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6 CSS tools for more efficient and flexible CSS handling

Written by Fimber Elemuwa✏️

The larger your stylesheet, the harder it is to maintain clean and efficient CSS. When you start managing specificity and ensuring consistent rendering across browsers, what should be routine starts looking like rocket science. It’s like trying to write a novel on a single, messy notepad page, with different factions fighting over penmanship, and the final product looking slightly different depending on whether you read it with a highlighter or a magnifying glass.

Sounds terrible right?

When faced with managing large stylesheets, most devs today prioritize both performance and the developer experience, a shift that has seen a rise in CSS tools that offer greater efficiency and streamlined workflows.

However, efficiency is just one side of the coin, as devs still want the flexibility to exert fine-grained control over various aspects of styling. Hence, the ability to customize their workflow and integrate these tools with existing processes remains crucial.

In this article, we will look at some CSS tools that offer the perfect blend of efficiency and flexibility when handling CSS. These tools help devs create high-performing and maintainable websites, wrangle unruly stylesheets, optimize website performance, and empower you to conquer the modern web.

Without further ado, let’s dive right in!

Tools for efficiency and flexibility

While there are many CSS handling tools available today, we’ve picked the best tools you could use based on:

  • Modularity and code organization
  • Dynamic styling capabilities
  • Developer experience and productivity
  • Performance optimizations
  • Ecosystem and community support

Pigment CSS

The first tool we’ll look at is Pigment CSS, a zero-runtime CSS-in-JS library built to extract the co-located styles into separate CSS files during the build phase and eliminate the need for runtime style processing.

It’s a simple yet efficient trick that gives you a faster, more performant user experience.

Pigment CSS was designed to be a successor to Emotion by offering a superior developer experience while maintaining compatibility with React Server Components, and with over 91k stars on GitHub, some say it’s well on its way to doing that. Pigment CSS’s zero-runtime approach comes at the cost of increased build time, but it’s a worthwhile trade-off for projects that prioritize runtime performance, especially for those with complex design systems.

Benefits of Pigment CSS

  • Zero-runtime CSS-in-JS: With this tool, styles are extracted to separate CSS files during build time, which means browsers don't have to wait for JavaScript to generate styles, leading to a quicker rendering of the initial page content
  • Support for modern CSS features: Pigment CSS lets you use CSS variables and color-mix() to unlock features like color transformations and theme variables necessary for maintaining sophisticated design systems
  • Alignment with React ecosystem: Being designed specifically for React applications, Pigment CSS aligns well with the React ecosystem, benefiting from its integration with popular React tools and libraries
  • Successor to Emotion and styled-components: As stated earlier, Pigment CSS offers an alternative approach to more traditional CSS-in-JS libraries


Next-Yak is a CSS-in-JS solution specifically designed to find a middle ground between speed and API complexity in Next.js projects. In this case, it combines the best of both worlds, offering the expressive power that styled-components is known for with the efficient build-time extraction of CSS championed by Next.js.

Next-Yak allows you to write clear and maintainable CSS code directly within your React components using the familiar syntax of styled-components, so it has a smooth learning curve. However, it doesn’t stop there. Next-Yak takes things a step further by using the built-in CSS handling capabilities of Next.js to extract styles from your components and generate separate CSS files.

This approach eliminates the need for runtime processing and results in faster applications.

Benefits of Next-Yak

  • High performance: With Next-Yak, performance optimization is a breeze. It offers many performance optimization techniques, including automatic vendor prefixing, dead code elimination, and efficient style injection to minimize overhead and improve rendering speed, resulting in faster load times for your Next.js applications
  • styled-components syntax: Using styled-components' familiar syntax, Next-Yak allows you to comfortably write clear and maintainable CSS code directly within your React components and promote better code organization and understanding within your team. There’s no need for everyone to take a course on how to use this tool
  • Modular organization: Next-Yak encourages a modular approach to styling with separate style files based on your needs. You can import specific styles from different files, leading to cleaner, more manageable stylesheets and improved maintainability


When styled-components hit the CSS scene, it caught many developers' eyes with its core concept: component-level styling. With this approach, your styles are defined directly within your React components using template literals and tagged functions. It’s a straightforward technique that keeps styles tightly coupled with their corresponding components, making your code easier to find, understand, and modify.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you want to create a Card component that changes color based on a type prop. With styled-components, you can create this easily, like so:

import styled from 'styled-components';

const Card = styled.div`
  background-color: ${(props) => props.type === 'primary' ? '#007bff' : (props.type === 'secondary' ? '#6c757d' : '#ffc107')};
  /* Other styles... */

function MyComponent() {
  return (
      <Card type="primary">Primary Card</Card>
      <Card type="secondary">Secondary Card</Card>
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This simple example shows how you can use styled-components to create dynamic and reusable styles for your React components cleanly and efficiently. styled-components shine the most when used in React, and, when compared to other popular solutions like SCSS, it's considered a more elegant solution.

Benefits of styled-components

  • Prop-driven styling: You can use prop-driven styling to create UIs that adapt to different states, user interactions, or data variations. Imagine a button that changes color based on an isActive prop, or a card that adjusts its layout based on the content it displays. This flexibility is crucial for building engaging and dynamic user interfaces
  • Server-side rendering (SSR) support: styled-components provides out-of-the-box support for server-side rendering, ensuring consistent styling between the server and client. This helps search engines properly index your content with the correct styles applied and is great news for apps that prioritize performance and SEO like e-commerce apps
  • Improved developer experience: styled-components is built by developers, for developers. It streamlines the development workflow, eliminating the need to switch between separate CSS files and JavaScript components, and making it easier to understand styles in the context of their associated components. All of these just make life easier for developers

There are many other benefits that styled-components provides, and we cover them in more detail here.


WyW-in-JS, short for "Whatever-you-want-in-JS," is a unique toolkit designed for building various zero-runtime CSS-in-JS libraries. WyW-in-JS puts developers in the driver's seat by allowing them to choose the syntax and features they need for their CSS-in-JS solution, without being tied to a specific implementation.

WyW-in-JS is not a one-trick pony; in addition to its customizability, it also focuses on build-time extraction. During the build process, styles are extracted from your components and written into separate CSS files. As you can imagine, this route eliminates the need for runtime processing and improves performance for end-users.

Benefits of WyW-in-JS

  • Tailored syntax and features: Creating CSS-in-JS libraries with their preferred syntax and functionalities is a breeze with WyW-in-JS. Unlike pre-built solutions, WyW-in-JS lets you design a system that aligns perfectly with your project's specific needs and preferences, and that’s a game changer in many ways
  • Lightweight: WyW-in-JS utilizes a modular approach, so your workflow is cleaner, more organized, and easier to navigate. You import only the functionalities you need, ensuring your CSS-in-JS library stays lightweight and efficient
  • Streamlined workflows: By removing runtime style processing, WyW-in-JS simplifies development workflows, reduces potential bottlenecks, and allows developers to focus on building features without worrying about complex styling logic at runtime

CSS Modules

Managing styles in large React applications can become a hassle as your codebase grows, but not if you use CSS Modules.

CSS Modules is not a tool, but rather a technique used to scope all class names and animation names locally by default. It lets you confine styles to the component where they are defined, preventing them from spilling over and affecting other parts of your application.

If you want to style a button component using CSS modules, here’s how you’d do it:

// Button.module.css
.button {
  background-color: #4CAF50; /* Green */
  color: white;
  padding: 15px 32px;
  text-align: center;
  text-decoration: none;
  display: inline-block;
  font-size: 16px;
  margin: 4px 2px;
  cursor: pointer;

// Button.jsx
import styles from './Button.module.css';

function Button() {
  return (
    <button className={styles.button}>Click me</button>
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This is just a simplified explanation, and if you’d like to know more about how CSS modules work under the hood, we dived deep into CSS Modules here. In summary, CSS Modules are excellent for managing CSS in projects where React developers aim to enhance maintainability and promote. component-based styling

Benefits of CSS Modules

  • Unique class names: CSS Modules automatically generate unique class names for your styles during the build process, eliminating the possibility of conflicts that can occur with manually defined class names used across multiple components
  • Encapsulation: With CSS Modules, each component becomes a self-contained unit with its own encapsulated styles, improving code organization and reusability
  • Reduced complexity: Local scoping simplifies the mental model for understanding how styles are applied, allowing you to focus on styling individual components without worrying about potential conflicts across your entire application


Last but by no means least is Emotion, a tool that provides an efficient and flexible CSS handling solution tailored specifically for React applications.

Like other tools mentioned above, Emotion has a modular and component-scoped approach. But it still manages to stand out with its dynamic styling capabilities, focus on performance, and support for theming and design systems. Emotion is built for developers who want to create visually stunning and highly adaptive user interfaces while promoting maintainable and scalable codebases.

Often compared to styled-components, Emotion’s focus on co-location, dynamic behavior, performance, and developer experience makes it a popular choice for modern React development. However, it’s less complex than styled-components and there are still many key differences in its approach and features.

Benefits of Emotion

  • Dynamic styling: One of Emotion's standout features is its support for dynamic styling. You can easily generate styles based on component props, state, or other runtime variables, enabling the creation of truly adaptive and responsive user interfaces
  • Automatic code-splitting: Emotion takes performance seriously. By default, it automatically splits your styles based on usage, so only the styles used by a specific component are included in the initial bundle. This reduces the initial load time of your application, leading to a faster and smoother user experience
  • Advanced features: Emotion offers a rich set of features beyond basic styling. It supports theming for applying reusable sets of styles across your application, global styles for defining base styles and resets, and even advanced features like lazy loading and CSS preprocessor integration (like Sass) for complex styling needs

Choosing the right tool

All these tools are great for more efficient and flexible CSS handling but they all have distinct features, trade-offs, and philosophies, making it crucial to evaluate them carefully against the specific needs of your project. Before you choose, first consider:

  • Project requirements: The first and foremost factor to consider is your project's requirements. For smaller projects, simpler solutions like CSS Modules or styled-components might suffice. Larger projects with intricate UIs might benefit from the flexibility and theming capabilities of Emotion
  • Desired level of control: Some developers prefer the granular control offered by CSS Modules or styled-components. Others might favor the pre-defined styles and layouts provided by CSS frameworks
  • Team expertise: Consider your team's existing knowledge and preferences. If your team is comfortable with traditional CSS, CSS Modules might be a smooth transition. If they're new to CSS-in-JS, Emotion or styled-components could be good starting points
  • Performance needs: If performance is critical for your project, consider tools like Emotion that prioritize performance, or other tools that offer pre-built, lightweight components


If you’re looking for a tool that lets you handle styles more efficiently and flexibly within your React projects, look no further than these tools. From the local scoping capabilities of CSS Modules to the dynamic, performant nature of CSS-in-JS solutions like Emotion and Next-Yak, these tools offer a significant shift in how you approach styling in React development.

Remember, the perfect CSS tool for your React project depends on your specific needs and preferences. Carefully consider project requirements, developer familiarity, and any additional factors before choosing a solution that’ll help you create beautiful, performant, and maintainable user interfaces.

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