SVG Filters 1.2, Part 1: Primer


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Erik Dahlström, Opera Software <ed@opera.com>
The authors of this specification are the participants of the W3C SVG Working Group.


SVG is language for describing vector graphics, however it's typically rendered on raster displays. SVG filter effects is a way of processing the generated raster image before it's displayed.

Although originally designed for use in SVG, filter effects are defined in XML and are accessed via a presentation property, and therefore could be used in other environments, such as HTML styled with CSS and XSL:FO.

This document introduces the features used by SVG filters.

Status of This Document

This section describes the status of this document at the time of its publication. Other documents may supersede this document. The latest status of this document series is maintained at the W3C.

This document is the first public working draft of this specification.

This document has been produced by the W3C SVG Working Group as part of the W3C Graphics Activity within the Interaction Domain.

We explicitly invite comments on this specification. Please send them to public-svg-filters@w3.org (archives). For comments on the core SVG language, use www-svg@w3.org: the public email list for issues related to vector graphics on the Web (archives). Acceptance of the archiving policy is requested automatically upon first post to either list. To subscribe to these lists send an email to public-svg-filters-request@w3.org or www-svg-request@w3.org with the word subscribe in the subject line.

The latest information regarding patent disclosures related to this document is available on the Web. As of this publication, the SVG Working Group are not aware of any royalty-bearing patents they believe to be essential to SVG.

Publication of this document does not imply endorsement by the W3C membership. A list of current W3C Recommendations and other technical documents can be found at http://www.w3.org/TR/. W3C publications may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any time. It is inappropriate to cite a W3C Working Draft as anything other than a work in progress."

How to read this document and give feedback

This is a primer for the SVG Filter specification. It gives guidelines on how to use the SVG Filter specification with SVG 1.2. In many cases the reader will have to be familiar with the SVG language.

This document is informative.

Table of Contents

Filters in SVG

Filter effects are defined by 'filter element' elements. To apply a filter effect to a graphics element or a container element, you set the value of the 'filter property' property on the given element such that it references the filter effect.

Each 'filter element' element contains a set of filter primitives as its children. Each filter primitive performs a single fundamental graphical operation (e.g., a blur or a lighting effect) on one or more inputs, producing a graphical result. Because most of the filter primitives represent some form of image processing, in most cases the output from a filter primitive is a single RGBA image.

The original source graphic or the result from a filter primitive can be used as input into one or more other filter primitives. A common application is to use the source graphic multiple times. For example, a simple filter could replace one graphic by two by adding a black copy of original source graphic offset to create a drop shadow. In effect, there are now two layers of graphics, both with the same original source graphics.

When applied to container elements such as 'g', the 'filter property' property applies to the contents of the group as a whole. The group's children do not render to the screen directly; instead, the graphics commands necessary to render the children are stored temporarily. Typically, the graphics commands are executed as part of the processing of the referenced 'filter element' element via use of the keywords SourceGraphic or SourceAlpha. Filter effects can be applied to container elements with no content (e.g., an empty 'g' element), in which case the SourceGraphic or SourceAlpha consist of a transparent black rectangle that is the size of the filter effects region.

Sometimes filter primitives result in undefined pixels. For example, filter primitive 'feOffset' can shift an image down and to the right, leaving undefined pixels at the top and left. In these cases, the undefined pixels are set to transparent black.

An example

The following shows an example of a filter effect.

Example filters01 - introducing filter effects.

The filter effect used in the example above is repeated here with reference numbers in the left column before each of the six filter primitives:

<filter id="MyFilter" filterUnits="userSpaceOnUse" x="0" y="0" width="200" height="120">
  <desc>Produces a 3D lighting effect.</desc>
  <feGaussianBlur in="SourceAlpha" stdDeviation="4" result="blur"/>
  <feOffset in="blur" dx="4" dy="4" result="offsetBlur"/>
  <feSpecularLighting in="blur" surfaceScale="5" specularConstant=".75" 
                      specularExponent="20" lighting-color="#bbbbbb" 
    <fePointLight x="-5000" y="-10000" z="20000"/>
  <feComposite in="specOut" in2="SourceAlpha" operator="in" result="specOut"/>
  <feComposite in="SourceGraphic" in2="specOut" operator="arithmetic" 
               k1="0" k2="1" k3="1" k4="0" result="litPaint"/>
    <feMergeNode in="offsetBlur"/>
    <feMergeNode in="litPaint"/>

The following pictures show the intermediate image results from each of the six filter elements:

filters01 - original source graphic
Source graphic


filters01 - after filter element 1
After filter primitive 1


filters01 - after filter element 2
After filter primitive 2


filters01 - after filter element 3
After filter primitive 3


filters01 - after filter element 4
After filter primitive 4


filters01 - after filter element 5
After filter primitive 5


filters01 - after filter element 6
After filter primitive 6

  1. Filter primitive 'feGaussianBlur' takes input SourceAlpha, which is the alpha channel of the source graphic. The result is stored in a temporary buffer named "blur". Note that "blur" is used as input to both filter primitives 2 and 3.
  2. Filter primitive 'feOffset' takes buffer "blur", shifts the result in a positive direction in both x and y, and creates a new buffer named "offsetBlur". The effect is that of a drop shadow.
  3. Filter primitive 'feSpecularLighting', uses buffer "blur" as a model of a surface elevation and generates a lighting effect from a single point source. The result is stored in buffer "specOut".
  4. Filter primitive 'feComposite' masks out the result of filter primitive 3 by the original source graphics alpha channel so that the intermediate result is no bigger than the original source graphic.
  5. Filter primitive 'feComposite' composites the result of the specular lighting with the original source graphic.
  6. Filter primitive 'feMerge' composites two layers together. The lower layer consists of the drop shadow result from filter primitive 2. The upper layer consists of the specular lighting result from filter primitive 5.

Filter primitive 'feGaussianBlur'

The 'feGaussianBlur' filter primitive can be used to create blur effects. Below is an example where the blur is applied only in one direction, which can give better performance in some user agents.

The blur filter can also be used for creating the impression of something being in motion, as in this example.


Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) 1.2 Specification, Dean Jackson editor, W3C, 27 October 2004 (Working Draft). See http://www.w3.org/TR/2004/WD-SVG12-20041027/
SVG 1.1/1.2/2.0 Requirements, Dean Jackson editor, W3C, 22 April 2002 (Working Draft). See http://www.w3.org/TR/2002/WD-SVG2Reqs-20020422/
SVG Filter Requirements, Erik Dahlström, W3C, 3 May 2007 (Working Draft). See http://www.w3.org/TR/2007/WD-SVGFilterReqs12-20070501/
SVG Filters 1.2, Erik Dahlström editor, W3C, 3 May 2007 (Working Draft). See http://www.w3.org/TR/2007/WD-SVGFilter12-20070501/