Editor’s note: This CSS libraries article was last updated on 29 November 2022 to update the list of CSS libraries, and more explicitly define the difference between CSS libraries and frameworks.
With CSS, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel every time you undertake a new project or design.
A proliferation of tools and resources for coders and developers is one of CSS’ strongest suits and biggest appeals. It helps you to easily create stunning designs, letting you focus on creativity and productivity instead of getting bogged down in technicalities before you can even get started.
There are a ton of amazing CSS libraries to help empower your code and make your life as easy and efficient as possible. We’re going to show you some of our favorites:
- CSS Wand
- Magic CSS
- Picnic CSS
Before we begin, let’s clarify what we mean by CSS library.
What is a CSS library?
You’ll often hear two terms for pre-made assets for CSS: libraries and frameworks. They’re both similar, but there are some key differences.
Free Code Camp likens a CSS library to a trip to Ikea when you’re looking to furnish a house. Sometimes, you don’t feel like building a table from scratch or designing your own forks.
Frameworks, on the other hand, are like a model home. Sticking with the house metaphor, a framework would be the blueprint and the contractor. You might be able to make slight aesthetic decisions here and there, but the end product is intensely shaped by the framework.
CSS libraries vs. frameworks
The words ‘library’ and ‘framework’ are more often than not used interchangeably. But they do not mean the same thing.
Both libraries and frameworks are reusable code written by someone else. When you use a library, you are in control of the flow of the application. You can decide when to call it within your app. But when you use a framework, it controls the flow of the application. In other words, a framework on its own is responsible for running the show.
With libraries, you have the option to make things work the way you want. With frameworks, you must follow the initial rules that come with them.
Additionally, libraries are usually lighter than frameworks.
But our focus for this article is CSS libraries, so let’s delve into some of the best libraries to look at for your next project.
Animate.css is a library of ready-to-use CSS animations that can be implemented across multiple browsers.
Animations are an easy way to add interest to your web designs. They’re also an easy way to generate interest, and favorable impressions are your brand.
Consumers are 70% more likely to like a product after watching an animated video. They’re also 92% more likely to share that video after they’ve watched it.
However, animation can be tricky to pull off in web development. It gets even trickier when implementing web animations across multiple platforms.
Animate.css simplifies that because it’s easy to install and, once instated, it’s just as easy to add an animated element, simply using the
Say we wanted to add a flash animation to some element on our page. It could easily be done like this:
<h1 class="animate__animated animate__flash">A flash animation</h1>
You can see demonstrations of these different animations on the library homepage itself:
Animate.css is also widely customizable. You’re not just left with a glorified GIF gallery.
Animate.css can specify the length, delay time, and interactions of an animation. All of this is achieved with native commands that are easy to understand and implement.
Speaking of web animations, sometimes you just need some simple custom graphics without having to write any code. If you’re looking for a CSS library to add simple animation elements, like floating cursors and drop shadows, CSS Wand is worth a look.
Even better, CSS Wand’s commands simply need to be cut and pasted into your code to implement. It’s about as close to a plug-and-play CSS library as you could hope for. As you can see below, clicking on the grow animation presents ready-made code that you can easily copy and paste into your project:
You’ll sometimes hear the terms ‘opinionated’ vs ‘non-opinionated’ CSS libraries and frameworks. Destyle.css is an excellent opinionated CSS library that allows you to reset your HTML, giving you a clean slate for your web project.
Destyle.css allows you to reset custom margins and spacing. It lets you return line-height and font-size to their original state. It also prevents you from having to reset your web projects for different types of user agents.
Destyle.css helps you to easily implement your web projects across multiple browsers. It also allows you to take advantage of style sheets for your main webpage, while still offering you a blank canvas for specific web projects and applications.
The image below is a good way of showing how Destyle.css takes out all the default styling from the sample page shown. Inspecting the page with browser tools clearly shows the presence of elements like headings, even though the styling that is normally applied has been removed:
- Sets new and consistent default values across browsers
- Helps manage inconsistencies
- Solves inconsistency problems caused by defaults, but creates a whole new set of defaults
Water.css is a wonderful tool if you want to add a couple of simple CSS functions to a website. It’s called ‘water’, as in ‘just add water’, making it the programming equivalent of Bisquick.
Water.css makes several web development elements easy to implement. Among these are responsive web design and embedded forms. The main page for the library is written with Water.css, and the library also comes with ready-made light and dark themes, and page contents are centered by default:
Water.css is also exceedingly lightweight, being only 2kb. It also doesn’t feature classes, so it’s very easy to implement universally.
- Modern browser support
- Very lightweight
- Comes with out-of-the-box responsiveness
- Can only be used for simple/static websites. Unfortunately, building complex, interactive websites is not possible with this library
We go from not having any classes to having lots of classes with our next library: RaisinCSS. RaisinCSS describes itself as a CSS utility library. It features pre-built modules for popular CSS frameworks like flexbox and CSS Grid. It’s also fully customizable, lightweight, and easily deployable.
RaisinCSS gives you a full suite of building blocks and tools to customize your CSS. There are extensive functions for a wide array of commands, including:
Customizable margins and cursor libraries might not sound like the most exciting thing in the world at first glance. If you’re familiar with Tailwind, the utility framework that deals with classes, then Raisin will be a lot easier. Even if not, setting a margin for your page element in RaisinCSS will only take you a class of the form,
Until you’ve had to manually set the margins for different sections of the same website, then you’ll likely be overjoyed to have a tool like RaisinCSS in your toolkit.
- Because it deals with only classes, the user ends up writing little to no CSS
- Can easily be customized to fit user needs, and extend existing classes
- Ships with limited classes, simple ones like margin, padding, display, etc. Leaves out functions like transitions, for example, to be brought in by the user
Mobile developers need to be very aware of the resources they consume. Mobile apps need to be as lightweight, compact, and efficient as possible. It’s good to have a lightweight, no-frills CSS library in your toolkit if you’re developing for mobile.
Pure.css is an incredibly lightweight CSS library. The entire library clocks in at only 4.0kb, when it’s zipped.
Despite its small size, Pure.css offers a complete suite of CSS tools. It has CSS tools for everything from tables to buttons to grids and forms. As seen below, a default inline form is created by adding the class name
pure-form to any form element:
Pure.css can be made even lighter by only installing the components you need. If you need a simple, lightweight, barebones CSS library that is still powerful and capable, get Pure.css.
- Built on Normalize.css, a CSS reset tool aimed at helping with browser compatibility and consistency
- Extremely small for a library that provides a wide range of ready-to-use classes, that help you ship websites quickly
- Looks a lot like Bootstrap, and is not as easy to configure and customize. If the same pattern of styles is used over multiple websites, the websites can start to look the same
Magic CSS is a free, open source, and lightweight animation library that helps you add special effects to your websites.
Imagine having an animation called
foolishin on your website:
- Animations range from rotations to bling, to static effects, slide, and even bomb
- Not supported in Opera Mini
Picnic CSS comes with an extensive list of pre-built components like buttons, cards, modals, navigation bars, etc. With this library, you’re not worrying too much about how you want your user interface to look.
Animations may not cut it for you, but patterns don’t go unnoticed when they are added to a site.
Free, open source, and with amazing browser support, pattern.css gives you access to a wide variety of patterns for your next project. Whether it be horizontal lines, dots, diagonal patterns, zigzags, etc:
- Patterns are not static PNG files, as is the case with other pattern libraries. The colors and sizes can be altered to suit the user’s preference
- This library can work alongside other CSS frameworks like Bootstrap
- Unfortunately, does not support and/or work with other popular frameworks like Tailwind
voxel.css is a CSS library for 3D rendering. Using CSS for 3D has a number of unexpected advantages. For example, using the Voxel library means that there’s no ray tracing for mouse events.
It also means that all of your image types can take advantage of mesh. CSS also ensures that your 3D graphics can take advantage of GPU acceleration and transitions.
Voxel is flexible enough to be used for everything from 3D web animations to full-on video games.
With four different classes — scene, world, editor, and voxel — this CSS library also offers almost as much customizability as a full 3D animation suite:
Working with CSS libraries will make your life exponentially easier when creating your web designs.
There’s no need to re-code the wheel over and over and over again. CSS libraries also help create continuity across all of your development projects, giving a cohesive visual aesthetic to your digital projects.
While some of the CSS libraries we’ve compiled might not seem that exciting at first glance, they’ll make your life easier, more efficient, and more productive, letting you focus on what really matters — creating great web design and stunning apps.
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One Reply to “Top 10 CSS libraries to empower your web design”
Would also like to recommend a couple of my own favorites like Cirrus (https://cirrus-ui.netlify.app/) and Tailwind (https://tailwindcss.com/).