Kilian Valkhof

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Random CSS Thought: Advanced background repeat options

Design, 22 February 2007, 2 minute read

Background-repeat is an often used method of making smaller images possible while creating a filling background. But in my eyes it is far too limited. You could do much more with it:

Checkerboard patterns

To make these you have to make an image with at least 4 blocks, and then repeat that. What if you could control the space between each repeating image, in the x and y direction? Lets assume we use a 20px by 20px black image:

.foo {
	background-color: #ffffff;
	background-image: url("one-block.gif");
	background-position: 0 0;

	background-repeat: 20px/20px repeat

background repeat would take this form: background-repeat: direction x-spacing/y-spacing. So the above would position the image in the top left corner, skip 20px in both directions, and repeat it again. Effectively creating a nice checkerboard pattern. (Black and white, in this case.)

What happens with a repetition in one direction?

When you have a repetition in one direction (repeat-x or repeat-y) then you would also need only one spacing value. Lets assume we’re going for a stripy blue/light blue background here:

.bar {
	background-color: #ddddff;
	background-image: url("slightly-darker-blue.gif");
	background-position: 0 0;

	background-repeat: 20px repeat-y

This would create horizontal stripes, each 20px apart vertically. This code would work with a fixed-width container and an image with the same width. But by using both spacing options, we can make it width independent:

.bar {
	background-color: #ddddff;
	background-image: url("slightly-darker-blue-but-smaller.gif");
	background-position: 0 0;

	background-repeat: 0/20px repeat

This time, the image repeats in all directions. Horizontally without spacing, and vertically with 20px apart.


most people use the background: shorthand property, so it would have to work nicely with the shorthand too. And it does:

background:#ddf url("slighlty-darker-blue-but-smaller.gif") 0/20px repeat 0 0;

Doesn’t take away anything from the readability, does it? Of course, the default repeat spacing would be 0/0.

Even more interesting

With the multiple background possibility in CSS3, this would get even more interesting:

.foo {
	background:#ddf url("red.gif") 20px/20px repeat 0 0,
		url("green.gif") 20px/20px repeat 10px 10px,
		url("blue.gif") 20px/20px repeat  20px 20px;

I’m sorry that you have to imagine a background like that (I truly am), but it serves the general idea perfectly. The code above creates a red/green/blue checkerboard pattern, and allows you to be even more flexible with your backgrounds. Just think of combining this with alpha-transparent png’s. Diagonal stripes just got easier :)


Would this make your life as a CSS developer easier? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Other CSS thoughts
If you enjoyed this article, please consider reading any of my previous CSS thought articles:

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  1. I’d love to see this in CSS3!

    I’m also looking forward to the fact that you can have multiple backgrounds on CSS3; the only problem is compatibility with browsers, it will take way too much time for users to upgrade!

  2. […] Advanced background repeat options […]

  3. […] Advanced background repeat options […]

  4. Nomii

    Is there a way in which i can make an image repeat from point x,y onwards only in direction x to the right (and not right and left like it does right now)? ?


  5. Ganesh Kondalkar


    I tried above CSS but its not showing me what you have written. Is the above thing u assumed that it will be implements in future CSS version? or do u have any demo.html page to show this is working?