How to work with the CSS `transform` property

Transforms allow you to translate, rotate, scale, and skew elements, in the 2D or 3D space. They are a very cool CSS feature, especially when combined with animations.

2D transforms

The transform property accepts those functions:

  • translate() to move elements around
  • rotate() to rotate elements
  • scale() to scale elements in size
  • skew() to twist or slant an element
  • matrix() a way to perform any of the above operations using a matrix of 6 elements, a less user friendly syntax but less verbose

We also have axis-specific functions:

  • translateX() to move elements around on the X axis
  • translateY() to move elements around on the Y axis
  • scaleX() to scale elements in size on the X axis
  • scaleY() to scale elements in size on the Y axis
  • skewX() to twist or slant an element on the X axis
  • skewY() to twist or slant an element on the Y axis

Here is an example of a transform which changes the .box element width by 2 (duplicating it) and the height by 0.5 (reducing it to half):

.box {
	transform: scale(2, 0.5);

transform-origin lets us set the origin (the (0, 0) coordinates) for the transformation, letting us change the rotation center.

Combining multiple transforms

You can combine multiple transforms by separating each function with a space.

For example:

transform: rotateY(20deg) scaleX(3) translateY(100px);

3D transforms

We can go one step further and move our elements in a 3D space instead than on a 2D space. With 3D, we are adding another axis, Z, which adds depth to out visuals.

Using the perspective property you can specify how far the 3D object is from the viewer.


.3Delement {
  perspective: 100px;

perspective-origin determines the appearance of the position of the viewer, how are we looking at it in the X and Y axis.

Now we can use additional functions that control the Z axis, that adds up to the other X and Y axis transforms:

  • translateZ()
  • rotateZ()
  • scaleZ()

and the corresponding shorthands translate3d(), rotate3d() and scale3d() as shorthands for using the translateX(), translateY() and translateZ() functions and so on.