I generally try to avoid using images or Javascript when I can accomplish good presentation with CSS. In this case, I wanted to apply CSS shapes to make a clever speech bubble.

The problem with obtuse triangles and CSS

Obtuse triangles are slightly more complicated, since you can only create acute and right triangles with the CSS shapes method linked above. Therefore I created two triangles: a positive (black) right triangle, and then a negative (white) triangle to emulate an obtuse triangle.


<blockquote class="bubble">
    <!-- Black (positive) triangle -->
    <span class="arrow">
        <!-- White (negative) triangle -->
        <span> </span>
    Content inside bubble

Any tag combination will work as long as the CSS shape elements are inline elements.


The two key parts of the CSS are the rounded corners (available in major, non-IE browsers) and the arrow that extends from the bubble.

.bubble { 
    margin: 8px 0;
    padding: 10px; 
    position: relative; 
  /* Adjust these to taste */
    width: 175px; 
    border: 2px solid #000; 
    -moz-border-radius: 15px; 
    -webkit-border-radius: 15px; 
    border-radius: 15px; /* Opera and Chrome */
.bubble .arrow { 
    border-bottom: 0px solid #FFF; 
    border-right: 20px solid #000; 
    border-top: 15px solid #FFF; 
    position: absolute; 
    left: -20px; 
    top: 5px; 
    height: 0; 
    width: 0; 
    line-height: 0; 
.bubble .arrow span { 
    border-bottom: 0px solid transparent; 
    border-right: 20px solid #FFF; 
    border-top: 8px solid transparent; 
    width: 0; 
    height: 0; 
    line-height: 0; 
    position: absolute; 
    left: -2px; 
    top: -8px; 

After all this, we have:

CSS Bubble image

I haven’t done so here, but you can can create more interesting elliptical borders with:

    padding: 25px; /* <- increase padding to avoid text overlap of the ellipse */
  /* attribute: width / height */
    -moz-border-radius: 60px / 15px; 
    -webkit-border-radius: 60px / 15px; 
    border-radius: 60px / 15px;

Note that Opera uses border-radius and that Safari/Chrome does not support percentages. I know this doesn’t look as pretty in IE, but it’s a neat “progressive enhancement”. This might be a great idea for comments, twitter statuses or sub-headings.

There probably is a clever way to inherit a transparent color from a parent element, but I didn’t really take the time to dig into it. If you have improvements, I’d love to hear them.

Posted on .