14 Best Free CSS Frameworks 2021 (Compared)

Compare and find your new choice of free responsive CSS frameworks that are lightweight and feature-rich with styled UI components. The advantages of using a CSS framework in your project outweigh the disadvantages. Some of the advantages are clean code, grid design, pre-built UI components, easy for your team to manage, ease of accessibility features, and documentation. In short, you get your project done in less time with fewer workforce.

Lightweight frameworks are favored by many experienced developers as they give a jumpstart to designing a website or mobile app. Large CSS frameworks like Bootstrap and Foundation might be hard to manage for larger projects. But with the help of LESS and SASS preprocessors, we get the option to modify the CSS output for better performance.

I have chosen to include only responsive frameworks which will scale easily on multiple mobile, tablet, desktop devices. Share in your comments and let us know if we missed any important frameworks here.

Mobile responsive designs are the need of the hour. Every website is required to be responsive so that users can easily view the websites on a variety of devices and screens. All frameworks are made with mobile-first approach strategy. Let us take a look at these responsive CSS frameworks that can help you develop websites which look perfect on all screens.

Components BootstrapBulmaMaterializePure CSSTailwindMDBSpectreFoundationUIkitSemantic UITachyonsMilligramChota
Accordions
Badges
Breadcrumbs
Buttons
Cards
Forms
Image
Modal
Mobile Menu
Offcanvas
Pagination
Panel
Popover
Progress
Slider
Tabs
Table
Toasts
Tooltips
UtilitiesBootstrapBulmaMaterializePure CSSTailwindMDBSpectreFoundationUIkitSemantic UITachyonsMilligramChota
Color
Flexbox
Display
Divider
Loading
Shadow
Typography
FeaturesBootstrapBulmaMaterializePure CSSTailwindMDBSpectreFoundationUIkitSemantic UITachyonsMilligramChota
Pure CSS
SASS
CrossBrowser
React
Grid Layout
SVG Icons
LicenseMITMITMITBSDPaidMITMITMITMITMITMITMITMIT
Release20112016201620192016201120172014201520152017
Updated2021202120182021202120212020202020212018201820202020

What is a CSS framework ?

Frameworks have been used for years now to build websites since they essentially remove most of the groundwork. This gives you the ability to concentrate on designing the website without having to start from scratch. With the help of a framework, you can save time by not having to repeat common code. CSS frameworks come with a set of rules and mixins that help you utilize responsive grids and spacing for your website.

What is CSS reset and why is it important?

There was a time when styles did not have a form of standardization. In web design, browsers have helped us bridge most of the styling issues. Browsers apply their own default parameters if you choose not to define the parameters in your style sheet. This sometimes ends up giving your website a different look depending on the browser your users may be using.

This is where a CSS reset file comes in. With the help of CSS Reset, you can reset all these browser styles to zero. This means that visitors will not see any styles on your website which you did not apply to your style sheet.

Which framework is best for web development?

Frameworks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Web designers sometimes choose heavy frameworks which offer more web styles and at times they use frameworks that are lightweight. Remember that choosing a heavy framework may make work easy for you, but the footprint or page speed might be affected if you don’t customize it well.

On the other hand, if you use a lighter framework, the chances of adding your own creativity and coding effort are higher. It however gives you the chance to customize your website according to your vision instead of dictating the style of the website.

As a designer, you may end up working with both types of frameworks, but when it comes to choosing between the two, a good CSS framework will always allow you to integrate the functionality of the framework with your visualization of the website without bloating the website with its own designs.

Bootstrap and Foundation has a large footprint but they let you customize according to your website requirements reducing the overall footprint of CSS and JS files.

The best CSS framework is one that is lightweight and allows a wide range of customization to give your website a design that meets your vision rather than something that is dictated by the framework.

Responsive CSS Frameworks

Bootstrap 5 Framework

CSS Minified: 152KB CSS gzipped: 22.4KB

JS Minified: 78KB JS gzipped: 21.8KB

This is the most popular CSS framework fine-tuned to make mobile responsive websites over the last decade. The mobile-first approach makes it easier to build websites that modern-day businesses need. Every web developer at some point will atleast try Bootstrap. Many job prospects require frontend developers to have some knowledge of Bootstrap or grid-based frameworks.

Pros

  • Pre-built components
  • SASS for custom CSS
  • Supports extra small devices
  • Grid layouts & flexbox
  • Easy to use

Official website

Cons

  • Bulky in size
  • Websites look the same

Bulma

CSS Minified: 200KB CSS gzipped: 27.2KB

Bulma is getting popular recently with its pure CSS approach. It also comes with an extensive library of JavaScript components for accordions, modal and so on. However, the file size of minified CSS version is slighter heavier than Bootstrap 5.

Pros

  • Pure CSS
  • SASS for custom CSS
  • Lots of UI components
  • Grid & Flexbox
  • Great community
  • Updated

Cons

  • Modal doesn’t work without JS
  • Bulky size
  • No small breakpoints

Official website

Materialize

CSS Minified: 139KB CSS gzipped: 20.9KB

JS Minified: 177KB JS gzipped: 41.6KB

Materialize uses material design created by Google for its core CSS styles. The grid layout of this framework is similar to other CSS frameworks; however, it differs in UI design with its shadows and material UI colors.

Pros

  • SASS for custom CSS
  • Lots of JavaScript components
  • Sleek design
  • Clean classes
  • Easy to copy snippets

Cons

  • Not updated for sometime
  • No Flexbox

Official website

Pure CSS

CSS Minified: 18KB CSS gzipped: 2.8KB

This is a lightweight CSS framework and used by many developers for quick website projects. All modules are responsive for mobile website design, and every CSS line carefully thought out.

Pros

  • Only 2.8KB
  • Clean code
  • Grid Layout
  • No JavaScript

Cons

  • No SASS
  • Very basic use

Official website

Tailwind CSS

CSS Minified: 73.7KB CSS gzipped: 12.6KB

JS Minified: 21.9KB JS gzipped: 8.5KB

Its greatest advantage is the beginner-friendly use of classes and its smart coding. This framework outputs the CSS stylesheet with the classes you use in your HTML code, which is fantastic for high-performance websites. You need nodeJS to make this work for your project; unlike other CSS frameworks, this requirement is a deal-breaker for many.

Pros

  • Smart framework that builds CSS
  • Outputs CSS based on requirements
  • Works with SASS
  • Grid & Flexbox Layout

Cons

  • Free version is limited
  • Need paid version
  • NodeJS is required

Official website

MDB – Material Design for Bootstrap

CSS Minified: 290KB CSS gzipped: 41.3KB

JS Minified: 229KB JS gzipped: 53.85KB

Material Design framework

Material design created by Google has become a favorite design style for many designers due to its solid color palette and shadow styles. MDB makes it possible to use this style on your website. And the good part? This framework uses Bootstrap as its core CSS. If you grasp Bootstrap logic, then this framework is straightforward to use. If you are into material design or your client needs this design, go for it.

Pros

  • Material Design for Bootstrap lovers
  • Supports REACT, Vue, Angular
  • Works with SASS
  • Grid & Flexbox Layout

Cons

  • Little Bulky

Official website

Spectre

CSS Minified: 45.5KB CSS gzipped: 9.5KB

Spectre CSS framework allows rapid prototyping with its rich components and utilities. The most impressive is the CSS-only approach to design. Sliders, Carousels, off-canvas sidebar, the 360-degree viewer uses only CSS and no jQuery required. The lightweight CSS with less than 10KB makes it an excellent choice for building ecommerce websites.

Pros

  • Perfect for building solid websites
  • Simple framework
  • Works with SASS
  • Grid & Flexbox Layout

Cons

  • Not much

Official website

Foundation Framework

CSS Minified: 45.5KB CSS gzipped: 9.5KB

JS Minified: 229KB JS gzipped: 53.85KB

Foundation 5 is built with Sass, a powerful CSS preprocessor, which allows us to much more quickly develop Foundation itself and gives you new tools to quickly customize and build on top of Foundation.

Pros

  • Lots of components to play with
  • Works with SASS
  • Grid & Flexbox Layout

Cons

  • Bulky Javascript
  • Missing some core components

Official website

UIkit Framework

CSS Minified: 268KB CSS gzipped: 28.7KB

JS Minified: 130KB JS gzipped: 41.32KB

UIkit gives you a comprehensive collection of HTML, CSS, and JS components. It can be extended with themes and is easy to customize to create your own look.

Pros

  • Lots of components
  • Works with SASS
  • Grid & Flexbox Layout

Cons

  • Bulky framework
  • Missing components

Official website

Semantic UI Framework

CSS Minified: 614KB CSS gzipped: 99.4KB

JS Minified: 270KB JS gzipped: 69.6KB

This is one of the oldest frameworks with quite a fan base but lacks modern design features and styles compared to any framework in this list. Many users find it easy to use.

Pros

  • Lots of components
  • Supports React
  • Grid Layout

Cons

  • Bulkiest framework compared to all
  • The CSS and JS files are enormous
  • No SASS and its not modular
  • Outdated and not updated

Official website

Tachyons

CSS Minified: 73KB CSS gzipped: 13.44KB

An instant solution to create your website with simple CSS styles. This framework lets you build small to medium size websites with ease. The documentation is easy to follow, and so are the CSS styles.

Pros

  • Decent framework
  • Grid & Flexbox Layout
  • Pure CSS

Cons

  • No SASS making it non-modular
  • Missing many basic CSS components

Official website

Milligram

CSS Minified: 9KB CSS gzipped: 2.22KB

This is one of the smallest framework in this list of CSS frameworks. Under 3KB, this framework is great for a designer who needs only a grid and flexbox layout. Essential components included with Milligram are forms, buttons, table, typography and column grid.

Pros

  • Smallest framework compared to all
  • Grid & Flexbox Layout
  • Pure CSS
  • SASS Supported

Cons

  • Missing many UI components
  • For advanced users who need a skeleton.

Official website

Chota

CSS Minified: 19KB CSS gzipped: 3.53KB

Chota is the second smallest framework we have included in this topic. Great for front-end developers who need a CSS structure to kickstart their projects from scratch.

Pros

  • Second smallest framework after Milligram
  • Grid & Flexbox Layout
  • Pure CSS

Cons

  • Missing many UI components
  • No Sass support

Official website

Conclusion

Let us know which one you find helpful and if we missed a feature to compare. Which one is the best?

I want to say that Bootstrap is the favourite among newbies and even seasoned front-end designers these days. It is easy to manage and support cross-browser with no issues. I’m not too fond of Bootstrap in WordPress websites as it adds too much bulky weight.

If you want a lightweight solid solution, Spectre is a solid CSS framework for building HTML websites and maybe perfect for building WordPress websites.

This comparison is made for you so that you can choose your favourite. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different frameworks. All of these frameworks are well backed by the community.

1 thought on “14 Best Free CSS Frameworks 2021 (Compared)”

  1. It’s amazing/depressing how many of these (particularly as you go down the list) haven’t been kept up; the field seems to have been left to Bootstrap, Material UI, and Foundation, with Semantic UI folks hoping for new life in the project.

    What I’m looking for is a Semantic UI-like collection of components that work nicely within a STANDARD CSS Grid. Everybody seems to have implemented their own, and nobody implements grid areas, which is something we desperately need. Not a happy camper at this point.

    Reply

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