In graphics applications there is often a feature that allows one to flip or mirror objects like images or shapes around the horizontal or vertical axis.

In an application I use, the action is labelled and works like this:

  • Flip horizontal: Flip around the vertical axis.
  • Flip vertical: Flip around the horizontal axis.

So my question is, why is this inverted? I think I can remember that I saw it the other way round at least once. But I am not sure if there was additional information that they were referring to the axes.

Is it obvious what is going to happen when the user chooses either of the options (without an additional icon or text)?

  • There is nothing "natural" about it. Its just plain wrong and all software I've seen has this wrong. What do "the direction of the object itself" even mean? Horizontal flip should be a horizontal flip and there is nothing vertical about it. I've so pissed about this, because using ffmpeg for flipping videos can take hours to discover that ffmpeg can't differentiate between horizontal and vertical.
    – Druga
    Apr 1, 2021 at 4:30
  • It isn't wrong. Even in math it's named the same way.
    – Manar
    Sep 26, 2021 at 20:51

2 Answers 2


I would say the way you have it set up is the expected and natural experience. Users likely will not be thinking about which axis the object is rotating around, instead which direction the object itself will be rotating/flipping.

Take Flipboard, for example. Swiping left or right technically flips the cover around the vertical axis, but the user sees the cover being flipped left or right, i.e. horizontally.

  • 1
    Exactly, it is easier for the general user to think of the direction something is flipping, rather than how it works on an axis. If you try and imagine other ways of saying the same thing, i.e. flip up, flip over, flip tall etc, horizontal and vertical seem to equate to the best user experience. Mar 2, 2012 at 15:41
  • 1
    Yep, agreed. Photoshop, for example, uses "Flip horizontal" and "Flip vertical" as the original poster, while Illustrator uses "Refelct along axis". I'm using both on a regular basis, and Illustrator's behaviour is just unnatural, I get the axis wrong every now and then and it is very, very annoying.
    – Christian
    Mar 2, 2012 at 19:05
  • I guess it depends how much maths you have done: this is "reflect in y axis" or "reflect in x axis" for me...
    – PhillipW
    Apr 3, 2021 at 17:40
  • It isn't wrong. Even in math it's named the same way.
    – Manar
    Sep 26, 2021 at 20:52

I came here from a Google search which was "To flip vertically is to turn on horizontal axis". I do a lot of graphics work but have zero formal training, all self-taught. I'd like to offer something which is important to me and pertinent to my experience, and that is that I find too often that those who make such decisions in presentation and nomenclature and user interface and experience err downward in their estimation of the interest and intellect of their imagined user. I am often flummoxed and frustrated by not understanding instructions which have been "dumbed down" for my supposed convenience and comprehension. In doing this, these designers create a logical gap which cannot be crossed without leaping: I am forced to imagine what the designer imagines I will think in order to understand the instructions or tool as intended. This position is the opposite one of what such design decisions wish to accomplish, I'm sure. So please forgive me if this is not pertinent, but I want to say please do not underestimate the user's ability to comprehend. "Intuitive" too often is a euphemism for "lazy" and lazy is uninterested and that's not what you want the user to be.

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