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Newest Design Trends with Popular CSS3 Techniques

With so many new details surrounding the CSS3 release it can be difficult for developers to fully grasp all of the changes. With the evolving nature of the web we’re also seeing great advances in website structures, file formats, units, and even integration with HTML5 attributes. These trends will grow into the greatest iteration of the World Wide Web we’ve ever seen!

Although there is too much material to cover all topics we will be discussing some of the major improvements to CSS3. Many new properties have been introduced which can affect the presentation of a layout in numerous ways. We’re seeing a tightening of regulations with cross-browser compatibility and a greater reach towards mobile operating systems.

If you’d like to learn more about these techniques further than this article feel free to research. Pelfusion has a nice CSS3 tag library full of informative articles and tutorials.

How is the Web Evolving?

Those who choose to stay behind with old HTML standards will not be able to benefit from the rich features available today. Support between browser rendering engines such as WebKit and Gecko has never been better. With Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari running the majority of market share it’s no surprise these standards have adapted so smoothly.

Mobile devices are also catered to nicely. New HTML5 elements allow for wrapping and new styles to be applied based on browser support. Those who have been waiting to advance should start utilizing these new CSS3 benefits today!

Working in CSS3 Media Queries

When CSS2 documentation was drafted it included a section for media types. These raised values such as screen, projection, handheld, and print. This allowed developers to create multiple stylesheets based on which view was being accessed – truly a revolutionary idea.

Media queries behave in a similar fashion but require more specific constituents. These calls can be used to check device properties and see what type of technology your visitors are using. This can include width/height of the current browser, screen resolution, and even orientation for iPhone and iPod Touch devices.

We can see a simple example below for media queries. This code would be run inside a .css file or within style tags in your HTML file.

[css]@media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px)
{ /* styles here */ }

The value 480px is derived from the iPhone’s maximum device width when held in landscape mode. This media query checks to see if the physical device is less than 480px in width. If this resolves true then all CSS code inside will be executed and applied. This can work similar with Android and Blackberry phones as well.

There is also the option to apply media queries simply through external linkage. Below is an example of such an include statement.

link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" media="only screen and (max-device-width: 480px)"href="small-device.css" />

Dynamic Web Gradients

Yes, it is now possible to create background gradients on-the-fly with just CSS markup. Even better the system used to apply these styles follows rules for backup solutions. This helps with browsers which currently don’t support CSS gradients to still show something through a fallback image.

There are also two different major types of gradients called linear and radial. These options will control how your gradient dissolves into the big picture. Linear designs will span from one side to another while radial gradients start from the center and move outward to form a circle.

Generally linear are the easiest to control and will provide the best effects. Below is an example of some CSS code to apply a simple gradient to our heading division.

[css]div.head {
background-color: #1a82f7; /* fallback color */
background-image: url(‘img/bg_1.png’) repeat-x; /* fallback image */
background-image: -moz-linear-gradient(100% 100% 90deg, #2F2727, #1a82f7);
background-image: -webkit-gradient(linear, 0% 0%, 0% 100%, from(#1a82f7), to(#2F2727));

Notice how we are using most of the same properties repeatedly with varying values. The first is our very final fallback to a standard flat background color. We then have our fallback image which is in place for browsers not supporting linear gradients.

From here we have a split between Mozilla and WebKit rendering engines. Both gradients created between these functions will look exactly the same and show the same results. For more details on -moz-linear check out Mozilla’s Dev Center while WebKit Gradients have more information in a recent blog post.

Box Shadow Properties

Box shadows are nothing new to web design, though they are very new to CSS3. Since the early days of Adobe Photoshop 7.0 there has always been filters for applying shadows to objects and layers.

Limits are not applied when working with the property in CSS. By this it’s implicit that any element could have a box shadow applied, although it may not look so great being overused. Below is an example piece of code used to apply box shadows in any modern browser.

[css]div.box {
box-shadow: 5px 3px 10px 0 #000;

This would apply a smaller black radius to the corner of our .box div. This property is defined by by 5 separate values which may seem confusing initially but are in reality quite simple.

  • horizontal offset of shadow
  • vertical offset of shadow
  • blur radius which defines how blurry or crisp the shadow will appear
  • spread for how far out the shadow will reach
  • color of shadow


This is one of those hidden gems in the vast landscape of new CSS3 properties. Currently one of the most widely supported specs to be released which allows much greater manipulation potential for the DOM(Document Object Model).

The property itself can be applied to any element since all HTML displays are shaped by the box model. There are 3 possible values to pass in: content-box, border-box, or inherit. Each of the first two options posses new default rendering states for HTML code while the third is a generic inheritance clause from the element’s parent.

[css]*,html,body {
box-sizing: content-box | border-box | inherit;

The “classic” way all browsers have rendered elements is through content-box. This ensures all margins and padding applied to the element take place outside of its boundaries. When setting this value to border-box we see just the opposite where all margins, padding, and borders are applied within the element’s width.

This isn’t very noticeable on pages without fixed widths since borders and padding will look exactly the same. However as an example let’s take a 100px box with 5px left/right margins and a 1px border. Using the classic standard we would have a 112px block. However with the border-box value set we would only have a 100px box with 12px internally taken away for the border and margins.

WebKit Supported Transitions

Lucky for those who have been patiently awaiting the arrival of pure CSS transitions. This new property allows for some very radical transitions and neat effects. Below is an example bit of code which is shorthand for transition effects on all paragraphs.

[css]p {
opacity: .7;
color: #333;
-webkit-transition: opacity 1s linear;
-webkit-transition: color 1s linear;
p:hover {
opacity: 1;
color: #000;

The code for -webkit-transition is actually shorthand for describing 3 different properties needed for the transition. In order they are defined by transition-property, transition-duration, and transition-timing-function. This type of transformation can be applied to almost any property and can even manipulate multiple properties at once.

As an example above we have a paragraph element which has a text color of deep gray and a slightly opened alpha opacity. With both of our transition properties we are declaring a 1 second linear transition from both opacity and color values into the new sets.

This may seem a little confusing at first, and it’s no surprise. It would have taken at least an hour of programming and blocks of JavaScript to replicate this effect nearly 5 years ago. If you still have questions the WebKit blog has a post on animation effects.

These are some of the most notable advances in CSS3. These properties have greatly changed the way we interact with our current web and gives modern web designers plenty of flexibility. Design specs are always updating so it’s important to keep on your toes and move with the changing tides. Stay ahead of current trends and you’ll always be riding on top of the curve in a crowded sea of digital designers.

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