Play with web technologies

A border-image Investigation

April 18, 2012
Attention: This article is old and the content is outdated. I've left the article here for historical purposes.
A border-image Investigation

border-image is a really great property that can and should be used right now. There are some decent fallbacks which gets covered later on in the article.

MDN is usually really great resource when it comes to documentation relating to HTML, CSS and Javascript but their border-image documentation is definitely lacking - I think it's due to the absence of actual examples. The best resource I've come across for border-image is definitely the /W3C spec/ - I can't say I've said that before. That's the reason I've decided to write this article - A resource that thoroughly explains the basics of the border-image properties with relevant examples.

What is border-image?

border-image is quite self-descriptive - It allows you to use an image as a border for an element. Before getting into too detailed, here is an example:

border-image is shorthand for the following properties:

If these properties replaced their value counterparts in the border-image property, it would look like this:

.border {
    border-image: <border-image-source> <border-image-slice> <border-image-width> <border-image-outset> <border-image-repeat>;

the bolded properties are required, the others may be left out.

Where are the pixel values? A typical example of a border-image property could look like this:

.border { border-image: url(../img/border.png) 20 10 20 10; border-width: 20px 10px; }

Numerical values are used instead of pixel values and percentage values are accepted too. The numerical values refer to pixels if it's a rasterized image ( jpg, png, gif ) and co-ordinates if it's a SVG image. Every border-image-* property is heavily reliant upon the border-width property since no pixel values are set within the border-image property.

Vendor Prefixes

Vendor prefixed versions of border-image only support the border-image shorthand and not border-image-slice, border-image-repeat, etc.

Now for the border-image properties


This property requires the CSS url function just like background-image property does. The image we provide here is the image that is going to be used as the border's image.

.border { border-image: url(../img/border.png); }


Svg elements can be used. They are handled slightly differently within the different browsers - firefox seems to rasterize the svg element and apart from IE9, at the moment Firefox seems to have the worst border-image support.


This property accepts 4 values, just like the margin and padding property as well as an optional fill value:

.border { border-image-slice: top right bottom left fill; }

The 4 numerical values

These 4 values cut the image into 9 parts or regions. TopLeft, Top, TopRight, Right, BottomRight, Bottom, BottomLeft and the Center region.

The image below is an example .png file that could be used for the border-image-source.

Below is the same image with the border-image-slice region as a grid overlay:

Obviously 4 numerical values are not required, there are shorthand versions just like the margin and padding properties have.

.border { border-image-slice: 10 10 10 10; }
.border2 { border-image-slice: 20 10 20 10; }
/** Shorthand version **/
.border { border-image-slice: 10; }
.border2 { border-image-slice: 20 10; }


You may be a bit unsure as to what exactly the 9th section of the image is for. Well, it's up to you whether you want to use it or not, but it could be used as a pseudo-background. You have the option to completely ignore it and use the background property, or you could use this 'pseudo-background' by appending the fill value to the border-image-slice property. This 'fills' everything within the border with that section of the image. This fill image is either repeated or stretched depending on the border-image-repeat property. An example of fill in use:

.border { border-image-slice: 10 20 fill; }
/** or **/
.border { border-image-slice: 30 40 10 20 fill; }
/** or **/
.border { border-image: url(../img/border.png) 10 fill; }

If the fill keyword is left out, by default the fill is not applied, HOWEVER: all vendor prefixed versions of border-image have fill applied by default and there is no way of disabling this option. A work around would be to have the center area of the border-image-source image transparent.


The border-image-slice is heavily dependant upon the border-width property. Imagine these properties being linked by ratio: border-width and border-image-slice. Let's say we have a 30px border - 90% of the time we would make sure the border-image-slice matches the border width:

30px:30 - There is a 1:1 ratio.

If we have: 90px:30 - that is a 3:1 ratio. This means the border image will be stretched to 3 times its original size.


The firefox doesn't seem to actually set the slice area correctly while using a vector image. When the border-width increases, the slice doesn't scale along with it. This defeats the point of using a vector image for a border image. Hopefully this will be fixed soon.

border-image-width & border-image-outset

These properties don't affect the box-model. By default the border-image-width value is 1 and the border-image-outset is 0. These properties accept a numerical value. Their values are multiplied by the border-width and rendered accordingly.


This value represents how large the border's image should be. If you had something like:

.border {
    border-image-width`: 3;
    border-width: 40px;

The width of the border's image would be 120px. The more the border-image-width value increases, the more the border's image grows into the box model without affecting the box-model by layering itself on top of the element's background.


This value represents how far outside of the box-model the border image should be rendered. So:

.border {
    border-image-outset: 2;
    border-width: 30px;

Would render the border 60px outside of the box model without affecting the box model.


This property attempts to solve a possible problem with the repeated border-image area. 4 possible values are accepted: stretch, repeat, round or space.

Stretch is the default value for the property. This value stretches the tile across the height/width of the element.

Repeat merely repeats tiles.

Round is the 'magic' property. It repeats this area, however if a whole number of tiles don't fit in this area, the browser resizes the tiles so that it fits snugly. Currently only Firefox and Opera support this value. Any value Chrome doesn't recognize in this property is treated as 'repeat'.

Space is similar to round. A whole number of tiles must fit in correctly, otherwise the left over space is distributed evenly between the tiles. This is the only value that is currently not supported by any browser.

An example of each follows:

Cool Tricks

The stretching colours cause gradients! You can do some pretty cool things with this:


border-image overwrites the border-color and border-style properties or visa versa depending on which has a higher specificity. Make sure you apply border-image after the usual border properties for a 'normal border' fallback. Alternatively, there is always a web-developer's best friend, Modernizr. As for IE support, there is CSS3PIE. Unfortunately I've failed to get this to work even though I followed the site's documentation. I never have much like with CSS3PIE outside of border-radius and box-shadow, it's probably something I'm doing wrong. Firefox Nightly doesn't yet have support for prefix-free border-image. Firefox Nightly 14.0a1 wasn't able to render any example of border-image I had so I wasn't able to see how well it faired with proerties/values Firefox doesn't currently support, but I'm sure it will support the prefix-free version sooner than later. Chrome Canary doesn't yet support the border-image-repeat properties apart from stretch and repeat.

Great resources

If you don't already know, HTML5Please is an excellent resource and lead me to border-image.com which is a great webapp that could help with any border-image development and understanding.