When it comes to web design, adding emphasis to certain text elements can significantly improve user experience and highlight important information. One effective way to achieve emphasis is by italicizing text using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). In this guide, we will explore various methods to italicize text, the differences between <em> and <i> tags, and potential challenges with faux italics and Unicode characters. Let’s dive in and master the art of italicization!

Understanding the Importance of Emphasis

Before we delve into the technical aspects, it’s crucial to grasp the significance of emphasis in web content. Italicizing specific words or phrases can draw readers’ attention, convey a specific tone or mood, and differentiate critical information from the rest of the text. Whether you’re emphasizing a call-to-action, a quote, or a key point, understanding how to apply italics correctly is essential for effective communication.

How to Italicize Text Using <em> and <i> Tags

The <em> Tag: Adding Emphasis

The HTML <em> tag stands for “emphasis” and is used to indicate text that needs emphasis. Browsers, by default, render the content inside <em> tags in italics. Let’s see how to use it:

<p>That was a <em>wonderful</em> party, Bebe.</p>

In the above example, the word “wonderful” will appear in italics, drawing attention to it and giving the sentence a different feel.

The <i> Tag: Italics without Emphasis

The <i> tag, on the other hand, is used to apply italics to text without implying emphasis. It is used to visually set some text apart from the surrounding content. Here’s an example:

<p><i>Miranda thought:</i> What an interesting metaphor on the global economy.</p>

In this case, the text inside the <i> tags will appear in italics, but it won’t imply additional emphasis compared to the surrounding text.

Differences Between <em> and <i> Tags

As discussed earlier, the primary distinction between <em> and <i> tags lies in their semantic meaning. While both render text in italics, <em> is used for emphasis, indicating that the enclosed content is significant, while <i> is merely for visual styling without implying emphasis. Be mindful of this difference when choosing which tag to use in your HTML code.

Applying Italics with Your Own HTML Classes and CSS

In some cases, you may prefer not to use the <em> or <i> tags and instead apply italics to text using custom HTML classes and CSS. This approach allows for greater flexibility in styling. Here’s how you can do it:

<p>Shoes are <span class="emphasis">on sale</span> this week!</p>
.emphasis {
  font-style: italic;
  background: lightyellow;

In this example, we create a custom class called “emphasis” and use CSS to apply the italic font style along with a light yellow background to the text enclosed within the <span> tag. This method is useful when you want to set text apart without using any specific semantic tags.

Watch Out for “Faux Italic”

It’s important to note that not all fonts have italicized characters, and there might be situations where the italic version of a font isn’t loaded. In such cases, browsers will attempt to create “faux italic,” which may not look as intended. To avoid this, consider using fonts that have proper italic variants or implement the CSS property font-synthesis: none to prevent browsers from generating faux italics.

Italics in Variable Fonts

Variable fonts are a more advanced concept in web typography, offering customization options right in the browser. Some variable fonts provide a “slant” or “italic” option, allowing you to apply an italic look dynamically. While variable fonts can enhance flexibility in design, not all fonts may support the italic variation.

Best Practices for Italics Usage

When using italics in your web content, keep these best practices in mind:

  1. Use Italics Sparingly: Overusing italics can diminish their impact and make the text harder to read. Reserve them for essential elements that require emphasis.
  2. Consider Accessibility: Ensure that your italics do not hinder accessibility. Avoid long stretches of italicized text, as it may be challenging for some readers to follow.
  3. Test on Various Browsers and Devices: Verify that your italics display correctly on different browsers and devices, especially when using custom fonts or variable fonts.
  4. Use Alternative Styling for Emphasis: If you decide not to use italics, explore other styling options like bold, underline, or color changes to emphasize text.


Mastering the art of italicizing text in CSS is a valuable skill for web designers and developers. Emphasis can enhance the readability and visual appeal of your content, drawing attention to critical information and improving user experience. By understanding the differences between <em> and <i> tags and considering the best practices, you can effectively use italics to elevate the impact of your web content. Remember to test your styling across various browsers and devices to ensure a consistent and user-friendly experience for all visitors. Happy italicizing!


What are the CSS properties for applying italics?

The primary CSS property used for applying italics is font-style. It has two possible values:

  1. normal: This is the default value and indicates that the text should be rendered in the normal font style (non-italic).
  2. italic: This value instructs the browser to render the text in italics. It applies an oblique angle to the characters, giving them a slanted appearance.

Does CSS provide any alternatives to the <i> and <em> tags for italicizing text?

Yes, CSS offers alternatives to the <i> and <em> tags for italicizing text. Instead of relying on semantic tags, you can use CSS classes or inline styles to apply italics. For example:

Using custom CSS class:

<span class="italic-text">Italicized Text</span>
.italic-text {
  font-style: italic;

Inline styling:

<p style="font-style: italic;">Italicized Text</p>

These methods offer greater flexibility in applying italics to specific text elements without implying any additional semantic meaning.

Can I italicize only specific words within a paragraph using CSS?

Yes, you can italicize specific words within a paragraph using CSS. One way to achieve this is by using the <span> element with a custom CSS class. Here’s an example:

  This is a <span class="italic-word">sample</span> paragraph with some italicized text.
.italic-word {
  font-style: italic;

In this example, only the word “sample” will appear in italics within the paragraph.

Are there any browser compatibility issues with CSS italicization?

Generally, CSS italicization using the font-style property is widely supported across modern browsers and should work without issues. However, there are some considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Fallback fonts: If the selected font doesn’t have an italic variant, browsers may attempt to simulate it using faux italics. This can sometimes lead to undesirable rendering, so it’s essential to choose fonts that include proper italic styles.
  2. Browser-Specific Behavior: While italicization is well-supported, some older or less common browsers may display it slightly differently. Always test your CSS on various browsers to ensure consistent results.
  3. Compatibility with Custom Fonts: If you’re using custom fonts, verify that the font’s italic variant is properly loaded and displayed across different browsers.

In summary, while CSS italicization is generally reliable, it’s a good practice to test your styles across multiple browsers to ensure a consistent and pleasant user experience.


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