How to Create Neon Text With CSS

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Silvia O'Dwyer on (Updated on )

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Neon text can add a nice, futuristic touch to any website. I’ve always loved the magic of neon signs, and wanted to recreate them using CSS. I thought I’d share some tips on how to do it! In this article, we’re going to take a look at how to add glowing effects to text. We’ll also take a look at various ways to animate the neon signs, all using CSS and keyframes.

Here’s what we’ll be making:

Adding a glow effect to text

First, let’s make the text glow. This can be done in CSS with the text-shadow property. What’s neat about text-shadow is that we can apply multiple shadows on it just by comma-separating them:

.neonText {
  color: #fff;
  text-shadow:
    0 0 7px #fff,
    0 0 10px #fff,
    0 0 21px #fff,
    0 0 42px #0fa,
    0 0 82px #0fa,
    0 0 92px #0fa,
    0 0 102px #0fa,
    0 0 151px #0fa;
}

text-shadow requires four values, the first two of which represent the horizontal and vertical position of the shadow, respectively. The third value represents the size of the blur radius while the last value represents the color of the shadow. To increase the size of the glow effect, we would increase the third value, which represents the blur radius. Or, expressed another way:

text-shadow: [x-offset] [y-offset] [blur-radius] [color];

Here’s what we get with that small bit of CSS:

The next thing you might be wondering is what’s up with all of those values? How did I get those and why are there so many? First, we added white glow effects to the outer edges of the text’s letters with a small blur radius.

.neonText {
  color: #fff;
  text-shadow:
    /* White glow */
    0 0 7px #fff,
    0 0 10px #fff,
    0 0 21px #fff,
}

The last five values are wider text shadows of a larger blur radius that forms the green glow.

.neonText {
  color: #fff;
  text-shadow:
    /* White glow */
    0 0 7px #fff,
    0 0 10px #fff,
    0 0 21px #fff,
    /* Green glow */
    0 0 42px #0fa,
    0 0 82px #0fa,
    0 0 92px #0fa,
    0 0 102px #0fa,
    0 0 151px #0fa;
}

It’d be great if we could accomplish this with fewer than five shadows, but we need all these shadows so that they can be stacked over one another to add more depth to the glow. If we had used a single text-shadow instead, the effect would not have the depth required to make it look realistic.

Go ahead and experiment with various hues and colors as well as blur radius sizes! There’s a huge variety of cool glow effects you can make, so try different variations — you can even mix and match colors where one color blends into another.

The “flickering” effect

One thing you might notice about neon signs is that some of them — particularly older ones — tend to flicker. The light kind of goes in and out. We can do the same sort of thing with CSS animations! Let’s reach for @keyframes to make an animation that flickers the light on and off in quick, seemingly random flashes.

@keyframes flicker {
  0%, 18%, 22%, 25%, 53%, 57%, 100% {
    text-shadow:
      0 0 4px #fff,
      0 0 11px #fff,
      0 0 19px #fff,
      0 0 40px #0fa,
      0 0 80px #0fa,
      0 0 90px #0fa,
      0 0 100px #0fa,
      0 0 150px #0fa;
  }
  20%, 24%, 55% {       
    text-shadow: none;
  }
}

That’s really it! We’ve taken the exact same text-shadow property and values we had before, wrapped them in a @keyframes animation called flicker, and chose points in the timeline to apply the shadows, as well as points that completely remove the shadows.

All that’s left is to call the animation where we want the light to flicker. In this particular case, let’s only add it to the <h1> element. Having one part of the entire sign flicker feels a little more realistic than if we applied the flicker to all of the text.

h1 {
  animation: flicker 1.5s infinite alternate;     
}

Note that if we did want the entire sign to flicker, then we could technically remove the text-shadow values on the .neonText class, add the animation to it, and let the @keyframes apply the shadows instead.

It’s quite a cool effect, and adds more realism to our neon text! Of course, there are other effects you could try out too, which will also be explored further in this article. For example, how about more of a pulsating animation or a more subtle flicker?

Let’s explore those and other effects!

Pulsating glow

We just got a quick peek at this. It uses keyframes, just as the previous example does, where we specify the size of the blur radius at the start and end of the animation.

We want the size of the blur radius to be smallest at the end of the animation, so we simply decrease the blur radius values for each text-shadow value in the 0% keyframe. This way, the size of the blur gradually ebbs and flows, creating a pulsating effect.

@keyframes pulsate {
  100% {
    /* Larger blur radius */
    text-shadow:
      0 0 4px #fff,
      0 0 11px #fff,
      0 0 19px #fff,
      0 0 40px #0fa,
      0 0 80px #0fa,
      0 0 90px #0fa,
      0 0 100px #0fa,
      0 0 150px #0fa;
  }
  0% {
    /* Smaller blur radius */
    text-shadow:
      0 0 2px #fff,
      0 0 4px #fff,
      0 0 6px #fff,
      0 0 10px #0fa,
      0 0 45px #0fa,
      0 0 55px #0fa,
      0 0 70px #0fa,
      0 0 80px #0fa;
  }
}

Once again, we add the animation to some element. We’ll go with <h1> again:

h1 {
  animation: pulsate 2.5s infinite alternate;     
}

Here it is with it all put together:

Subtle flicker

We can tone things down a bit and make the flickering action super subtle. All we need to do is slightly decrease the size of the blur radius in the 0% keyframe, just not to the extent as seen in the previous example.

@keyframes pulsate {
  100% {
    /* Larger blur radius */
    text-shadow:
      0 0 4px #fff,
      0 0 11px #fff,
      0 0 19px #fff,
      0 0 40px #f09,
      0 0 80px #f09,
      0 0 90px #f09,
      0 0 100px #f09,
      0 0 150px #f09;
  }
 0% {
    /* A slightly smaller blur radius */
    text-shadow:
      0 0 4px #fff,
      0 0 10px #fff,
      0 0 18px #fff,
      0 0 38px #f09,
      0 0 73px #f09,
      0 0 80px #f09,
      0 0 94px #f09,
      0 0 140px #f09;
  }
}

Since the flickering is more subtle and the reduction of the blur radius is not as large, we should increase the number of times this animation occurs per second in order to emulate more frequent flickering. This can be done by decreasing the animation’s duration, say to a mere 0.11s:

h1 {
  animation: pulsate 0.11s ease-in-out infinite alternate;    
}

Using a background image

It would be really neat if our sign was hanging on a wall instead of empty space. Let’s grab a background image for that, maybe some sort of brick texture from Unsplash or something:

body {
  background-image: url(wall.jpg);
}

Adding a border

One last detail we can add is some sort of circular or rectangular border around the sign. It’s just a nice way to frame the text and make it look like, you know, an actual sign. By adding a shadow to the border, we can give it the same neon effect as the text!

Whatever element is the container for the text is what needs a border. Let’s say we’re only working with an <h1> element. That’s what gets the border. We call the border shorthand property to make a solid white border around the heading, plus a little padding to give the text some room to breathe:

h1 {
  border: 0.2rem solid #fff;
  padding: 0.4em;
}

We can round the corners of the border a bit so things aren’t so sharp by applying a border-radius on the heading. You can use whatever value works best for you to get the exact roundness you want.

h1 {
  border: 0.2rem solid #fff;
  border-radius: 2rem;
  padding: 0.4em;
}

The last piece is the glow! Now, text-shadow won’t work for the border here but that’s okay because that’s what the box-shadow property is designed to do. The syntax is extremely similar, so we can even pull exactly what we have for text-shadow and tweak the values slightly:

h1 {
  border: 0.2rem solid #fff;
  border-radius: 2rem;
  padding: 0.4em;
  box-shadow: 0 0 .2rem #fff,
              0 0 .2rem #fff,
              0 0 2rem #bc13fe,
              0 0 0.8rem #bc13fe,
              0 0 2.8rem #bc13fe,
              inset 0 0 1.3rem #bc13fe;
}

Notice that inset keyword? That’s something text-shadow is unable to do but adding it to the border’s box-shadow allows us to get some of the glow on both sides of the border for some realistic depth.

What about accessibility?

If users have a preference for reduced motion, we’ll need to accommodate for this using the prefers-reduced-motion media query. This allows us to remove our animation effects in order to make our text more accessible to those with a preference for reduced motion.

For example, we could modify the flashing animation from the Pen above so that users who have prefers-reduced-motion enabled don’t see the animation. Recall that we applied the flashing effect to the <h1> element only, so we’ll switch off the animation for this element:

@media screen and (prefers-reduced-motion) { 
  h1 {
    animation: none;
  }
}

It’s incredibly important to ensure that users’ preferences are catered for, and making use of this media query is a great way to make the effect more accessible for those with a preference for reduced motion.

Conclusion

Hopefully this has shown you how to create cool neon text for your next project! Make sure to experiment with various fonts, blur radius sizes and colors and don’t forget to try out different animations, too — there’s a world of possibilities out there. And add a comment if you’ve created a neat shadow effect you want to share. Thanks for reading!