There are few formats you can use for those looking to encode graphic images like logos, text, and illustrations. These formats fall into one of two camps: bitmap and vector formats.
Bitmap graphics, sometimes known as raster graphics, essentially means an image comprises a grid of pixels known as a dot matrix One of the leading raster graphics formats is AVIF. AVIF was released in 2019 by the Alliance for Open Media (AOM) and aimed to replace other lossless and lossy formats used for graphics like PNG and GIF.
In the other camp, we have vector graphics formats With vector graphics, images are saved as mathematical equations on a cartesian plane – instead of the grid matrix method used for raster graphics. A vector image tells the computer which lines to draw to view this image. The most popular vector graphics format is SVG (scalable vector graphics).
Here's how these formats compare and which you should use for the delivery of your graphics.
AVIF is based on the AV1 video codec, a highly efficient format for video released in 2017. Those who work with video will therefore recognize some of these key limitations from common video codecs. AVIF has a maximum resolution of 65536 x 65536 pixels. This limit is acceptable for most photos.
The limitations of SVG work a bit differently from the raster AVIF format. Instead of having a set number of pixels SVG can support, vector graphics like SVG consist of lines and points.
These images lack detail as it's hard to represent complex patterns and shapes mathematically. This means it's challenging to define photo or photo-like graphics in a vector image. In general, the more complex a picture is, the harder it is to represent (known as tracing) it as a vector graphic – and it's nearly impossible to trace a photo.
AVIF, as a photo format also, supports features like wide color gamuts and HDR images. These are great for sharing detailed pictures but aren't too useful for graphic content. Colors in SVG are limited to the sRGB color space.
The main advantage of SVG is its scalability. When you enlarge a bitmap image like an AVIF file, the perceived resolution of the image drops as you zoom closer into that grid. An image, therefore, begins to become blurry. If you zoom in enough, you will be able to see the individual pixels. This is not the case with vector graphics. When an SVG image is enlarged, there is no loss in quality or detail. As they are resolution-independent, vector graphics are infinitely scalable.
It is most beneficial to compare AVIF's lossless compression with SVG as it's a high-resolution lossless image is the closest a bitmap format will get to vector graphics. AVIF's lossless compression beats out formats like PNG to provide smaller file sizes with identical quality.
Before the introduction of AVIF, the industry standard for bitmap graphics was PNG (Portable Network Graphics).
It is possible to reduce the size of SVG images. As an XML-based format, SVG files tend to contain many repeated fragments of text baked into the file. This lends itself well to lossless compression. Using the gzip algorithm, these fragments can be removed, cutting the size of the file by up to 50%. The same 82.3kB SVG graphic can be optimized to be ~30kB.
AVIF also supports lossy compression, and it is one of the format's key strengths. Lossy formats like JPEG were previously unsuitable for graphics because lossy compression blurs edges and introduces compression artifacts.
This is because JPEG's lossy compressions struggle to approximate the sharp lines of graphic images. AVIF's lossy compression has excellent appeal, meaning fewer artifacts exist, and it does a better job matching a graphic image to reduce its file size. Using AVIF, users can decimate a graphic's file size without damaging its visual quality too much.
By design, vector graphics can't be compressed using lossy methods.
When decoding SVG images, a computer does not have to process an entire pixel grid and only draws lines. Therefore, it is swift to encode and decode SVG files, and many web admins use SVG graphics over PNG (and now AVIF) to improve page load times.
By comparison, AVIF is a slower format to use, thanks to its complexity. The format boasts mediocre single-core encode and decode speeds. AVIF does, however, support parallelization. This allows the image coder to take advantage of multi-threaded hardware and utilize more than one CPU core to decode and encode AVIF images. As computer hardware tends towards higher core and thread counts, we expect AVIF's slow speeds to improve over time.
It is clear, however, that for most images, SVG will always be faster than AVIF.
Both AVIF and SVG support alpha transparency, a feature that is vital for graphics with transparent backgrounds.
AVIF supports overlays and depth maps. Overlays allow for layers to help maintain the clarity of text and graphics over highly compressed photo backgrounds. Depth maps enable effects to be added to foregrounds and backgrounds. These features don't apply to vector graphics.
Moreover, both formats also support animation. This is a feature that is great for animated graphics and cartoons. As AVIF is based on the AV1 video standard, sequenced AVIF images can benefit from the interframe compression that powers high-efficiency motion picture codecs. AVIF is perfect for animated photos like camera video but can also be great for some motion graphics.
Animated vectors can be achieved through a few methods, scripting, styling, and SMIL. Scripting SVGs for animation works great to animate user interfaces like buttons and panels. SVGs can be animated using CSS-style tags for basic keyframing. To match the same level of complexity as sequenced AVIFs, the Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language can be used for multimedia presentations using SVG.
Using SMIL, these animations can be interactive and can respond to events like mouse clicks. Check out this nifty missile game demo created using SMIL:
upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9b/SMIL_missile_demo.svg (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license. A simple video game by CMG Lee demonstrating the capabilities of SMIL for interactivity.)
As the primary format for vector graphics, SVG is supported by all major web browsers on mobile and desktop. All major browsers now also support animated SVG images and the SMIL language. SVG is an integral part of web development, and its universal support is no surprise.
Despite its youth AVIF has enjoyed an impressive rise in market uptake and has been fully supported by the world's most popular browser Google Chrome since version 93. Opera also fully supports AVIF.
In July 2021, Firefox included full support for AVIF images both still and sequenced in their Firefox 92 update. Safari and Microsoft Edge are yet to support the format, but we expect them to follow suit soon.
SVG and AVIF are entirely different methods of storing images and have their various strengths and weaknesses. To decide which format to use, you must identify the complexity of the image you're hoping to export. The more detailed an image is, the harder it is to trace that as a vector graphic. You cannot represent photos as SVGs, and even photo-like pictures will struggle to be traced as a vector.
AVIF stands as a significant forward step for raster graphics. Before AVIF, PNG files were massive compared to optimized SVG graphics. Therefore those looking to reduce bandwidth limitations and page loads used SVG graphics. The story has now changed with AVIF due to its much more efficient lossless compression. For complex graphics, AVIF is unbeatable.
But for simple graphics like logos and text art, SVG is a hard image format to beat. Raster graphics are usually easier to share as they are supported by more image previewers, social media apps, etc. However, SVG's transformation support makes it perfect for website interfaces.
With the vast majority of images available being raster graphics, AVIF is a format that will be more useful for the broader public as we advance. For the average user, bitmap images are easier to handle, download and view.
There are exceptions where SVG files are more convenient, like embedded graphics on a web page. Still, overall, the improved file size efficiency of AVIF will be able to transform the graphics industry more than SVG use. The improvements in lossy compression AVIF make graphic images smaller and easier to transfer and view.
While SVG currently has more comprehensive browser support, we expect AVIF to catch up in the coming years , as we expect Edge and Safari to finally include support for the format soon. AVIF is an excellent all-purpose format for use both with graphical content and photo images. We expect it to become the one-size-fits-all image format for the future.