Create Crisp Image Borders With CSS Pseudo Elements

Transparent image borders can have contrast issues and look dull, let’s make them nice and crisp with this tiny CSS trick.

The demo below shows a default half transparent image border.

Boring border

We can see that we lose contrast depending on the colors of the image near the border.

The border looks nice when it’s near a contrasting area, but it kind of dissapears when near colors of the same brightness.

In the example below we overlay the border on top of the image, this creates a very nice sharp edge.

Fancy colorful border

The side-by-side comparison below makes it more clear.

Boring border
Fancy colorful border

For this CSS trick we use an inset box-shadow instead of a border, while an image can have an inset box-shadow it won’t show as that’s where its pixels are rendered.

So to do this we’ll have to overlay another element on top. Let’s set up the HTML.

<div class="fancy-border">
    <img src="cat.jpeg" alt="" />

We’ll scale the .fancy-border element to be as wide as the image.

Next we create a Pseudo Element with an inset box-shadow and overlay it on top of the image.

Finally we set pointer-events to none to hide the Pseudo Element element from user interactions.

.fancy-border {
    position: relative;
    width: fit-content;
    border-radius: 1rem;

.fancy-border img,
.fancy-border::after {
    border-radius: inherit;

.fancy-border img {
    display: block;

.fancy-border::after {
    content: '';
    position: absolute;
    left: 0;
    top: 0;
    width: 100%;
    height: 100%;
    box-shadow: inset 0 0 0 1px rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.25);
    pointer-events: none;

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