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SVG vs PNG: Differences and Use Cases

There are dozens of image file types, each of which varies based on compression type, formatting, and browser support. But two of the most used formats are SVG and PNG.

These two file types couldn’t be more different – each more suited to a specific situation than the other. They are certainly not interchangeable in every respect, and you may find that SVG images can perform specific tasks better than standard PNG images.

In this article, we will analyze the differences between SVG and PNG and in which situations one prevails over the other to use them on your website.

What is SVG?

SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphics and is the most used vector file format on the web. Let’s analyze the situation:

Scalable: SVG images can be enlarged or reduced without damaging the image quality. It will be perfectly sharp and clear no matter how big or small it is.

Vector: Most image file types contain pixels. Vectors are essentially pieces of code that render an image in real-time, converting it into the pixels you see on your screen. The same image appears, but what happens in the background is very different.

Graphics: Although not widely known, SVG is an image file type such as PNG, JPEG, or GIF. Only it does things a little differently.

Vectors are snippets of code written in XML that represent shapes, lines and colors to process the image.

When the page loads, this code is converted to graphics, so you can’t immediately distinguish an SVG from a PNG. But since SVGs are simply lines of code converted to pixels, that means they can scale to any size – large or small – without losing quality.

SVG also supports animation and transparency, making it a versatile file format.

The only problem is that it’s not as widespread as other standard formats like PNG, so it’s less supported on older browsers and devices, and it’s not always the easiest to upload to your site and get it displayed correctly.

When to use SVG instead of PNG

While you absolutely shouldn’t convert all of your PNGs to SVGs, vector graphics can be an excellent replacement for some images.

SVG images work exceptionally well for decorative website graphics, such as logos, icons, charts and diagrams, and other simple images. Our homepage is an excellent example of vector graphics in action.

However, they don’t go so well with complex images with many colors and shapes, such as screenshots, photographs, and even detailed works of art. While you can convert any image to SVG, browsers don’t always handle complex vectors with hundreds of colors well as they need to be rendered when the page loads.

Plus, SVG artwork can be beautiful, but complex image design requires a lot of time, effort, and knowledge of advanced editing tools. Keep it simple if you want to create vector images.

If you have detailed images, stick firmly to PNG.

One of the main benefits of SVG is that it is better for responsive and retina-ready web design due to its scalability and lack of quality degradation. In addition, they support animation, unlike PNG and raster file types that support animation, such as GIF, APNG, and WebP which all have their problems.

For simple graphics that may require animation and must scale well to any screen size, use SVG.

What is PNG?

PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics, the name says well how popular this type of file is. Anyone who has ever used a computer has probably worked with PNG, as it is the most common file type on the internet after JPEG.

PNG is a raster image file type, similar to most common image formats. This means that it consists of pixels, the same tiny dots that appear on your monitor or screen. While this makes it easy to view, it also means that the image quality depends on the resolution – how many pixels are there in the image.

So, if you scale a raster image up or down, the quality will suffer. Sometimes the damage is negligible, especially when scaling down, while sometimes it can make an image blurry and completely unusable.

However, the prevalence of PNG makes it a good candidate for general use. This type of file supports transparency, but not animation.

When to use PNG instead of SVG

PNG is the most common file type for a reason: it’s downright versatile and fits almost any situation. There are just a few flaws to consider when using it, such as the large file size and lack of scalability.

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PNGs are suitable for displaying detailed images, works of art and photographs – anything that a vector image cannot handle. Anything that has hundreds of colors and a large resolution should probably be a PNG.

This is not to say that you can’t use PNGs for simpler images like logos and decorative graphics, but SVGs would be better suited for the purpose.

When you’re unsure whether a platform will handle the less supported SVG file type, PNG is the way to go – if only to be safe.

For example, you can’t upload SVGs to most social media. And, since some email clients can have problems with vectors, it’s usually recommended to stick to PNGs in email templates.

In general, PNGs go well with any complex, non-animated image, especially those that require transparency. You can use them almost anywhere; it’s just that sometimes an SVG would be more suitable.

Remember that you can always use PNG fallbacks if you can’t load your SVG, so it’s usually safer to go with vectors even if a significant portion of your user base still uses old devices or outdated browsers.

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