What Is the Difference Between Padding vs. Margin?

Read this guide to learn the difference between padding vs. margin, when to use padding and margins, and how to use them.

In web development and design, the margin of an element represents the outside space of the element itself, while the padding represents the inner space surrounding the element. It’s important to understand how different components, such as padding and margins, come together to separate text and graphics. Doing so encourages you to create a website that looks clean and is easy to read.

If you’re interested in learning more about what padding and margins are and how they’re used, this guide will cover everything you need to know.

Padding vs. margin explained

When developing a website, padding and margin are essential to ensuring your website's design is uncluttered and sleek. They can also help the loading speed of your website and establish uniformity across all devices and browsers.

What is padding?

Padding is the space between the content and the border of an element. Padding is valuable in making additional space inside an element, keeping it at a set distance from other aspects of a website. Using padding is extremely beneficial when you need to separate text boxes and images while also keeping them aligned.

What is margin?

Margin is the space around the border of an element. The margin surrounding an element will inform the web browser being used of how much space should be left between independent elements and the external margin of the website's page. Margins can also be used to keep different elements an equal distance apart.

Before you begin building any type of website, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the differences and similarities of padding vs. margin to ensure you implement the proper settings for each and use them correctly.

Once you learn the difference between padding vs. margin, you can determine the best method of incorporating both into your own website's layout and design.

Keep the following differences between padding and margins in mind:

  • Padding represents the amount of inner space an element has, while the margin is whitespace available surrounding an element.
  • It’s not possible to set padding to auto padding. However, you can use automatic settings for margins.
  • It’s not possible to use negative values when defining padding, but you can with margins.
  • Padding can be impacted by the styling of other elements on a website. Margin won’t be impacted by the stylization of other elements on a website.

When to use padding vs. margin

It's essential to know when to use padding vs. margin as you build your website. Once you're familiar with the differences between margin and padding, it'll be easier to determine when it's the right time to implement margins on a page and when you should use padding.

Before you begin your website development project, here are a few things about padding and margins to keep in mind.

When to use padding:

  • Change the size of an element. If you want to expand the space around an element, you can add or increase the padding surrounding it. This can be useful when working with interactive items, such as buttons or image-based links.
  • Add space between borders and content. Using padding to add space between content and its corresponding border is one way to ensure the design aligns with other on-page elements. Doing so can help you increase the whitespace of your graphic or website, which is fundamental in web design.

When to use margins:

  • Adjust an element's positioning. One of the most common reasons to use margins when designing and developing a site is to change a specific element's position. Using margins can help you move an element based on whether you prefer it to be centered on your page or positioned to the right or left. You can also choose if the element is fixed and will scroll along the page or if it should remain in one place as a user scrolls.
  • Overlap elements. If you want to overlap specific elements with one another, you can do so using margins. Using a negative margin value is one of the quickest ways to allow elements to overlap with one another.
  • Setting distance. Setting the distance between elements is much easier once you're familiar with margins and how they work. Incorporating the right amount of whitespace can mean the difference between building an attractive website thriving with traffic and turning prospective customers away.

How to use padding and margins in CSS

Once you know when to use padding vs. margins, you can begin learning how to use padding and margins with your website's CSS files.

What is CSS?

CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, is one of the most popular computer programming languages explicitly designed with the stylization of markup in mind. CSS is used with HTML to bring color schemes and other visual elements to life. Without CSS, a website would likely appear plain or outdated and devoid of any color.

CSS allows developers the ability to define the formatting and style of a website's layout, logo, fonts, padding, and more. The use of CSS provides more capabilities when setting the padding and margins of specific elements or universal elements of a website, depending on how the website has been developed and formatted.

Adding margins (CSS)

If you want to add a margin to any web page, you can use your own CSS file to help streamline the process and apply margins across the board. Using a CSS file to set margins in place can help save time without requiring manual editing of each individual page that you would like to use a margin on.

To start adding margins to your website's CSS file, it's important to remember that each HTML element you implement into your website has 4 margins that can be edited and formatted. The 4 margins of HTML elements include: left, top, right, and bottom. When you want to set the margin the same amount on all sides, you can use the simplified margin property rather than specifying each side individually.

For example, if you want to make a section of your website have a margin of 10px, your CSS file may appear with a snippet that looks like this:

#maincontent { margin: 10px; }

However, if you want to edit just the amount of space that an element has from the bottom of a page, your CSS snippet may appear as:

#maincontent { margin-bottom: 10px; }

When using any formatting variation (margin-left, margin-top, margin-right, or margin-bottom), remember that the number you set will be the number of pixels the element appears from said designation. For example, if you set your margin-right to "50px", your element will appear 50px from the far right of the page or the element it's contained within.

Note that it's also possible to apply more than 1 margin value to an element. You can apply 2, 3, or even 4 individual margin definitions to an element based on the current layout and setup of your website. If you choose to incorporate more than one margin value into an element, keep in mind that they'll load and be displayed using the following system:

  • 2 values. Using 2 margin values will apply to both the top and bottom as well as the right and left of an element simultaneously.
  • 3 values. 3 margin values will apply to the top, left, and right (together) and the bottom of an element.
  • 4 values. 4 margin values will apply individually, starting at the top and working their way to the right, bottom, and left.

With the ability to add more than one margin value to an element, you can maintain complete control over how your website's layout loads for your visitors, whether they're browsing on the web or a smartphone.

Adding padding (CSS)

Adding padding to a specific element on your website is similar to adding margins, which is why it's important to understand the difference between margin and padding before getting started with your website or blog design.

Similar to the margin shorthand code, the padding shorthand code uses the word "padding" as a clear indicator of where padding is present in a layout. Additionally, padding also has 4 sides.

If you want to add 20px of padding inside of an element to provide more whitespace for your text or media, you can do so with the following padding settings:

#maincontainer { padding: 20px; }

Padding can also be customized with up to 4 values in total. You can choose to use a universal padding setting to set all sides of an element's padding simultaneously, or you can opt to use 2, 3, or all 4 values when defining the padding of a particular object or web element.

If you choose to use more than 1 value when defining the amount of padding an element has, keep the following in mind:

  • 2 values. Using 2 padding values will cause the element's padding to be applied to both the top and bottom (using the first setting) along with the left and right (using the second value).
  • 3 values. With 3 values, the padding of an element will be applied to the top, to the left and right (using the second value), and then to the bottom.
  • 4 values. If you choose to use all 4 values when defining the padding of an element, each individual value will represent the top, right, bottom, and left of the element.

An element using all 4 values to define its padding may look something like this in your CSS file:

#maincontent { padding: 10px 30px 10px 20px; }

How to use padding and margins in HTML

While many web designers and developers alike choose to use a concise CSS file to load various elements and settings throughout an entire website, it's also possible to use HTML to incorporate different element settings, including padding and margins. Knowing how to use HTML for padding and margins can help you save time the next time you're updating your own website.

What is HTML?

HTML, also known as Hyper Text Markup Language, is the most common web programming language used for building and establishing web pages today. While it's not the most commonly used language for app development or new technology, HTML is a foundational language that has been used to develop most of the web we know and love today. Whether you prefer to work in traditional Notepad to build your websites or HTML editors, HTML has come a long way when it comes to building, designing, and customizing pages today.

While HTML has plenty to offer in developing foundational building blocks and elements of a website, it's still far more tedious to work with when editing and customizing the specifics of various elements, including the margins and padding of an object. Before CSS became more common, tables were typically used to introduce margins and padding for specific elements. Otherwise, the size of each element has to be defined immediately in the code, which doesn't always work well for those interested in responsive and mobile-friendly designs.

In the past, margin and padding may have appeared as the following with the use of HTML:

<table cellspacing=20px cellpadding=20px></table>

Or, you may have used a traditional table setting to manage margins and padding automatically. A typical HTML table appears as:

<table> <tr> <td> </td> </tr> </table>

While it's possible to implement basic settings with HTML, it's best to use both HTML and CSS when developing any website for total customization, especially when setting particular margins and padding preferences.

Tips for using padding and margins

Here are some helpful tips for using paddings and margins:

  1. Use margins to increase the whitespace outside of an element or a page itself. Margins are ideal for working with the exterior of an element. They're useful for larger elements that hold additional components inside. Margins cannot be influenced by outside stylization or any other CSS settings you have in place on your website.
  2. Avoid using simple HTML to format all of your margin and padding settings. If you prefer to have more control over the customization for each of your elements, use CSS.
  3. Familiarize yourself with CSS to implement a CSS file of your own into your website. A CSS file that includes all the padding and margin settings you wish to use will help save time while streamlining your development efforts. Using one concise CSS file is much less tedious than manually entering values, tables, and HTML yourself on each of your pages.
  4. Use basic HTML tables when you do not require or desire CSS. HTML tables can be useful in testing basic wireframe layouts and designs of websites before fleshing them out and adding your own personalization to them.

Wrapping up: Padding vs. margin

Understanding the differences between padding and margin can go a long way when building your own website wireframe and choosing the layout and various elements for any page you create. With Mailchimp, you can always ensure that your newsletters, pages, and campaigns include proper padding and margins. Our marketing tools are accessible and easy to use for everyone.

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