Using Aspect Ratio in CSS

Written on September 12, 2018

The aspect ratio of an element describes the proportional relationship between its width and its height. Depending on the device you are using to access a responsive web page the content may be a different size. The same content will most likely need to keep its aspect ratio whatever the device so that the content makes sense and looks good. It is all about looking good.

In front end web development there are different ways to determine the aspect ratio of an element. These include defining height/width in ems and defining the
font-size of a given element and using viewport width, vw to style responsively.

There are many mixins for sass, which make light work of aspect ratios. This post is to briefly explain a way to achieve a scalable image using the :before pseudo class and parent and its child element.

Let’s use two separate div elements, one called .image, and inside of that another, .image__content.

The goal here is to position .image ‘relatively’ so that it will take on a parental role. We want our .image__content to completely fill .image, which can be done by telling .image__content to have a ‘position: absolute’ and telling it to begin at each side of the .image div. Next we will add a background-image too. We will make our .image:before class have ‘width: 100%’ and instruct it that it has content. Both our .image__content and :before class need to be ‘block’ elements. By adding padding-top to the .image:before, we determine the height of .image__content and its background-image.

All that is left to do is to set the width of .image now that .image__content fills it and is set to the correct aspect-ratio. See below for a working example ↓ . :point_down:


<div class="image">
  <div class="image__content">


.image {
 position: relative;
 width: 40%;

  display: block;
  width: 100%;
  content: "";
/*padding-top = height/width x 100  */

.image__content {
  display: block;
  position: absolute;
  top: 0;
  bottom: 0;
  left: 0;
  right: 0;
  background-image: url("");
  background-size: contain;
  background-repeat: no-repeat;
  background-position: center;
Written on September 12, 2018