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Mastering CSS, Part 2: Advanced Techniques and Tools

CSS is one of the most basic building blocks of modern web design. It creates the structure and style that surrounds your content and is capable of making your site a joy to use or a pain in the neck. Mastering CSS is one of the most important things a web designer can do, and has really become an essential criteria for being a successful designer.

In Part 1: Styling Design Elements1 we covered the basics of web design with CSS. In Part 2 we’re offering up some more advanced techniques and effects you can achieve with CSS. Everything from creating your own online apps (like calendars) to styling web pages for use with the iPhone to some basics of working with CSS3 is covered here.

1. Calendars, Lists, Tables, and Timelines Link

CSS can be used to build calendars, timelines, and even “tables” (or charts). The tutorials below sometimes use CSS combined with various programming languages.

CSS/jQuery Sequential List2
Have you ever had to manually code something that is sequential? Didn’t you find it annonying? Well, here is a simple solution for you. This tutorial will show you how to use jQuery to add a sequent of CSS classes to create a graphical list.

Menu List with CSS3

Date displays with sprites4
This tutorial explains how to achieve an original date display using CSS sprites. A clever technique. An alternative solution5 (using the transform property in CSS).

Styling dates with CSS6

Pure CSS Timeline
A great tutorial for creating a clean-looking timeline for your site using straightforward CSS and HTML markup.

Pure CSS Timeline

A CSS-based Timeline
Another tutorial for creating a timeline with CSS.

A CSS-based Timeline

iCal-like Calendar (CSS+jQuery)
A great tutorial for creating a dynamic calendar resembling the iCal application.

iCal-like Calendar (CSS+jQuery)

Build a Calendar Using PHP, XHTML, and CSS Example7
A simple tutorial for creating a dynamic online calendar.

Build a Calendar Using PHP, XHTML, and CSS Example8

CSS: Menu List Design9
This is a quick CSS tutorial to show you how to create a menu list using either the CSS border style or a background image. The trick is to apply a bottom border to the li element, then use the absolute position property to shift the nested elements down to cover the border.

Menu List with CSS10

Pure CSS Scrollable Table with Fixed Header11
This tutorial shows how to use CSS to allow scrolling within an HTML table with a header.

Pure CSS Scrollable Table with Fixed Header12

Date Badges and Comment Bubbles for Your Blog13
“One of the things you run into when your blog becomes bigger, is that you need to cram more info into less space, to make it possible to display all the information you want to show. One of the things I did to do that is add an icon for the date, and then a bubble over that with the number of comments in it.”

Date badges14

Styling tables with CSS15
A simple tutorial for styling HTML tables entirely with CSS.

Styling tables with CSS16

2. iPhone CSS Techniques Link

iPhone has revolutionized the way many people view the Web. Mobile web browsers before that were often clunky and were primarily used for quickly looking things up online, not for general browsing. But now, the iPhone and similar new mobiles devices make browsing online while on the go much easier. It makes sense to design with the iPhone in mind now. Below are some resources for creating CSS specifically for the iPhone.

iPhone Application UI Design Patterns17
The iPhone is one big constraint — no keyboard, small screen, few buttons — so designing applications for the iPhone is an exercise in building smart, simple software. There are three main interaction concepts that correspond to three different types of View Controllers: Navigation Controllers, Tab Bar Controllers, Modal View Controllers and Table View Controllers respectfully. These are the building blocks for crafting iPhone applications.

iPhone App Design Patterns18

Serving iPhone Specific CSS19
This article covers a couple of different ways to serve an iPhone specific CSS file, including an easy way.

 Serving iPhone Specific CSS20

Safari on iPhone Graphics, Media, and Visual Effects Coding How-To’s21
This is a complete guide from Apple on working with Safari on the iPhone, including information on graphics, media and more.

Safari on iPhone Graphics, Media, and Visual Effects Coding How-To's22

Web Development for the iPhone23
Another guide to developing sites specifically for the iPhone.

How to Get Started with iPhone Dev24
This article is an introduction to the various ways of getting content and applications onto the iPhone. It is by no means a full guide, but hopes to point you in the right direction and give you an overview of what is involved in the process.

iPhone App Design Resources25

6 Tips to Optimize Your Website for iPhone
Ordinary websites are receiving more traffic from mobile devices than ever before. Even if you have no immediate plans to serve a microsite to your iPhone visitors, there are steps you can take to make your current website more iPhone friendly. In this article you will explore several techniques you can perform to present optimized content for these users.

jPint is a set of libraries designed by Journyx to allow developers to build web-based applications that look and feel as much like native iPhone apps as possible, while retaining the ability for those apps to be used by people who, for whatever reason, don’t actually have an iPhone.

43 iPhone Development Resources
Programming for the iPhone is still pretty new. It might be a bit tougher to find iPhone developer resources, but we found a bunch that will get you through building any iPhone app you might be starting on. Check out our list of our favorite developer books, blogs, podcasts, screencasts, open-source libraries, communities, forums, conferences, training, and more.

3. Form and Search Techniques Link

Creating user-friendly forms, login screen, and search boxes is an important bit of design. Whether you just want to make your forms a bit more aesthetically pleasing or if you want to increase usability by changing the appearance of standard forms, the resources below can help.

Create Custom Search Bars with Image Replacement using CSS27
The incorporation of custom elements, like search boxes, can set your website apart from its competitors. This tutorial covers how to add a custom search bar to your site, though it’s not cross-browser compatible.

Create Custom Search Bars with Image Replacement using CSS28

Fancy Form Design Using CSS 29
This article covers form styling with CSS.

Fancy Form Design Using CSS 30

Designing The Search Submit Button – A CSS Cross-Browser Compatible Solution31
Learn how to create a custom image like a magnifying glass, or the word ‘GO’ in a circle, instead of the default search submit button.

Search box32

Making Forms Convert Through Awesome Inline Labels33
This tutorial shows how to increase form follow-through by using better inline labels.

 Making Forms Convert Through Awesome Inline Labels34

CSSG Collections: Web Forms
This is a collection of uniquely designed web forms available to use for free.

CSSG Collections: Web Forms

45+ Really Essential Free HTML [Form] Enhancements
This collection of free form enhancements covers a number of CSS techniques.

minimal form layout/quick css tricks35
This post gives some quick CSS tricks for minimalist form layout and design.

minimal form layout/quick css tricks36

4. Visualization Techniques Link

Creating visual representations of data can really set your website apart. Whether these are just tables clarifying the relationships between data sets or even things as simple as loaders and progress bars, creating an effective visualization of your data improves user experience and increases the likelihood your visitors will comprehend your site’s content.

Simple CSS shiny progress bar technique
This post covers a simple method for creating a progress bar with a couple of DIVS and an image that is colored with CSS.

Simple CSS shiny progress bar technique

20+ CSS Data Visualization Techniques
This post gives an excellent rundown of more than twenty data visualization techniques using CSS.

 20+ CSS Data Visualization Techniques

Accessible Data Visualization with Web Standards37
This article from A List Apart gives a rundown on creating standards-compliant data visualizations using CSS and XHTML.

Accessible Data Visualization with Web Standards38

5. Other Handy Techniques and Tips Link

Here are a handful of other CSS techniques for creating things like transparency and realistic hover effects.

CSS Star Rating Part Deux39
This tutorial builds off a former tutorial and shows how to create star ratings that will show ratings that aren’t an exact integer (like 3.5).

CSS Star Rating Part Deux40

Two Techniques for CSS Transparency41
This tutorial shows two techniques for creating transparency with CSS, including one that uses CSS3 and a lower-tech version.

 Two Techniques for CSS Transparency42

Placing a CSS background image horizontally right on an h2 using a span element43
Learn how to add a background image to a heading 2 element and have it perfectly aligned on the right side of the text while keeping the default block element behavior.

 Two Techniques for CSS Transparency44

Snazzy Pullquotes for Your Blog 45
Learn how to add a background image to a heading 2 element and have it perfectly aligned on the right side of the text while keeping the default block element behavior.

Techniques for CSS Quotes46

Cross-browser semi-transparent backgrounds47
Here’s a comprehensive tutorial for creating semi-transparent backgrounds with CSS that includes a hack to make it work with IE6.

Cross-browser semi-transparent backgrounds48

How to: CSS Large Background49
This tutorial provides various CSS examples on how you can create a large background site using either a single or double images.

Large backgrounds with CSS50

Creating Thumbnails Using the CSS Clip Property51
The clip property in CSS is useful for clipping images and creating thumbnails without having to create additional files. This trick can be used to create square thumbnails, or to create other kinds of thumbnails without actually duplicating files on the server. Here is the rundown.

Creating Thumbnails Using the CSS Clip Property52

CSS image replacement with… images!53
Sites with dark backgrounds lend themselves well to white or light-colored logos. The result can be nice on screen, but if the site is printed, there can be undesirable results: either the logo doesn’t show up, or if it was saved as a transparent gif, it shows with jagged pixelated edges where the edges are meant to blend in with a dark background color. This article present a method that uses a print-optimized image in the html, and CSS to swap out the image with a screen-friendly one.

Text overlay with CSS54
The idea is just to overlay some text over an image, but as blocks that stick out from the left with an even amount of padding all the way around the variable-length text.

Text Overlay with CSS55

Internet Explorer & CSS issues56
This article covers a variety of techniques for fixing issues with CSS rendering in Internet Explorer.

Internet Explorer & CSS issues57

Disabling Deprecated HTML Using CSS58
This tutorial shows how to disable any deprecated HTML your clients might try to use when updating their site by using CSS.

Disabling Deprecated HTML Using CSS59

6. CSS3 Techniques Link

Below are a variety of techniques specifically for CSS3. They include information on mixing CSS3 with jQuery, using shadow effects and gradients, and even some collections that cover multiple techniques and tutorials.

Mixing CSS3 and jQuery60
A thorough roundup of techniques for combining CSS3 and jQuery.

CSS Gradients in Action61
A post covering examples of CSS gradients, with the code included.

 CSS Gradients in Action62

The Shadow Effect In CSS363
An overview of using CSS3’s native shadow effect.

Go Beyond Web-Safe Fonts with CSS3
Design your typography around any of the variety of fonts available using a new CSS3 technique.

7. CSS Tools Link

The tools listed here can make your CSS better, faster, and more efficient.

SlickMap CSS – A Visual Sitemapping Tool for Web Developers
A tool to create a styled sitemap from a basic HTML unordered list.

SlickMap CSS - A Visual Sitemapping Tool for Web Developers

Phoenix : Add-ons for Firefox64
Phoenix is a Firefox add-on editor that lets you work on CSS, HTML, and JavaScript code, including testing. It also tells you how many CSS or JS files are loaded into a page, along with their size, and lets you control those files.

Phoenix : Add-ons for Firefox65

Juicer – a CSS and JavaScript packaging tool
This app will combine your multiple CSS or JS files into a single file, reducing HTML requests and speeding up load times.

Juicer - a CSS and JavaScript packaging tool

Gridmaker v3
A simple online grid-design app.

 Gridmaker v3

Codetech Firefox Extension66
Get the feel of Dreamweaver in a Firefox extension. Edit your documents right next to your web pages as you surf.

Codetech Firefox Extension67

Boks – a visual grid editor68
Boks is an AIR application (so it works on Windows, Mac and Linux) that provides a User Interface for Blueprint CSS’s framework. It’s been designed for those who think the Grid System is good but never really took the time to give it love. It handles grid configuration, baseline rhythm pimpin’, CSS (with or without compression) and grid.png export and HTML layout.

Boks - visual grid editor69

Modernizr lets you create if-statements in your CSS with an intuitive syntax.

CSS Vertical Rhythm Generator71
This tool will help you compute CSS that has a consistent vertical rhythm. If you are not sure what this is all about check out this article about vertical measure72.

Typeselect – Selectable text replacement73
By leveraging typeface.js, jQuery, the canvas, toDataURL, CSS background properties and real overlayed text, Type Select is able to combine custom fonts with your browser’s native text selection funcationality. You can now interact with beautifully rendered typefaces just like you do with normal text. Drawbacks: no support for :hover or line breaks, text is not selectable in IE.


CSS Prism
Enter the URL of any CSS file to view and modify its color spectrum. You can use CSS Prism bookmarklet to view and modify the color spectrum from any website.

CSS Prism

Compress PHP, CSS, JavaScript(JS) & Optimize website performance.
This articles gives a good overview of GZip compression.

The articles below offer up some great additional resources for working with CSS. They include hacks, creating interactive designs with CSS and jQuery, and a collection of CSS tricks for working with WordPress, among others.

Interactive Webdesign with CSS and jQuery 75
A roundup of really great CSS and jQuery techniques from all over the web for improving your website’s UI.

 Interactive Webdesign with CSS and jQuery 76

My Top Ten CSS Tricks 77
A rundown of some excellent CSS techniques and tips.

Different Ways To Format CSS78
This post will focus on the different ways to format CSS, which differs from the different ways to organize CSS. Definitely related concepts, but organization has more to do with how things are grouped and ordered while formatting has to do with spacing and indenting.

CSS Sprites are Stupid — Let’s Use Archives Instead!
An article covering why using archives is better than CSS sprites.

10 astonishing CSS hacks and techniques79
Cover 10 cross-browser CSS techniques and hacks for creating better websites.

7 tiny CSS tricks you’ll always need for a WordPress theme.
A roundup of essential CSS tricks and techiques specific to WordPress design and development.

  7 tiny CSS tricks you'll always need for a wordpress theme.

21 Stylish CSS/jQuery Solutions To Beautify Your Web Designs 80
A collection of CSS and jQuery techniques to make your websites more aesthetically pleasing.

21 Stylish CSS/jQuery Solutions To Beautify Your Web Designs 81

CSS: A tribute to selectors 82
A great article about CSS selectors.

CSS: A tribute to selectors 83

10 CSS properties that ‘were’ impossible to implement in IE684
This post covers ten CSS techniques that were supposedly impossible to implement in IE6, as well as information on how to make them work.

Background Images and CSS in HTML Email 85
Some tips on using background images in HTML email.

Background Images and CSS in HTML Email 86

About the author Link

Cameron Chapman is a professional Web and graphic designer with over 6 years of experience. She also writes for a number of blogs, including her own, Cameron Chapman On Writing87. She’s also the author of the forthcoming book Internet Famous88.

Learn more about the Smashing Book!89

We also discuss CSS coding techniques in our upcoming Smashing Book90 ($23.90 $29.90, available worldwide). Pre-order now and save 20% off the price!

Footnotes Link

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SmashingConf Barcelona 2016

Hold on, Tiger! Thank you for reading the article. Did you know that we also publish printed books and run friendly conferences – crafted for pros like you? Like SmashingConf Barcelona, on October 25–26, with smart design patterns and front-end techniques.

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Cameron Chapman is a professional Web and graphic designer with over 6 years of experience. She writes for a number of blogs, including her own, Cameron Chapman On Writing. She’s also the author of The Smashing Idea Book: From Inspiration to Application.

  1. 1

    Sometimes I question the ease of access to learning resources that are free on the web. Seems odd to me that all this wealthy information is free. Stuff like this use to be best kept secrets that you could only learn from on the job. Not anymore! Its all available now! Its just too easy! I think this is eventually going to hurt our industry! It wont be long before everyone is a web designer/graphic designer!The only thing stopping you now is time! Anyhow, good resource as always SM! You guys have a wonderful plethora of useful resources!

  2. 2

    hi nice tutorial

  3. 3

    Great post! Lots of resources.

  4. 4

    Great post, lots of resources! Thanks!

  5. 5

    good stuff, really good resources.

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  7. 7

    Awesome article. thanks Cameron.

  8. 8

    Great post, with recently released tools!

  9. 9

    Thanks for featuring tripwire magazine articles as part of this great round-up of css resources! There are many hours of new CSS goodies waiting for me here ;)

  10. 10

    How to: CSS Large Background
    all the links point to the previous article. could you please fix this?


    (SM) Thanks, the link was updated. Sorry for inconvenience.

  11. 11

    Aditya Saxena

    August 10, 2009 5:51 am

    wow! ass kicking content here, guys! good job.

  12. 12

    There’s a pb on the article :
    ‘CSS Large Background’

    Bad links, thks

    (SM) Thanks, the link was updated. Sorry for inconvenience.

  13. 13

    Some pretty cool stuff. Thank you, Cameron.
    @Eri #10: Don’t worry. Just because you can find tutorials for free on the net, that does not mean everybody will become an excellent web designer… it just makes it easier for those who are really deeply interested. That is one of the big advantages of having a free-for-all web!

  14. 14

    You guys just keep on giving ;)

  15. 15

    SIMPLY gr8 !

  16. 16

    Great article here. A lot of this will come in handy when I end up needing some extra refreshers on my CSS.

  17. 17

    great article, thanks for compiling the lists!

  18. 18

    Also please publish similer articles for Web designers, something like master web design.

  19. 19

    Awsome article. Bookmarked

  20. 20

    Raymundo Castillo

    August 10, 2009 10:07 am

    Really usefull compiling list,
    Thanks Guys.


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