CSS Margin vs. Padding: What’s the Difference?

By James LePage
 on January 23, 2022

CSS Margin vs. Padding: What’s the Difference?

By James LePage
 on January 23, 2022

Have you thought about creating your website? Whether you’re looking to create your own business or set up a blog, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of HTML (HyperText Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). Especially since most people don’t always have it in the budget to hire someone to handle that for them. And that’s okay! We have you covered with this handy guide to margin and padding. 

If you’re a newbie to the design world, you’ll come across CSS properties like margin and padding during the process. While they may sound similar, there are quite a few differences between the two, which could make your website look significantly different if you don’t put the numbers in the right spots. Don’t fret – learning about margin and padding won’t be difficult! 

Padding vs. Margin: What Are They?

Both are design properties developers use to control the space outside and inside of elements on a website, so they can give it a specific look and feel. Each page has elements with content, padding, a border, and a margin. The border separates padding and margin.

Many would describe both as a measure of space from the element's border, but the margin is the invisible space and padding is visible internal space. Both margin and padding are often misunderstood by new designers, which is why this guide is here to help make understanding the two a little easier.

  • Padding is the amount of distance the elements want to keep with the elements that are inside of them. 
  • Margin is the element’s personal space or the distance that the element wants to keep with other elements around it.

Essentially, they’re both used to create gaps around elements, but the method of creating that gap is what’s different. Margin helps the gap by pushing neighboring elements away from it, and padding helps the gap by growing or shrinking the size of the content that’s inside of it.

Understand Your Content Area

Your content area is defined by the content edge, which is also the value of the specific HTML. As an example, when you add <h2> to Understanding Your Content Area to a website, it renders that element as text. If you add an image below the text, it’s defined by the <img> element.

Padding vs. Margin: What’s the Difference?

  • Spacing: A significant difference between margin and padding is spacing. Padding controls the space between the content of an element and the border. Margin controls the space between the border and the other elements around it. Padding defines the space inside an element, and margin defines the space between elements.
  • Background color: The space between the two is invisible, but when color is added to an element, the padding is no longer invisible since it’s taking that color. The space that was created by the margin remains invisible.
  • Set to auto: Many developers want to set elements to auto, such as margin: auto to make it a fixed width. As mentioned above, this centers the element horizontally. Unfortunately, padding can’t be set to auto. 
  • Negative value: Setting the marting values to value makes the items overlap. This can help create beautiful and unique designs. Padding can only be positive. Having negative padding causes the borders to collapse into the content, causing the content area to be smaller than the actual content.
  • Inline elements: Assubf padding to an inline element only makes changes to the left and right sides of the element. 

When Should I Use Padding?


Wondering when padding is the best option for your CSS code and design. Below is a look at some of the reasons why you would use padding:

  • If you don’t want the content touching the edges of the container, then you would use padding. For example, if there are several <p> elements inside of a div and you don’t want the text inside of each of them to touch the div’s border.
  • You would also use padding when the background of the element should be displayed in the gap. For instance, there’s a pink and teal div next to each other, and both divs should touch each other but not their text. 
  • Lastly, to increase the size of the element, such as making a button larger. 

Examples of padding codes include padding-top, padding-bottom, padding-right, and padding-left. The size of the padding area can improve or affect the appearance of the content on a webpage. Change the space between the content and the border using padding: 15px to add a space of 15 pixels.

There’s also the border area that surrounds the padding area. This acts as an edge for the box that’s wrapped around every block-level HTML element. To make the border area visible, simply add the border property to an element.

When Should I Use Margin?


There are a few reasons why a designer would use margin in their CSS code.

  • It’s best to use margin when you need space around an element, or you don’t want to have any elements touching any other elements around it.
  • When you want to center an element horizontally
  • You need overlapping elements
  • To move elements up or down or side to side

Similar to padding, shorthand margin property code looks like margin-top, margin-bottom, margin-right, and margin-left. If you want to change the size of all of the areas at once, there’s a shorthand you can use: margin: 50px. This adds a space of 50 pixels to all sides.

Upgrade Your CSS With Margin and Padding!

To sum everything up, every HTML element you have on a web page is a box with four sides: top, right, bottom, and left. Think of margin as the invisible space around the HTML element that works to push other elements away from it. Padding either reduces or increases the size of the padding area so that there’s space between the content and the border.

Margin and padding work to make your page look sleeker and better than you could ever imagine. Enjoy using their helpful CSS tips when buying your new website.

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Article By
James LePage
James LePage is the founder of Isotropic, a WordPress education company and digital agency. He is also the founder of, a venture backed startup bringing AI to WordPress creators.
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