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The ideal solution (neither SVG or CSS) should be to use appropriate Unicode characters, of which there are very useful ones added in Unicode 6.0. The very first icon, "search", can be done with U+1F50D LEFT-POINTING MAGNIFYING GLASS. Of course most users will not have appropriate fonts installed for comprehensive Unicode 6.0 coverage, so you should deploy a custom font using @font-face that suits your site. For example, the search box on my personal website uses LEFT-POINTING MAGNIFYING GLASS and a custom font I made that defines a simple magnifying glass much like the one in this demo.

That sounds like a miss-use of fonts to me. Why isn't the ideal solution a GIF?

How is it a mis-use of fonts if I'm using an appropriately semantic character?

I always linked "fonts" and "text" together.

Have you heard of the font "Symbol"?

Do you mean Symbola, a Unicode 6.0 font? And yes, but it has elaborate characters that only look good at 40px+. I wanted a much more simplistic style, so I made my own U+1F50D.

Edit: Oh, you meant some unsemantic font.

Still seems like a hack to me

How does your GIF scale?

Good enough.

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