What is the role of cascading style sheets (CSS) in image styling in DITA?

In DITA, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) play a crucial role in image styling by defining the visual appearance of images in the content. CSS is used to set properties like image size, borders, alignment, backgrounds, and more, allowing for consistent and customized image presentation throughout DITA documents.

The benefits of using CSS with DITA include separation of content and presentation, styling image elements, customization, and dynamic styling.

  • Separation of Content and Presentation: CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is a fundamental technology used to separate the content of a document from its presentation. In the context of DITA, this means that content authors can focus on creating structured, meaningful content while leaving the visual design and styling to CSS. This separation allows for flexibility and consistency in image presentation across various DITA documents.
  • Styling Image Elements: In DITA, images are typically represented within specialized elements or attributes, such as “image” elements or custom elements like “custom-screenshot.” CSS comes into play by defining how these images should look in terms of size, borders, alignment, backgrounds, and other visual properties. It can target these elements or attributes to apply specific styles to images, ensuring they adhere to the organization’s branding and formatting requirements.
  • Customization: Organizations can create their own custom attributes within DITA elements, like “image-style” or “image-border,” to describe how images should be styled. CSS interprets these attributes and applies the specified styles. For example, if “image-style” is set to “highlight” and “image-border” is set to “dotted,” the corresponding CSS rules will dictate that images with these attributes should have a yellow background highlight and a dotted border.
  • Dynamic Styling: The beauty of using CSS for image styling in DITA is that it allows for dynamic styling. Content authors can apply these custom attributes to images, and the styles will be automatically applied during the publishing process. This ensures that images maintain a consistent appearance, and any changes to the styling can be implemented centrally in the CSS without requiring modifications to the content itself.


A DITA-based software documentation project defines a custom DITA element called “custom-screenshot” to represent screenshots, adding custom attributes like “screenshot-style” and “screenshot-border” to control visual presentation. A CSS stylesheet interprets these attributes. If “screenshot-style” is set to “frame” and “screenshot-border” to “shadowed,” the CSS automatically applies a frame with a black border, padding, a yellow background, and a shadow effect to the screenshot image during publishing. This ensures that all screenshots are consistently and brandedly styled in the documentation, allowing for a dynamic approach to image presentation within DITA content.