Transform-style opens up some cool possibilities

Oct 7 2018

I don’t do a lot of fancy transitions with CSS. I’m a fan of minimilism in general, so simple layouts with simple effects tend to win me over. Because of this, I haven’t spent much time playing with anything 3D related with CSS very much. I’ve toyed around with persepective a little, but that’s about it.

That is, until I saw a tweet (that I’ve since been unable to refind) that had a cool effect in it. I was intrigued, and tried to replicate it for fun, but I wasn’t able to do it until I discovered tranform-style.

What is transform-style?

It is an interesting property that deals with the 3D position of the children of an element.

transform-style comes with only two values:

Normally a child element can have some 3D type stuff done to it, say a rotation, but it’s only visual. It’s still flat on the parent. transform-style let’s us have children also be in the 3D space. And that might have left you confused, as it’s really hard to explain with words. Let’s look at some examples to clear things up.

See the Pen transform-style - rotating by Kevin (@kevinpowell) on CodePen.

If you hover over the above example, you’ll see the parent rotate on the Y-axis. Nothing fancy going on here at all. The child is inside the parent, so it rotates along with it, and everything works as you’d expect.

We can take this up another level by rotating the child inside the parent as well. I’m not sure why you’d do this, because as we can see below, it just looks a little strange. But we can do it.

See the Pen transform-style - rotating parent and child by Kevin (@kevinpowell) on CodePen.

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That above example can get really interesting if we add transform-style: preserve-3d; to this one. At first it looks a little broken, but once you hover on the parent, you’ll imediately understand what’s happening.

See the Pen transform-style - rotating parent and child with preserve-3d by Kevin (@kevinpowell) on CodePen.

That’s really cool, right?

What preserve-3d is doing.

When we rotate the parent, normally the children stay ‘flat’ with it, which is why that’s the default property for transform-style. This is probably what you want most of the time, but sometimes, you might want the child to behave different.

So with transform-style: preserve-3d on the parent element, it’s keeping the 3d-ness of the children. So as you can see in the example above, it opens up some pretty cool possibilities. I’m playing around with this a lot right now to see what I can come up with, and so far I’m really enjoying some of the little things you can do with it.

Browser support

This part is usually a ‘this is cool, but…’ type thing, but browser support is really good on this! As usual, IE is the downfall here. But, even though that’s the case, it’s not the end of the world. As long as the preserve-3d isn’t essential to the entire thing being accessible, even if it fails it’s probably not the end of the world. Of course, the above example is a time when it failing might cause an issue, but for most of the use cases I’ve been finding for it, it wouldn’t be a problem. Just keep it in mind when you play with it, and see it as a progressive enhancement.

Seeing it in more action

This is an update to the original post. I’ve since published a video on my channel where I go a bit more in depth and do some more fun stuff with this! Click here to watch the video.

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While creating my YouTube videos, I come across a lot of fun snippits of information and little known CSS properties that aren't really worth building full videos about. I share the cool little things I run across (like you read in this post), as well as some design tips and tricks, with a new post every Sunday. Sign up below to never miss a post.

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