From Bored Ape portraits to pixelated CryptoPunks, 2D avatar NFTs—commonly referred to as PFP or profile picture NFTs—have come to dominate the NFT market. 

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are unique blockchain tokens that signify ownership, but for many, the term NFT is synonymous with PFPs such as Bored Ape Yacht Club and CryptoPunks

However, these PFPs are, in fact, distinct from the blockchain token they’re connected to. PFP images—such as that of a Bored Ape—are in fact the associated metadata connected to NFTs. 


What is a PFP NFT?

In short, it’s an image, typically static and two-dimensional, that can be bought and sold as an NFT. Typically, they take the form of a head-and-shoulders portrait depicting an animal, person, or other such anthropomorphized creature.

A CryptoPunk, Bored Ape, and Moonbird NFT. Images: OpenSea

PFP NFTs typically have a randomized set of traits, with varying degrees of rarity (such as color, accessories such as hats and sunglasses, and other more esoteric features). The rarest traits can make a PFP valuable; there are just nine Alien CryptoPunks, for example, and they've traded hands for tens of millions of dollars.

How does a PFP NFT Work?

PFP NFTs can either be minted from the NFT collection’s website or purchased on a secondary NFT marketplace like OpenSea or Magic Eden. Once purchased, the NFT will appear in the user’s supported cryptocurrency wallet (such as MetaMask or Phantom) as well as on their profile page of the NFT marketplace where they purchased the asset. 

Ethereum PFP NFT owners can connect their crypto wallets to their Twitter Blue accounts to verify their profile picture NFTs for a “hexagon” shape, or show off their NFT on Instagram or other social media accounts.

What can PFP NFTs be used for?

Not all PFP NFTs are created equal. Some, such as the Mfers or Goblintown NFTs, emphasize that they offer few benefits to holders beyond the images purchased; they’re often released either in the public domain or under Creative Commons licenses, meaning that anyone can reuse the NFTs’ images regardless of ownership.


Other PFP NFTs, such as Moonbirds, promise specific benefits to holders that extend far beyond just the use of the art image purchased, such as staking for token rewards, exclusive merchandise, and Discord community access, for example.

And some PFP NFTs are dynamic NFTs, meaning their avatar images can change over time depending on community events or lore changes.

How are PFP NFTs different from other NFTs?

PFP NFTs primarily center around the fact that each NFT is an avatar which can be used as one’s internet alias instead of a personal photo. But an NFT can be associated with many other types of metadata beyond just 2D art. 

For instance, blockchain-based metaverses like The Sandbox, Yuga Labs’ Otherside, and Decentraland sell virtual land as NFTs, and the PROOF Collective has sold NFTs that don’t offer art but instead act as a membership card to access other types of benefits.

Why do PFP NFTs matter?

PFP NFTs arguably started the broader NFT cultural phenomenon and are often what first comes to mind when one thinks of an NFT.

They are a jumping off point for NFT technology and offer the crypto-curious a glimpse into what the tech could offer in the future.

Outside of a shop with tinted windows and images of an Ape CryptoPunk NFT and a Cryptoskull NFT.
Outside the Psyborg Gallery in Shoreditch in London, England, which displays a number of CryptoPunk and CryptoSkull NFTs and offers viewings by appointment only. Image: Kate Irwin

The future of PFP NFTs

While game character NFTs for Axie Infinity are the most-traded collection of all time by volume according to CryptoSlam data, the PFP NFT collections of the Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC), Crypto Punks, and Mutant Ape Yacht Club (MAYC) fill out the remaining top four spots, with billions of dollars in total volume traded.

But do PFP NFTs have a future? Some believe the avatar craze is just a fad, and will eventually be supplanted by virtual land in the metaverse, membership cards, blockchain gaming, or other utility NFTs


But for the time being, PFP NFTs act as a badge of membership to an exclusive club; Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT holders count the likes of Snoop Dogg and Madonna among their peers, and enjoy access to special events like Ape Fest.

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