Padding vs. Margin in CSS: The Ultimate Guide

It can be difficult to know when to use CSS padding vs margin — and vice versa. Here, we explain when to use one over the other.

If you know when and how to leverage each one, you’ll be well on your way to creating stunning, responsive websites that look great on any device. But mastering them can take some practice.

If you’re new to CSS or interested in learning more about margins vs padding, read on to learn precisely what they are and how to decide when to use each one.

Margin is said to be the outer space of an element, i.e., the margin is the space outside of the element’s border. Padding is said to be the inner space of an element, i.e., the padding is the space inside of the element’s border. We can set the margin to auto.

Padding vs Margin Explained

What is the CSS box model?

To apply margin and padding effectively, you first have to understand the CSS box model. When using CSS styling, every HTML-based content element on a webpage goes inside a box, which can be a square or a rectangle. Every CSS box contains four parts in the following order, starting from the exterior:

In many cases, a CSS box or container wont have a visible border. This component can be any color, including transparent. However, the margin and padding remain present in every CSS box, even if the border doesnt appear to divide them.

What is the difference between padding vs. margin in CSS?

In CSS, the terms margin and padding both refer to borders around webpage elements like text and images. However, the two terms refer to distinct areas:

Tips for adding margins in CSS

Every CSS box has four margins, including the top, bottom, left and right of the element. When setting style preferences for a CSS element, you can use these four terms to establish the size of each margin:

Alternatively, you can use the term “margin” to establish the size. You can then state one, two, three or four values, which apply to the margin sides as follows:

No matter how many margin values you set, they can represent either length or percentage. A length-based margin has a fixed value, while a percentage-based margin is a portion of the total width.

Although you can set specific margins for each CSS box, you can also allow them to automatically center the interior element, no matter the display size of the webpage. Set the margin value to “auto” to ensure that the element always appears horizontally centered.

While margins typically create space between elements, they can also cause elements to overlap. To overlay elements, simply set a negative margin value.

Consider adding margins when you want to:

Tips for adding padding in CSS

Settings and terminology for padding are similar to those for margins. You can adjust this component using the term “padding” or with these terms:

Like margins, you can set the padding for one, two, three or four sides by listing the values in the orders stated above. You can also apply either length- or percentage-based padding.

However, unlike margins, padding doesnt support negative values. In addition, you cant set an “auto” value to adjust padding automatically. That means you have to set a positive padding value for every CSS box on any website you design.

Consider using padding when you want to:


What is the difference between padding and margin?

In CSS, a margin is the space around an element’s border, while padding is the space between an element’s border and the element’s content. Put another way, the margin property controls the space outside an element, and the padding property controls the space inside an element.

How do you use margin and padding?

Margin is the outer space of an element, while padding is the inner space of an element. In other words, margin is the space outside of an element’s border, while padding is the space inside of its border.

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