SVG File Format: 21 Common Questions

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When you get into digital design for physical crafting, you’ll run into a variety of file types used to create cutting files and images especially if you are a Silhouette or Cricut die cutting machines user. SVG files are now starting to become increasingly commonplace for a wide range of purposes related to this.

What do you need to know about SVG file formats? If you are new to graphic design, it’s good to know…

  • What SVG is used for
  • What are the benefits and pitfalls of SVG files
  • How to use SVG files for your work
  • What programs work with SVG file formats
  • How to convert an SVG file

Much like with any other component of crafting design, this file format has its ups and downs. If you are new to SVG file formats, it’s good to know what they do, how they can work for you, and when it’s appropriate to use them. This guide can help you understand the basics.

What is an SVG File?

SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphic, and it’s a unique type of XML-based graphic format designed to scale without losing any quality in its growth or shrinkage (Source). Like many graphics files extensions, it has its own set of uses in the graphics design and crafting worlds.

The SVG file format has been around since 2001 and has only grown more popular since. If you’re curious about what it does, what it can do, and how you can use it, this article is for you.

Common Questions About the SVG File Format

When crafters start working with digital files and SVG files, in particular, they may have some common questions that have been asked by many crafters throughout the years. Luckily, since SVG files have been around for a while now, most of these questions can be easily answered.

Here are some of the most common questions you’re lucky to run into when dealing with an SVG file format.

How Do You Open an SVG File?

SVG files can be opened with any browser image tool such as GIMP, Photoshop, or Adobe Illustrator. Vector graphics can be viewed and edited through these types of programs. Other digital tools that open SVG files include the following: 

  • Microsoft Visio
  • Corel PaintShop Pro
  • CAD SoftTools ABViewer
  • Inkscape
  • Cricut Design Space
  • Silhouette Studio

SVG files definitely require one of the above image tools to open and can’t be opened with just your typical browser program. This is because you need software that is capable of translating the vector programming into a 3D shape. 

Why Can’t I Open My SVG File? 

If you can’t open an SVG file, that’s usually an indicator that you don’t have the correct software to read the file. Check to make sure that you’re trying to open the SVG file through compatible software such as Corel or Adobe image toolsets. 

  • If you have the correct file program and you still can’t get your SVG file to open, you may be running into a few different issues. Your vector design software or computer may need an update in order to read the incoming files correctly—without one, the file may flag as unreadable by the computer’s software. 
  • If you’ve checked for updates and you have the correct software, you may be dealing with a corrupted file. If your SVG file throws up a corrupted file flag when you try to open it in Silhouette or Cricut, you’re probably dealing with a file issue and not an issue with the program or computer. If you are using the free version of Silhouette Studio you will need to upgrade to the Designer Edition to upload SVG files. You can upgrade with an instant access code over at SwingDesign.com.
  • If you’ve checked and confirmed that an SVG file is corrupted, try deleting the old SVG file folder (the file is useless anyway) and re-download the original SVG file. If it still won’t work after that, contact the originator of the file. 

Are SVG Files Editable? 

While SVG files aren’t set up in layers like many GIMP and Photoshop files, SVG files can be picked apart and edited in a vector graphics software application. 

Are SVG Files Large?

SVG files are considered one of the larger design files in use and are typically larger than a .PNG file. 

The size of an SVG file ultimately depends on how many paths and anchor points the SVG file contains i.e. how complex the image is. The more paths and points that are present in the file, the more space the mathematical information necessary to contain them takes in the file. (Source).

Are SVG Files Black and White?

SVG files can appear in either color or black and white, depending on how the file is designed. The nested groups in some SVG files can be difficult for some vector design programs to interpret, and this causes them to read the file in black and white instead. This is a problem that is less common with newer image tool programs such as Inkscape. 

How to Download SVG Files for Cricut Design Space or Silhouette Studio

Downloading SVG files for your Cricut or Silhouette cutting machine is essentially the same as any other file you wish to download from the internet. Select your file for download and press download.

Your file will likely download as a .zip file. Right click on the downloaded folder and select “Extract All”. Once the new folder is created move it to where you wish to store any of the digital elements you use for your cutting machine.

Follow the steps in either of the next two sections for uploading your new SVG file into Cricut Design Space or Silhouette Studio.

How to Upload SVG Files for Cricut Design Space

Uploading SVG files into Cricut Design Space is a fairly cut-and-dry process. Here are the steps you should take to upload SVG files for use by your Cricut cutting machine: 

  • Go to Design Space and log in. 
  • Click on the Create New Project button on the software.
  • Select Upload from the left side of your canvas
  • Select Image 
  • Select the Browse button and search for whichever SVG file you want to import into Cricut Design Space or you can drag and drop your SVG file into design space
  • Click on the file you want to import into Design Space and Select open
  • Add any tags you wish to help you find your image in the future

Once you’ve chosen the SVG file you want to import and clicked on it, it should automatically upload and be available in the Cricut Design Space software. Now you can insert your image into your canvas.

How to Upload SVG Files to Silhouette Studio

Uploading SVG files for Silhouette Studio is no more complicated than uploading SVG files for Cricut Design Space. Here are the steps you should take to upload an SVG file in Silhouette Studio: 

  • Open the Silhouette Studio software. 
  • Select File and toggle Open. You can also press Ctrl+O or click on the Open Folder icon. 
  • Find the SVG file you want to upload through your browser’s file search. Select the file and then click OK. 

After selecting the file and clicking on it, it should show up immediately in your Silhouette software. Both Silhouette Studio and Cricut Design Space have made the process of integrating new files into the software as quick and intuitive as possible. 

There is one major caveat to uploading an SVG file into Silhouette Studio, you must have the upgraded version of the software in order to import SVG files. If you only have the free version of Studio you will get an error message saying “The file type you are attempting to access is not supported”.

The free version of Silhouette Studio does not support SVG files. You will need to upgrade to the Designer Edition to upload SVG files. You can upgrade with an instant access code over at SwingDesign.com. Alternatively you can try converting your SVG file into a different format, see my section below How do you Convert SVG files?

The Pros and Cons Of SVG

One of the most important things that a designer can know about a file format is what it can and cannot accomplish. To help make things a little easier, I’ve split this question into two separate questions.

What Are the Benefits of Using SVG File Formats?

If nothing else, SVG file formats have proven to become a major ally among Cricut and Silhouette cutting machine users, image printing companies, as well as media groups. This is due to their many benefits, which include:

  • Scalability. With standard files like GIF or JPEG, scaling a picture up or down will result in a loss of quality. SVG files won’t lose quality and can be scaled up or down to the size that you need. 
  • Animation Capability. Like GIFs, they can be coded to be animated. 
  • Easy Editing. SVGs are unique in the sense that they can be edited in classic programs like Adobe, but also can be edited in a text editor thanks to its XML coding.
  • Linking. You can also add linking, metadata, and scripting to an SVG file if you so choose. This makes them great for responsive website design.
  • Scripting. Much like HTML, SVG file formats allow people to program scripts inside the images. This makes it easier to code websites using this format, and also lets you add cool features to your site’s design—much like CSS.
  • Fast Loading. Due to the code-based way that SVGs are made, using them in web design means that you’ll get a faster-loading site. 

What Are the Problems with Using SVG File Formats?

While SVGs have increased in popularity, they still aren’t considered to be mainstream by many people. That’s not without cause. Though SVGs do have their perks, they also have some very notable pitfalls. Some of the biggest ones include:

  • Not always supported on platforms. Major site-building platforms like WordPress don’t consider SVG file formats to be worth being a default. To use them, you will need to install plugins.
  • Tricky fonts. Many people have noted that designing SVGs can be tricky, especially when it comes to matters like fonts. In the past, issues have arisen with missing fonts or having problems declaring certain fonts. Using programs like Nano can help reduce this issue, especially when it’s been coded via a text file.
  • Editor incompatibility. Another major compatibility issue can be found in editors like Illustrator and Photoshop. Depending on what your SVG has coded into it, there’s a chance that loading it into a standard editor can cause distortion or a loss in quality. Thankfully, there are fixes for these issues. 
  • Difficulty to make. Though SVGs have a lot of perks, their complexity is a pitfall. If you want to create an SVG file with all the bells and whistles (animation, etc.), then you’re going to have to spend a while in your editor. You may need to work with both text coding and visual editors before you’ll be able to make it work well.
  • Not good with details. If you were hoping to turn the painting of “The Last Supper” into a vector, you’ll be sorely disappointed. SVGs do not work well with high levels of detail.

When Should You Avoid Using SVGs?

While SVGs offer a lot of value for people working with responsive pages, they still have some drawbacks that can bar them from being a good solution for certain situations. That said, there are two major issues that can bar SVG use.

The biggest reason why people might want to avoid SVGs is the need for detail. Illustrations that have a high level of detail often become blurred or jumbled after a certain point in SVG resizing. This leads them to be bad candidates for this format.

The other major issue that arises with SVG formatting deals with its lack of retro-compatibility. It’s important to remember that SVGs were only invented in 2001. Many users still have Windows 2000 or XP as their OS. SVGs do not work with Internet Explorer 8 or older, which may reduce their usability with certain demographics.

How Are Tags Used In SVGs?

SVGs are based on XML language, which means that you get to use tags to modify your SVG file. In a lot of ways, it’s kind of like how Flash used to be. There are several main groups of tags people should know. These include:

  • Shape Tags. These tags create shapes in your SVG. You can have tags like <circle>, <ellipse>, <rect>, and <line> to create the image you want. These can also include other commands, such as color, fill, and stroke.
  • Definition. The <def> that lets you define an object in your SVG. 
  • Text. The <text> tag lets you write some text in your SVG, much like you would in a standard HTML setting.
  • Accessibility Tags. To make your SVG more accessible, you can add a <title> tag and a <desc> (description) tag to offer information that might not be rendered on screen. 

Do You Need to Learn How to Program To Use SVGs?

No, but it absolutely helps. If you want to edit SVGs, it’s possible to do so in a standard editing program. However, many designers prefer to learn how to work in code just to make CAD and CNC interfaces easier to work with.  

It’s also worth pointing out that there are multiple sites that offer stock images in SVG file format. So, if you don’t want to create your own SVGs, you don’t have to. There are other options available to you. 

If you want to learn how to create your own SVG files for use with your Cricut, check out Cricut Academy’s Adobe Illustrator for the Cricut. Cricut Academy is a monthly membership that includes sooooo many different course options with everything you need to know about how to use your Cricut plus some free SVG files each month. Check out Cricut Academy by Cori George.

What Programs Work with SVG File Formats?

As we’ve discussed before, most major editing and design platforms like Cricut Design Space, Illustrator, GIMP, and Silhouette Studio can work with SVG file formats. Chrome, Firefox, and other browsers can work with most forms of SVGs as well but for view only purposes. 

That being said, it’s good to know which programs can open and edit an SVG file. The most common ones include:

  • Adobe Illustrator: A favorite among the crafting crowd, it’s very powerful. It is designed to work with illustration which are vector based which is exactly what SVG files are. Check out Cori George’s Adobe Illustrator for the Cricut class to learn how to make your own cutting files for Cricut.
  • Microsoft Visio: Surprisingly, Visio has become a go-to for people who want to open, edit, or view SVGs. It’s one of the most reliable for this file format.
  • CorelDraw/Corel PaintShopPro: If you love the use of Adobe but want to have a more SVG-friendly option, it’s worth looking into using Corel’s programs. They have a built-in SVG compatibility that makes them great for more visual users. 
  • CADSoftTools ABViewe:. If you are using your SVG files for construction planning or similar purposes, you’ll be happy to know that their ABViewer program has been making architects’ lives easier for ages. 
  • GIMP: This universally popular free software works well with both animated GIFs and SVGs. Though GIMP works reasonably well with SVG formats, it’s important to note that their tools are somewhat limited compared to others on this list.
  • Inkscape: Another major favorite among downloadable free apps, Inkscape has a solid reputation when it comes to its SVG compatibility. 
  • Any Free Text Editor: Almost any free text editor that you have (including Notepad!) can be used to edit SVGs. However, they cannot be used to view then. 

Why Do Clothing Printing Companies Use SVG Files For Their Designs?

When you’re trying to print out a t-shirt, the quality of your design will make a huge difference in the outcome of your shirt. Traditionally, this meant that graphic designers who wanted to sell gear would need to use ultra-high-definition pictures if they wanted to print a shot onto a shirt. 

If you make a traditional GIF or JPEG larger, you end up losing picture quality. SVGs are vector-based graphics that don’t lose quality if they are expanded or shrunk. As a result, many professional clothing printers use them in their design creations.

How Do Cricut Machine Users Use SVGs?

SVGs’ scalable features make them a great format to use with Cricut cutting machines. Cricut’s makers knew about this, which is why they made their designing software compatible with this file format.

To use it with the cutting machine, crafters upload their SVGs into the Cricut design space. There, they can toggle the size of their new artwork and determine what portions they need to have cut out.

How Do You Convert SVG Files?

Let’s say that you have an SVG file that you love but cannot use because it’s still a relatively fringe format for many platforms. It happens, and when it does, you need to convert that file. Thankfully, there are a couple of ways to do it…

Convert Your File Through Your Editor

If you are using an image editor or text editor to tweak and augment your SVG, then you have a fairly easy way to make the switch:

  • Simply click “Save As…”  and choose the file format that you want to switch it to. Your program will do the rest. 

If you’re using a basic text editor, things will be a little different. 

  • You will need to choose “Save As,” then click “All Files.” Then, you will need to manually type in the file extension that you want the SVG to be converted to. 

Convert Your File Using an Online Platform

You do not need to use an editing program to convert an SVG file to a different format. Many online sites, like Convertio, will let you upload and convert your SVG file to the file type of your choice. 

If you need to switch your SVG file to a more Adobe-friendly option, it may be better to use Autotracer to make the switch. This platform has a slew of Adobe-based file extensions that you can convert your SVG to.

Where to Find SVGs on the Net

If you were worried that you’d have to program SVGs from scratch, don’t get too scared. Most people who use SVGs do not actually create the SVGs themselves. There are plenty of reliable places where you can find SVG graphics and animations on the net. Most free sites allow you to use their designs for personal use only, meaning you can’t use someone else’s design to create an item, like a t-shirt, and then sell it.

The more popular ones include:

  • Cricut Access. This is a membership based image library where members can easily select from over 100,000 different images and are all accessible within Design Space itself. It also includes thousands of pf projects with tutorials for easily creating fun crafts. Access also allows you to sell the items you create with most of their images.
  • Cricut Academy. Another membership based site, it provides monthly SVG downloads for commercial use but is mostly sought after for its awesome tutorials. Cricut Academy provides hundreds of lessons on how to use your Cricut and get the most out of your machine.
  • SVG and Me. This site offers free SVG graphics that can be downloaded for personal use to use with your Cricut or Silhouette cutting machine.
  • Free SVG Designs. Much like SVG and Me, this site is mostly about the kinds of designs used with Silhouette and Cricut machines. Their selection is fairly massive, and it is a popular go-to for designers.
  • unDraw. If you’re looking for more website-friendly designs, then you might want to check out unDraw. This open-source platform is all about providing high-quality SVGs that can be used without any need to attribute them to a specific artist. 
  • ManyPixels. Web designers who are willing to pay a small fee might want to check out ManyPixels. This website will give you custom-made SVG graphics for cheap. Oh, and they also have a free graphics database that makes it easy to find the right elements for your website.
  • DrawKit. DrawKit is a unique site that is almost entirely dedicated to the type of graphics found in upscale startups. If your site is business-oriented, then taking a quick look at what DrawKit has to offer makes a lot of sense. They offer free, paid, and customized illustrations. 
  • Ouch! On a similar line of thought is Ouch, a sprawling vector database that is mostly geared towards app creation, mobile sites, and responsive web development. They have a wide range of different graphic categories that work with their themes, including “Error 404” and “eCommerce.” So, if you’re looking for some snappy vectors in the business world, giving them a try is wise.
  • FreePik. FreePik is a name that most web designers and graphics users have heard at least once or twice. This massive graphics repository has clients like Amazon on their roll, which is a testament to the quality of their goods. They have almost every type of graphic here, SVGs included.

Are There Any Sites That Make Creating Your Own SVGs Easier?

Obviously, using graphics editors to make your own SVGs is going to take a lot of skill. It might also cost some cash-strapped artists a little more money due to the price tag of certain editors. If you want to create your own SVGs, there are some sites that make it easier. These include:

  • Method Draw. This site acts a lot like an online version of MS Paint for SVG creation. You hand-draw the illustration that you want, and it creates an SVG based on your drawing. If you can use paint, you can use Method.
  • Vectr. Vectr is one of the most popular options on this list, and it’s a free online vector editor. It is entirely focused on SVG creation. Newbies will love its easy to use, intuitive layout. Veterans will enjoy how convenient it is.
  • Vector Paint. Vector Paint acts a lot like Method, but it has a couple of added features that make it more user-friendly. You can add prefabricated vectors (like the Firefox symbol) to your drawing, as well as upload your own image that you want to turn into a vector.
  • Inkscape. If you enjoy Inkscape’s app, then we have some good news for you. This poplar graphics app also has an online version that lets you create, edit, and enjoy SVGs on the cheap. A lot of designers adore this app. Give it a whirl, and you’ll see why. It’s extremely multifaceted.
  • macSVG. Apple users often have a hard time finding software that can work with their OS, especially when it comes to SVGs. Thankfully, there’s an app for that, and it’s called macSVG. It’s easy to use and only takes a short time to master.
  • Boxy-SVG. Boxy’s goal is to become the world’s best SVG editor. Their intuitive user interface, tutorials, and excellent array of graphics tools show that they are serious about that goal.

I’ve mentioned Cricut Academy a few times but they are one of the best options out there for learning to use Adobe Illustrator to create your own SVG files for your Cricut. Check out Cricut Academy’s Adobe Illustrator for the Cricut for more info.

Is It Worth Working with SVG Graphics?

If you are a Cricut fan or a graphic tee designer, chances are that you would have a lot to benefit from learning how to work with SVG files. These files can offer better graphics, fast results, and a lot more ways to get the aesthetic you want with less hassle than ever before.

With that said, it’s all about the kind of project that you are trying to work on. Web designers and crafters have to take a look at the project they’re on and make a decision about it on their own.

Final Thoughts

Though the SVG file format is one that is relatively new when compared to GIFs and JPEGs, it’s quickly become a staple among multiple design sectors. SVG’s scalable, the vector-based format makes it an excellent tool for crafters that want their final products to look sharp.

While getting used to the XML side of SVG’s coding can be difficult for some, this file format now has a slew of different ways to make SVG use easier than ever before. Between the easy conversion tools, the online graphics libraries, and the sites that help make SVG creation simple, there are plenty of resources available for those who are curious about it.

Despite the file format’s recent success, it’s still not considered to be a standard graphics format on many platforms. So, if you choose to use it with mainstream tools, make sure you get the right plugins for its use. As long as you have those ready, you shouldn’t have an issue.