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It's hard to overstate just how important the background property is to web design. This one simple property allows us to add visual sophistication and style to even the most basic content. Take this sample web page. Here it is with just the browser's default styles displayed. Now if I turn on its CSS, you can see the very dramatic difference. Same content, just worlds apart in terms of look and feel. Now of course there's more going on here than just the background property, but all the images, accents, and defined regions are made possible by using backgrounds.
The background property and its related syntax can get fairly complex, certainly too complex to cover in a five-minute movie. So instead of delving too deep into the syntax itself, I want to talk a little bit about what the background property can do and why it's so important for you as a designer to focus on learning all you can about how backgrounds work. First, let's focus on exactly how the background of an element is defined. You'll often hear the background property referred to in discussions of the box model, even though it's not actually a part of the box model itself.
That's because the area for the background extends all the way to an element's edge. If you were to define a solid color for an element's background, it would extend not only to the edges of the element's content width and height, but to the edges of the padding for the element as well. As the name suggests, backgrounds display behind an element's content, allowing you to create sophisticated visual effects from a single element. The default style for most elements is to have a transparent background, meaning you can see through them. By explicitly setting the background property, you can choose to display solid colors, gradients, or even images behind an element's content.
With that in mind, let's take a look at what types of things you can display in an element's background and some of the techniques that designers use when employing them. The first and most basic usage of the background is to simply display a solid color. This can allow you to transform an invisible div, section, aside, or article into a visually defined space, or give individual paragraphs or headings added definition. With the advent of CSS 3.0, we can now define gradients for backgrounds as well.
The support for this feature is still evolving, but it gives us an option for displaying gradients that uses far less overhead than the previous method of using images. And some designers are experimenting with CSS gradients to create patterns and other cool visual tricks. The background property also allows you to specify an image instead of a solid color or gradient. This opens up a tremendous amount of possibilities for the visual designer and indeed was one of my most transformative moments in learning CSS. Once I learned what was possible with background images, my designs and approach to web design changed dramatically.
When specifying a background image, you can control its position, whether it repeats, and along which axis it repeats on, the background image's size, and whether or not the background image should be clipped inside the background area. I should point out as well that it's entirely possible for an element to have both a background color and a background image. Background colors are layered underneath background images and allow you to combine the two for powerful visual effects; in fact; in CSS 3.0, the ability to use multiple background images for a single element has been introduced.
This feature gives designers even more options when creating complex visual designs. So how are backgrounds typically used in web designs? Well, as I mentioned before, solid background colors allow you to add visual definition to elements and to help draw attention to important sections of content. Going back to the design that I showed you earlier, I want you to take a look at the headings for the secondary sections on this page. Now, for search engines' and accessibility's sake, I really need the text to remain, but visually, I wanted to display the text in a way that CSS won't let me do stylistically.
So in this case--I want to go ahead and turn the styles back on here. In this case, I use CSS to move the text off of the page visually and then use a background image to display in its place. So screen readers, search engines, or bots will still see the headings, while people that are looking at the visual design see the headings the way that I wanted them to display. Now on the same page, I am using background images to display icons, custom paragraph rules, and even the company logo without sacrificing accessibility or adding unnecessary image tags to the content.
As you can imagine, there's a lot more to the background property than what we've covered here. I just want you to understand how important the background property is to visual design and encourage you to make sure that the background property is one that you put specific emphasis on as you learn CSS.
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