The Five Best CSS Frameworks for Developers and Designers

As you’ve probably noticed, websites nowadays look nothing like they did a couple of years back. That’s because the web is constantly evolving, so CSS frameworks are getting better at making frontend development even more productive and enjoyable. Even though many have opposing opinions about CSS frameworks, the reality is that regardless of whether you love or hate them, they will remain widely used for years to come.

It’s no wonder. Even developers who don’t have a lot of experience can use some of the frameworks in order to create and implement user-friendly UIs. For developers with more knowledge and vast experience, there are also frameworks that are more difficult to learn, can create more complex user experiences, and are thus suitable for their needs.

This article will talk about frameworks that suit any experience level and help you create beautifully designed layouts faster and more efficiently. Along with that, we will discuss what makes them stand out from the competition and what kind of knowledge you need in order to work with them. We will also go over why you should use CSS frameworks and the advantages that they have.

With that said, without further ado, let’s get started.

What are CSS Frameworks?

To put it in simple terms, a CSS framework consists of several CSS stylesheets that are to be used by web designers and developers. These CSS stylesheets are made for use for everyday web design functions such as layout, fonts, navbars, setting colors, etc. Typically, they are expanded and supported by scripting technologies like JavaScript and SASS.

If a user has a complete CSS stylesheet within a CSS framework, he only has to code the HTML with accurate structure, classes, and IDs in order to set up a website. The framework ensures that the classes for common website elements such as sliders, bars, navigation, footers, hamburger menus, and column-based layouts are already built-in.

Why Should You Use a CSS Framework?

You may be wondering why CSS frameworks are essential and what makes them an integral part of modern front-end development. CSS stylesheets are challenging to maintain, organize, and reuse, for starters. Even the most minor changes you need will require you to write new CSS rules, which will make your code overly complicated after a while.

All CSS frameworks are built with ready-to-use classes, and because of that, they allow you to apply pre-defined styling rules to HTML elements, such as background colors, margins, and others. Additionally, some frameworks have pre-built components such as cards, tables, or menus. Using them will allow you to create user-friendly interfaces without having to do a ton of extra work.

Furthermore, CSS frameworks can make your workflow more productive, easier to maintain, and clean. If you don’t have a lot of experience using CSS frameworks and you don’t know where to begin, below we will discuss at length all of the best CSS frameworks that will help you save time and avoid the many headaches that come from CSS coding.

The Five Top CSS Frameworks for Designers and Developers

Now that we know why we need CSS frameworks and why using them will bring many benefits, let’s take a look at the best ones the market currently offers.

Bootstrap

Almost every conversation regarding the best CSS frameworks includes Bootstrap. Twitter first introduced it in 2011 in order to make responsive web design more easily accessible to developers. Ever since then, the project has continued to develop and now supports more CSS and offers dozens of different features that can help improve your front-end design.

Bootstrap is an open-source framework that contains both JavaScript and CSS-based templates. It was one of the first CSS frameworks to popularize the concept of mobile-first responsive design and had the right tool for it to be implemented. Because of that, nowadays, developers don’t have to build separate projects for mobile screens. Instead, they can use Bootstrap classes instead.

However, like most well-known and vastly used things, Bootstrap also faces some criticism. Let’s now take a look at the pros and cons that come from using this CSS framework.

Benefits of Bootstrap

  • Great ecosystem: Bootstrap’s ecosystem is unmatched compared to that of any other front-end framework. It offers an extensive library of themes, UI elements, panels, layouts, panels, modals, buttons, alerts, cards, and more. That makes the work of developers a lot easier since they have a variety of elements to choose from and implement. Along with that, Bootstrap’s community support is the best in the industry.
  • Accelerated prototyping: With Bootstrap, developers can simply write their HTML code and include the relevant CSS classes in order to achieve website responsiveness. This makes the process faster, as they won’t have to adjust for browser incompatibility, CSS positioning, and more.
  • Customizable: You can easily customize Bootstrap using SAAS. You can install the project with npm, import the parts you need and then use SASS variables to do the required customization. If developers learn how to customize Bootstrap websites with SASS, their development efforts will be easier and the job faster.
  • Twitter support: Given that Twitter backs this project, you can be confident that it’s here to stay. Unlike many open-source projects that quickly die out, this one will stand the test of time.

Drawbacks of Bootstrap

  • Hard to override: Bootstrap has a very specific look and design, which can be challenging to override if you decide to switch up the style.
  • Overused: A lot of people dislike Bootstrap because it is so widely used. It offers a very distinct look, and many developers claim that all Bootstrap websites essentially look the same.
  • Relies on jQuery: Bootstrap relies on jQuery for many of its distinct, interactive features. This makes it nearly impossible for it to be used with JavaScript-based frameworks like Vue or React. Bootstrap 5 that is to be released will remove the dependency on jQuery.
  • Heavy to include: Bootstrap’s many valuable features come with some downsides, like the fact that it’s heavy to include.

Tailwind CSS

Tailwind CSS is described as a “utility-first CSS framework,” meaning that it comes with classes equipped to build custom UI designs. It’s a lightweight framework, and it offers freedom to developers to implement their own unique designs and style in a faster, more efficient manner. With Tailwind, CSS coding becomes almost unneeded as the framework offers a ton of utility classes. More experienced frontend developers love it for its outstanding features that can be used for a variety of projects.

Benefits of Tailwind CSS

  • Easy to customize: Tailwind CSS comes with a default configuration that can be overridden thanks to the tailwind.config.js file. It enables you to easily customize themes, spacing, styling, palettes, etc.
  • Atomic CSS: Thanks to Tailwind, common style changes such as creating a flexible layout, centering an element, or using a specific text color can be implemented thanks to powerful utility classes. This methodology is called Atomic CSS, and HTML element’s classes describe what it’s going to look like.
  • No predefined design: Tailwind has no pre-made components or specific design language, so even if you want to change something, you won’t have to override existing styles, which will make you even more efficient and productive when it comes to implementing custom designs.
  • Reusable components: Tailwind may not have any pre-designed components; however, it lets you create your own parts that you can reuse for different projects. The official website also gives you some component examples that you can use in order to make your start a little bit easier.
  • Powerful PostCSS/SASS integration: Tailwind will be most efficient when you import it into your PostCSS or SASS projects. This enables you to use all of the framework’s features to write better CSS.
  • Easy implementation of responsive design: Like Bootstrap, Tailwind CSS has a mobile-first approach. Its utility classes make it easy to create many complex responsive layouts that can be used across multiple breakpoints.

Drawbacks of Tailwind CSS

  • Hard to learn: Tailwind CSS is not a good option for less experienced developers. To use it, you need to understand the way frontend technologies work because it doesn’t provide pre-made components. Tailwind has a very steep learning curve, and you have to learn all the syntax to be productive using the framework.
  • Can’t be used directly: Like most other frameworks, Tailwind can be added to any project as a CSS file. However, if you add the framework in that manner, many of its features will become unavailable, and you won’t be able to access the compressed version.

Foundation

Foundation claims to be “the most advanced responsive frontend framework in the world.” If you use it, you get SASS, CSS UI elements, templates, and a grid so that you can create mobile-friendly designs. Foundation is the preferred choice for many experienced developers who want to have the power of a framework with tons of features while still having the freedom to create custom designs.

In reality, Foundation is not precisely a CSS framework. More so, it can be considered a family of frontend development tools. You can choose to use these tools either separately or together.

Foundation for sites is the core framework you use to create a website. On the other hand, Foundation for emails allows you to build email templates that can be read on any device. Motion UI is the last available tool that will enable you to create CSS animations.

ZURB is the company that created and maintains Foundation and it has a ton of other open-source CSS and Javascript projects.

Benefits of Foundation

  • Generic style: In comparison to Bootstrap, Foundation has no distinct style for its components. It uses a wide range of flexible and modular components that can be easily customized and have minimal styling.
  • All needed features: Foundation has a ton of built-in components – things like navigation bars, multiple containers, and a grid system are included from the start. Along with that, you get access to pre-made HTML templates that were either made by other members of the community or from a development team. You can use them to begin working on your own custom projects.
  • Email templates: Finding great email templates can be a difficult job. That’s because developers have to write in old-school HTML code so that the templates are suitable for older clients. That means that features such as responsive design are hard to be included. With Foundation for emails, you can create responsive email templates that suit any client.
  • Training: ZURB has multiple training courses and consulting options for Foundation. This can be very helpful when you want to work on more significant projects with the help of the Foundation.
  • Terrific animations: Foundation has easy integration with Motion UI’s library, which means you can create a smooth transition and animations thanks to the built-in effects.

Drawbacks of Foundation

  • Difficult to master: Foundation has a ton of options. It has many features and is much more complex than most frameworks. It gives you the freedom to create custom frontend layouts; however, it takes time to understand how to do so.
  • Based on Javascript: A ton of Foundation’s features rely either on jQuery, Zepto, or Javascript. This makes it hard for the framework to work with projects made on React or Angular.

Bulma

Bulma is a responsive, open-source CSS framework that was based on Flexbox. From the start, it has a wide range of built-in features that make it faster for you to create incredible layouts and minimize the CSS coding that has to be done. It also allows you to import the elements you want to use, which will make the process even easier. Along with that, Bulma’s source code is free to download, and users can change its functionality to suit their needs.

Bulma is popular because it uses no JavaScript components, has a CSS-only methodology, and gives you visually appealing defaults to begin with.

Benefits of Bulma

  • Easy to use: Bulma is a preferred tool for many designers and developers because it has a highly customizable nature and a modular design approach. The responsive templates it offers help you spend less time on design efforts. The rich catalog of components from navigation bars, panels, dropdown menus, etc., makes the job even more accessible. Bulma also has a ton of starter templates and interactive tutorials.
  • Easy to learn: Bulma is made to be able to solve practical problems. The whole idea behind it is to be easy to use, so most developers quickly know how to use it.
  • Modern: Bulma was one of the first frameworks to become Flexbox-based, and so its CSS Flexbox layout module makes it easier to create responsive designs.
  • Aesthetically pleasing: Bulma is perhaps the best-looking CSS framework. It has a modern and clean design, and even the defaults look good enough to create a responsive, aesthetic website.
  • Constantly updated: Bulma is a relatively new CSS framework, so it regularly gets updated. New features are added on a consistent basis, and bugs are addressed proactively.

Drawbacks of Bulma

  • Unique style: Bulma’s distinct style is not always good. Since it’s pretty easy to be spotted, you may end up with several websites that look almost identical when it gets overused.
  • Not as complete: It can be said that Bulma’s competition is Bootstrap; however, the downside is that Bulma still doesn’t have as many features as its direct competitor.

UIkit

UIkit is the preferred framework for many developers as it offers easy API and a clean-cut design. It is a modular framework that allows users to import only features you need for your work. Additionally, UIkit offers a pro-version that offers themes pages that can be used with Joomla and WordPress, and it has an additional page builder that’s exceptionally user-friendly.

Benefits of UIkit

  • Tons of components: UIkit has many components, and thus it allows users to implement complex frontend layouts. It has all the necessary utilities and components. It even goes a step further and gives you access to advanced elements such as off-canvas sidebars, parallax designs, and navigation bars.
  • Easy to extend: One of the cool things about UIKit is that it can be extended and customized using SASS and LESS preprocessors.
  • UI-based customizer: This framework has a web-based customizer that allows users to customize the design in real-time and then copy the LESS or SASS variables into the project. This additional feature genuinely separates UIkit from the other frameworks and makes it a lot easier for you to start projects.

Drawbacks of UIkit

  • Too complex for smaller projects: UIkit is not a framework that’s to be used by less experienced developers and for smaller projects. It’s relatively complex and requires you to have an in-depth understanding of front-end development.
  • Smaller community: This framework is not as popular as some of the other ones we already discussed. Even though its npm package has over 27,000 downloads, it’s still hard to find people who have experience with UIKit in case you need any help.

Which Is the Best CSS Framework?

In this article, we’ve taken an in-depth look into some of the top-notch CSS frameworks that exist currently. In one way or another, each of them helps you boost your productivity and make life as a developer easier.

Some of the frameworks have more features and built-in components like Bulma and Bootstrap, and so they can be a good fit for less experienced frontend developers. On the other hand, frameworks like UIKit and Tailwind provide only utility classes. They have no styling, so they are great for more experienced frontend developers who want to have more freedom and create highly customized layouts.

We assume that most developers won’t want to learn new frameworks all the time. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to stay competitive in tech without constantly updating your skills and knowledge; however, it’s good if a framework can remain relevant for long periods as that justifies the time you will spend learning it. Along with that, selecting a framework with high-level community support like Foundation or Bootstrap will make a choice feel safer as you will have more specialists to work with, and you will be able to get more adequate help if you need it.

On the other hand, if you just get stuck with the frameworks that have more significant communities, there’s a chance you may miss out on a new, better option that can improve your coding productivity.

Choosing which framework to use depends mainly on what kind of needs you have and what kind of risks you are willing to take. If you’re okay with taking a risk, learning new frameworks, and accepting some minor bugs, then you may find that some of the more unique solutions are more fitting for you. However, if you’re looking for long-term solutions and need enterprise-level features, then opting for a more well-known and widely used framework may be the way to go.

In the end, you can argue all day about which is better, Tailwind CSS vs. Bootstrap or Bulma vs. Bootstrap. However, the choice you make should depend on your needs and your learning experience. Currently, you can find many CSS and JavaScript frameworks on the web, and if you’re new to the development frame, you should look for frameworks with more community support. If you have the needed experience, then you might look into some new and improved frameworks that will expand your knowledge.

Conclusion

As you’ve come to know, there are many benefits that come from using CSS frameworks. They make your work as a developer easier and more efficient, and there are different ones that suit any kind of experience level and need. Our advice is to use this list and the advice given in the article in order to decide which is the best CSS framework for you.

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