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Canvas vs SVG: Selecting the Proper Instrument for the Job – SitePoint

HTML5 Canvas and SVG are each standards-based HTML5 applied sciences that you should utilize to create superb graphics and visible experiences. The query I’m asking on this article is the next: Ought to it matter which one you employ in your challenge? In different phrases, are there any use circumstances for preferring HTML5 Canvas over SVG?

First, let’s spend just a few phrases introducing HTML5 Canvas and SVG.

What Is HTML5 Canvas?

Right here’s how the WHATWG specification introduces the canvas aspect:

The canvas aspect offers scripts with a resolution-dependent bitmap canvas, which can be utilized for rendering graphs, recreation graphics, artwork, or different visible photographs on the fly.

In different phrases, the <canvas> tag exposes a floor the place you possibly can create and manipulate rasterized photographs pixel by pixel utilizing a JavaScript programmable interface.

Right here’s a fundamental code pattern:

See the Pen
Primary Canvas Form Demo
by SitePoint (@SitePoint)
on CodePen.


<canvas id="myCanvas" width="800" peak="800"></canvas>

The JavaScript:

const canvas = doc.getElementById('myCanvas');
const context = canvas.getContext('2nd');
context.fillStyle = '#c00';
context.fillRect(10, 10, 100, 100);

You may benefit from the HTML5 Canvas API strategies and properties by getting a reference to the 2D context object. Within the instance above, I’ve drawn a easy crimson sq., 100 x 100 pixels in dimension, positioned 10px from the left and 10px from the highest of the <canvas> drawing floor.

Being resolution-dependent, photographs you create on <canvas> could lose high quality when enlarged or displayed on Retina Shows.

Drawing easy shapes is simply the tip of the iceberg. The HTML5 Canvas API lets you draw arcs, paths, textual content, gradients, and many others. It’s also possible to manipulate your photographs pixel by pixel. This implies which you could substitute one shade with one other in sure areas of the graphics, you possibly can animate your drawings, and even draw a video onto the canvas and alter its look.

What Is SVG?

SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphics. In response to the specification:

SVG is a language for describing two-dimensional graphics. As a standalone format or when blended with different XML, it makes use of the XML syntax. When blended with HTML5, it makes use of the HTML5 syntax. …

SVG drawings will be interactive and dynamic. Animations will be outlined and triggered both declaratively (i.e., by embedding SVG animation components in SVG content material) or by way of scripting.

SVG is an XML file format designed to create vector graphics. Being scalable has the benefit of letting you enhance or lower a vector picture whereas sustaining its crispness and top quality. (This could’t be executed with HTML5 Canvas-generated photographs.)

Right here’s the identical crimson sq. (beforehand created with HTML5 Canvas) this time drawn utilizing SVG:

See the Pen
Primary SVG Form
by SitePoint (@SitePoint)
on CodePen.

<svg xmlns="" viewbox="0 0 600 600">
  <desc>Purple rectangle form</desc>
  <rect x="10" y="10" width="100" peak="100" fill="#c00"  />  

You are able to do with SVG many of the stuff you are able to do with Canvas — equivalent to drawing shapes and paths, gradients, patterns, animation, and so forth. Nevertheless, these two applied sciences work in essentially other ways. In contrast to a Canvas-based graphic, SVG has a DOM, and as such each CSS and JavaScript have entry to it. For instance, you possibly can change the appear and feel of an SVG graphic utilizing CSS, animate its nodes with CSS or JavaScript, make any of its elements reply to a mouse or a keyboard occasion the identical as a <div>. As it’ll develop into clearer within the following sections, this distinction performs a big half whenever you want to select between Canvas and SVG on your subsequent challenge.

It’s essential to tell apart between quick mode and retained mode. HTML5 Canvas is an instance of the previous, SVG of the latter.

Rapid mode signifies that, as soon as your drawing is on the canvas, the canvas stops maintaining observe of it. In different phrases you, because the developer, it is advisable to work out the instructions to attract objects, create and keep the mannequin or scene of what the ultimate output ought to appear to be, and specify what must be up to date. The browser’s Graphics API merely communicates your drawing instructions to the browser, which then executes them.

SVG makes use of the retained method, the place you merely challenge your drawing directions of what you wish to show on the display screen, and the browser’s Graphics API creates an in-memory mannequin or scene of the ultimate output and interprets it into drawing instructions on your browser.

Being a right away graphics system, Canvas hasn’t received a DOM, or Doc Object Mannequin. With Canvas, you draw your pixels and the system forgets all about them, thereby reducing down on the additional reminiscence wanted to take care of an inside mannequin of your drawing. With SVG, every object you draw will get added to the browser’s inside mannequin, which makes your life as a developer considerably simpler, however at some prices when it comes to efficiency.

On the idea of the excellence between quick and retained mode, in addition to different particular traits of Canvas and SVG respectively, it’s doable to stipulate some circumstances the place utilizing one know-how over the opposite would possibly higher serve your challenge’s objectives.

HTML5 Canvas: Execs and Cons

The HTML5 Canvas specification clearly recommends that authors ought to not use the <canvas> aspect the place they produce other extra appropriate means accessible to them.

As an example, for a graphically wealthy <header> aspect, the very best instruments are HTML and CSS, not <canvas> (and neither is SVG, by the best way). Dr Summary, creator and founding father of the Zim JS canvas framework, confirms this view as he writes:

The DOM and the DOM frameworks are good at displaying data and specifically textual content data. As compared, the canvas is an image. Textual content will be added to the canvas and it may be made responsive, however the textual content can’t be readily chosen or searched as on the DOM. Lengthy scrolling pages of textual content or textual content and pictures is a superb use of the DOM. The DOM is nice for social media websites, boards, procuring, and all the knowledge apps we’re used to. — “When to Use a JavaScript Canvas Library or Framework

So, that’s a clear-cut instance of when to not use <canvas>. However when is <canvas> a great possibility?

This tweet by Sarah Drasner summarizes some main execs and cons of canvas options and capabilities, which might help us to work out some use circumstances for this highly effective know-how:

You may view the picture from the tweet right here.

What HTML5 Canvas Can Be Nice For

Alvin Wan has benchmarked Canvas and SVG when it comes to efficiency each in relation to the variety of objects being drawn and in relation to the scale of the objects or the canvas itself. He states his outcomes as follows:

In sum, the overhead of DOM rendering is extra poignant when juggling a whole bunch if not 1000’s of objects; on this situation, Canvas is the clear winner. Nevertheless, each the canvas and SVG are invariant to object sizes. Given the ultimate tally, the canvas gives a transparent win in efficiency.

Drawing on what we find out about Canvas, particularly its wonderful efficiency at drawing a lot of objects, listed below are some doable situations the place it is likely to be applicable, and even preferable to SVG.

Video games and Generative Artwork

For graphics-intensive, extremely interactive video games, in addition to for generative artwork, Canvas is mostly the best way to go.

Ray Tracing

Ray tracing is a method for creating 3D graphics.

Ray tracing can be utilized to hydrate a picture by tracing the trail of sunshine by way of pixels in a picture aircraft and simulating the consequences of its encounters with digital objects. … The results achieved by ray tracing, … vary from … creating life like photographs from in any other case easy vector graphics to making use of photo-like filters to take away red-eye. — SVG vs Canvas: how to decide on, Microsoft Docs.

When you’re curious, right here’s a raytracer software in motion by Mark Webster.

Canvas Raytracer by Mark Webster

Nevertheless, though HTML5 Canvas is certainly higher suited to the duty than SVG may ever be, it doesn’t essentially comply with that ray tracing is greatest executed on a <canvas> aspect. In truth, the pressure on the CPU might be fairly appreciable, to the purpose that your browser may cease responding.

Drawing a Important Variety of Objects on a Small Floor

One other instance is a situation the place your software wants to attract a big variety of objects on a comparatively small floor — equivalent to non-interactive real-time knowledge visualizations like graphical representations of climate patterns.

Graphical representation of weather patterns with HTML5 Canvas

The above picture is from this MSDN article, which was a part of my analysis for this piece.

Pixel Substitute in Movies

As demonstrated on this HTML5 Physician article, one other instance the place Canvas could be applicable is when changing a video background shade with a unique shade, one other scene, or picture.

Replacing pixels in a video to convert it to grayscale on the fly using HTML5 Canvas

What HTML5 Canvas Isn’t So Nice For

However, there are a selection of circumstances the place Canvas won’t be the only option in comparison with SVG.


Most situations the place scalability is a plus are going to be higher served utilizing SVGs fairly than Canvas. Excessive-fidelity, complicated graphics like constructing and engineering diagrams, organizational charts, organic diagrams, and many others., are examples of this.

When drawn utilizing SVG, enlarging the photographs or printing them preserves all the small print to a excessive degree of high quality. It’s also possible to generate these paperwork from a database, which makes the XML format of SVG extremely suited to the duty.

Additionally, these graphics are sometimes interactive. Take into consideration seat maps whenever you’re reserving your aircraft ticket on-line for example, which makes them an amazing use case for a retained graphics system like SVG.

That stated, with the assistance of some nice libraries like CreateJS and Zim (which extends CreateJS), builders can comparatively rapidly combine mouse occasions, hit checks, multitouch gestures, drag and drop capabilities, controls, and extra, to their Canvas-based creations.


Though there are steps you possibly can take to make a Canvas graphic extra accessible — and a great Canvas library like Zim might be useful right here to hurry up the method — canvas doesn’t shine relating to accessibility. What you draw on the canvas floor is only a bunch of pixels, which might’t be learn or interpreted by assistive applied sciences or search engine bots. That is one other space the place SVG is preferable: SVG is simply XML, which makes it readable by each people and machines.

No Reliance on JavaScript

When you don’t wish to use JavaScript in your software, then Canvas isn’t your greatest good friend. In truth, the one means you possibly can work with the <canvas> aspect is with JavaScript. Conversely, you possibly can draw SVG graphics utilizing a typical vector enhancing program like Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape, and you should utilize pure CSS to regulate their look and carry out eye-catching, delicate animations and microinteractions.

Combining HTML5 Canvas and SVG for Superior Situations

There are circumstances the place your software can get the very best of each worlds by combining HTML5 Canvas and SVG. As an example, a Canvas-based recreation may implement sprites from SVG photographs generated by a vector enhancing program, to benefit from the scalability and lowered obtain dimension in comparison with a PNG picture. Or a paint program may have its consumer interface designed utilizing SVG, with an embedded <canvas>aspect, which might be used for drawing.

Lastly, a robust library like Paper.js makes it doable to script vector graphics on high of HTML5 Canvas, thereby providing devs a handy means of working with each applied sciences.


On this article, I’ve explored some key options of each HTML5 Canvas and SVG that can assist you determine which know-how is likely to be most suited suited to explicit duties.

What’s the reply?

Chris Coyier agrees with Benjamin De Cock, as the latter tweets:

Dr Summary gives a lengthy checklist of issues which are greatest constructed utilizing Canvas, together with interactive logos and promoting, interactive infographics, e-learning apps, and way more.

In my opinion, there aren’t any arduous and quick guidelines for when it’s greatest to make use of Canvas as an alternative of SVG. The excellence between quick and retained mode factors to HTML5 Canvas as being the undisputed winner relating to constructing issues like graphic-intensive video games, and to SVG as being preferable for issues like flat photographs, icons and UI components. Nevertheless, in between there’s room for HTML5 Canvas to develop its attain, particularly contemplating what the assorted highly effective Canvas libraries may deliver to the desk. Not solely do they make it simpler to work with each applied sciences in the identical graphic work, however in addition they make it in order that some hard-to-implement options in a local Canvas-based challenge — like interactive controls and occasions, responsiveness, accessibility options, and so forth — may now be at most builders’ fingertips, which leaves the door open to the potential for ever extra attention-grabbing makes use of of HTML5 Canvas.

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