SVG sprites

04 May 2014

Over the years I have been using several techniques to do ui graphic in front-end development. From having separate .png files for every image, to manually create image sprites, to letting compass gererate image spries for me, to creating customized icon-fonts using tools like IconMoon and Fontastic.

The latter technique solved the issue with retina displays nicely, and it made resizing and changing colors easy just by using css.

SVG vs icon-fonts

The big question, – is icon-fonts the best technique? Lately I have read and heard about people prefere to use .svg insted of icon-fonts. To be honest I have never been working with .svg’s that mouch, and to my lack of experience I did not know it was possible to create sprites in svg.

After listening to episode 16 of Ctrl Click Cast with Ben Frain, I read a blogpost on Ben Frain’s website about icon-fonts vs SVG’s. In this blog post I discovered how I could setup Grunt to generate svg-sprites, and it would even generate .png fallback for browsers that does not support .svg.

My setup


Firs off you’ll need to have a working grunt setup.

Secondly install grunt-dr-svg-sprites. Type the following command in your terminal.

npm install grunt-dr-svg-sprites --save-dev

This will add the plugin to your package.json file.

After the plugin is installed the following line have to be added to your Gruntfile.js



On my site I chose to replace all previous ui-elements plus logo from .png and image-sprites to one svg-sprite. The generated svg-sprite contains graphic in different sizes, and that is all handled automaticly by the grunt plugin.

I have a folder where I put all my .svg’s and choose where the generated svg-sprite will be located. Additionally I configured how I wanted the css to be generated and stored.

// Configure svg-sprites
"svg-sprites": {
  options: {
    spriteElementPath: "img/svg",
    spritePath: "img/sprites",
    cssPath: "_sass/components",
    prefix: "ui",
    cssPrefix: "_ui",
    cssSuffix: "scss"
  icons: {
    options: {
      sizes: {
        large: 20,
        small: 10
      refSize: 10,
      unit: 20

Note that the above configuration indicates that the original .svg files is put in the folder img/svg/icons. (The plugins documentation can be read at the svg-sprites Github page.)

My configuration is also set to generate a sass file named _ui-icons-sprites.scss, and I place it to fit inside my existing sass file structure.

When I want to use any image from my sprite, I simply extends the generated css with Sass @extend.

.toggle-nav:before {
  @extend .ui-plus-small;
  content: "";
  position: absolute;
  left: 1em;
  top: 1em;

The generated css will look for a css class named svg in your markup, and then use .svg or .png depending on browser suppport. I use Modernizr that adds this class.


So there you go:

  • Small file size
  • One http request for all images
  • Sharp on retina and high resolution displays
  • and last but not least, fallback for browsers that not support svg images

I’m excited to learn more about svg’s, and think there will be more use of svg’s than icon-fonts in near future. Lastly I recomend listening to SVG with Doug Schepers by The Web Ahead, a podcast by Jen Simmons.

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