SVG Essentials introduces you to the Scalable Vector Graphics XML file format. SVG, a recommendation from the World Wide Web Consortium, uses XML to describe graphics that are made up of lines, curves, and text. This rather dry definition does not do justice to the scope and power of SVG.

You can add SVG graphics to an Extensible Stylesheet Language Formatting Objects (XSL-FO) document, and convert the combined document to Adobe PDF format for high-quality printouts. Mapmakers and meteorologists are using SVG to create highly detailed graphic images in a truly portable format. Web developers are embedding SVG in web pages to create high-resolution, responsive graphics with small file sizes. All of the diagrams in this book were originally created in SVG. As you learn and use SVG, you’re sure to think of new and interesting uses for this technology.

Who Should Read This Book?

You should read this book if you want to

  • Create SVG files in a text or XML editor
  • Create SVG files from existing vector data
  • Transform other XML data to SVG
  • Use JavaScript to manipulate the SVG document object tree

Who Should Not Read This Book?

If you simply want to view SVG files, you need only acquire a viewer program or plug-in for the Web, download the files, and enjoy them. There’s no need for you to know what’s going on behind the scenes unless you wish to satisfy your lively intellectual curiosity.

If you wish to create SVG files with a drawing program that has SVG export capability, just read that program’s documentation to learn how to use that program feature.

If You’re Still Reading This…

If you’ve decided that you should indeed read this book, you should also be aware that most of the people who use this book will be fairly advanced users, quite probably from a technical background rather than a graphics design background. We didn’t want to burden them with a lot of basic material up front, but we did want the book to be accessible to people with no background in XML or programming, so we created a number of introductory chapters—and then put them in the back of the book as appendixes. If you haven’t used XML or stylesheets (and this could include some of the technical folks!) or have never programmed, you might want to turn first to the appendixes. A complete list of all the chapters and appendixes with details on what they contain is given later in this preface.

If you’re one of the technical types, you definitely need to be aware that this book will not make you a better artist, any more than a book on word processing algorithms will make you a better writer. This book gives the technical details of scalable vector graphics; to create better art, you need to learn to see, and the book you should read in addition to this one is The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Dr. Betty Edwards (Tarcher).

This book gives you the essentials of SVG; if you want to find out all the details, you should go straight to the source, the W3C SVG specifications.

About the Examples

The examples in this book, except for those that involve HTML pages, have been tested with the Batik SVG viewer on a system running GNU/Linux. The Batik SVG viewer is an application of the software developed by the Apache Software Foundation’s Batik project. This cross-platform software, written in Java, is available as open source under the Apache Software License and can be freely downloaded from the project website.

All the examples (including those in Chapters 2, 13, and 14 that involve JavaScript and HTML) were tested by being loaded into the Firefox and Chrome web browsers. The level of support for the more sophisticated features of SVG differs depending upon the browser.

As you look through the illustrations in this book, you will find that they are utterly lacking in artistic merit. There are reasons for this. First, each example is intended to illustrate a particular aspect of SVG, and it should do so without additional visual distractions. Second, one of the authors (David) becomes terribly depressed when he looks at other books with impossibly beautiful examples; “I can never draw anything that looks like this,” he thinks. In an effort to save you from similar distress, the examples are purposely as simple (or simplistic) as possible. As you look at them, your immediate reaction will be: “I can certainly use SVG to draw something that looks far better than this!” You can, and you will.

Organization of This Book

Chapter 1, Getting Started
This chapter gives a brief history of SVG, compares raster and vector graphics systems, and ends with a brief tutorial introducing the main concepts of SVG.
Chapter 2, Using SVG in Web Pages
This chapter shows you the various methods that you can use to put SVG into your HTML5 documents.
Chapter 3, Coordinates
How do you determine the position of a point in a drawing? Which way is “up”? This chapter answers those questions, showing how to change the system by which coordinates are measured in a graphic.
Chapter 4, Basic Shapes
This chapter shows you how to construct drawings using the basic shapes available in SVG: lines, rectangles, polygons, circles, and ellipses. It also discusses how to determine the colors for the outline and interior of a shape.
Chapter 5, Document Structure
In a complex drawing, there are elements that are reused or repeated. This chapter tells you how to group objects together so they may be treated as a single entity and reused. It also discusses use of external images, both vector and raster.
Chapter 6, Transforming the Coordinate System
If you draw a square on a sheet of stretchable material, and stretch the material horizontally, you get a rectangle. Skew the sides of the sheet, and you see a parallelogram. Now tilt the sheet 45 degrees, and you have a diamond. In this chapter, you will learn how to move, rotate, scale, and skew the coordinate system to affect the shapes drawn on it.
Chapter 7, Paths
All the basic shapes are actually specific instances of the general concept of a path. This chapter shows you how to describe a general outline for a shape by using lines, arcs, and complex curves.
Chapter 8, Patterns and Gradients
This chapter adds more to the discussion of color from Chapter 4, discussing how to create a color gradient or a fill pattern.
Chapter 9, Text
Graphics aren’t just lines and shapes; text is an integral part of a poster or a schematic diagram. This chapter shows how to add text to a drawing, both in a straight line and following a path.
Chapter 10, Clipping and Masking
This chapter shows you how to use a clipping path to display a graphic as though it were viewed through a circular lens, keyhole, or any other arbitrary shape. It also shows how to use a mask to alter an object’s transparency so that it appears to “fade out” at the edges.
Chapter 11, Filters
Although an SVG file describes vector graphics, the document is eventually rendered on a raster device. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to apply raster-oriented filters to a graphic to blur an image, transform its colors, or produce lighting effects.
Chapter 12, Animating SVG
This chapter shows you how to use SVG’s built-in animation capabilities.
Chapter 13, Adding Interactivity
In addition to SVG’s built-in animation, you can use both CSS and JavaScript to dynamically control a graphic’s attributes.
Chapter 14, Using the SVG DOM
This chapter goes further in depth with using JavaScript to manipulate the Document Object Model. It also gives a brief introduction to a JavaScript library designed for working with SVG.
Chapter 15, Generating SVG
Although you can create an SVG file from scratch, many people will have existing vector data or XML data that they wish to display in graphic form. This chapter discusses the use of programming languages and XSLT to create SVG from these data sources.
Appendix A
SVG is an application of XML, the Extensible Markup Language. If you haven’t used XML before, you should read this appendix to familiarize yourself with this remarkably powerful and flexible format for structuring data and documents.
Appendix B
You can use stylesheets to apply visual properties to particular elements in your SVG document. These are exactly the same kind of stylesheets that can be used with HTML documents. If you’ve never used stylesheets before, you’ll want to read this brief introduction to the anatomy of a stylesheet.
Appendix C
If you’re a graphic designer who hasn’t done much programming, you’ll want to find out what programmers are talking about when they throw around words like object model and function.
Appendix D
To fully understand coordinate transformations and filter effects in SVG, it’s helpful, though not necessary, to understand matrix algebra, the mathematics used to compute the coordinates and pixels. This appendix highlights the basics of matrix algebra.
Appendix E
TrueType fonts represent glyphs (characters) in a vector form. This appendix shows you how to take your favorite fonts and convert them to paths for use in SVG documents.
Appendix F
Many applications represent arcs in a center-and-angles format. This appendix provides code to convert from that format to SVG’s format for arcs and back again.

Conventions Used in This Book

Indicates new terms, URLs, email addresses, filenames, and file extensions.
Constant width
Used for program listings, as well as within paragraphs to refer to program elements such as variable or function names, databases, data types, environment variables, statements, and keywords.
Constant width bold
Used to highlight a section of code being discussed in the text.
Constant width italic
Shows text that should be replaced with user-supplied values or by values determined by context.


This element signifies a tip, suggestion, or general note.


This element indicates a warning or caution.

This book uses callouts to denote points of interest in code listings. A callout is shown as a number in a filled circle; the corresponding number after the listing gives an explanation. Here’s an example:

Roses are red,
   Violets are blue. 1
Some poems rhyme;
   This one doesn't. 2

Violets actually have a color value of #9933cc.


This poem uses the literary device known as a surprise ending.

Many of the examples are available to test out online; the URL is indicated in the text. Some of the online examples have markup that you can edit; click the Refresh button to see the results of your changes. You may also click the Reset button to return the example to its original state.

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Acknowledgments for the First Edition

I’d like to thank Simon St. Laurent, the editor of this book, for his guidance and comments, which were always right on the mark. He also told me in an email, “we already know that you know how to write,” which is one of the nicest things anyone has ever told me.

Thanks also to Edd Dumbill, who wrote the document that I modified only slightly to create Appendix A. Of course, any errors in that appendix have been added by my modifications.

Thanks also go to the technical reviewers of this book: Antoine Quint and David Klaphaak and the SVG Quality Engineering team at Adobe, who did the technical review of the manuscript. Your comments have helped improve many aspects of this book.

Jeffrey Zeldman is the person who first put the idea in my head that I, too, could write a book, and for that I thank him most sincerely.

I also want to thank all the people, foremost among them my brother, Steven, who, when I told them I was writing a book, believed in me enough to say, “Wow, that’s great.”

Acknowledgments for the Second Edition

We would like to thank Shelly Powers for her excellent technical review. Our thanks also go to Simon St. Laurent and Meghan Blanchette for their fantastic job of editing and to Matthew Hacker and the O’Reilly tools and production teams for getting all the finishing touches just right, despite the best efforts of stubborn software and fussy authors.

From David: I’d like to give special thanks to Amelia Bellamy-Royds. She was initially doing technical review of the book, and her comments were so lucid and well written that I found myself lifting them verbatim and realized that she should be a coauthor. Her corrections and additions have made the book far better than I could have imagined.

From Amelia: I’d like to thank David for being decent enough to recognize when I’d exceeded my original job description and deserved extra credit. His original book was a wonderfully welcoming introduction to SVG. As someone who had puzzled through all the quirks of web browser implementations on my own, I really wanted the revised book to have clear explanations for all the things that confused me when learning SVG as it currently works in practice.

I also need to send special thanks to my husband, Chris, who has been hugely supportive, but who has also regularly reminded me when I need to step away from the computer, eat, sleep, or get some fresh air.

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