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SVG Tiler

SVG Tiler is a tool for drawing diagrams on a grid using text or spreadsheets, and then substituting SVG symbols to make a big SVG figure, and optionally convert it to PDF.

To use SVG Tiler, you combine two types of files (possibly multiple of each type):

  1. A mapping file specifies how to map symbol names (strings) to SVG content (either embedded in the same file or in separate files). Mapping files can be specified in a simple ASCII format, or as a dynamic mapping defined by JavaScript or CoffeeScript code.

  2. A drawing file specifies a grid of symbol names (strings) which, combined with one or more mapping files to define the SVG associated with each symbol, compile to a single (tiled) SVG. Drawing files can be specified as ASCII art (where each symbol is limited to a single character), space-separated ASCII art (where symbols are separated by whitespace), or standard CSV/TSV formats such as those exported by Google Sheets or Excel.

These input files are listed on the svgtiler command line, with mapping files typically before drawing files. File types and formats are distinguished automatically by their extension. For example:

svgtiler map1.txt drawing.asc drawings.xls

will generate drawing.svg using the mappings in map1.txt and, and will generate drawings_<sheet>.svg for each sheet in drawings.xlsx.

Mapping Files: .txt, .js, .coffee

In the .txt format for mapping files, each line consists of a symbol name (either having no spaces, or consisting entirely of a single space), followed by whitespace, followed by either a block of SVG code (such as <symbol viewBox="...">...</symbol>) or a filename containing such a block. For example, here is a mapping of O to black squares and both (space) and empty string to blank squares, all dimensioned 50 × 50:

O <symbol viewBox="0 0 50 50"><rect width="50" height="50"/></symbol>
  <symbol viewBox="0 0 50 50"></symbol>
 <symbol viewBox="0 0 50 50"></symbol>

Here is a mapping of the same symbols to external files:

O O.svg

In the .js / .coffee formats, the file consists of JavaScript / CoffeeScript code, the last line of which should evaluate to either

  1. an object whose keys are symbol names, or
  2. a function in one argument, a symbol name (string). (This feature allows you to parse symbol names how you want; or check an object for a matching key but use a default value otherwise; etc.).

The object or function should map a symbol name to either

  1. a string of SVG code (detected by the presence of a < character),
  2. a filename containing SVG code, or
  3. a function returning one of the above.

In the last case, the function is called for each occurrence of the symbol, and has this bound to a manufactured Context object, giving you access to the following properties:

  • this.key is the symbol name, or null if the Context is out of bounds of the drawing;
  • this.includes(substring) computes whether this.key contains the given substring (as would this.key.includes(substring) in ECMAScript 2015).
  • this.i is the row number of the cell of this symbol occurrence (starting at 0);
  • this.j is the column number of the cell of this symbol occurrence (starting at 0);
  • this.neighbor(dj, di) returns a new Context for row i + di and column j + dj. (Note the reversal of coordinates, so that the order passed to neighbor corresponds to x then y coordinate.) If there is no symbol at that position, you will still get a Context whose key value is null and whose includes() always returns false.
  • In particular, it's really useful to call e.g. this.neighbor(1, 0).includes('-') to check for adjacent symbols that change how this symbol should be rendered.

Drawing Files: .asc, .ssv, .csv, .tsv, .xlsx, .xls, .ods

The .asc format for drawing files represents traditional ASCII art: each non-newline character represents a one-character symbol name. For example, here is a simple 5 × 5 ASCII drawing using symbols O and (space):

O   O

The .ssv, .csv, and .tsv formats use delimiter-separated values (DSV) to specify an array of symbol names. In particular, .csv (comma-separated) and .tsv (tab-separated) formats are exactly those exported by spreadsheet software such as Google Drive or Excel, enabling you to draw in that software. The .ssv format is similar, but where the delimiter between symbol names is arbitrary whitespace. (Contrast this behavior with .csv which treats every comma as a delimiter.) This format is nice to work with in a text editor, allowing you to line up the columns by padding symbol names with extra spaces. All three formats support quoting according to the usual DSV rules: any symbol name (in particular, if it has a delimiter or double quote in it) can be put in double quotes, and double quotes can be produced in the symbol name by putting "" (two double quotes) within the quoted string. Thus, the one-character symbol name " would be represented by """".

The .xlsx, .xlsm, .xlsb, .xls (Microsoft Excel), .ods, .fods (OpenDocument), .dif (Data Interchange Format), .prn (Lotus), and .dbf (dBASE/FoxPro) formats support data straight from spreadsheet software. This format is special in that it supports multiple sheets in one file. In this case, the output SVG files have filenames distinguished by an underscore followed by the sheet name.

Layout Algorithm

Given one or more mapping files and a drawing file, SVG Tiler follows a fairly simple layout algorithm to place the SVG expansions of the symbols into a single SVG output. Each symbol has a bounding box, either specified by the viewBox of the root element, or automatically computed. The algorithm places symbols in a single row to align their top edges, with no horizontal space between them. The algorithm places rows to align their left edges so that the rows' bounding boxes touch, with the bottom of one row's bounding box equalling the top of the next row's bounding box.

This layout algorithm works well if each row has a uniform height and each column has a uniform width, even if different rows have different heights and different columns have different widths. But it probably isn't what you want if symbols have wildly differing widths or heights, so you should set your viewBoxes accordingly.

Additional Features

  • Each unique symbols gets defined just once (via SVG's <symbol>) and then instantiated (via SVG's <use>) many times, resulting in relatively small and efficient SVG outputs.

  • z-index support on symbols defined by mapping files, even though output is SVG 1.1 (which does not support z-index): symbol uses get re-ordered to simulate the correct z order. For example, <symbol viewBox="0 0 10 10" style="z-index: 2">...</symbol> will be rendered on top of (later than) all symbols without a style="z-index:..." specification (which default to a z-index of 0).

  • Symbols can draw beyond their viewBox via style="overflow: visible" (as in normal SVG). Furthermore, the viewBox of the overall output drawing can still be computed correctly (larger than the bounding box of the symbol viewBoxes) via a special overflowBox attribute. For example, <symbol viewBox="0 0 10 10" overflowBox="-5 -5 20 20" style="overflow: visible">...</symbol> defines a symbol that gets laid out as if it occupies the [0, 10] × [0, 10] square, but the symbol can draw outside that square, and the overall drawing bounding box will be set as if the symbol occupies the [−5, 15] × [−5, 15] square.

  • Very limited automatic viewBox setting via bounding box computation (but see the code for many SVG features not supported). For example, the SVG <rect x="-5" y="-5" width="10" height="10"/> will create a symbol with viewBox="-5 -5 10 10".

  • You can automatically convert all exported SVG files into PDF if you have Inkscape installed, via the -p or --pdf command-line option. For example: svgtiler -p drawings.xls


After installing Node, you can install this tool via

npm install -g svgtiler

Command-Line Usage

The command-line arguments consist mostly of mapping and/or drawing files. The files and other arguments are processed in order, so for example a drawing can use all mapping files specified before it on the command line. If the same symbol is defined by multiple mapping files, later mappings take precedence (overwriting previous mappings).

Here is the output of svgtiler --help:

Usage: svgtiler (...options and filenames...)
Optional arguments:
  --help                Show this help message and exit.
  --tw TILE_WIDTH / --tile-width TILE_WIDTH
                        Force all symbol tiles to have specified width
                        (default: null, which means read width from SVG)
  --th TILE_HEIGHT / --tile-height TILE_HEIGHT
                        Force all symbol tiles to have specified height
                        (default: null, which means read height from SVG)
  -p / --pdf            Convert output SVG files to PDF via Inkscape
Filename arguments:  (mappings before drawings!)
  *.txt        ASCII mapping file
               Each line is <symbol-name><space><raw SVG or filename.svg>
  *.js         JavaScript mapping file
               Object mapping symbol names to SYMBOL e.g. dot: 'dot.svg'
  *.coffee     CoffeeScript mapping file
               Object mapping symbol names to SYMBOL e.g. dot: 'dot.svg'
  *.asc        ASCII drawing (one character per symbol)
  *.ssv        Space-delimiter drawing (one word per symbol)
  *.csv        Comma-separated drawing (spreadsheet export)
  *.tsv        Tab-separated drawing (spreadsheet export)
  *.xlsx       Spreadsheet drawing(s) (Excel/OpenDocument/Lotus/dBASE)
  *.xlsm       Spreadsheet drawing(s) (Excel/OpenDocument/Lotus/dBASE)
  *.xlsb       Spreadsheet drawing(s) (Excel/OpenDocument/Lotus/dBASE)
  *.xls        Spreadsheet drawing(s) (Excel/OpenDocument/Lotus/dBASE)
  *.ods        Spreadsheet drawing(s) (Excel/OpenDocument/Lotus/dBASE)
  *.fods       Spreadsheet drawing(s) (Excel/OpenDocument/Lotus/dBASE)
  *.dif        Spreadsheet drawing(s) (Excel/OpenDocument/Lotus/dBASE)
  *.prn        Spreadsheet drawing(s) (Excel/OpenDocument/Lotus/dBASE)
  *.dbf        Spreadsheet drawing(s) (Excel/OpenDocument/Lotus/dBASE)
SYMBOL specifiers:
  'filename.svg':   load SVG from specifies file
  '<svg>...</svg>': raw SVG
  -> ...@key...:    function computing SVG, with `this` bound to Context with
                    `key` set to symbol name, `i` and `j` set to coordinates,
                    and supporting `neighbor` and `includes` methods.


This take on SVG Tiler was written by Erik Demaine, in discussions with Jeffrey Bosboom and others, with the intent of subsuming his original SVG Tiler. In particular, the .txt mapping format and .asc drawing format here are nearly identical to the formats supported by the original.