What is CairoSVG?

CairoSVG is a SVG 1.1 to PNG, PDF, PS and SVG converter. It provides both a command-line interface and Python 3.4+ library, for Unix-like operating systems (at least Linux and OS X) and Windows. It is a free software, distributed under LGPLv3.

CairoSVG is written in Python and based on the famous 2D graphics library called Cairo. It is tested on SVG samples coming from the W3C test suite. It also relies on lxml to parse the SVG file, and tinycss plus cssselect to apply CSS. Embedded raster images are handled by Pillow.

How to use CairoSVG?


CairoSVG is available on PyPI, you can install it with pip:

$ pip install cairosvg

CairoSVG and its dependencies may require additional tools during the installation: a compiler, Python headers and FFI headers. These tools have different names depending on the OS you are using, but:

Command line

Here is the simple CairoSVG command line usage:

$ cairosvg --help
usage: [-h] [-v] [-f {pdf,png,ps,svg}] [-d DPI] [-W WIDTH]
                   [-H HEIGHT] [-o OUTPUT]

CairoSVG - A simple SVG converter based on Cairo.

positional arguments:
  input                 input filename or URL

optional arguments:
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -v, --version         show program's version number and exit
  -f {pdf,png,ps,svg}, --format {pdf,png,ps,svg}
                        output format
  -d DPI, --dpi DPI     ratio between 1 inch and 1 pixel
  -W WIDTH, --width WIDTH
                        width of the parent container in pixels
  -H HEIGHT, --height HEIGHT
                        height of the parent container in pixels
  -o OUTPUT, --output OUTPUT
                        output filename

Supported output formats are pdf, ps, png and svg (default is pdf). The default output is the standard output. If an output filename is given, the format is automatically chosen according to the extension.

The dpi options sets the ratio between pixels and real-life units such as millimeters and inches (as explained in the specification).

The width and height options can be given to set the container size, for SVG files whose width and height are using percentages.

Moreover, if - is used as filename, CairoSVG reads the SVG string from the standard input.


CairoSVG provides a module for Python 3.4+.

The cairosvg module offers 4 functions:

These functions expect one of these named parameters:

If the write_to argument is provided (filename or file-like object), the output is written there. Otherwise, the function returns a byte string.

For example:

    url="/path/to/input.svg", write_to="/tmp/output.png")

    file_obj=open("/path/to/input.svg", "rb"), write_to="/tmp/output.pdf")

output = cairosvg.svg2ps(

How good is CairoSVG at following the specification?

CairoSVG is generally good at supporting the widely used features of the SVG specification, and you’ll find here some general information and tips about that. If you’re interested in an exhaustive list of the supported features, you’ll find a full list on the SVG 1.1 support page, whose sections are the same as the ones of the specification.


CairoSVG is designed to parse well-formed SVG files, and draw them on a Cairo surface. Cairo is then able to export them to PDF, PS, PNG, and even SVG files.

The software tries to focus on “real-life features”. It’s not known to be good at handling erratic SVG files, with for example unknown syntaxes or unavailable external resources.

CairoSVG is pretty small, and quite fast once the Python interpreter is launched. When Travis launches our tests, it is able to render more than 270 reference images twice in less than 7.5 seconds (yes, that’s about 75 simple images per second).

Rendering model, document structure, coordinate systems, transformations and units

CairoSVG knows each tag, transformation and unit defined in the specification, as long as they’re not related to interactivity, linking, scripting or animation. SVG files are parsed with an external XML parser called lxml.

There should be no real problems with these base features.

Basic shapes, paths, markers

Basic shapes and paths are very well supported, with no real bug known in real-life examples. Simple markers are quite well supported, but some of its advanced features (overflow and relative units for example) are not supported.


Styling is possible thanks to both dedicated XML attributes and CSS.

Stylesheets are parsed with an external parser called tinycss and applied using an external selector-to-XPath converter called cssselect: styling is thus pretty solid. Nevertheless, some minor priority bugs are known (such as !important CSS properties being less important than the ones defined in XML attributes, for example).

Colors, gradients, patterns, clipping, masking, filtering, compositing

Colors are generally well supported. The biggest missing features related to colors are the lack of support for ICC color schemes, missing color interpolation, and missing gamma correction for external raster images.

Gradients, patterns and clipping are well supported.

Masking is correctly supported, except from odd-even rules, luminance-based masks and intersections.

Only feOffset, feBlend and feFlood filters are supported. The other filters are really hard to support, mainly due to the lack of raster filters in Cairo.

Compositing rules as described in the specification are generally correctly followed by CairoSVG, meaning that alpha groups are created when needed before compositing.


Raster images (including PNG and JPEG) can be included using the Pillow library. SVG images can be included using … CairoSVG!

Text and fonts

Text and features related to fonts are poorly supported.

Simple text based on Latin or Cyrillic alphabets is generally displayed correctly. Horizontal alignment is quite well supported, really simple vertical alignment (top, middle, bottom) is supported too.

Other languages, and particularly those based on right-to-left or top-to-bottom directions are not supported at all.

Nested text (with tspan tags) is very well supported.

Individual letter rotation is supported.

Text on path is supported, even with nested, translated tspan text.

Fonts are managed by Cairo, which is known to be bad at managing advanced font features. Font family, size, weight and style are supported for common simple values, but don’t follow the specification on many points (including the font family choice when multiple values are given). Hinting and anti-aliasing are supported. Kerning, stretching, font variants, word and letter spacing options, glyph orientations, baseline shifts and many other properties are not supported.

Cairo relies on FreeType to reach fonts installed on your system. Many formats are supported, including TTF, OTF and WOFF, but the fonts need to be installed. As a consequence, it’s not possible to reference fonts thanks to the CSS @font-face property.

CairoSVG doesn’t support SVG fonts.

Interactivity, linking, scripting, animation

These features are not applicable or not really interesting in a static environment, they are not and will not be implemented.