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Alvaro Montoro
Alvaro Montoro

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at alvaromontoro.com

Typewriter Effect with CSS

A reddit user asked in the CSS channel if there was a way of building a typewriter effect. Some people pointed out at Geoff Graham's article on CSS Tricks (which includes different versions in CSS and JS), and many more recommended using JavaScript or some JS libraries/modules... and I tried to come up with my own CSS-only version:

The idea is to animate the content property of a pseudo-element like ::before to show one character at a time. And then, we can use the ::after element to display a blinking caret.

The content property is discretely animatable. This means that there won't be transitions –it would have been nice–, but it will still animate it "step by step," which it's exactly what we want.

It is not perfect, but it can be eye-catchy, and it has some nice pros compared to similar CSS-only solutions. Also, it is slightly customizable (the caret can change color and size), and I tried to make it as accessible as possible.

The main issue is calculating the steps and the time at which they must happen. To simplify and generalize the process, I created a short JavaScript snippet to help generate the animation steps for any set of words... Unfortunately, although it works in most cases, my math is wrong, and it sometimes fails. (I'll add a link once I verify it works fine.)

Pros and Cons

Pros of this approach:

  • It is multiline: many of the CSS-only typewriter animations only work for single lines/words. This one will work in multiple lines too.
  • It doesn't cut letters/words: each letter is added individually instead of hiding with overflows that may display them partially (as it happens in other solutions).
  • No need for monospace fonts: related to the point above. Other animations only work with monospace to go around the cutting words/letters issue. This one will work with non-monospace fonts too.

Cons of this approach:

  • Requires some accessibility boost (see below): in my defense, most animations that do this (CSS or JS) have this issue.
  • It involves a lot of code: the CSS animation will have as many lines as letters are in total... And it is a pain to write them: a lot of calculations! So I created a small script to generalize the process.
  • Not supported by all browsers: the animation of the pseudo-elements is not supported by some browsers (most notably, Safari on Mac and iOS.)

To go around this last part, maybe I could have used the steps() timing function. But in the end, it would require some (simpler) calculations too.

Accessibility

We are going to do a couple of things to boost the accessibility of this animation... and one of them consists of removing the animations πŸ˜…

First, while a sighted user can see the text changing, that may not be the case for a user of assistive technologies (AT). For example, a screen reader user won't get information about the text growing/shrinking –and thank you, because it would be a pain in the neck!

To avoid getting a half description of the title, we should add an aria-label to the container with the full description.

<h1 aria-label="I'm a developer, writer, reader, and human.">
  I'm a&nbsp; <span class="typewriter"></span>
</h1>
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Without the aria-label, screen readers will read the title as "I'm a"; with the aria-label, they'll read "I'm a developer, writer, reader, and human.", which is much better.

The other thing we can do to make the component a bit more accessible is to remove the actual animations. If a user has the reduced motion setting on, we should stop the caret blinking, leave it fixed, and maybe show the words fully instead of letter by letter. To do so, CSS counts with the prefers-reduce-motion media query:

@media (prefers-reduced-motion) {
  /* let the caret be fixed instead of blinking */
  .typewriter::after {
    animation: none;
  }

  /* replace the letter popup for a shorter animation */
  @keyframes sequencePopup {
    0%, 100% { content: "developer"; }
    25% { content: "writer"; }
    50% { content: "reader"; }
    75% { content: "human"; }
  }

  .sequencePopup::before {
    content: "developer";
    animation: none;
  }
}
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We didn't fully remove the animation; we only replaced it with another that is more accessibility-friendly. Not all animations are bad, and "reduced motion" doesn't mean "no motion."

Discussion (10)

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afif profile image
Temani Afif

is this a call for a new war ??

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alvaromontoro profile image
Alvaro Montoro Author

Animated GIF. A man says "game on, brotato"

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alvaromontoro profile image
Alvaro Montoro Author

Something tells me I will regret that GIF sooner than later.

...Also, where's @inhuofficial hiding at times like this?

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afif profile image
Temani Afif

sooner sooner!

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inhuofficial profile image
InHuOfficial • Edited on

So are we sounding the drums of war then?

I mean, it isn't difficult to win as Alvaro has fallen into the same camp as you Temani, it doesn't work on iOS.

So all I have to do is get something that works cross browser again...yawn, I might do this one with one hand tied behind my back!

Oh and it was 11pm on a Friday night for me when you released this, I was at the bottom of a bottle obviously!

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Alvaro Montoro Author • Edited on

Good point. I didn't have an iOS device to test 😳 I'll have to I'll update the article to add that Safari doesn't support it.

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Alvaro Montoro Author

Just checked. Safari on laptop doesn't support it. I knew it didn't support some animations on pseudo-elements... but I had hoped that by now it was fixed.

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InHuOfficial • Edited on

It is all irrelevant at this stage, all that matters is if we all agree we are in a state of war! 😜

Oh and I am beginning to lean into the idea of Safari being the new Internet Explorer🀣

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Alvaro Montoro Author

Safari has been the new Internet Explorer for years... Even when Internet Explorer was active and relevant. People just didn't focus on it as much.

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Imia Hazel

Very cool.