CSS Button Set Tutorial

On larger site projects, you may run into a situation where you need a coherent set of buttons with different properties, be it in size, color, or both. This CSS button tutorial will use some simple classes to achieve this quite easily!


General Rules

First, let's set up our general button rules (with a .btn class). We want all our buttons to have a colored background, meaning the inner text will be white. The button should have it's text nice and centered, along with some round corners, a nice top highlight, and a default height.

.btn {
  background: #CCC;
  color: #FFF;
  display: inline-block;
  border-radius: 4px;
  box-shadow: inset 0 1px 0 rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.2);
  font-family: Arial, sans-serif;
  line-height: 2.5em;
  padding: 0 3em;
  text-decoration: none;

If you want "full" compatibility, remember to add browser prefixes for border-radius and box-shadow, but for simplicity's sake, I've left them out here. The box-shadow uses a very subtle, 1px thick value in a semi-transparent white, using an rgba value.

You'll also notice I've set a background color, though it's basically a temporary backup for now. We've set it to an inline-block element for easier manipulation of properties (line-height won't work properly with the default inline value). With that, we can set a line-height, which we've used em for, as well as for some padding on the sides. I've also set the font to Arial, however, this is probably not needed unless you want a specific font for just the buttons, otherwise, you can remove this line and let it inherit the font you've set globally on the site. At this point, if you were to make some links with the .btn class...

<a href="#" class="btn">Button</a>  
<a href="#" class="btn">Button</a>  
<a href="#" class="btn">Button</a>  

...it would look something like:

CSS Button Set Tutorial


So far so good. However, we don't want a CSS button set to be so plain, we want some color! So let's make a few more classes in our CSS:

.green.btn {
  background: linear-gradient(#6BDB55, #57B245);
  text-shadow: 1px 1px 1px #57B245;

.red.btn {
  background: linear-gradient(#D60A0A, #B20808);
  text-shadow: 1px 1px 1px #B20808;

.blue.btn {
  background: linear-gradient(#11A1D6, #0E86B2);
  text-shadow: 1px 1px 1px #0E86B2;

Here we've made 3 colors, each using a CSS gradient (again, unprefixed, but you can use this handy tool to get the full prefix list) and applying a dark, colored shadow (matching the darkest color in the gradient). You now have a primary color set that — once you apply each class to your buttons in the HTML — would look like:

CSS Button Set Tutorial


Want different sizes? No problem, all we need are some extra classes to adjust our button set's height and padding:

.small.btn {
  line-height: 1.75em;
  padding: 0 1.5em;

.large.btn {
  line-height: 3em;
  padding: 0 3.5em;

And with that, you can now mix and match your colors with sizes!

CSS Button Set Tutorial


Last, but not least, it would be a good idea to have some hover (mouse over) and active (mouse down) states. You can do this per color if you felt like it, but we'll take a simpler approach by using an extra shadow as a "fake gradient" across the whole button set (which will also save us various lines of CSS).

.btn:hover {
  box-shadow: inset 0 1px 1px rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.2),
  inset 0 1.5em 1em rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.3);

.btn:active {
  box-shadow: inset 0 1px 1px rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.2),
  inset 0 1.5em 1em rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.3);

You'll notice we've added a second value (separated by a comma) to our original shadow, but this time apply a bigger shadow, one light and one dark for each state. With this, your button set is ready for action! To play with a live example from this CSS button tutorial, you can check it out here.