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Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG) Format: Seeing the Big Picture

scalable vector graphics

The scalable vector graphic (SVG) format continues to enjoy steady adoption across the web. According to data from W3Techs, SVG now accounts for 25 percent of website images worldwide. But it wasn’t always this way. In 1998, it became apparent that vector-based graphics had a future on the web, and the W3C received six different file format submissions from technology companies that year. Some were mere proposals ready for a complete revamp, while others were proprietary products that W3C wasn’t permitted to modify. Instead of forging a format from one of the submissions, however, W3C’s SVG working group decided to start from the ground up — and SVG was born.

While the file format had lofty ambitions, focusing on common use rather than specific syntax, the original iteration was cumbersome and complex. However, SVG has improved year after year after year. With increased support came more streamlined functionality and usable features. Now, SVG is often the first choice for meeting the evolving demands of scalable, responsive, and accessible web content.

What is a Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG) and how does it work?

Today, SVG is the de-facto standard for vector-based browser graphics. But what exactly is this file format, and how does it work?

Based on XML, SVG supports three broad types of objects: 

  • Vector graphics including paths and outlines that are both straight and curved
  • Bitmap images such as .jpeg, .gif, and .png
  • Text

What sets SVG apart from bitmap-based images is the use of lines and curves along the edges of graphical objects. Because bitmap images use a fixed set of pixels, scaling them up creates blurriness where the edges of pixels meet. In the case of vector images, meanwhile, a fixed-shape approach allows the preservation of smooth lines and curves no matter the image size.

SVG also offers the benefit of interoperability. Because it’s a W3C open standard, SVG plays well with both other image format and web markup languages including JavaScript, DOM, CSS, and HTML. This allows the format to easily support responsive design approaches that scale websites and web content based on the user device rather than defining standardized size parameters. Thanks to the curves and lines of SVG, scaling presents no problem for responsive designers looking to ensure consistency across device types.

The Benefits of SVG

While scalability is often cited as the biggest benefit of SVG, this format also offers other advantages, including:

  • Responsiveness — Images can be easily scaled up or down and modified as necessary to meet web design and development demands.
  • Accessibility — Since SVG is text-based, content can be indexed and searched, allowing both users and developers to quickly find what they’re looking for.
  • Performance Image rendering is quick and doesn’t require substantive resources, allowing sites to load quickly and completely.
  • Use in Web ApplicationsBrowser incompatibilities and missing functions often frustrate web design efforts, forcing developers to use multiple tool sets and spend time checking content and images for potential format conflicts. SVG, meanwhile, offers powerful scripting and event support, in turn allowing developers to leverage it as a platform for both graphically rich applications and user interfaces. The result? Better-looking sites that enhance the overall user experience.
  • InteroperabilityBecause SVG is based on W3C standards, the format is entirely interoperable, meaning developers aren’t tied to any specific implementation, vendor, or authoring tool. From building their own framework from the ground up to leveraging third-party SVG applications, web developers can find their format best-fit.

SVG in PrizmDoc Viewer

Accusoft’s PrizmDoc Viewer offers multiple ways for developers to make the most of SVG elements at scale, such as:

  • File TransformationConversion is critical for effective and efficient web design. If development teams need different file transformation tools for every format, the timeline for web projects expands significantly. PrizmDoc Viewer streamlines this process with support for the conversion of more than 100 file types — including PDFs, Microsoft Office files, HTML, EML, rich text, and images — into browser-compliant SVG outputs. In practice, this permits near-native document and image rendering that’s not only fast, but also accessible anytime, anywhere, and from any device.
  • HTML5 FunctionalityUsing SVG in PrizmDoc Viewer is made easier thanks to native HTML5 design. The use of HTML5-native framework not only improves load times with smaller document sizes but means that PrizmDoc Viewer works in all modern web browsers — while also dramatically enhancing document display quality.
  • Pre-Conversion One of the biggest challenges with viewing large documents in a browser is delay. Pages toward the end of the document may take longer to load and frustrate users looking to quickly find a specific image or piece of information. PrizmDoc Viewer solves this problem with a pre-conversion API that returns the first page as an SVG while the rest of the document is being converted, allowing users to interact with documents as conversion takes place and lowering the chance that files will experience format-based delays.

SVG hasn’t always been the go-to web image format. Despite a promising start based on open, interoperable standards, the lack of early support and specific use cases for vector-based file formats saw SVG sitting on the sidelines for decades. 

The advent of on-demand access requirements and mobile-first development realities has changed the conversation. SVG is now continuously gaining ground as companies see the benefit in this scalable, streamlined, and superior-quality file format. Get the big picture and see SVG in action with our online document viewing demo, or start a free PrizmDoc Viewer trial today!