Back to Basic: Should we use Rem, Em or Pixel?

Written on March 11, 2021 by

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Theodorus Clarence.

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Introduction

Using Rem and Em units is better than using px.

When we use px, it means that we hardcode the font-size to all of the users. The user can't change the value whatsoever. This actually troubles the user that wants to have a bigger font-size from the default 16px

How do rem works?

Rem and Em is a relative unit that many developers use to preserve accessibility.

Rem (root em) stands for "root element's font-size"

Usually, the default root font-size is 16px. So, if we see a font-size that is 1rem, we are looking at 16px

Because Rem means root element's font-size, we can also override the default value by using CSS like this:

:root {
font-size: 20px;
}
css

Because we changed the root font-size, now 1rem = 20px

What if we want to use value other than 16px?

We can get the rem value of a pixels by dividing it with 16px. For example, if we want to use a font-size of 20px, we will write font-size: 1.25rem. Which is 20/16.

But it's so annoying ?!

Yep, using rem will make the development process longer because we need to calculate the rem value. But this gives some freedom to the user, and we are not messing with the accessibility.

They can change the font-size like this:

Resize Rem

How do em works?

Em stands for "parent element's font-size"

Because css is cascading and inheritable, em will inherit font-size value from the parent element. For example, we have a parent div, and p tag inside:

<div>
<p>hi</p>
</div>
<style>
div {
font-size: 0.5rem; // 8px
}
p {
font-size: 1em; // ??px
}
</style>
html

Because p inherit the parent element's font-size, so 1em = 8px. This means, that the p will have font-size: 8px.

That kind of confusing right? That's why using em for font-size is not recommended.

Always use REM for font-size to be consistent.

Where can we use em unit?

Because of the inheritable, em unit will be helpful for padding and *margin. By using em, we can make the padding and margin scale proportionately

For example, we are making a button. The button can have different font-sizes in mobile and desktop view. We can see the difference between rem and em on this codepen:

As we can see, by using em the padding stays proportionate to the scaling of font-size. Whereas rem has the same padding value on any font-sizes.

Do we really can't use px anymore?

For me, usage of rem and em will be very good on the elements that are crucial like font-size, padding, and margin. But, when giving out border-width, I do still use px value because the value we give is so small that it is almost not noticeable if we change the root font-size.

Summary

There you go. Try to always use rem for font-size. And utilize the benefit of em for the proportionate padding if you need to.

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