, 200);
sprite.draw(1, 50, 200);
sprite.draw(2, 90, 200);

And here is the finished example

I hope this has demystified the common sprite technique within canvas.

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