20.9. Styling Forms

The forms we created in this chapter look pretty bland, since we stuck with plain HTML. For example:

A plain HTML form with the input fields too close together and a non-exciting appearance.

Visually, the form needs some work. First, the input fields don’t line up evenly. They don’t have to, but aligning them makes our form look more professional. Next, it would be nice to put some space between the boxes to keep them from pushing right up against each other. Finally, the text is pretty plain, and the button blends into the background.

Vanilla is a great ice cream flavor, but vanilla HTML makes a pretty weak web form. We want visitors to our site to have a good experience, and presenting an attractive page is a key part of this. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when coding a form. None of these items are required, but each one improves a user’s experience with our work.

  1. Include a short heading that identifies the purpose of the form.

  2. Place only one input element on each line of the form. Vertically stacked fields are easier to navigate than side-by-side ones.

  3. For text inputs, try to keep the width of the boxes the same. Also, have the fields line up with each other.

  4. The part of the page that belongs to the form should be clear. Use shading or a border to separate the form from the other content on the page.

  5. Break longer forms into multiple sections. Each section should deal with related information. For example, name and email would go in one section, while options for a lunch order would go in another.

  6. The user shouldn’t need to zoom in. Keep the font size large enough to easily read. (Hint: If your parent or teacher needs to squint and lean closer to the screen, bump up your font size).

Fortunately, we can meet these guidelines by applying some CSS style rules!

20.9.1. Add CSS


One thing to keep in mind as we style our forms is that label, input, select, textarea, and button are all inline elements. Even if we put them on separate lines in our HTML code, they will appear in the same line of our webpage.

Return to the main branch of your forms_chapter repository. Save and commit any work, then use git checkout -b to make a new branch called form-style.

Paste in this starter code for the form element:

<form method="POST">
   <h2>A Few Of My Favorite Things</h2>
   <label>Favorite Color: <input type="text" name="color"/></label><br>
   <label>Lucky Number: <input type="number" name="luck-num"/></label><br>
   <label>Favorite Class: <input type="text" name="fav-class"/></label><br>
   <label>Favorite Pixar Movie: <input type="text" name="best-pix"/></label><br>

Save your work, then open the index.html file in your browser. Margins

Let’s start by putting some space between the inputs in our form. We do this with the margin property. Margin sets the amount of whitespace that surrounds an element. The larger its value, the more spaced out two neighboring elements will be.

  1. Open the style.css tab in the editor below. Note how the margin property is assigned inside the element selector. Experiment with changing the number of pixels (px) assigned.

  2. What happens to the form if you add a label selector that also includes a margin value?

Once you finish exploring margin, open Visual Studio Code and paste the CSS code into your local style.css file. Be sure to refresh the page in your browser to see how it looks. Field Size

We can change the size of an input field with the width property. The value assigned can be in pixels or a percentage. Using a percentage is recommended, since this changes the field size to always fit within a given space.


Resize your browser window to see how these two fields respond:

Note that the input field set at 50% always stretches halfway across this Example box, no matter how small we make the window. The 600px box remains the same size.

  1. In the editor above, add a width property to the input selector. Experiment by assigning different px and % values to the property.

  2. What about the type="number" input? That field doesn’t need to be as large as the others. With CSS we can either add a class to set the width, or we can try out a new technique. Add this to the CSS code in the editor:

    input[type=number] {
       width: 10%;

    input[type=number] sets the style rules for input elements that have the type="number" attribute. Since we don’t include a margin property, the number type uses the value set in the other input selector.

Once you finish exploring width, paste the CSS code into your local style.css file. Save and commit your work. Button Style

Note that the HTML form uses <button> tags for Send to Parrot instead of <input>. This lets us separate the styles for the submit button vs. the other input fields.

In the editor below, open the style.css tab and play around with the properties in the button selector. What does each property do? In particular, how is padding different from margin?

Once you’ve designed a button you like, paste the CSS code into your local style.css file. Save and commit your work. Alignment

Right now, the edges of the input fields do not line up because their labels are different lengths. There are lots of ways to address this, but one simple fix is to put the labels and input fields on different lines.

Form with each label on the line above its input field.

It’s not fancy, but it’s quick and easy.

By default, label and input elements start out aligned on the left side of the screen. As long as they have the same margin value, they should line up nicely.

In VS Code, update your HTML code to align the input fields how you like. For an added amount of control, you can add section elements inside the form to help align the content.

Finally, include a form element inside styles.css to add a few final touches, like a background color or border.

A styled HTML form with a heading, background color, aligned fields, and large button.

One option for a styled form.

Refresh your index.html page in your browser to make sure it looks the way you want. When you are happy with the result, save and commit your work.

20.9.2. Wrap-Up

Return to the main branch in your repo. Use git merge form-style to combine the two branches. Resolve any merge conflicts.

20.9.3. Resources

The following websites provide more detailed information about styling forms with CSS:

  1. How to style forms with CSS: A beginner’s guide

  2. W3Schools CSS Forms

  3. Dive deep with the MDN documentation.

  4. Bootstrap Form Styles (Review the Bootstrap section in the CSS chapter if necessary).