Is There a “Better” Text Decoration?

Are you looking to change the thickness, color, opacity or position of text-decoration? While the following technique isn’t actually using this property, I’m going to demonstrate a way to fake some neat visual changes that simulate this property and take it a step further.

Limitations of text-decoration

There are a few CSS properties that exist to modify the default text-decoration styles, including:

The bad news is that these properties are currently only supported by Firefox (and latest Safari with prefixes). Even if you were OK with only supporting this limited set of browsers, you still can’t change properties such as animation, opacity or thickness.

A New Way

I looked at Wired & The Bold Italic as inspiration for this technique. As I saw these implementations, I knew there had to be a different way to make text-decoration more stylish!

By using box-shadow on a piece of text, you can. Even better, box-shadow has full access to modifying properties like opacity, animations, colors, height, etc! The example below demos this technique.

For an anchor, I’ve applied text-decoration: none to hide the browser default underlining. Then, I’ve added box-shadow: 0 -25px 0 coral inset. Setting the vertical offset (-25px) pulls the box-shadow up underneath the text & gives the underline it’s height. Setting inset puts the underline at the baseline of the text.

You may choose to not disable the underline & feature detect if the browser supports box-shadow to progressively enhance the users experience. You could do this with Modernizr, for instance. This would look something like:

a {
  text-decoration: underline
} a {
  text-decoration: none;
  box-shadow: 0 -25px 0 coral inset;


See the Pen Thick "text-decoration" by Damon Bauer (@damonbauer) on CodePen.

As you can see in the demo, hovering over the text changes the color & height of the underline with a smooth transition. The standard text-decoration can’t do that! It becomes very trivial to make changes to the underlining when using media queries, too. Resizing the window & zooming don’t break this technique, either.


There are a few small caveats that should be noted before implementing this solution.

  • Text being underlined must be display: inline
  • Browser has to support box-shadow; this is actually better than the text-decoration-* properties listed above, though.

So far, the only downside I’ve found to this method refers to the first bullet point above. If you want to constrain the width of the text element, you must do that with a parent element because of the display: inline requirement.