The last wave of new CSS3 features introduced in-browser design features like border-radius, gradients, multiple backgrounds, and box-shadow. CSS continues to evolve and today’s native features are becoming closer to tools we’d normally use in our favorite graphics editor.

In this article, we’ll cover three cutting-edge features you can add to your CSS toolkit today: blend modes, masks, and clipping paths.

Blend modes

The new CSS blend modes feature lets us blend an element’s background layer with another layer. Currently, background-blend-mode is the most supported blend mode property. It allows blending between background images, gradients, and background colors.

How blend modes work

A common use for the background-blend-mode property is blending an element’s background image with a background color. For example:

.blend {
  background-image: url('mountains.jpg');
  background-color: #5ece7f;
  background-blend-mode: multiply;
}

When we specify the background-blend-mode property and a blend mode value, it mixes the background image and color together based on the blend mode we set. And the mixing of colors only happen wherever an element overlaps with its backdrop.

Left: Original image. Right: Image with multiply blend mode.

Just like in Photoshop, the multiply blend mode darkens the image by multiplying the colors in the .blend element’s background image by the given background color. You can view all the blend mode values here.

We’re able to use background-blend-mode with all HTML elements, even canvas and video. It also works great with CSS gradients and multiple backgrounds. Here’s a simple demo that lets you preview each blend mode with a gradient backdrop.

Browser support

Currently, the latest versions of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Opera support the background-blend-mode property. Keep an eye out for a new blend mode property of mix-blend-mode, which can blend colors with the element below and that element’s background.

We can actually experiment with mix-blend-mode now by enabling the “Experimental Web Platform Features” in chrome://flags and opera://flags. And it looks like Firefox 32 and up will also have support for mix-blend-mode.

Blend mode resources:

CSS masks

With the new CSS mask feature we can obscure portions of an element by masking out certain areas. One of the ways masking works is by using a graphic as a luminance or alpha mask to display parts of an element.

For example, we can use the PNG luminance mask below as the mask image for any element. The less opaque a part of the mask image is, the less visible the element will be at that position.

mask

In this mask image, the black areas indicate full transparency. Let’s see how the mask-image property works by applying the luminance mask as a background to an h1.

Left: Luminance mask.  Right: Notice what happens to the “Poly” h1 once we apply the mask image.
h1 {
  mask-image: url('mask.png');
  mask-repeat: no-repeat;
  mask-size: 1440px;
}

When we apply the mask to the h1, we see the mountain tops covering –– or masking –– the bottom parts of the text. That’s pretty neat!

css-features

Here’s an animated demo that shows the text in the h1 element settling behind the mask.

Browser support

Currently, WebKit/Blink browsers support most of the mask properties with the -webkit- vendor prefix. Support in IE is still “under consideration,” and Firefox only supports inline SVG mask elements –– we’ll cover those next!

CSS clip-path

Similar to alpha and luminance masks, we can use the new clip-path property to describe the visible regions of an element.

A clip property was first introduced in CSS 2.1 to define the visible portions of an element. But the purpose of clip is for rectangular shapes, and it only works with absolutely positioned elements. That may be why the clip property is now deprecated in favor of the new clip-path feature.

Using clip-path

With clip-path we’re not limited to rectangular clipping paths. We can draw a region with basic shapes, polygon points, or SVG elements; anything outside that region is not rendered.

In this example, we’re using the polygon() function to draw a region that reveals a small section of the mountains.jpg image.

.wrapper {
  clip-path: polygon(307px 423px,431px 204px,256px 92px,118px 226px);
  background: url('mountains.jpg');
}

clip-path-1

Similarly, we can reference an SVG clipping path with clip-path: url(). In SVG, we create a clipping path with the clipPath element. Instead of defining the clip-path polygon points in the CSS, we can do it in SVG, like this:

<svg width="0" height="0">
  <clipPath id="clipPolygon">
    <polygon points="307 423,431 204,256 92,118 226"></polygon>
  </clipPath>
</svg>

Then, as the clip-path value, use url() to reference the polygon points in the clipPath element:

.wrapper {
  clip-path: url('#clipPolygon');
  background: url('mountains.jpg');
}

Here’s a more complex example that uses several polygon points to draw a region that outlines the mountain tops of the background image. This time, instead of using a luminance mask, we’re able to replicate the previous CSS mask image example with a polygon. I used this handy clip-path generator to draw and output the polygon points.

polygon() is the most complex clipping-path function, but we’re also able to use basic shape functions like circle(), inset(), and ellipse().

Browser support

In the latest support chart, Firefox only supports the url() syntax. Meanwhile, the latest versions of Chrome, Safari, and Opera support the polygon shapes and url() syntax.

Conclusion

As we learned, being able to apply Photoshop-like effects to HTML content with simple CSS syntax gives us more power and flexibility when designing for the web. Graphic editing features that are native to the browser help bring us closer to removing the reliance on graphic editing software––that’s exciting!

Have you used these new CSS features yet? Let us know in comments below.

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