Responsive Font Sizing

Sizing the fonts is the first place where to add fluidity to a Web design. There are multiple ways for sizing the fonts:

  • pixels : specifying the exact pixel size of the fonts gives the greatest control how the text is displayed by the browser. However, there are few problems with this approach. First, pixel based styling of the fonts doesn't cascade. Therefore, you must specify the exact pixel size of all the elements in the page. Second, on devices with different screen sizes and pixel densities the result can be greatly different.
  • ems : the em unit is becoming the most common way of sizing fonts due to its flexibility. One em equals to the current font size. For example, if the text of the body is set to 16px, then 1em = 16px and 2em = 32px. Font sizing with em cascades from parent to children and is resizable by the browser. Paradoxically, one caveat of ems is that it cascades , so the font size of an element depends on the parent which depends on its parent. Sometimes this can lead to an unexpected behaviour when it's not properly controlled.
  • percentages : behaves like ems but ems is more common.
  • rems : rems behaves like ems with the difference that it always refers to the font-size of the root element. While there is a good support for rems on desktop browser, the support on mobile browsers is lacking.

In this example we style the font-size of the headers using ems. Test it in the browser and try to resize the font. The text will resize while keeping the proportions. Note the difference between span and span.smaller

  <h1>Lorem Ipsum</h1>
  <div class='container'>
      <h2>Chapter 1<span>Lorem ipsum</span></h2>
      <p>Lorem ipsum ...</p>
      <h2>Chapter 2<span class='smaller'>Aliquam erat</span></h2>
      <p>Aliquam erat ...</p>
body { font-size: 16px; }
h1 { font-size: 2em; } /* 32px */
h2 { font-size: 1.5em; } /* 24px */
span { font-size: 1em; }
span.smaller { font-size: .6666em; } /* 16px / 24px */