How on-chain is Highlight?

Note: updates to our on-chain file storage system, and the ability to create fully “in-chain” projects that are rendered directly from the blockchain, are coming soon.

The full article can be found here.

Artists and collectors often ask us: “Are artworks created using your tools stored on-chain?”

We answer this with an enthusiastic “It depends!” This is because we pride ourselves on providing options to artists instead of dictating a specific approach, including how they choose to bring their works on-chain.

The Core Goal is Digital Preservation

Being on-chain is not the ultimate goal in and of itself. The fundamental objective is to achieve permanence and longevity for digital artworks, and — for code-based artwork — on-chain storage is one of the best methods.

While being on-chain does not inherently guarantee permanence because blockchains can and do fail or become obsolete, it establishes the conceptual groundwork to enable the preservation of digital art.

Levels of On-Chain Art

  1. Fully Off-Chain: The artwork assets and metadata live in centralized storage like AWS or Google Cloud. The NFT merely consists of pointer links to this off-chain data. This approach can be better for performance, e.g., displaying your artwork simultaneously to millions of viewers over the internet.

  2. Decentralized File Storage: Networks like IPFS and Arweave provide decentralized storage, but the code to produce the artwork remains off-chain. This is an improvement over centralized services, but critical assets are not stored on the blockchain itself.

  3. On-Chain Data, Off-Chain Dependencies: Critical artwork data and assets are stored directly on-chain, but required libraries and metadata often remain off-chain, especially for performance reasons. Shout out to Art Blocks for pioneering this model for generative collections.

  4. Fully On-Chain: All artwork data, metadata, dependencies, and anything else required to recreate the work is stored wholly on-chain. This provides full assurance of availability as long as the underlying blockchain exists.

  5. In-Chain Generative Art: The art is not just stored on the blockchain. It IS the blockchain. Projects like Autoglyphs and Math Castles store, generate and render art natively in transactions on-chain. The blockchain is the entire creative medium.

    1. Highlight smart contracts fully support in-chain generative art. Creators can either swap in a custom in-chain renderer they’ve built (for example, see Bit Rot) or use our global in-chain renderer, which is coming very soon.

How On-Chain is Highlight?

With the above in mind, creators using Highlight can make collections at any point on the spectrum above, except option 1. Choosing where your project should exist on this spectrum depends on your goals, values, and budget for your project. In short, we provide the flexibility to target the appropriate level of on-chainness for each collection, depending on the artist.

Highlight’s also unique because you can graduate levels based on what we’ve built.

For example, you release a project using level 2 above, which deploys your generative script and other assets to Arweave for decentralized file storage. This reduces upfront costs since you won’t add your script or any other dependencies on-chain.

Because your work is a brilliant project that collectors adore, it sells out quickly, and a brisk secondary market starts around it. Several collectors say that while they love the project, they are concerned about its long-term preservation and prefer to see the script and other dependencies brought on-chain.

Thankfully, you’ve used Highlight, so your contract has a built-in file system that will let you, as the contract creator and owner, put your project on-chain. Even though the project has already been deployed, you can add your script later, moving your project from level 2 to level 3.

Fast-forward another few months, and your project is now an iconic example of contemporary generative art. You want to ensure it’s fully preserved on-chain to the best of your ability. You take the version of p5.js that you used and deploy it on-chain while updating your script to reference the on-chain version recursively. Doing so moves your project from level 3 to 4.

Finally, you can entirely swap in either our in-chain renderer or a custom in-chain renderer of your choice, which will do the work of our engine but “in-chain,” seeding your collection outputs with transaction data, as usual.

In sum, we meet creators where they are regarding on-chain preferences while providing complete control over data-storage options. We believe that the journey to fully on-chain art is both a spectrum and a progression, not a binary or immutable choice, and we’re here to help artists however they decide.

By deploying a collection on Highlight, you can focus on making art with the confidence that under the hood, you maintain optionality with a very flexible and upgradable on-chain architecture that can support more on-chain artwork as your creative practice, community, and career evolve.

Let us know if you have any other technical questions by reaching us at We’re always happy to dive deeper into how Highlight empowers on-chain creativity.

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