Campus-based Publishing and SVG

Benjamin Kay

Ben is the principal developer for The Larkin Press, a University of Hull campus-based publishing initiative. He is currently an MSc by Research student at the University of Hull.

Dr John C. Whelan

John is a lecturer in Digital Media at the University of Hull, Scarborough Campus. He is the principal investigator and grant holder for the Larkin Press project.

Dr Tanko Ishaya

Tanko is a lecturer in Digital Media at the University of Hull, Scarborough Campus, and technical advisor for the Larkin Press project.

Professor Martin J. Goodman

Martin is Professor of Creative Writing Director of the Philip Larkin Centre for Poetry and Creative Writing at the University of Hull, and provided the initial concept for the Larkin Press platform.

Chris Awre

Chris is Head of Information Management at the University of Hull, and advising on integration with the institution's digital repository for the Larkin Press project.


This paper presents an investigation into the feasibility of utilising SVG within the Larkin Press, a digital publishing platform at the University of Hull with a focus on output of the MA in Creative Writing. The platform is intending to use EPUB as a distribution format. A work package was devised within the platform development stage to investigate eReader support for SVG using a selected range of devices and relevant content scenarios for wider campus-based publishing scenarios. With eReader device support being found to be inconsistent, the paper concludes by describing how SVG will be utilised within the Larkin Press platform, and how investigation informs other elements of the platform's development.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Background to The Larkin Press project
3. Publication distribution format selection process
4. An approach to SVG within campus-based publishing platforms
5. Conclusion and future work

1. Introduction

Existing research into publishing and SVG has been predominately focussed on print as the primary publishing medium [Jinks 2003][Grasso 2007] and some digital publishing formats [Neumann 2008]. The rising popularity of eReading devices has presented EPUB as a valid digital publishing and distribution format. The current specification of the EPUB standard defines support for a subset of the SVG 1.1 specification [International Digital Publishing Forum 2010], though no comprehensive list exists for the range of device and rendering engine support, and community reports suggest inconsistent rendering among devices [MobileRead 2010].

This paper presents an investigation into the feasibility of utilising SVG within The Larkin Press, a digital publishing platform at the University of Hull with a focus on output of the MA in Creative Writing. The platform is intending to use EPUB as a distribution format. This paper presents the background to the Larkin Press, with examples use cases for SVG in wider campus-based publishing presented and mapped to elements of the SVG 1.1 specification. The examples are then tested on a selected range of eReader devices. The paper concludes by describing how SVG will be utilised within the Larkin Press platform.

2. Background of The Larkin Press project

Methods of media access and consumption evolve in-line with the production and dissemination technologies available to publishers and consumers. In 1999 the advent of the portable MP3 player radically changed the music publishing and distribution industries and, although on-line journals are nothing new, the last few years have seen both eBook reader manufacturers and progressive publishing houses further challenging existing book and journal print models. A variety of eBook creation tools and services exist to support self-publishers, however in an academic context there is a clear need to exercise levels of editorial control. The Larkin Press (the celebrated poet Philip Larkin being The University of Hull's former Head Librarian) aims to produce a web interface for authors and editors to create, manage and disseminate multi-format academic output (eBook and Print) from The University of Hull, combining existing University activities into a publishing whole.

The Larkin Press is a Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) funded project from the Scholarly Communications strand of research, and consists of project members from multiple disciplines within the University, including Information Management, Creative Writing and Digital Media. The platform will achieve its aims through the creation of a virtual community of editors and authors that will interface with The University's local digital archive and, through partnering with a local print company, facilitate print-on-demand. A key aspect is the ability to create differing communities of editors and authors to drive the various imprints of The Press, with a core aim being to encourage the creative output of students as well as academics.

A central theme running through The Press is to support academic publishing from the University of Hull's MA in Creative Writing programme, and provide an open-source solution to other Universities wishing to pursue similar aims. This output-driven nature of The Press presented a range of publication content requirement permutations that The Press must support.

The Press' dynamic model identified these content requirements included text with basic multimedia (audio and video), graphics and sound, accessed through desktop, eReader and mobile devices of various platform and capabilities. Submissions by authors would be in native word processing document format to enable reviewers to modify the contents of the submission.

To create an efficient workflow process and reduce required user input the dynamic model identified that The Press should perform any required artefact conversion autonomously without significant user input, with soft-proofs of submissions available to authors. Rights-managed, versioned artefacts would be automatically ingested into the local digital archive and institutional repository, Hydra - an instance of Fedora Commons connected to a Hydra presentation layer.

The integration of Press content into the institutional repository presented requirements through meeting a digital object content model that would facilitate discovery, archiving and versioning of Press content. Furthermore, the content should be able to facilitate print-on-demand copies of a publication of The Press through a local digital print service provider, requiring content to be compatible the service provider's automated workflow system while maintaining portability and compatibility with client devices.

3. Publication distribution format selection process

The content requirements described in the preceding section presented a wide scope of potential distribution formats for publications of The Press. The range of potential types of content, coupled with output device compatibility and integration with the institution repository and print service provider presented a myriad of requirements that the publication distribution format must fulfil.

Different electronic formats for distributed electronic publications were reviewed to gain an understanding of the format that would best support the content requirements of The Press. The formats reviewed included Portable Document Format (PDF), Electronic Publication (EPUB), Microsoft Word Document (DOCX), and proprietary device-specific applications (e.g. Apple iOS Apps).

The fundamental criteria for selection were interoperability, portability, compatibility and suitability for rendering on expected output devices while supporting the aforementioned content requirements and types anticipated to the included in Press publications. Device specific applications were dismissed owing to incompatibility and resources required to develop per-device versions of publications. Likewise, DOCX was withdrawn as a distribution format owing to its pre-requisite of a Microsoft Word installation on the target device, though encouraged as the submission format for familiarity between authors and editors. Proprietary device-specific applications may include animation, interactivity, and rich multimedia. These enable vendors to exploit features of the hardware device that the eBook is compiled for, while having advanced creation and publishing tools to do so [Adobe Systems Incorporated 2011], though access to these tools would be limited within the expected user-base. Apps were outruled due to the limitation of, and resources required, to compile applications on a per-device basis and confliction with the open-source nature of the project. This produced two candidate distribution formats for further review, EPUB and PDF.

The EPUB format, by the International Digital Publshing Forum (IDPF) defines a means of representing, packaging and encoding structured and semantically enhanced Web content including XHTML, CSS, SVG, images, and other resources for distribution in a single-file format [International Digital Publishing Forum 2011]. EPUB 2.0.1 is defined by three open standard specifications, the Open Publication Structure (OPS), Open Packaging Format (OPF) and Open Container Format (OCF). OPF supports a subset of SVG 1.1. The subset prohibits the use of scripting and declarative animation features of the [IDPF 2010], however the latest draft specification of EPUB (3.0), proposes support for limited scripting elements [IDPF 2011].

Despite the advantages of harnessing SVG within campus-based publishing scenarios, there were community reports of inconsistencies in eReader support for EPUB-based SVG [MobileRead 2010], and no comprehensive resource for gaining a clear understanding into device and rendering engine support of SVG. In practice, SVG implementation within EPUB is predominantly used to ensure on-screen bitmap images are rendered relatively to display screen size and orientation [Papathanasiou 2011], as advised in Adobe's ePub Publishing Best Practices Guide [Adobe Systems Incorporated 2008]. This created a paradigm of understanding the benefits of vector graphics within campus-based publications, but having limited clarity on the level of support for vector graphics on the intended display devices.

After reflecting on these points, it was decided to include a work package within The Press's development to investigate the support for the SVG 1.1 specification on a range of target eReaders. If successful, it was envisaged that SVG could be integrated with outputs of other work packages of the Larkin Press's development, including automatic conversion from Microsoft Word or HTML to the EPUB distribution format component, utilising the open-source PHP EPUB creation class [Grandt 2011]. This would present an effective way to enhance the level to which graphics are presented in publications. Specifically, this would include:

  • Non-standard text formatting through paths and glyphs (e.g. digital art or manuscript reproduction)
  • Reproduction of esoteric antiquarian scholarly works with specific character requirements
  • Cartographic symbols and mapping
  • Accessibility for those with disabilities
  • Scalable diagrams and graphs
  • Storage and transferability of annotations, notes and citations made using reading devices

Though The Press's initial publications would be focussed on the output of the MA in Creative Writing, the subsequent investigation would ascertain the feasibility of harnessing SVG within wider campus-based publishing scenarios.

4. An approach to SVG within campus-based publishing platforms

The general aim behind the work package plan was to ascertain the level of support for the aforementioned campus-based publishing vector graphics content requirements and scenarios on a range of eReaders - the emphasis being on examining elements relevant to a implementation of the Larkin Press at a wider University level or for other universities considering EPUB as a distribution format, and not the entire SVG specification. With this in mind, the preceding content requirements were mapped to specific elements of the supported SVG 1.1 specification for testing. This presented a set of SVG elements through which the testing of their support would provide an understanding of the feasibility of SVG utilisation within campus-based publishing output. The specific elements were:

Bespoke example creation was considered for the work package, but resources deemed this inappropriate. The Website was therefore selected as the primary code-base to provide examples for subsequent testing. Each of the selected examples were tested within a Web browser (Safari 5.1, Firefox 7.0.1 and Google Chrome 14.0.835.202) and validated for standards-compliance against the SVG 1.1 specification (second edition) recommendation [World Wide Web Consortium 2011]. The selected SVG was inserted into a valid xHTML 1.0 Transitional template document and compiled as an EPUB using an AppleScript packager [MobileRead 2009]. The compiled EPUB files were then validated for container structure, mark-up, and internal reference consistency using a version of the Java EpubCheck validation tool [Sorotokin, et al. 2011] [Durrant 2011].

The devices used for testing were an Apple iPad 2 (iOS 4.3.5 (8L1), iBooks 1.3, Webkit rendering engine), Amazon Kindle 3 (version 3.2.1 (576290015)), Sony eReader PRS-650 (version, Adobe Reader Mobile rendering engine) and Elonex eBook Reader (705EB eBook, Adobe Reader Mobile rendering engine). This range of devices was selected to provide a selection of display hardware specifications (2 electronic ink display, 1 LED display, and 1 LCD display) on contrasting display screen sizes and platforms.

Because the Kindle 3 does not support the EPUB format or SVG, the test EPUB files were converted to MOBI format (the base format for Amazon's AZW format) for testing using the open-source Calibre eBook management tool [Calibre 2011], which uses a rasterization engine to covert SVG files for viewing on Kindle devices.

The first test comprised of atomistic (i.e. distinct) SVG geometric elements. This would provide an understanding of how SVG could be used at a rudimentary level for typical campus-based publishing scenarios, including basic templates, university faculty logos and mastheads, and diagrammatical elements. The basic geometric elements consisted of a rectangle, ellipse, polyline, polygon and path, as shown in Figure 1. [Neumann & Winter, Example for basic geometric elements, 2005]. Both the iPad, Sony PRS-650 and Elonex rendered eight geometric elements as expected. Because no font was specified in the SVG mark-up, each device used the defined system font (Figure 2) for rendering text captions.

Figure 1. Basic atomistic geometric elements SVG example, as rendered by Google Chrome (14.0.835.202)

Figure 2. Device rendering of the basic atomistic geometric elements SVG example (L-R: iPad, Kindle, Sony, Elonex). Each device used the default system font for text captions as a font was not specified in the SVG mark-up.

The second test comprised of a collection of path and transformed text elements to understand how SVG could be used at a more advanced level to enable university departments, for example Computer Science, Engineering and Geography to include scalable vector diagrams or graphs within electronic publications. A diagram of the components of a computer mouse was adapted to test this, which uses the SVG transform attribute with translation and rotation applied to various text elements and multiple paths to construct the diagram graphic, as shown in Figure 3 [Ample SDK, 2011]. Again, both the iPad and Sony PRS-650 rendered the diagram as expected, with the Sony's ‘Zoom' functionality enabling elements of the diagram to be inspected at a greater scale. Because the example used absolute pixel references for the SVG element, the Elonex paginated a quarter of the diagram onto the next page of the user interface (Figure 4).

Figure 3. Diagram from a collection of multiple paths SVG example, as rendered by Google Chrome (14.0.835.202)

Figure 4. Device rendering of the diagram from a collection of multiple paths SVG example (L-R: iPad, Kindle, Sony, Elonex). The Elonex paginated a quarter of the diagram due to absolute pixel referencing.

The results of the previous two cases encouraged the next test, which would examine the reading devices' ability to display text placed along a path. This would support use-cases where text styling is required that could not be provided through standards-compliant CSS, such as esoteric art and graphic design publications, and imprints with a path-based logo or house style. This was tested using the xlink namespace to link four defined paths (bezier, 90 degree curve, sharp 90 degree turn, and broken path) to four respective text elements, adapted from a basic example in [Eisenberg, 2002], as shown in Figure 5. The iPad rendered the text and their relative paths as expected, however the Sony PRS-650 and Elonex rendered no graphics, and displayed only a blank page.  The Calibre rasterization engine used to convert to Kindle format returned only the text elements in a continuous paragraph (Figure 6).

Figure 5. Text placed along a path SVG example, as rendered by Google Chrome (14.0.835.202)

Figure 6. Device rendering of the text placed along a path SVG example (L-R: iPad, Kindle, Sony, Elonex). The Sony PRS-650 and Elonex displayed a blank page, while the Kindle displayed text in a continuous paragraph. Only the iPad displayed this example as expected.

Colour gradients, transparencies were tested using the example from [Neumann & Winter, Example for colors, fills and transparency, 2005], as shown in Figure 7. Both the iPad, Elonex, Kindle and Sony PRS-650 rendered as expected, the exception being the iPad that displayed a transformed text element incorrectly (Figure 8).

Figure 7. Colour gradients and transparencies SVG example (with scripted elements removed), as rendered by Google Chrome (14.0.835.202)

Figure 8. Device rendering of the colour gradients and transparencies SVG example (L-R: iPad, Kindle, Sony, Elonex). All devices rendered the example as expected, the exception being the iPad that displayed a transformed text element incorrectly.

The final case test involved examining elements of the SVG specification that should not be supported by reading devices according to the EPUB specification. This would not support any content requirements for campus-based publishing, but instead provided an understanding of the extent that the full SVG 1.1 specification was supported, and how the devices would support graphics with animation elements applied. For this, a simple animation was used that including animation along a path, a transform/scale animation at take-off and landing of the plane and an opacity animation to hide/show city-labels along the flight path, as shown in Figure 9 [Neumann & Winter, Example for declarative animation, 2005]. The iPad rendered the animation, while the Sony PRS-650 rendered only the text elements (Figure 10). Scripted animation was tested using [Neumann & Winter, Example for keyspline/value animation tool, n.d], as shown in Figure 11. The iPad rendered and provided functionality for interactive buttons; however small graph points were not selectable owing to the limitations of the iPad's touch-screen interface. The Sony PRS-650 rendered the graphic, however provided no functionality (Figure 12).

Figure 9. Declarative animation SVG example, as rendered by Google Chrome (14.0.835.202)

Figure 10. Device rendering of declarative animation SVG example (L-R: iPad, Kindle, Sony, Elonex). Only the iPad rendered the animation elements. The Sony PRS-650 rendered the text elements overlaid in a single space. The Elonex rendered the graphic with no animation.

Figure 11. Scripted animation SVG example, as rendered by Google Chrome (14.0.835.202)

Figure 12. Device rendering of scripted animation SVG example (L-R: iPad, Kindle, Sony, Elonex). All devices rendered the graphic, with the iPad provided touch screen interactivity with the larger scripted button elements.

Within the tests performed, there were three distinct categories of result:

  • Elements of SVG 1.1 that should not be supported, that were supported;
  • Elements of SVG 1.1 that were supported;
  • Elements of SVG 1.1 that were not supported.

However, the category of the result achieved is dependent on the rendering engine implemented by the eReading device. The iPad implements a version of WebKit as the rendering engine for the default iPad eBook reader, iBooks, and therefore supports scripting and animation elements that would otherwise be supported by a WebKit Internet browser. Conversely, Adobe Reader Mobile, which facilitates EPUB and PDF reading on portable devices, is the rendering engine used by the Elonex and Sony PRS-650, which explains why near-identical test results were achieved for these devices other than device-specific pagination issues.

5. Conclusion and future work

This paper has documented the process of assessing support for SVG within EPUB within the context of the campus-based publishing, with the Larkin Press presented as an instance of this. A discussion justifying the content requirements of digital publications of The Press was followed by an assessment relevant SVG support in the selected distribution format, EPUB, on four consumer eReaders. Specific SVG case studies were presented that would test content requirements of The Press to understand the feasibility of harnessing SVG within campus-based publishing scenarios.

The disparity between the rendering engine support for SVG in EPUB has presented a scenario whereby the advantages of vector graphics within publications was outweighed by the uncertainty of eReader device support. The disparity between rendering engines' support of the EPUB specification provides an interesting contrast against Web browser implementations of the early 1990s, where different browsers supported proprietary and third-party feature sets to provide a rich user experience not available within the HTML standard at the time. This is prevalent within the context of rich device-specific eBooks compiled as applications and sold through a device's respective application store, for example [WIRED magazine 2011] [TIME Magazine 2011].

Despite the fact that proofing facilities of The Press provide the ability for authors to view their submissions including SVG elements in distribution formats prior to publication, it is unlikely that authors will have the resources to ensure that their submission renders as expected on a broad range of reading devices. Consequently, authors are warned of the inconsistency of SVG rendering in reading devices and recommended to rasterize any SVG included in their submission to guarantee consistent cross-device rendering. The implementation of SVG within EPUB will be reviewed throughout The Press's lifespan. Because the logical interface to include SVG is available within the platform, when sufficient, consistent support for SVG elements relevant to The Press is available, guidelines to authors will be adjusted to encourage use of SVG where appropriate. The results of the investigative work package will feed into the further development of The Press, and future directions include investigating the feasibility of implementing an SVG-based client-side rich interface for publication input, review and editing.


The authors would like to thank JISC for supporting the Larkin Press project, and providing the funding to present this paper at SVG Open 2011. The authors would like to acknowledge Interdisciplinary & Collaborative Practices Cluster of the University of Hull for providing the environment and events for developing the initial project concept. For technical advice regarding the implementation of the Larkin Press platform, the authors would like to thank Darren Stephens. The authors would also like to acknowledge all of the students and project members who provided valuable input into the development of the Larkin Press dynamic model and this paper.


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