Pure CSS Custom Error Messaging for Default Form Elements

This tutorial will show you how to create and customize error messaging for various form elements. In this tutorial, we will customize everything from a basic error message to input field errors and tooltips. The best part? We will be using only CSS for customizations – that means no images or javascript required!

HTML

Below is the markup for the form elements we will be creating error messaging for. This is all of the HTML used throughout this tutorial. Copy and paste this code into your working file:

<!-- Basic Error Message -->
<div class="error-message">
  <span class="error-text">Checkout could not be completed. Please check your login information and try again.</span>
</div>
 
<!-- Input Field Error -->
<div class="input-group error">
  <label>Password *</label> 
  <input type="text">
  <div class="error-message">Password is a required field.</div>
</div>
 
<!-- Input Field Error with Tooltip -->
<div class="input-group error">
  <label>Quantity</label> 
  <input type="text">
  <div class="error-tip">Enter a quantity</div>
</div>

CSS

Now onto my personal favorite: the CSS. We will keep the basic functionality of the form elements but completely customize their appearance. In the end, they will stand on their own as custom design elements that thoughtfully guide the user through the form process, making it as straightforward and painless as possible.

Basic Error Message

Let’s start with a basic error message. We are going to customize the HTML above to look like this:

This is what we start out with, by default, after adding the HTML:

basic error message default

Customizing a basic error message is really simple. All we have to do is give our text a colored background and a couple font styles using CSS. To style the error message background, add the following styles to your CSS stylesheet:

.error-message {
  background-color: #fce4e4;
  border: 1px solid #fcc2c3;
  float: left;
  padding: 20px 30px;
}

Now let’s style the text itself by adding the following font styles:

.error-text {
  color: #cc0033;
  font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;
  font-size: 13px;
  font-weight: bold;
  line-height: 20px;
  text-shadow: 1px 1px rgba(250,250,250,.3);
}

That’s it! Keep reading to learn how to style input field and tooltip errors.

Input Field Error

Now that we have our basic error message styled, let’s work on input field errors. This is what the final product will look like:

error field input

And this is what we start out with by default:

error field input default

First, we want to override the browser’s default styles. Add the following CSS to give your input field a custom look:

/* Basic Input Styling */
.input-group {
  color: #333;
  float: left;
  font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;
  font-size: 13px;
  line-height: 20px;
  margin: 0 20px 10px;
  width: 200px;
}

label {
  display: block;
  margin-bottom: 2px;
}

input[type=text] {
  background: #fff;
  border: 1px solid #999;
  float: left;
  font-size: 13px;
  height: 33px;
  margin: 0;
  padding: 0 0 0 15px;
  width: 100%;
}

Next, we need to add the styling for the error message that displays when a user does not correctly fill out an input field (i.e. the “This is a required field” message):

.error-message {
  color: #cc0033;
  display: inline-block;
  font-size: 12px;
  line-height: 15px;
  margin: 5px 0 0;
}

Lastly, add the error-specific styling for the input field elements:

.error label {
  color: #cc0033;
}

.error input[type=text] {
  background-color: #fce4e4;
  border: 1px solid #cc0033;
  outline: none;
}

Input Field Error with Tooltip

The last element we’re tackling is the tooltip. It is slightly more complicated than the others but well worth the effort. We will also be utilizing Sass nesting to better organize our code, and because we are only using SCSS it is 100% editable and scalable.

Once we are done, the tooltip will look like this:

error field input tooltip

And by default, this is what we start with after adding the HTML:

error field input tooltip default

First, we override the browser’s default styles with our own custom styling:

/* Basic Input Styling */
.input-group {
  color: #333;
  float: left;
  font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;
  font-size: 13px;
  line-height: 20px;
  margin-bottom: 10px;
  width: 100%;
}

label {
  display: block;
  margin-bottom: 5px;
}

input[type=text] {
  background: #fff;
  border: 1px solid #ccc;
  color: #333;
  float: left;
  font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;
  font-size: 13px;
  height: 33px;
  line-height: 20px;
  margin: 0;
  padding: 0 0 0 15px;
  width: 45px;
}

Just like our previous example, we need to add the tooltip error message styling that displays when a form error occurs. Note: we are using Sass here to nest the tooltip’s left arrow properties. This comes in handy when trying to keep track of which values are assigned to the tooltip specifically:

/* Tooltip Styling */
.error-tip {
  background-color: #fce4e4;
  border: 1px solid #fcc2c3;
  border-radius: 7px;
  -moz-border-radius: 7px;
  -webkit-border-radius: 7px;
  display: inline;
  color: #cc0033;
  float: left;
  font-weight: bold;
  line-height: 24px;
  position: relative;
  padding: 7px 11px 4px;
  margin-left: 17px;
  // Left Arrow Styling Starts Here
  &:after, &:before {
    content: '';
    border: 7px solid transparent;
    position: absolute;
    top: 11px;
  }
  &:after {
    border-right: 7px solid #fce4e4;
    left: -14px;
  }
  &:before {
    border-right: 7px solid #fcc2c3;
    left: -15px;
  }
} // end .error-tip

Now all that’s left to do is define the input’s error-specific styling. Again, we will nest these styles under an “error” class selector to make classification and future changes easier:

/* Error Styling */
.error.input-group {
  label {
    color: #cc0033;
    font-weight: bold;
  }
  input {
    border: 2px solid #cc0033;
    line-height: 37px;
    outline: none;
  }
  .status {
    display: none;
  }
  .error-tip {
    display: inline;
  }
} // end .error

And that’s it! All the code you need to customize error messaging for default form elements. To experiment with the final results and copy and paste to your heart’s content (without fear of breaking anything), jump on over to Codepen by selecting any of the tutorial links below.

Codepen/Tutorial Links

All:  codepen.io/seskew/
Basic Error Message:  codepen.io/seskew/pen/akhLx
Input Field Error:  codepen.io/seskew/pen/XKJKNQ
Input Field Error with Tooltip:  codepen.io/seskew/pen/NrPNBp

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