A shape is the form of an object or its external boundary, outline, or external surface, as opposed to other properties such as color, texture or material type.
Some simple shapes can be put into broad categories . For instance, polygons are classified according to their number of edges as triangles, quadrilaterals, pentagons, etc. Each of these is divided into smaller categories; triangles can be equilateral, isosceles, obtuse, acute, scalene, etc. while quadrilaterals can be rectangles, rhombi, trapezoids, squares, etc.
Sometimes, two similar or congruent objects may be regarded as having a different shape if a reflection is required to transform one into the other. For instance, the letters "b" and "d" are a reflection of each other, and hence they are congruent and similar, but in some contexts they are not regarded as having the same shape. Sometimes, only the outline or external boundary of the object is considered to determine its shape. For instance, a hollow sphere may be considered to have the same shape as a solid sphere. Procrustes analysis is used in many sciences to determine whether or not two objects have the same shape, or to measure the difference between two shapes. In advanced mathematics, quasi-isometry can be used as a criterion to state that two shapes are approximately the same.
Objects that can be transformed into each other by rigid transformations and mirroring (but not scaling) are congruent. An object is therefore congruent to its mirror image (even if it is not symmetric), but not to a scaled version. Two congruent objects always have either the same shape or mirror image shapes, and have the same size.
One way of modeling non-rigid movements is by homeomorphisms. Roughly speaking, a homeomorphism is a continuous stretching and bending of an object into a new shape. Thus, a square and a circle are homeomorphic to each other, but a sphere and a donut are not. An often-repeated mathematical joke is that topologists cannot tell their coffee cup from their donut, since a sufficiently pliable donut could be reshaped to the form of a coffee cup by creating a dimple and progressively enlarging it, while preserving the donut hole in a cup's handle.
The above-mentioned mathematical definitions of rigid and non-rigid shape have arisen in the field of statistical shape analysis. In particular, Procrustes analysis is a technique used for comparing shapes of similar objects (e.g. bones of different animals), or measuring the deformation of a deformable object. Other methods are designed to work with non-rigid (bendable) objects, e.g. for posture independent shape retrieval (see for example Spectral shape analysis).
Psychologists have theorized that humans mentally break down images into simple geometric shapes called geons. Examples of geons include cones and spheres. A wide range of other shape representations have also been investigated.