Design & UX
By Alex Walker

Boxy SVG: A Fast, Simple, Insanely Useful, FREE SVG Editor

By Alex Walker

Have you ever worked with HTML from Microsoft Word’s ‘Save as a Webpage‘ feature?

Ouch. It’s painful.


Word HTML : You should have seen it 10 years ago..

It should have been a miracle feature but if you ever had to work with the generated HTML source, you probably spat your coffee when you first saw it. It was always crazily convoluted and horribly bloated – really bad qualities for the web.

And to be fair, that’s not a huge surprise either.

Let’s face it: people using MS Word probably aren’t concentrating on what works best on the web. They are using Word – why would they care about:

  • page load times?
  • web image formats?
  • semantics & SEO?
  • changable screen sizes (responsive design)?
  • font availability?

So it’s hardly surprising that an after-thought conversion process generates obese, deranged HTML, right?

Is SVG the new ‘Save as Webpage”?

Today SVG is hot. You’ll find ‘Save as SVG‘ in most of the big name graphics applications including Photoshop, Sketch, Illustrator and Inkscape and this is generally a good thing.

But there is a risk of similar ‘Word-to-HTML’ conversion issue emerging. Software makers are competing to make the best, most powerful graphics tool they can. That might require jamming in 3D modeling interfaces, perspective transformers, bevels, font generators, and other ‘gee-whizz’ tricks.

So, exporting the final output to SVG becomes a problem to solve at the end of the process – like Word does with HTML.

That’s great for design freedom, but not great for making the most of SVG. So sometimes it’s better to have a simpler tool that only gives you access to the things SVG is good at.

What is SVG Good at?

SVG has a bunch of features that are super-useful on the web. These include:

  1. Mathematical control: SVG is an efficient, plain-speaking shape & layout language, which makes it easy to manipulate in your code editor.
  2. Symbols: A little bit like CSS. Define a graphic once – call on it as often as you like.
  3. Patterns: As with CSS tiling backgrounds, a great way to use small graphics to cover large areas.
  4. Masks: SVG can mask with hard vector shapes or softer alpha channel masks.
  5. Blend Modes/Channels: As with Photoshop, SVG letters you change how overlapping layers interact with each other – darken, hard light, color dodge etc.

Meet Boxy SVG

Boxy_SVG_Editor logo

Boxy SVG is a FREE simplified vector editor – running as a Chrome App – designed to give you full access to precisely the features that SVG is good at.

Now I don’t want to do a comprehensive review here – you know what a vector editor does – but I want to touch on a few features I really like about it.

The Boxy SVG UI

Basic Drawing Tools

The Drawing tools

As you would expect, Boxy comes with a range of vector creation tools – pens, bezier curves, text, and the basic shapes provided in SVG (rectangles, circles, triangles etc).

The Panels on the right are probably the more interesting menus.

The right hand panels menu

In order, they control:

  • Fill
  • Stroke
  • Compositing (layers)
  • View (document size, setup)
  • Arrangement (alignment, transforms, Z order)
  • Typography (including font, size & type on a path)
  • Defs (reusable resources like patterns & symbols)
  • Masks (Vector and alpha)
  • Geometry (position, size & rotation)
  • Path (convert to path, unite, subtract etc)
  • Export (to PNG if you want)

Stroke & Fill

Paint (fill)

Along with the predictable color pickers and gradient controls, Boxy offers a pretty cool ‘pattern-fill’ option – that’s the stripey box. Clicking the pattern box will open the DEFS panel, where the patterns are stored.

The DEFS Panel

Perhaps the single coolest thing about the SVG format is the concept of ‘definitions’ or <defs>. This is a section at the top of your SVG document where you can define reusable resources like Symbols and Patterns.

It’s a little like a <style> block for graphic elements. Boxy SVG makes it very easy to create, manage and reuse your Symbols and Patterns. Here’s what it looks like in Boxy.

Symbols: Select any graphic that you have created, hit the ‘+’ button on the Symbols menu and you’ll see it instantly appear in the Symbols panel.

The DEFS panel

Using DEFS in Boxy SVG

I also found that if you create an SVG icon set at IcoMoon and then open it in Boxy SVG, you’ll see all your icons appear in the Symbols menu. Even if you delete them from the main document view, you’ll still find them in the DEFS panel.

Patterns: Hit ‘+’ on the Patterns menu and you’ll be given a new canvas to create your pattern in. When you’re finished, you’ll find your new pattern ready to use in the FILL and STROKE panels.


Opacity and Blend Modes

Blend modes are well-supported in SVG and allow your vector shapes to interact in much more ‘Photoshoppy‘ ways. Select a shape and switch the dropdown to experiment with Darken, Multiply, Color Burn, Difference, Hard Light and all your familiar Photoshop faves.

The MASKS Panel

Masking is another of SVG’s super-powers and useful in countless design applications. Just create a mask shape in front of your image, select both, and hit ‘Clip’ in the MASK menu to activate the mask.

Animation: Masking in Boxy

Animation: Masking in Boxy

There’s plenty more in BoxySVG, including nice Typography controls and a Pathfinder tool but I don’t want to write 2000 words here. I recommend you have a play and see what you think. It won’t cost you anything but time.

But I Have a Vector Application that Exports SVG. Why Would I Use This?

I think there are two good reasons for checking out Boxy SVG.

1). Firstly, by limiting the UI options, Boxy helps you get a feel for what SVG is good at. You’ll start to plan better web icons, infographics and charts with that knowledge.

2). Secondly, Boxy SVG writes neat, efficient, readable SVG. If you’re comfortable with HTML, open your SVG file in your favorite text editor and you should see a well-structured, neat file you can understand.

Now start adding your own CSS classes to your SVG elements and a <style> block at the top and you’ve got something more powerful. It’s now easy to add in your own hover-effects, CSS transitions, and animations.

Remember, try to keep your artwork relatively simple to start with so you’ll have no trouble understanding the code you’re seeing. There are many tools with more impressive feature sets, but not with more impressive SVG.

Currently, the only major SVG feature that doesn’t seem to be available in Boxy is the ability to apply SVG filters like blurs or color tints. However, since you have access to the code, hand-coding filters into your SVG document isn’t a huge deal (and you’ll learn cool stuff).

The simplicity IS the killer feature here.

Again, this application is 100% free and with no ads. I’m not sure why, but gift horses, right?

To me, Boxy SVG isn’t so much a ‘vector editor that exports SVG’ – it’s more of a WYSIWYG UI for the SVG language.

That’s a subtle difference but I think an important one.

  • What about Inkscape whose native file format is also SVG?

    • @Frémo, Inkscape is powerful and fully featured but its default SVG is pretty horrendous. “Sodipodi” metatags and other proprietary code throughout that browsers can’t read. You need to export an optimised format at the end, which is kinda my point.

      First and foremost, Inkscape is trying to provide a viable alternative to Illustrator, and that’s a noble goal.

      You can definitely make good web-ready SVG in Inkscape – as long as you understand precisely what a good web-ready SVG is.

      • Petri Savolainen

        That is somewhat misleading commentary. The Inkscape-specific metadata is all regular, open XML, RDF and DC metadata. As such, while browsers don’t show it, they CAN of course read and use it if need be, using Javascript. As can other tools accessing the image. I would not say it’s horrendous or proprietary. Horrendous proprietary stuff is what Microsoft used to do.

        Of course any metadata takes space. But raw efficiency-over-everything is not, well, everything (HTTP itself is hardly an efficient protocol). Image metadata is very important for many purposes, for SVG just as much as any image format. Ask any professional photographer or media house small or big.

        As far as I know, Inkscape is still the best native-SVG editor there is. IMHO the extra tags are of no practical significance.

    • As an example, Wikimedia Commons is full of SVG maps and diagrams like this one:

      Here’s the top of that doc:


      I haven’t done the maths, but I’m guessing less than half is useful SVG. The rest is Inkscape scaffolding relevant only to the person who made the file – yet it ends up on the web, getting downloaded by every browser that see it.

    • Petri Savolainen

      Sadly, even today in 2017, Inkscape is still the best there is among native SVG editors. Despite its flaws.

      • Datch

        Sadly, even today in 2017, Inkscape is still a piece of shit after all these years.

        • Petri Savolainen

          I know what you mean. I did not say it’s great – it’s just the best among the native SVG editors. Sad as it is.

  • Jarek Foksa

    Hi and thanks for reviewing Boxy SVG.

    The files generated by tha app are shorter than those created by e.g. Inkscape, but I’m still working on optimising the output. For example the number precission currently used is often too high (8 significant figures should be enough for like 99.99% of use cases) and in many cases transforms are redudant and could be replaced with corresponding “x”, “y”, “width” and “height” attributes.

    In my optionion SVG filter editing should be handled by a separate app with a node-based interface as they could get really complicated. However, I’m planning to implement UI for applying predefined CSS filters such as “blur” or “saturate” once Chrome adds support for them (currently they work only when applied on HTML elements).

    The app will remain free, though I’m planning to release a “Pro” version later this year which will include more tools and panels.

    • Great work on the app @jarekfoksa:disqus. I’ve been gradually discovering more and more ‘power-features’ as I’ve been working with it. For instance, the skew/shear controls when you click a shape twice, or the rounded corner controls when you click a rectangle a third time.

      Also love the pattern scaling controls when I found them.

      I like the sound of your plans for the next version and I’d be keen to see your beta versions when they’re released.

      • Jarek Foksa

        The version currently distributed on the Chrome Web Store can be actually considered a beta version as I’m pushing updates on regular basis. The Mac App Store version will be updated less often due to the Apple’s review policy.

        • I’m more than happy with the Chrome App version.

  • Antonella

    Thank you for sharing this resource, I was looking for something like this. I use Inkscape for SVG but I find it a bit of a nightmare to optimize the output: I often end up breaking everything up and get a bit frustrated.

    • Yes, I think we all have the same problem, @disqus_FlauD7I6IM:disqus. I’ve worked with SVG Edit, and Janvas showed promise, but Boxy SVG is the closest to what I’m looking for.

  • Frederico Luis Figueira

    Somone knows if have some aplication like that to use on page? I need a similar aplication to draw, and create simple shapes, like rectangle and circles, I’m trying to do this whith canvas, but I don’t know so much :/

    If someone know similar aplication to embed on site, please share, tanks and sorry for my bad english

    • is doing exactly what you’re asking for ,@fredericoluisfigueira:disqus. I’ve found the app a little buggy, but they’re working continually on it, so I have faith.

  • Datch

    Chrome only, doesn’t work in Firefox. So, pretty useless.

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