Sass Sundays: A Button Framework for your Projects

I love Sass. It’s my bread & butter these days – I read, write and research Sass for most of my workday. Heck, for most of my day. It really transformed the way I work.

Sass really shines in making boring, repetitive styling more efficient and, dare I say, fun. I also happen to love styling buttons but their styling can get redundant after a while, so let’s get to that!

I posted a simple button framework in Sassmeister yesterday. Let’s take a deeper look at it.

<button class="btn btn--primary">Primary button</button>
<button class="btn btn--primary">Secondary button</button>

The HTML is pretty straightforward. Just a <button> and two classes. The first class adds the basic styles, stuff like typography and padding, while the second class determines its colours. Quite basic.

I prefer using multiple classes when coding HTML because I like the luxury of using just one class (.btn in this case) to target all buttons in a module. Sure, I could use a selector like [class^="btn--"] but an extra class just works better for me.

I also use the BEM syntax for this. BEM is a convention created by the intelligent folks at Yandex which I consider one of the best ways to write modular CSS. I won’t say more, just read this excellent article by Harry Roberts on that.

Now, the magic. I use Sass & Compass in this example, but this can easily be done in vanilla Sass as well.

// ----
// Sass (v3.3.0.rc.1)
// Compass (v0.13.alpha.10)
// ----
@import "compass";

// Basic button styles
.btn {
  cursor: pointer;
  border: none;
  border-radius: 2px;
  display: inline-block;
  text-align: center;
  vertical-align: middle;
  padding: 8px 16px;
  box-shadow: 0 1px 2px black(0.1), inset 0 1px 0 white(0.15), inset 0 -1px 0 black(0.15);
  font: bold 14px "Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, sans-serif;
  white-space: nowrap;
  &#038;.active {
    outline: none;
    position: relative;
    top: 1px;
    box-shadow: inset 0 2px 4px rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.15);
// Button mixin
@mixin button($background-color, $text-color) {
  @include background(linear-gradient(lighten($background-color, 3%), darken($background-color, 3%)));
  color: $text-color;
  @if lightness($text-color) < 50% {
    text-shadow: 0 1px 0 rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.6);
  } @else {
    text-shadow: 0 -1px 0 rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.3);
  &#038;.hover { 
    @include background(linear-gradient(lighten($background-color, 5%), darken($background-color, 1%)));
    text-decoration: none;
// Colour variations
.btn--primary   { @include button(#ea6ca4, #fff); }
.btn--secondary { @include button(#d6d6d6, #707070); }

First, I add some basic styles to the .btn class. That way, even if I don’t add a second class for some reason, I still have a simple button that doesn’t look broken. This class also includes the :active state styles, since these are common for all buttons (a tiny nudge downwards and a different shadow).

Then I create a button mixin which will generate all colour-related styles for our buttons. It takes two arguments, the background color and text colour respectively. It creates a light gradient by combining a slightly darker and a slightly lighter version of the background colour, then checks to see if the background is dark or light and adds a bottom white or top black shadow to create an inset effect. It also adds hover styles by tweaking the background gradient to a lighter effect.

And that’s pretty much it! Check the section below for some tweaks you could do. Now get this into a _buttons.scss partial and get cracking!

Possible optimizations

As I mentioned above, I’m a fan of the multi-class approach. If you wish to just use one class for your buttons, you can convert the .btn class above to a placeholder (%btn), then you can extend it in each of your colour classes to get the same result. That’s what Elyse Holladay does in her take here.

You can also automate the text colour depending on the background and thus reduce the number of arguments of the button mixin to one. You can use the text-shadow trick I’ve used above or one of the more advanced techniques that can be found in this amazing presentation. So much win!

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