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Steve Mulder and Michael Brandt: know the value of a pixel. Steve is a senior consultant at TSDesign, an Internet strategy and design firm in Boston. He is the author of 'Web Designer's Guide to Style Sheets'. Michael Brandt is the interface design director for TSDesign.

Sizing Up the Browser (Part 2)

Canvas Size
"To what size should I design my page?"

It's the eternal question. Since the time of Aristotle, the great debate has raged: How wide should Web page content be? We're not here to help you decide between 640-by-480-dpi and 800-by-600-dpi resolutions. We're here to help you after you've made up your mind.

The table further down on this page shows the maximum canvas sizes you have at your disposal for each resolution. These measurements were taken with the browsers in their default states after installation � that is, with all those annoying toolbars showing. Remember that many people aren't as smart as you are: They never turn those things off and are thus browsing the Web through very small windows. In our tests the Microsoft Windows taskbar at the bottom of PC screen was visible.

The horizontal size is what you can get with the browser window maximized on the screen. If the width gets any bigger, you'll get an ugly horizontal scrollbar or your content won't be visible to users. The vertical size measures the amout of space "above the fold" � that is, what users can see without scrolling down.

See the diagram below for the canvas size of an example browser at 640 by 480 dpi:

Click for full-sized image - The area in blue is the canvas.

Note that these canvas size measurements do not include the browser offsets we saw on the previous page. In every major browser except Navigator 3.x, you can increase your canvas size slightly by eliminating the offset buffer.

Let's look at the numbers....

Browser 640x480 width 640x480 height 800x600 width 800x600 height
IE 5.x (Win) 600 275 760 395
NN 4.5+ (Win) 604 294 764 414
NN 4.0x (Win) 604 294 764 414
NN 4.5+ (Mac) 592 309 752 429
NN 4.0x (Mac) 582 315 742 435
IE 4.x (Win) 600 275 760 395
IE 4.5x (Mac) 563 318 723 438
IE 4.0x (Mac) 574 321 734 441
NN 3.x (Win) 600 270 760 390
NN 3.x (Mac) 582 306 742 426
IE 3.x (Win) 613 276 763 396
IE 3.x (Mac) 598 317 758 437
Measurements in pixels

Here's a highly annoying complication: When Microsoft Office is installed on a PC, the Office taskbar is automatically added to the right edge of the desktop. It's 43 pixels wide, which makes the overall canvas width 43 pixels less than what is listed above. And a lot of people have Microsoft Office. (By the way, if users move the Office taskbar from the right edge of the screen to the bottom edge, it takes up 32 pixels of canvas height instead.)

Our conclusion: Ugh. It's not a pretty sight. There are lots of different numbers. It's not immediately clear which width and height you should design pages for.

Our recommendations

After analyzing the numbers and taking the Office taskbar into account, we have a few recommendations based on different scenarios.

Scenario Designed For 640x480 width 640x480 height 800x600 width 800x600 height
All browsers, both platforms (with MS Office Taskbar)
  557 270 717 390
All browsers, both platforms (with MS Office Taskbar) - ugly horizontal scrollbar showing or no right-hand offet in NN & IE
  567 270 727 390
All browsers, both platforms (no MS Office Taskbar)
  563 270 723 390
All browsers, both platforms (no MS Office Taskbar) - ugly horizontal scrollbar showing or no right-hand offet in IE 4.5
  574 270 734 390
4.0+ browsers, PC platform (no MS Office Taskbar)
  600 275 760 395
Measurements in pixels

Playing it safe with the first recommendation means a relatively small canvas, but at least you'll be sure everyone can see your content!


  • Focusing on browser versions 4.0 and higher (with MS Office taskbar) doesn't gain anything
  • over designing for all versions.
  • Focusing on all browser versions just on the Windows side doesn't gain anything either.

In summary, there are no easy answers about canvas size. But we hope that the recommendations above will give you a place to start.

Photoshop mock-ups
When designing Web pages, we always do mock-ups in Photoshop. Design first, code later. What this means is that our Photoshop mock-ups need to look exactly like what the pages will ultimately look like in the browser. Well, because of browser inconsistencies, they'll never look exactly the same, but it's important to get them as close as possible.

For that reason, we always include the browser "chrome" (the buttons, scrollbar, and other parts of the browser software that frames the page) in the Photoshop mock-up. We thought we'd provide these Photoshop files for download here:

Designing for all Browsers: [Part 1] | [Part 2] | [Part 3] | [Part 4]

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