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Fancy Borders

Along with the box model we can take a look at the options we have for styling the border portion of a content box.

Border radius

Rounded corners on boxes are an incredibly popular feature on web sites — so popular in fact that browsers implemented a property specifically for implementing rounded corners easily: border-radius. Previous to this (and to multiple background images being supported), developers used to have to wrap each box they wanted to have rounded corners in three additional <div>s, and attach a separate rounded corner graphic to each of these four elements. If they wanted their boxes to be flexible, that is.

This is now a lot easier. Isn't it great to be a developer with the modern web? — You simply use the following property:

border-radius: 20px;

To put a different size of border radius on different corners, you can specify two, three or four values, rather like you can with padding and margin:

/* 1st value is top left and bottom right corners,
2nd value is top right and bottom left */
border-radius: 20px 10px;
/* 1st value is top left corner, 2nd value is top right
and bottom left, 3rd value is bottom right */
border-radius: 20px 10px 50px;
/* top left, top right, bottom right, bottom left */
border-radius: 20px 10px 50px 0;

As a last point, you can also create elliptical corners (where the x radius is different to the y radius.) The two different radii are specified separated by a forward slash (/), and you can combine this with any combination of values, as indicated above. For example:

border-radius: 10px / 20px;
border-radius: 10px 30px / 20px 40px;

Border images

Finally, let's look at the most recent (and complex) addition to CSS for manipulating borders — border-image. The idea here is that sometimes creating a complex user interface feature will require a complex design for the border, not just a solid color. This could possibly be created by overlaying one element right in the center on top of another larger element, and applying a background image to the bottom element, faking a complex border. Or in extreme cases, you might even have to create a 3 x 3 grid of nine elements, with the center element as your content, and the surrounding eight elements having the border elements applied to them.

border-image images makes it a lot easier to achieve complex patterned borders, albeit in modern browsers (Internet Explorer 11+ supports it, as well as other modern browsers.) Let's have a look at how this works.

First of all, you need to have an image to apply to your browser. This will typically be a 3 x 3, 4 x 4, 5 x 5 (etc.) grid design, like the following:

When such an image is used for border image, the browser slices the image up into 8 pieces, as indicated by the next image:

The corner images will be inserted in the corners of your border, and the top, right, bottom and left slices will be used to fill up the corresponding sides of your border (by stretching, or repeating). We need to tell the browser to make the slices the right size — this image for example is 160px, and a 4 x 4 grid, so each slice will need to be 40px.

To start with, we need a box to apply the border to. This needs to have a border specified, otherwise the border image will have no space to appear in. We will also use background-clip to make any background color only fill the area under the content and padding, and not extend under the border as well (you may not want this for your design, but it is useful in cases like this).

border: 30px solid black;
background-clip: padding-box;

Next, we'll use border-image-source to specify the source image to use as the border image. This works in exactly the same way as background-image, being able to accept a url() function or a gradient as a value.

border-image-source: url(border-image.png);

Now we'll use border-image-slice to set the required size of the slices, as described above:

border-image-slice: 40;

This property can take one value if all the slices are the same size, or multiple values if the slices need to be different sizes, in the same manner as padding and margin:

  • Two values: top and bottom, left and right.
  • Three values: Top, left and right, bottom.
  • Four values: Top, right, bottom, left.

If the image is a raster graphic (like a .png or .jpg), then the number will be interpreted in terms of pixels. If the image is a vector graphic (like a .svg), then the number will be interpreted as coordinates in the graphic. Percentages can also be used (with the unit %). Check out the border-image-slice page for more options and details.

Finally, we'll use border-image-repeat to specify how we want the images to fill up the border sides. The options are:

stretchThe default; the side images are stretched to fill the borders. This generally looks terrible and pixelated, so is not recommended.
repeatThe side images are repeated until the borders are filled. Depending on circumstances, this might look ok, but you can get left with unsightly image fragments.
roundThe side images are repeated until the borders are filled, and they are all stretched slightly so that no fragments appear.
spaceThe side images are repeated until the borders are filled, and a small amount of spacing is added between each copy such that no fragments appear. This value is only supported in Safari (9+) and Internet Explorer (11+).

We decided to go with the round value, as it seems to be the most useful and flexible:

border-image-repeat: round;


Let's put all of this code together to show a working example.

Something interesting that you may have noticed is that the border has been set to 20px width, while the image slices are 40 — in this case, the browser just resizes the slices down to 20px wide so it fits.

  <p>Border image</p>

div {
  width: 300px;
  padding: 20px;
  margin: 10px auto;
  line-height: 3;
  background-color: #f66;
  text-align: center;
  /* border-related properties */
  border: 20px solid black;
  background-clip: padding-box;
  border-image-source: url(;
  border-image-slice: 40;
  border-image-repeat: round;
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