Note: When I originally wrote this article, it was as part of a series of posts I was writing about customizing the Thesis theme for WordPress websites. However, the information applies to any site where you have the ability to edit the CSS file. You don’t need to be using either WordPress or Thesis. Finally, if you were to look at the source code for this page, the HTML I’m using may not match what I’m showing as the code in the tutorial. That’s because I have to do some fancy footwork with the behind-the-sceens HTML and CSS to make it display correctly for you.
This is what a standard bulleted list looks like on a web page:
The HTML code to create this list looks like the following. The <ul> stands for “unordered list” and the <li> stands for “list item.” (If you want to use numbers instead of bullets, you would use <ol>, or “ordered list”.)
Before showing you how to replace those bullets with images, I’ll add that there are some other shapes you can use built into HTML itself. These include a circle, disc (filled circle), square, and various number formats. You can see the full list on the w3schools website.
You change the style by changing the definition for <ul> in your CSS stylesheet.
However, if you use the CSS definition above, it will affect every list item you have on your site. If you want to just have that style for certain lists, you’ll need to create a new class to apply to the <ul>. For example, you could create a class called “lower_greek” and change your CSS to:
Then you’d add that class into the <ul> tag in the HTML as follows:
Here’s what the list looks like now.
NOTE: If you’re working on a site that already has CSS defined for it (e.g. WordPress themes come with a style.css file), you may need to change existing style definitions. If you just add your own, they may be overridden by the existing ones.
Now, to change the bullet to an image, you can add an attribute called list-style-image to your CSS definition. For this example, I’m using a leaf image that’s 24 x 38 pixels. The CSS code would now be:
and the HTML would be:
This is what the list looks like on the web page:
Now, you can see the problem with this approach is that the bullet isn’t positioned very nicely relative to the text. That’s because when you add the list-style-image attribute to the <ul> tag, it uses the same positioning and spacing between the bullet and the text, regardless of the size of the image. So that might work well if your image is about the same size as a standard bullet but not so well if it’s much bigger or smaller.
Another option is to eliminate the standard bullet altogether using the <ul> tag and then add a background image in the <li> tag so you can use further attributes to adjust the positioning exactly the way you want it.
So the CSS would now be:
background: url('/images/leaf_icon.jpg') no-repeat left top;
and the HTML would be:
The list will then look like this:
Now, obviously, we still need to do a little more work. The bullet image is being cut off on the bottom so we need to set a list item height value that is at least as big as the height of the image. We also need space between the image and the text, which we set using padding-left. I’m also using some padding-top to align the text better vertically.
Note: Padding values will change where the text appears relative to the image within an individual list item. Margin values will change where the entire line—including the bullet—appears relative to other items on the page, including the next list item. You can also control the position of the bullet image using the background declaration, replacing “left” and “top” with actual pixel values. Basically you just have to start with something and then play around with the values until you have them where you want them.
I can’t give you exact values because it will depend on a number of variables including the size of the bullet, how much spacing you want, font size, and so on. But here’s the change I’ve made to the CSS and the resulting output.
For Smaller Bullet Images
The above works very well if your image is bigger than a standard bullet. If it’s smaller, you might end up with something that looks like this:
You can see that the text from one bullet runs into the next line. Now you could fix that by specifying a larger height value again, but that will look odd for such a small bullet, e.g.
In this instance, you’ll want to add a display attribute and adjust the top positioning in the background image (replace “top” with an actual dimension). So the CSS will now look like this:
And the output will be:
Again, play with the values until it looks the way you want it. And note that you can also reposition larger bullet images as well if you don’t like the way it’s aligning with the text.
Note: Thanks to reader Sibley who shared the tip about needing a “display: block” attribute for smaller bullets.
Mixing Bullet Types in the Same List
Finally, by applying classes to the <li> tags instead of the <ul> tag, you can mix and match bullet types and images within the same list.
So with this HTML:
turns into this (with appropriate tweaks to the individual CSS class definitions):