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You’ve already done a bit of text-manipulation in our Foundations lessons. This lesson will cover a few more useful CSS properties that can be used when working with text.

Lesson overview

This section contains a general overview of topics that you will learn in this lesson.

  • You’ll learn how to use custom fonts on your web projects.
  • You’ll learn some more text-related CSS properties.


In our Foundations lesson, we covered changing the font-family of an element, but there is some nuance and detail that we left out at the time.

The system font stack

If you use the font-family property to change to a font like impact or Times New Roman, and those fonts do not happen to be installed on your user’s computer, then a fallback font will be displayed. If you have not defined a fallback, then the default HTML font will be used, which is often somewhat ugly. For this reason, it’s common to see somewhat long stacks of fonts listed on projects.

One popular stack is CSS Tricks’ system font stack.

body {
  font-family: system-ui, "Segoe UI", Roboto, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif, "Apple Color Emoji", "Segoe UI Emoji", "Segoe UI Symbol";

The point of this somewhat ridiculous string of font-families is to try using the default font of the system’s user interface. It will go through each of those fonts until it finds one that is installed on the system, and then use that. Using a stack like this often produces pleasing results, especially if you’re going for a somewhat ‘neutral’ font style.

Web fonts

If you want to use a font that will not be available on the user’s device, you will need to import the font from an online source, either a font library or an asset on your site. Both methods will import the font and make it accessible in your CSS font-family property.

Keep in mind that it’s important to add a fallback font. If you’re linking to an external API, you have no guarantee that the URL won’t change, or that the external API won’t go down at some point. Having a reasonable fallback means that if something goes wrong, at least your site won’t look completely broken.

There are performance issues with using imported files, which you will read more about in the assignments. Therefore, it is best to use a font stack instead of imported fonts if your design allows for it. However, there are times you will want to use an imported font.

Online font libraries

One popular and easy method to get fonts that are not installed on a user’s device is to use an online font library.

To use a font from one of these libraries, go to the website, select a font and then copy a snippet from the website to import that font from their server into your website. You’ll be given either a <link> tag to put in your HTML like so….

<link rel="preconnect" href="https://fonts.googleapis.com">
<link rel="preconnect" href="https://fonts.gstatic.com" crossorigin>
<link href="https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Roboto&display=swap" rel="stylesheet">

… or an @import tag that can be dropped at the top of a CSS file.

@import url('https://fonts.googleapis.com/css2?family=Roboto&display=swap');

An important consideration when using a font library is the library’s privacy policies and any regulations you may need to comply with. For example, using the Google Fonts API violates the European GDPR. If you are concerned about complying with such regulations, you can download the font from the library and host it yourself.

Self hosted fonts

It is also possible to use a font that you have downloaded from the web. In your CSS file, you import and define a custom font using the @font-face rule, and then use it as you would any other font-family. There are multiple types of font file formats and you can read more in depth about them on fileinfo.com’s page on Font File Formats. Please take care when choosing a font file format however, because some are not universally supported by browsers. A list of browsers and the font formats they support can be found on W3 Schools’ page on CSS Web Fonts.

@font-face {
  font-family: my-cool-font;
  src: url(../fonts/the-font-file.woff);

h1 {
  font-family: my-cool-font, sans-serif;

This method may be more reliable than relying on a third-party font API, but it is always wise to include a fallback.

Text styles

You learned the basics of manipulating fonts in our Foundations lessons, but there is quite a bit more that you can do with CSS when it comes to manipulating text styles. These rules are all relatively simple and self-explanatory. You can refer to the docs for any questions you might have.


Typically used to make a font italic. You learned about the HTML <em> tag, which uses an italic font, but <em> also signifies that the text it wraps is significant or should be emphasized in some way. A good rule of thumb to follow is that if you just want text to be italic (or bold, underlined, highlighted, etc.), use a CSS property. Otherwise, if text should have some sort of semantic emphasis, use the correct HTML element.

For example, if you want all your header text to be italic you should use font-style to accomplish this. If you want some text in the middle of a sentence to appear italic in order to emphasize that text, it is appropriate to use an em element. The MDN doc on the Emphasis Element puts stress on our point above.

We should use font-style: italic; if italics is required for styling purposes.

h1 {
  font-style: italic;

We should use the em element if italics is required for emphasis.

<p>I <em>never</em> said he stole your money</p>
<p>I never said <em>he</em> stole your money</p>
<p>I never said he stole <em>your</em> money</p>


Letter spacing does what you would expect…. it changes the space between letters in a word. This can be useful for adjusting custom fonts that you feel have too much or too little space. It can also be aesthetically pleasing in some cases, like headers.

See the Pen Letter Spacing | CSS Text Styles by TheOdinProject (@TheOdinProjectExamples) on CodePen.

Obviously, use this sparingly and with care. Do not make your site hard to read!


Line height adjusts the space between lines in wrapped text. Adding a little line-height can increase readability.

See the Pen Line Height | CSS Text Styles by TheOdinProject (@TheOdinProjectExamples) on CodePen.


Text transform changes the case of the given text. You can use this, for example, to force your heading tags to be all uppercase, or to capitalize every word.

Usage can be seen in the clear example on these MDN web docs.


As you might expect, text-shadow adds a shadow around the text in the selected element. This one is best used sparingly, but can be used to great effect in headings or other presentational text.

The examples on the MDN reference page for text-shadow show how to use it.


This one isn’t a single property, but it’s a useful trick to keep in your toolbox. With the text-overflow property, you can truncate overflowing text with an ellipsis. Making an overflow happen, however, requires the use of a couple other properties because the default behavior of text printing outside its container isn’t technically considered an overflow (that’s confusing, we know. Sorry.)

The full snippet is:

.overflowing {
  white-space: nowrap;
  overflow: hidden;
  text-overflow: ellipsis;

You can see more detail and an example in this CSS Tricks article on ellipsis overflow. (Be ready to go look that article up every time you want to use this.)


  1. Read MDN’s article on web fonts and do the exercises.
  2. Read Font Best Practices to understand some of the performance considerations of imported fonts and how to mitigate issues with them.
  3. Read web.dev Typography to understand some important considerations for developers with typography.

Knowledge check

The following questions are an opportunity to reflect on key topics in this lesson. If you can’t answer a question, click on it to review the material, but keep in mind you are not expected to memorize or master this knowledge.

Additional resources

This section contains helpful links to related content. It isn’t required, so consider it supplemental.

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