How to use CSS Background Images

May 6, 2020

The CSS background or background-image property is a handy alternative to the <img /> tag for displaying images. To use this property, first create a div tag in your html

<div id="bg-demo"></div>

Background image’s accept a url string for the background property. Add a css selector for this div in your stylesheet

#bg-demo {
  height: 300px;
  width: 450px;
  background: url("");

I also added height and width properties to this element. If the div you created above is empty, it will need both a height and width to display an image.


The background or background-image properties are interchangeable and accept a URL string that links to an image file. You can use JPG, PNG, SVG, GIF, and WEBP files for background images.


Unless your image is the exact same size as your div element, you might notice that it is not properly fitted to the screen. The background-size property can adjust this for us, and takes the following arguments:

  • auto : default setting, original image size. This will crop if image is bigger than the container and repeat if it is smaller.
  • length value: accepts either one or two CSS length values. One argument determines the longer axis and two arguments the width and height of the image
  • cover: will cover either 100% of the element width or height depending on which fits the image better
  • contain: will fit the entire image inside the element


By default, background images will repeat if there is enough space in their containing element. While this is useful for creating patterns, you may turn it off using

#bg-demo {
  background-repeat: no-repeat;


Setting our sizing for div and background-size properties is great to get the image to be the right size, however it won’t center or align our images. The background-position property allows us to specify this. To center an image in our div we can use the following

#bg-demo {
  background-position: 50% 50%;

This property accepts two arguments, one for the horizontal (x) value and one for the vertical (y) value. background-position is flexible and we can use

  • Percentages : x% y% or the percent of the parent elements size (50% 50% being center, 50% 100% being the bottom)
  • Keywords : left, right, center, bottom, and top can be used in place of 0% X, 100% X, 50% X or Y, 100% Y, and 0% Y respectively
  • Css units : additionally you can use specific pixel values (or other units) to choose the position exactly


In addition to image files we can use CSS gradients in our background property. There are numerous ways to use gradients, though a basic implementation involves three arguments: the direction and two colors.

#bg-demo {
  background: linear-gradient(to bottom right, green, blue);

The first argument accepts a direction using the keyword to, followed by one or two keywords such as left or bottom right to indicate the direction that the gradient will be applied.


CSS backgrounds can seem unnecessarily involved compared to using an <img /> tag. In many cases using a background-image is not only easier, but the only way to achieve what you are trying to implement.

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