Bitcoin NFTs: What Are Ordinal NFTs and How Do You Mint One?

NFTs on Bitcoin are different from the Ethereum NFTs most people are familiar with. Here’s what you need to know.

AccessTimeIconFeb 23, 2023 at 5:51 p.m. UTC

Non-fungible tokens (NFT) are most widely known as Ethereum-based tokens, but lately the buzz is all about Bitcoin NFTs, which are also known as Ordinal NFTs or Bitcoin Ordinals.

The introduction of something called inscriptions on Bitcoin’s mainnet in January 2023 enabled the creation of Ordinal NFTs, which are basically NFTs on Bitcoin. The novel project has captured the collective mindshare of both NFT lovers and haters. CoinDesk’s coverage of Ordinals has ranged from how it has led to a resurgence in Bitcoin development, how it might have accidentally fixed Bitcoin’s security budget and how it can potentially lift the entire crypto ecosystem.

That’s high praise for a seemingly innocuous addition to Bitcoin. The news might have you wondering: How do these things work? How are Ordinal NFTs different from other NFTs? And of course: How can I get my own Ordinal NFT?

For this, look no further. We’ll explain it all in this article.

How do Ordinal NFTs work?

Ordinal NFTs use inscriptions to work. Inscriptions are powered by Ordinal theory through the Ordinal protocol, which was developed by Casey Rodarmor. Ordinal theory aims to give satoshis (the smallest unit of bitcoin at 1/100,000,000 of a full bitcoin) “individual identities allowing them to be tracked, transferred and imbued with meaning.”

Basically, the Ordinal protocol assigns each satoshi a sequential number. After that number is assigned, each satoshi can then be inscribed with data such as pictures, text or videos through a Bitcoin transaction. Once that transaction is mined, the arbitrary data is permanently part of the Bitcoin blockchain and viewable through Ordinal-enabled Bitcoin wallets and online Ordinal viewers.

How are they different from other NFTs?

The one main difference between Ordinal NFTs and other NFTs has to do with data storage.

Most NFTs are created using the Ethereum blockchain through the ERC-721 Non-Fungible Token Standard. ERC 721 is a standard which outlines how an NFT should be created so that it will be properly recognized across the Ethereum ecosystem. When an ERC-721 NFT is created, a file of metadata – literally data which provides information about other data (hence, “meta”) – provides information about the NFT. The easiest way to think of it is that the NFT itself is a contract that proves ownership of another item, which is detailed in that metadata. In the case of the most common NFTs, which are digital art, the actual JPG or file of the art is usually stored off the Ethereum blockchain and the metadata includes a link to that file. This means that the actual file or artwork can be altered since it is not embedded in the blockchain.

Bitcoin’s Ordinal NFTs are different in that there isn’t a file of referenceable metadata that describes the NFT; instead, the entire data file resides in the witness signature field of Bitcoin transactions. That means the entirety of Ordinal NFTs live and breathe on the blockchain.

Whether that matters or not is really up to the user, but Ordinal NFTs bring an additional level of immutability to NFTs.

How do I mint an Ordinal NFT?

Ordinal NFTs are really new, so their accessibility is limited as the ecosystem builds out. There are two main ways to mint your own Ordinal NFT right now.

The first way is by starting up a full Bitcoin node and running Ord on the node. Then you can start inscribing satoshis into a wallet you control to make Ordinal NFTs. This method is technically involved and is more suitable for tech savvy hobbyists and those who really love NFTs.

The other way to inscribe an Ordinal NFT is to use a no-code inscription tool. It’s a far more casual experience and works fine if you don’t mind inserting a little trust into your minting process. I own an Ordinal NFT and I minted it using one of these no-code tools called Gamma. It is relatively straightforward for those familiar with Bitcoin, but it can be a bit tricky at parts.

This is how I did it:

Before you start, make sure you have some bitcoin (~$50 worth) so that you can pay the transaction fee for your inscription. The wallet you have it in must be able to send bitcoin to Taproot addresses. Here’s a good list of wallets and service providers who support Taproot. What you need to look for is in the “Send to Bech32m'' column – which is different than the “Send to Bech32” column, so make sure you are scanning the correct one. A “Yes” in that Bech32m column indicates if the wallet can send bitcoin to Taproot addresses. Note that popular exchanges like Coinbase and Binance do not support Taproot.

Once you have your transaction fee bitcoin secured in your wallet, you can start minting your Ordinal NFT. Here’s the step-by-step I used to mint my first Ordinal using Gamma. You could also use something like OrdinalsBot and the process would be more or less the same.

  • Upload the desired file by selecting the file from your desktop or typing in the text directly where indicated.
  • Select a transaction fee rate based on how long you are willing to wait for your NFT to mint. Take note of the estimated mint times provided for the various fee rate choices.
  • Here’s one of the tricky parts of the process. The next step is to designate the bitcoin address where the Ordinal NFT should be sent. The address needs to be either a Taproot address or an Ordinal-compatible address.

I would recommend using Sparrow Wallet for this step. Here is a link to a step-by-step guide to setting up Sparrow Wallet for Ordinal NFTs.

Once you have your Sparrow Wallet address set up, drop it into the “Recipient bitcoin address” field on the Gamma website. Make sure the first four characters of this address are “bc1p.” This prefix indicates that the address is a Taproot address.

  1. Pay your transaction fee for minting the Ordinal NFT by sending the indicated amount of bitcoin to the indicated address. Note that this address will also start with “bc1p.” It is very important to be careful here. I would recommend sending the bitcoin for this payment from a different wallet than the wallet receiving your Ordinal NFT unless you really know what you’re doing and are intimately familiar with coin control. If you are not careful you could mistakenly send a previously inscribed satoshi you own and you’d no longer have access to that NFT.
  2. Wait. This could take up to a few days depending on the fee rate you selected. You will have received a link to check on the status of your minting.
  3. Enjoy your NFT through an Ordinal viewer.

As always, be cognizant and careful with your behavior on bitcoin. Ordinals are new and they can be finicky. And everything you do on bitcoin can be easily tracked. So be aware that whatever you do can probably be linked back to you.

Happy Ordinaling!

This article was originally published on Feb 23, 2023 at 5:51 p.m. UTC


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George Kaloudis

George Kaloudis was a research analyst and columnist for CoinDesk.

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