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What is an SVG file and how do I open one?

SVG logo on a blue background
Global web consortium

While browsing the Internet, you may have come across graphic files with the extension “SVG”. What is special about these files and how can you view them? We will explain.

What is an SVG file?

In the context of computer graphics, SVG stands for “Scalable Vector Graphics”

;. An SVG file is a computer file that uses the SVG standard, defined by the World Wide Web Consortium, to display an image.

Typical image formats, such as JPG, PNG and GIF, use raster images, which means that they display an image by storing a grid of pixels called a bitmap. The color and location of each pixel are saved in the file. Scaling a raster image larger than intended will cause the image to become jagged and blurry.

Example of a PNG raster file scaled 600%

SVG images, on the other hand, use vector graphics to define an image. In a vector image, the image is stored mathematically as a series of instructions that tell a viewing program how to “draw” the image on your screen. Since drawing can be done in any format, SVG files are resolution independent. They can be scaled up or down without sacrificing quality or sharpness.

Example of an SVG vector file scaled 600%

RELATED: What is the difference between Pixels and Vectors?

What’s the point of the SVG format?

Since SVG files can be scaled to any size without loss of detail, they can produce very smooth images with a relatively small file size compared to raster images. They are also more future-proof than bitmap images because they can be scaled to larger resolutions in future renderings without loss of quality.

Example of scalable vector graphics
Global web consortium

SVG is also an open standard that can be included royalty-free in viewing applications and browsers, meaning application developers don’t have to pay any money to use it. SVG uses XML, another open standard, to encode two-dimensional images in a way that apps can read and modify easily.

RELATED: What is an XML file (and how do I open one)?

How do I view an SVG file?

All modern web browsers support the display of SVG files. That includes Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Safari. So if you have an SVG and can’t open it with anything else, open your favorite browser, select File> Open and choose the SVG file you want to see. It will appear in your browser window.

Alternatively, you can use a free online converter such as SVGtoPNG.com to convert an SVG file to a raster format that you can view with conventional image rendering applications. However, once you convert the SVG to a raster format such as PNG, you will lose the ability to scale the image to different sizes while maintaining the same sharpness and detail.

How do I create or edit an SVG file?

To create or edit an SVG file, you need an app that supports the format. Adobe Illustrator, known for creating vector-based artwork, natively supports both loading and saving of files in SVG format. Inkscape and GIMP are also two free programs that can save clip art in SVG format. For other programs, such as Adobe Photoshop and InDesign, you can purchase a plug-in that supports SVG, such as SVG Kit for Adobe Creative Suite.

While competing vector graphics have been around since the emergence of computer graphics themselves, SVG’s wide support and open nature means that this graphics standard will likely be with us for a long time to come.

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