Using external SVG sprite maps to deliver lossless scalable vector images is widely used in responsive web design today and well-supported by tools like svg4everybody. At German newspaper Zeit Online, we embraced this technique quite a lot. However, we recently changed this workflow back to completely inlining the SVG into the HTML owing to a bug in Apple’s Safari browsers– the same way GitHub is doing with its octicons.
I’m pretty confident that I won’t surprise anyone here by saying that CSS sprites have been around for quite a while now, rearing their somewhat controversial heads in the Web development sphere as early as 2003.
Ah, the ubiquitous CSS sprites — one of the few web design techniques that was able to bypass “trend” status almost instantly, planting itself firmly into the category of best practice CSS. Although it didn’t really take off until well after A List Apart explained and endorsed it, it was discussed as a CSS solution as early as July, 2003 by Petr Stanícek.
Most web developers today have a fairly strong grasp of this technique, and there have been countless tutorials and articles written on it. In almost every one of those tutorials, the claim is made that designers and developers should be implementing CSS sprites in order to minimize HTTP requests and save valuable kilobytes. This technique has been taken so far that many sites, including Amazon, now use mega sprites.
Is this much-discussed benefit really worthwhile? Are designers jumping on the CSS sprite bandwagon without a careful consideration of all the factors? In this article, I’m going to discuss some of the pros and cons of using CSS sprites, focusing particularly on the use of “mega” sprites, and why such use of sprites could in many cases be a waste of time.
No need to be sad!
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