SVGs vs. Icon Fonts: Two points in favor of Icon Fonts

There was some interesting discussion on Twitter about SVG sprites and their superiority to icon fonts. While I agree that SVGs are by and large superior, there are two crucial points that I feel icon fonts can present an advantage:

File Size

When you have a set of icons that you'd like to use on a given project, the larger the set of icons, the more likely an icon font will have a smaller overall file footprint.

On one recent project, I generated an icon font with the excellent IcoMoon, which consisted of 29 icons. IcoMoon allows for exporting the same set as an SVG sprite.

That's only a difference of 10k, but that's still an increase of 240%. For even larger icon sets it can be even more pronounced.

See this post by IcoMoon's author about this very point.

I'm not saying icon fonts will always and forever be smaller than SVG sprites - it's just been my limited experience thus far.

Internet Explorer

If you are looking to utilize an SVG sprite in a manner similar to an icon font, which would be inserting <svg> elements into your markup, but relying on the <use> element inside to reference your sprite - see this CSS Tricks article on the technique.

The problem is that you probably want your SVG sprite to be an external file, right? You don't want your pile of SVGs to be in the <head> of every document. Well, you can reference an external file, and still employ the <use> element.

Except in Internet Explorer. (Whomp whomp)

Even the new Microsoft browser, the <use> element referencing an external file is not supported.

Enter: SVG4Everybody. Which is a great solution - it just ajax's your SVGs into the document in Internet Explorer.

But, you don't have to do all that if you are using an icon font. It works, and works as far back as IE6.

Because of these two reasons, on a recent project I decided to go with an icon font. For now. I may revisit this decision as a future enhancement, as SVG does still present many advantages.