Recently I’ve had a fascination with recursive SVG patterns: using multiple repetitions of a basic polygon inside itself to create complex designs. This requires precision alignment of scaled elements, which brings on another challenge: how to scale SVG elements around their centers.

The Fundamentals

Let’s start with the basic pattern unit of a hexagon, with all six points internally joined via a line to their opposite:

Figure 1: A base SVG shape pattern

As this structure will be used repeatedly in the final design, it is created as a group inside the <defs> section of the SVG, with a <use> reference written to place the first iteration of the design:

<svg xmlns="" xmlns:xlink="" 
viewBox="0 0 750 750">
        <g id="hex">
            <polygon points="229.3,627.5 83.6,375.5 229.3,123.5 520.7,123.5 666.4,375.5 520.7,627.5" />
            <line x1="229.3" y1="123.5" x2="520.7" y2="627.5"/>
            <line x1="666" y1="375.5" x2="84" y2="375.5"/>
            <line x1="520.7" y1="123.5" x2="229.3" y2="627.5"/>
    <use xlink:href="#hex" />

The SVG is styled with written inside the <defs>:

polygon, line { fill: none; stroke: #32679D; stroke-width: 7px; }

Next, we want to create a copy of the pattern, but at half its current size, centered on the same point. But the line of code that you might use - a scaled <use> element:

<use xlink:href="#hex" transform="scale(.5)" />

…doesn’t work in the way you might expect:

Figure 2: The result of a standard SVG scale copy

Unlike HTML elements in CSS transformations, SVG does not scale around its center by default; instead, it scales from the top left corner. To get around this problem, we can use a simple formula:

translate(-centerX * (factor - 1), -centerY * (factor - 1)) scale(factor)

We know that the this design is centered at the precise center of the SVG i.e.: 375 375. Therefore, to scale a copy of the design by half on this center point, the complete formula would be:

translate(-375 * (.5 - 1), -375 * (factor - .5)) scale(.5)

Which resolves to:

<use xlink:href="#hex" transform="translate(187.5, 187.5) scale(.5)" />

Creating this result:

Figure 3: A correctly transformed SVG scale

The remaining problem - at least for this design - is that the stroke is scaled along with the design itself. Thankfully, from an earlier article, we know how to address that too: using non-scaling-stroke in CSS, or as an SVG attribute:

polygon, line { 
    fill: none; stroke: #32679D; stroke-width: 7px;
    vector-effect: non-scaling-stroke; 

The result:

Figure 4: A transformed SVG scale with non-scaling stroke

Once you have that, it’s fairly straightforward to move and scale further copies of the base pattern to create complex designs.


One of the advantages of using a base pattern in SVG is that any changes to the base unit will be reflected in its copies. That is, if I rotate the original pattern in the <defs>:

<g id="hex" transform="rotate(30 375 375)">

All of the hexagons that derive from this base design will be rotated as a result, while retaining their individual translation and scale changes. You can see the effect of this in the example at the top of this article, and its associated CodePen.

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