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Scalable vector graphics, or SVGs, are the industry standard for images used in modern web design. Given their universal compatibility, a little more than half (50.3%) of all websites on the internet today feature these images to support their visual design, including icons, logos, charts, and illustrations. The SVG format is also compatible with most graphic design programs, web browsers, and output devices like laser cutters and digital embroidery machines.
The SVG file format is an XML-based vector image format, and it’s a perfect fit when designing for scale in a 2D format. The format provides limitless scalability so that your designs work across different mediums and in various sizes. This flexibility allows you to create an image that can be displayed on both a mobile web page and a billboard.
The SVG format uses XML for accessibility. These files can be manipulated in graphic design software like CorelDRAW or a simple text editor. The text-based file storage also allows SVG files to be indexed and searched on the web, providing an additional layer of search engine optimization benefits for websites that use SVG files.
In the late 1990s, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3) recognized a need for a universal image format, and sent out a call for proposals. The tech world responded with options from designers and developers at influential companies like Adobe, IBM, Microsoft, Boeing, and Xerox.
These ideas informed what eventually became the standard vector graphics format for the web–the SVG file. Today, SVGs provide designers with an easy-to-work-with format that is widely accessible.
The SVG file format encompasses all the benefits of vector graphics, including scalability and accessibility, packaged in a small file size, meaning it’s a win-win for designers and developers.
The small file size is critical for great-looking graphics that load fast and don't hurt the user experience. Using scalable vector graphics in web design boosts SEO with speed, indexing, and CSS styling and future-proofs your work with perfectly scalable images up to at least 8K.
As the internet continues to shift towards video and interactive content, embracing scalable vector graphics that natively support animation and interactivity will be critical. We can use SVGs to create interactive graphic elements, a significant upgrade over standard imaging and helps provide variety when designing websites.
Scalable vector graphics are predominantly used in the digital world, for web design and illustrations. The perfect scalability of the SVG format plays well with a wide variety of web browsers, allowing vector designs to be loaded quickly and displayed accurately across any device.
Designers use scalable vector graphics for:
While the SVG format is a natural choice for web icons, logos, and illustrations, it's not a replacement for realistic imagery that can be captured with photography. Scalable vector graphics simply don't capture the level of authentic detail that a high-resolution photograph does.
The widespread use of SVG files is also newer, with mainstream adoption as recent as 2017. While older browsers are on their way out, you may still encounter compatibility issues with older technologies. For example, SVG files aren't supported if you're using a legacy browser like IE8 or lower.
Images are stored in many different formats: SVG, PNG, JPEG, and GIF, to name a few, and each file type has pros and cons. The SVG file type is the standard for image assets intended for web design.
As a designer, you'll find that SVGs are a big part of designing for the web. These vector graphics offer unmatched flexibility and adaptability to other file types. From creative control to designing for the user experience, mastering the SVG format is essential for digital designers. Learn more about the wide range of vector file types available in our next article in the vector art series.