Using filter effects

Have you ever hovered over a black-and-white or sepia image and the full-color image came into view instantly? Have you ever encountered a background image with a small blurred-out section that makes the text on top more legible? In the past, these manipulations required image editing software, time, and additional HTTP requests.

Advantages of using CSS filter effects

The Filter effects module in CSS provides properties and functions that let you apply the visual effects described above without using Photoshop or sending extra HTTP requests. The only software required is the user's browser. Moreover, unlike pre-set image effects, CSS filter effects are responsive and animatable.

The CSS filter effects module provides the filter and backdrop-filter properties that you can use to impact the rendering of text, images, backgrounds, and borders, or any element on which you apply these properties. This module also defines the <filter-function> data type that lets you add graphical effects such as blurring or color shifting. Using the filter functions, you can not only alter the appearance of an element but also reference an SVG filter using a filter that you create.

Filter effect properties

The following two filter properties of the CSS filter effects module enable you to apply zero, one, or more graphical effects to an element:

  • Using the filter property, you can apply filter effects such as blur, drop-shadow, and sepia to an element before the element is rendered. The filters effects are applied directly on the element, including the element's contents, borders, and padding.
  • Using the the backdrop-filter property, you can apply graphical effects to the area behind an element (the element's "backdrop"). The backdrop-filter property is often used to make the foreground content more legible, especially when the larger area on which the content is placed otherwise does not provide enough contrast for the content. The filter effects are applied only to the background of the element and not to the element's content.

The filter and backdrop-filter properties accept a space-separated list of filters, which are applied in the order declared.

Filter functions

The CSS filter effects module provides 10 <filter-function> functions, as well as the ability to define an almost endless array of effects using SVG filters applied via a url() reference.

The following table lists the 10 filter functions, along with their value types, the minimum valid value if applicable, the largest value that creates an effect, and the initial value used for interpolation.

Filter function Parameter type Min value Max effect Interpolation value Default value (no effect)
blur() <length> 0 0 blur(0)
brightness() <number> or <percentage> 0 1 brightness(1) or brightness(100%)
contrast() <length> 0 1 contrast(1) or contrast(100%)
drop-shadow() <shadow> 0 0 0 currentcolor drop-shadow(0 0 0 currentcolor)
grayscale() <number> or <percentage> 0 100% 0 grayscale(0) or grayscale(0%)
hue-rotate() <angle> 0 hue-rotate(0deg)
invert() <number> or <percentage> 0 100% 0 invert(0) or invert(0%)
opacity() <number> or <percentage> 0 100% 1 opacity(1) or opacity(100%)
saturate() <number> or <percentage> 0 100% 1 saturate(100%)
sepia() <number> or <percentage> 0 100% 0 sepia(0%)

The minimum value allowed is included for filter functions that have a minimum value. Including a value less than the minimum value for any filter function invalidates the entire property declaration, not just the offending filter function in the comma-separated list.

The maximum effect value can be exceeded. Including a value greater than the listed maximum value is valid, but it does not increase the effect over the listed maximum value. In other words, the effect on the element will look the same as when the maximum effect value is set. For example, setting sepia(400%) in the sepia example will produce the same effect as sepia(100%), the maximum value.

The default value is a value that creates no effect. While these values create no effect, they provide the initial interpolation values and offer an example of how the value can be set. These default values provide a gauge between the minimum value allowed and the maximum effect value.

Applying filter effects

The filter and backdrop-filter properties accept a filter function list, which may contain one or more <filter-function>s, the default keyword none, or an SVG filter as a url() value.

Applying sepia filter effect

If you hover over the sepia image below, you'll see the full-color image come into view instantly.

The image is set to be sepia by specifying the value of the filter property as the sepia() filter function. The filter is removed on :hover and :focus by setting filter: none.

<img tabindex="0" alt="Four trans-people, circa 1912" src="activists.jpg" />
img {
  filter: sepia(100%);
img:focus {
  filter: none;

In the <img> element, tabindex is set to 0 to enable focus without altering the tabbing order for keyboard users because <img> is not an interactive element.

Applying filter effects to other elements

While generally applied to images, the filter and backdrop-filter properties can be applied to any element or pseudo-element.

In this example, a glow effect is added using a drop-shadow() filter with a 3px blur and 0 offset.

h1 {
  color: midnightblue;
  filter: drop-shadow(0 0 3px magenta);

Applying multiple filters

While the sepia filter example included only a single filter function, you can set multiple filters. The filter and backdrop-filter properties accept a space-separated list of filters, which are applied in the order declared.

This example applies two filters — hue-rotate() and blur() — via the backdrop-filter property. The backdrop, the area behind the <p> element, has a color shift and a blur applied.

.container {
  background: url(image.jpg) no-repeat left / contain goldenrod;
p {
  backdrop-filter: hue-rotate(240deg) blur(5px);
  background-color: rgb(255 255 255 / 0.1);
  text-shadow: 2px 2px black;

Applying repeated filters

As filters are applied in sequential order, you can use filter functions more than once. In this example, the drop-shadow() filter has been used four times, each time with a different <shadow> value.

<img src="mandala.svg" alt="Colorful mandala" role="img" />
<img src="mandala.svg" alt="Plain mandala" role="img" />
img {
  filter: drop-shadow(2px 2px 0 hsl(300deg 100% 50%)) drop-shadow(
      -2px -2px 0 hsl(210deg 100% 50%)
    drop-shadow(2px 2px 0 hsl(120deg 100% 50%)) drop-shadow(
      -2px -2px 0 hsl(30deg 100% 50%)
img + img {
  filter: none;

In the first Mandala example, four drop shadows are applied to a line-drawn SVG. The same SVG, with the filter removed with filter: none, is included for comparison.

Specifying filter function order

When creating filter effects, the filter or backdrop-filter property is provided a space-separated list of filters. These filter effects are applied in the order in which they appear.

In this example, both magenta drop shadow and 180deg hue rotation are applied on the level-one heading. The example shows the effect when these filters are applied in different orders.

h1 {
  color: midnightblue;
#hueFirst {
  filter: hue-rotate(180deg) drop-shadow(3px 3px magenta);
#shadowFirst {
  filter: drop-shadow(3px 3px magenta) hue-rotate(180deg);

The same filters are applied to both the lines of text but in a different order. In the first line, the hue of the text is altered before the shadow is applied, so the shadow is magenta. In the second line, the drop shadow is added to the dark blue text, and then the hue of both the text and the shadow are altered.

No filter effect is applied to the third line to show the original effect as a comparison. So the third line stays as midnightblue or #191970. The hue-rotate(180deg) filter changes the text in the first two lines to #252500.

Note: The hexadecimal rgb color #191970 is equal to hsl(240deg 63.5% 26.9%), while #252500 is hsl(60deg 100% 7.3%). The color rotation takes place in the sRGB color space, which is why the hue has been changed as expected while not maintaining the same values for saturation and lightness.

Using SVG filters

In addition to the 10 defined <filter-function>s, the CSS filter effects support url(), with the parameter being an SVG filter, which may be embedded in an internal or external SVG file.

A single SVG can be used to define several filters, each with an id:

<svg role="none">
    <filter id="blur1">
      <feGaussianBlur stdDeviation="1" edgeMode="duplicate" />
    <filter id="blur3">
      <feGaussianBlur stdDeviation="3" edgeMode="duplicate" />
    <filter id="hue-rotate90">
      <feColorMatrix type="hueRotate" values="90" />

The filter's id is referenced in the url() for both inline and external SVGs:

filter: url(#blur3);
filter: url("");

Blurring an image

Just like the blur() filter function applies a Gaussian blur to the elements on which it is applied, the SVG <feGaussianBlur> filter element can also be used to blur content.

In both the cases, the blur radius value, specified as a <length> in CSS and as a pixel equivalent <number> in SVG, defines the value of the standard deviation to the Gaussian function. In other words, it defines the number of pixels on the screen that blend into each other; a larger value creates more blur.

The <filter>'s stdDeviation attribute accepts up to two values enabling creating more complex blur values. To create an equivalent blur, we include one value for stdDeviation:

<svg role="img" aria-label="Flag">
  <filter id="blur">
    <feGaussianBlur stdDeviation="3.5" edgeMode="duplicate" />
  <image xlink:href="asset/flag.jpg" filter="url(#blur)" />

The SVG url() filter value can be included as the value of the SVG <image> element's filter attribute or as part of the value of the CSS filter and backdrop-filter properties.

.filter {
  filter: blur(3.5px);
.svgFilter {
  filter: url(#blur);

See also