Have you ever wondered how your favorite websites were designed? Behind every website design is a blueprint for the design, and the CSS code that actually brings that blueprint to fruition to create an aesthetically pleasing website.
Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS, is a programming language used by developers to define the aesthetics for a website. While the HTML language allows you to set the structure for a site, CSS allows you to determine how features of a site appear.
HTML and CSS work hand-in-hand together. When you see a title that uses a new font on a website, HTML will be used to define the title. Then, CSS will be used to set the font for the title. When you see a paragraph of colored text, HTML will be used to define the text, and CSS styles will be used to change the color of the text.
This guide will walk through the best way to learn CSS online, and give you a set of clear steps you can follow to help you start your journey to learning CSS quickly and effectively.
What Is CSS?
CSS is a programming language that allows developers to add styles to a website. Using CSS, developers write style rules, which tell a website how a certain HTML element should appear on a website. For instance, one style rule may define the height and width for an image on a webpage, and another may set the size of the text on a web page.
The CSS language offers a vast array of properties, which are used to apply styles to different elements on a web page. These properties relate to the size of an element, its color, its borders, where it appears on the web page, and more. Here are a few different rules you may encounter in CSS:
- font-size sets the size of the text on a web page.
- color sets the color of text on a web page.
- height sets the height of an element on a web page.
Each CSS property is assigned a value, which tells the browser how a certain element should appear. So, for example, CSS could be used to tell the browser to make all text blue, or to set all headings to use a 16-pixel-large font size.
When you learn the basics of CSS properties, you can use the fundamentals you have learned to build intricate and complex designs.
Why Should You Learn CSS?
Learning how to code in CSS can be a great investment of your time, even if you’re not interested in becoming a web designer or developer.
For one thing, learning how to code in CSS gives you the ability to create your own website designs. If you want to create your own blog, or a portfolio, or site to showcase your photos, then having knowledge of CSS will allow you to do so without relying on stock templates or designs that other people have created. You can create something that’s unique to you.
And we haven’t even discussed the career benefits of learning how to code in CSS. Because CSS is one of the core technologies used in web design, there is no shortage of employers who are actively looking for people who can code in CSS. And because talented CSS developers are in demand, salaries are high, too. At the time of this writing, Glassdoor reports the average salary for a web designer to be $52,691—an impressive sum!
How to Learn CSS Fast
So far, we have spent time considering the background of CSS and the benefits of knowing how to code using CSS. But now, we’ve got to answer the question: How do you learn how to code in CSS?
There are thousands of resources online that can help teach you to code in CSS, and so it can be tricky to figure out where to start. Let’s walk through a few of the main steps you should follow to help you start your journey to learning CSS fast.
Step 1: Master the Basics
To be able to learn CSS, you’ll need to start off by mastering the basics. Sure, you may be tempted to start researching how to build elaborate website designs, but without a good grasp of the fundamentals, you’ll struggle to understand the more advanced concepts when they come up in your code.
The first step in your journey to learning CSS should be to invest time in researching—and practicing—the basics. This will involve learning about syntax, which are the general rules you should follow when writing CSS code, selectors, the box model, and more.
To help you get started, here is a list of the main topics that you need to know about in order to learn to code in CSS:
CSS Syntax and Selectors
First thing’s first, you’ll need to know the syntax for CSS. These are the basic rules that govern all the styles you will write when using the CSS programming language. When you’re just getting started, you’ll also need to learn about where and how to write CSS rules.
Next, you can explore CSS classes and selectors. Selectors are used to direct your code which elements on a web page should be styled using the rules you have written. Here are a few of the topics you should cover when it comes to CSS syntax and selectors:
- How to write a CSS style rule
- Inline, external, and internal CSS
- Tags, classes, and IDs
- The basics of selectors
- Chaining selectors and nested elements
- Using multiple selectors
The Box Model
As we mentioned earlier, HTML is used to define the structure of a web page. But, HTML uses a set of default values to create the structure of a site. If you want to customize how elements appear, you need to use the CSS box model.
The box model is a set of properties that define which parts of an element use up space on a web page. The box model defines the borders and outlines around a box, as well as the spaces between the contents of a box and its borders (padding), and the spaces between the borders of a box and other elements (margins).
Here are the main components of the box model that you’ll need to learn:
- The structure of the box model
- Height and width
- Border radius
- Minimum and maximum height and width values
- Overflow and visibility
HTML renders elements from left to right and top to bottom, but when you’re designing a website you may want elements to appear positioned in a certain way. Maybe you want a box to appear in the bottom left-hand corner of your web page, for example.
That’s where element display comes in. The principles of element display instruct the browser on where to display a certain element on the web page. Here are the main topics you should learn about in this field:
- CSS positions
- Relative, absolute, and fixed positions
- Inline, block, and inline-block displays
- Clearing floats
Colors and Fonts
Colors and fonts are two ways in which you can make a website appear more aesthetically pleasing, and are deemed essentials in many website style guides.
CSS offers a number of properties that you can use to control the color of elements on a web page, and how text appears. Here are a few of the topics you should learn about when it comes to CSS colors and fonts:
- Background and foreground color
- Hexadecimal, RGB, and HSL colors
- CSS typography
- Font families, font styles, and font weights
- Letter spacing, line height, and text alignment
- Using external fonts
Grids allow developers to position elements easily and effectively on a web page. The grid CSS layout uses columns and rows to allow developers to design a web page without using floats and positioning, which can get complex when you’re working with larger style sheets.
Here are the main topics you’ll want to cover to master CSS grids:
- CSS grid structure
- Grid columns and rows
- Creating columns and rows
- Grid gaps and grid lines
- Grid items and area
In addition, you may also want to spend some time learning about flexbox, which is another technology used to position elements on a web page. While flexbox can be complex for beginners, once you’ve mastered the basics of grids, it can be useful to research how to use the flexbox structure.
Where to Learn CSS
Now you know what you need to know to code in CSS, you may be asking: Where can I learn about these topics? Luckily for you, because CSS is such an important tool used in web development, there are thousands of resources out there that you can use.
The resources that you end up using will depend on your learning style. So, before you start looking for resources, ask yourself: How do you learn best? Do you prefer tutorials? Or are online courses more your speed?
You may even want to try out a few different formats to see what works best. Then, once you’ve found one, you can focus your attention on resources that use the learning format with which you are most comfortable. For most beginners, interactive tutorials and courses are best, because they allow you to build something while learning. This is especially important in CSS because the language is all about visuals and styles.
To help you get started, here are a few resources that we recommend looking into which are good for beginners looking to learn CSS free:
- Career Karma’s Introduction to CSS guide
- Codecademy’s Introduction to CSS course
- Mozilla’s CSS reference tutorials
- CSS courses on edX
These free resources are great for beginners looking to build websites using CSS. After you have mastered the basics, you’ll be ready to take the next step on your journey—building a project.
Step 2: Build a Project
Projects are a great way to put the theory you have learned into practice and work on something that you are fully interested in. That’s right. When you choose a project to work on, you’ll no longer have to build what a tutorial tells you to build.
Working on your own project also gives you an opportunity to take some creative liberty over your work. Because CSS is a highly visual language, any project you build can easily be made your own. You can choose your own fonts, or font colors, and customize a site as much as you want.
What should I build? This is a common question faced by all beginners. In truth, there is no right answer—you can build anything you want!
When you’re getting started, though, it is best to start small, then work your way up to creating more elaborate designs. Make sure that the project you choose to build is something that you find interesting—this ensures that, if you get stuck, you’ll have no trouble finding the motivation you need to finish your work.
To help you decide what to build, here are a few ideas:
- A social networking site
- A restaurant management system
- A quiz game
- An online shopping website
- Your web design portfolio
- A web blog
- A website for a local bakery or greengrocers
Don’t let this list limit your options. If you have another idea, go ahead and build it!
Step 3: Experiment with New Styles
There are so many different features to CSS to explore! As a result, even once you’ve designed a website, there are still plenty of ways you can refine your skills.
One good way to practice your skills is to build the same site using different styles. Try to see what a website looks like with different font sizes. Experiment with using different colors for certain paragraphs of text on a web page. See what happens when you change the size of an image.
These changes may be rather small, but they’ll help you refine your sense of good design while allowing you to experiment with new CSS concepts and properties.
The beauty of CSS lies in its creativity. One social networking site will never look the same as another because there are too many ways in which you can customize a site. How a site appears is really up to you—you’re the creative director when you code in CSS!
Step 4: Master Browser Support
Browsers don’t always see a style sheet in the same way, unfortunately. This is because browsers have changed so much over the years that some have been unable to keep up with the changes. For instance, old versions of Internet Explorer may not be able to see a site in the same way as the latest version of Chrome.
Once you’ve been playing around with CSS for a while, you should start to research how you can create sites that work across multiple browsers. Indeed, all the best websites are functional no matter what browser you use (within reason), and it’s a great skill to know how to write CSS code that appears well in any number of browsers.
To master browser support, check out the following resources:
- Prefixr allows you to generate code that works across browsers.
- How to Deal with Vendor Prefixes is a great guide to help you learn about browser support.
- BrowserStack helps you test your website across different browsers.
Step 5: Join a Developer Community
When you’re learning to code, you may be tempted to “code in isolation.” This means that you’ll spend your time coding, but you may not share your work with others. This is a common mistake made by newbies, but one that you should try to fix as soon as possible if it applies to you.
There are hundreds of thousands of people out there who know how to code in CSS, many of whom will even be writing code as you are reading this article. These people often join developer communities, which bring together programmers from beginners to experts so they can share ideas and chat about the issues they are facing.
Communities are a great place to meet new developers with whom you can chat, and also give you a place where you can seek feedback and get help if and when you need it. Here are a few communities that are good for CSS developers:
- Dev.to: A community of software developers who help each other out. Dev.to has dedicated channels for CSS developers and web design which you can use to chat with other people learning CSS.
- Stack Overflow: A community of developers asking and answering questions.
- GitHub: A community to share your code and collaborate on projects with others.
There are plenty of ways you can contribute to these communities. You can help out an existing user with a question they have, or you can post your own question and start a discussion. Or you can just respond with a comment on a thread you find interesting — anything you do will help create a better sense of community!
Step 6: Practice Your Skills
Like any programming language, learning to code in CSS is a skill, which means the best way to improve is to practice as much as you can.
Practicing your skills will help you get better over time, because the more time you spend thinking about CSS, the more insights you’ll come up with.
One day, for example, you may think of a new design idea to implement, which will require you to practice a number of the theory skills you’ve just learned. By the end of implementing that idea, you’ll have a body of code that you can refer back to later.
There are so many ways you can practice CSS that there is no excuse not to do so. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
- Use Codepen. Find a style you like on Codepen and try to make it better.
- Take a challenge on Codecademy. Follow a tutorial on a site like Codecademy, then make your own improvements.
- Help people in a community. Find a thread on Dev.to or Stack Overflow that you find interesting and try to help out other community members.
Or, of course, you can work on more projects! That’s always a great way to practice your skills.
Your path to learning CSS will be full of ups and downs, but in the long run, knowing how to code in CSS can open you up to a wide range of opportunities.
It could help you become a web designer or a web developer, which is great if you think a career move is on the cards for you in the future. Or, even if you don’t want to pursue a career in web development, knowing how to code in CSS will allow you to design your own side projects in your free time.
When you start learning CSS, you should focus on the fundamentals such as syntax, selectors, the box model, positioning, and other basic topics. Then, once you’re ready, you can advance on to explore more advanced styles that you can use to create even more intricate designs.
CSS is an immensely useful skill for you to learn. Although it may be difficult to get started, with the right investment of time and energy, you’ll be able to master this skill like all the other developers who know CSS did. It’s just a matter of working hard and practicing.