June 06, 2023 - 12 min read
NFT avatars are digital images that generally represent a specific piece of NFT art and are used as profile pictures (PFPs) for social media platforms. NFT avatars, especially avatars from blue chip NFT collections like Bored Ape Yacht Club and CryptoPunks, have become well-known status symbols in the crypto and NFT community. While some NFT collections are created manually, most NFTs, and hence, NFT avatars, are generated algorithmically and hence have varying characteristics, including different skin and hair colors, jewelry, clothing, and other characteristics.
NFT avatars are still somewhat popular, and the NFT avatar space continues to innovate. However, NFT avatars reached the height of their popularity during the top of the last NFT boom, which featured massive upswings in the prices of many NFT collections. Since then, the ensuing NFT crash has somewhat cooled the enthusiasm around NFT avatars, particularly as prices have fallen, making NFT avatars easier to get and perhaps less prestigious among the wider NFT community.
While it’s true that anyone can take a screenshot of an NFT and use it as their profile picture on Twitter or Facebook (as well as on Web3 social media platforms like Steem), this is generally seen as a bad move among NFT holders and crypto enthusiasts. In fact, many individuals using avatars from expensive NFT collections will even list their public wallet addresses in order to prove that they, in fact, do truly own the NFT that their profile picture represents.
The most popular NFT avatar projects currently include:
Elon Musk displays a collection of BAYC NFTs on his Twitter profile.
The Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) is the king of NFT collections, and hence, its NFT avatars are by far the most popular and prestigious NFT avatars available. As of May 2023, the BAYC NFT floor price was more than $84,000, down from an all-time peak of $420,000 in late April 2022. Either way, showing that you own a Bored Ape means that you have a high degree of disposable income (or that you’re up to your ears in debt).
In addition, the high level of BAYC celebrity endorsement has only added to the prestige of using BAYC NFTs as profile pictures. For example, celebrities including Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Curry, and Post Malone have all purchased Bored Apes and have used them as Twitter PFPs. While these celebrities have since changed their profile pics back to traditional photos, this celebrity NFT avatar trend, even if temporary, does demonstrate the pervasive influence of the BAYC collection on both the crypto space and overall internet culture.
The Mutant Ape Yacht Club (MAYC) is an incredibly popular spin-off of the BAYC collection, which was also invented and created by Yuga Labs, the company behind the Bored Ape Yacht Club. As of May 2023, the popular NFT avatar project had a floor price of more than $18,000, down from an all-time high of $116,000 in late April 2022. Using MAYC avatars has also been a way for internet denizens to demonstrate their prestige, albeit with a slightly smaller budget.
Jay-Z displays a CryptoPunk as his Twitter profile picture.
CryptoPunks are perhaps the only NFT avatar collection to truly rival– or even exceed the Bored Ape Yacht Club in terms of price, popularity, and cultural significance. Famous CryptoPunks owners currently include Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Logan Paul, Steve Aoki, Madonna, Gary Vee, Ozzy Osbourne, Serena Williams, and Jason Derulo, among others, some of which also temporarily used their NFT avatars as Twitter PFPs during the height of the NFT boom.
In October 2021, the CryptoPunks floor price peaked at its all-time high of more than $420,000, approximately the same floor price BAYCs would reach just half a year later. However, by late January 2022, they had fallen down to $160,000, and as of May 2023, the CryptoPunks floor price sits at slightly less than $90,000.
Moonbirds, while not nearly as well known as the BAYC or CryptoPunks, is still a major NFT project in its own right, and as of April 2022, had reached the top 10 list of the highest-grossing NFT collections of all time.
Moonbirds, which consists of 10,000 generative, pixelated owls, is much newer than CryptoPunks and the BAYC, having been created by entrepreneur Kevin Rose and launched in April 2022. Moonbirds exploded in popularity in the first few weeks after its launch, spiking to a floor price of more than $114,000 just a few days post-launch. By June 2022, however, the floor price had fallen to below $20,000. Despite this rapid decline, Moonbirds has still remained a popular NFT collection, and, unlike many other popular NFT projects, it offers a significant amount of utility to owners– including the ability to “nest,” or stake, your NFTs for rewards.
Like the Bored Ape Yacht Club, the Mutant Ape Yacht Club, Cryptopunks, and Moonbirds, Azuki is a collection of 10,000 generative NFTs. Launched in January 2022, the anime-inspired Azuki collection became one of the fastest-growing NFT projects in history. During the height of the April 2022 NFT boom, Azuki NFTs reached a floor price of $109,000. In contrast, as of May 2023, the Azuki NFT floor price is just above $27,000. And, like the other NFTs on this list, Azuki NFTs become highly popular as NFT avatars/PFPs. The Azuki collection has come under some criticism due to the mixed history of the founders’ previous projects. Still, even past scandals haven’t been able to stop this collection’s forward momentum, even if prices have tanked (for now).
Doodles is a collection of 10,000 brightly-colored NFTs designed by Canadian illustrator Burnt Toast (Scott Martin). According to the project’s website: “Hand-drawn Doodles include skellys, cats, aliens, apes, and mascots. The Doodles collection also includes dozens of rare heads, costumes, and colorways of the artist’s palette.”
Doodles reached an all-time high floor price of more than $68,000 in May 2022. As of May 2023, the floor price for Doodles NFTs was a little over $4,300. This means that Doodles, compared to some of the top 3-4 NFT collections, has lost a significant amount of value. However, in the context of most NFT collections, Doodles is still a smash hit, with a May 2023 market cap of more than $40 million.
The homepage of the OpenSea website. OpenSea is currently the largest NFT marketplace in the industry.
Buying an NFT avatar is relatively simple, but does take some research for beginners. All you need is a funded crypto wallet compatible with the blockchain your NFTs are on. Then, you can create an account with an NFT marketplace like OpenSea, Rarible, LooksRare, SuperRare, Nifty Gateway, which all have large Ethereum-based NFT collections. Many marketplaces, including OpenSea, also allow people to trade Polygon NFTs on the secondary market.
For those primarily interested in Solana NFTs, which have become increasingly popular (at least relative to other NFTs) in the last two years or so, SolSea and Solanart are great options. There are also a variety of newer and niche NFT marketplaces that service the Optimism, Arbitrum, Sui, and Aptos blockchains, for example.
However, if you want to get in on an upcoming NFT collection at the initial mint price, you’ll want to actively search for high-quality NFTs and get on a project’s whitelist. Many projects will advertise months before launching and may put out a roadmap, or plan, for the NFT collection on their website or Twitter. You can also take advice from crypto writers and influencers, but it’s important to beware of NFT scams and rug pulls, which occur when a team hypes up a project, sells their initial NFTs, and disappears, “pulling the rug” out from under the NFT collectors.
We should mention that aside from marketplaces and initial mints, you can also privately trade NFTs with other individuals, but using an NFT marketplace is generally a far safer bet for NFT collectors, as it’s much easier to get your digital assets stolen in a private transaction than on an NFT marketplace.
Making your own NFT avatar may sound difficult, but it’s easier than you might think. You can either create a single NFT for your avatar– or even an entire collection!
While it’s easy to create a single NFT on a marketplace like OpenSea– just by uploading your file and going through a few clicks, there are also a wide variety of free and low-cost NFT avatar maker tools that allow users to create thousands of generative NFTs. In general, this is done by identifying a base image and a certain number of traits (and each trait’s rarity) and letting the computer do the rest of the work.
For those who want to make an NFT look like themselves, there are also a variety of AI art tools that can easily transform a photograph into a drawing, painting, or pixelated image that can closely imitate the style of many popular NFT collections.
For larger, generative collections, you’ll generally need to batch-mint NFTs. This can be a little more complex and, depending on which tool you use, could require some basic coding. However, for large NFT collections, particularly on the Ethereum blockchain, batch minting is a near-necessity since individually minting hundreds or thousands of NFTs can get incredibly expensive.
For those interested, here is a great article from Moralis about batch-minting NFTs.
While NFT avatars are mainly used as social media profile pictures, creative artists and others have found a variety of ways to implement NFT avatars in other ways. For example, a Los Angeles jeweler created an Apple Watch pendant to display NFT avatars. Another company, Stash, has created a multi-chain NFT necklace that not only displays an NFT but also interfaces with a user’s wallet to digitally verify their ownership.
In addition, NFT avatars can also be used as a form of wall art, with many companies selling (or at least advertising) screens simply used to display NFTs. Like the Stash watch, some of these screens, including a monitor created by a company called Tokenframe, actually interface with a user’s wallet to verify ownership.
NFT wearables from Decentraland.
Finally, NFT avatars can also be used as wearables inside the metaverse. However, this can be challenging due to interoperability issues, so NFT avatar wearables are only available in certain metaverse games. For example, Decentraland has “linked wearables.” According to Decentraland: “Wearables are 3D representations of NFTs that originate from outside Decentraland that can be used as wearables in-world, can be equipped on the avatar, and are found in the backpack.” Collections generally need to be approved by the Decentraland DAO, but many major NFT collections, including BAYC and CryptoPunks, can be used as NFT wearables inside the game.
So far, the use of NFT avatars, especially by Twitter influencers and celebrities, appears to be somewhat of a faddish phenomenon. This is particularly evidenced by the fact that many individuals temporarily changed their PFPs to NFT avatars, only to change them back to regular photographs within a few months. This shift has coincided with a major fall in NFT prices and popularity, meaning that NFT PFPs simply have less clout than they did during the height of the market and directly after the release of various NFT projects.
However, the NFT market (and the broader crypto market) operates in cycles, and it’s likely that during the next NFT boom, we’ll see many people, both celebrities and otherwise, begin to widely use NFT avatars as PFPs again. This is especially the case when new collections explode in popularity, as people often want to be seen as “on-trend,” and using an NFT avatar from the latest hit NFT collection can be a great way to do so. In addition to brand-new collections, we’ll likely see more NFT releases that are spin-offs of current collections (like the Mutant Ape Yacht Club), which will also likely become popular NFT PFPs, at least temporarily.
Additionally, as NFTs from Layer-1 and Layer-2 (i.e., non-Ethereum mainnet), blockchains also become more popular, we can also potentially expect more NFT avatars and PFPs to come from Solana, Polygon, Sui, Aptos, Arbitrum, and Optimism-based NFT collections.
Plus, in the coming years, the NFT market may also be increasingly influenced by GameFi, and higher-priced gaming NFTs could also become popular NFT avatars– particularly if AAA games (like Halo, Call of Duty, and Grand Theft Auto) begin to adopt NFTs. This could also be the case if blockchain-native games begin to rival traditional games in popularity, though this is less likely due to funding and quality-control issues.
In addition to the influence of GameFi, we can expect more fashion and luxury brands (as well as other companies) to continue their involvement in the NFT space. If done well, some NFTs from these collections may also become popular NFT avatars.
We will also likely continue to see AI and generative art technology continue to develop further, and depending on market psychology, we may see more people repping NFT PFPs from smaller collections, or even creating their own, in order to satisfy their own creative desires and express themselves online.
An NFT from Damien Hirst’s collection “The Currency.”
In future months and years, NFTs might also continue to influence the mainstream art world, and prestigious traditional artists may begin to make their own NFT avatars. For instance, while famed artists like Damien Hirst have sold NFT collections for millions of dollars (mainly his abstract collection “The Currency” few traditional artists have focused on NFT avatars themselves.
While it’s impossible to predict the future, NFT avatars may not be the hit they once were– but they’re certainly far from finished.
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