It’s a pretty common phrase, which rings true to me pretty often. As I have shared, I have been volunteering to help develop parts of Exercism’s upcoming version 3 platform for learning programming languages and code mentorship. Recently that has meant developing a React component to represent a concept map for a programming language (see below).

Concepts Map, No zoom

A Concepts Map

This had turned out beautifully and I was (and am) pretty proud of how it turned out. Until a co-contributor rightly pointed out that when it is zoomed, it became blurry! 🤯🤯🤯

Concepts Map, 200% zoom

The crisp bezier lines that linked the concepts lost their definition. But why? The other elements were still crisp. Well, the simple explanation is because the lines are drawn on an HTML <canvas>, which draws shapes in raster (or bitmap) mode. Meaning that it after it draws the curve as pixels the grid, the curve only exists as pixels, and it does not retain the mathematical model of the curve.

The contrast to this would be vector graphics, where the shape’s mathematical definition is saved, so it can be losslessly resized after it has been drawn.

But why was it resizing it like this? And was there a way that I could retain the high-quality drawing?

Gathering evidence

The developer console is an invaluable tool. Press f12 when your browser is in focus. This can show you ever bit of information that drives every webpage you visit. It can tell you how wide your webpage is (document.documentElement.clientWidth), it can tell you how tall the webpage is (document.body.scrollHeight). And, in fact, it is these properties which I used to place the canvas in the first place, so why was it breaking?

It is because when the browser zooms, it lies.

When you are at 100% zoom, the CSS resolution matches the window or device resolution. When you zoom in, the resolution of the CSS lowers, but the window stays the same.

Concepts Map, Ruler Proof

A zoomed in webpage. The yellow ruler's markings is the pixel measurement of the device. The white ruler is the pixel measurement of the webpage according to the browser.

As you can see in the picture, the rulers don’t match. And here is the source of the problem:

  1. The component defines the height and width of the canvas to be:

    const width = document.documentElement.clientWidth
    const height = document.body.scrollHeight
  2. A canvas element as it is positioned on the webpage is defined by its CSS style. That is, its element’s dimensions are defined by the CSS width and height

    // Setting the canvas' CSS height and width = `${width}px` = `${height}px`
  3. The canvas pixel grid is defined separately.

    // Setting the canvas pixel grid height and width
    canvas.width = width
    canvas.height = height
  4. So when the webpage is zoomed, the elements appear bigger, because the CSS dimensions are reduced and stretched to fill the window space. Since the canvas pixel grid is defined separately, it draws picture at the reduced dimension, then it gets stretched, causing the blurred shapes.

The cure: devicePixelRatio

So how can this be fixed? How can we draw the canvas as the resolution of the device but size the element to the resolution of the webpage?

Turns out there is a widely supported property on the global window object: devicePixelRatio.

  • When at 100% zoom, devicePixelRatio == 1
  • When at 200% zoom, devicePixelRatio == 2

So we can use devicePixelRatio value to scale our canvas pixel dimensions:

canvas.width = width * devicePixelRatio
canvas.height = height * devicePixelRatio

And we can use this to scale our functions when they dynamically calculate the coordinates to start and end the lines:

function scalePath(path: ConceptPath, scale: number = 1): ConceptPath {
  return {
    start: {
      x: path.start.x * scale,
      y: path.start.y * scale,
    end: {
      x: path.end.x * scale,
      y: path.end.y * scale,

So that when we draw this, no matter the zoom it ends up just as we expect it to:

Concepts Map, 200% zoom, Crisp


What I like about this:

  • It looks great no matter the zoom
  • It doesn’t force a certain view on the user
  • It is more accessible to people who require a higher zoom

First impressions matter on the web, so I hope this helps to make it a good one.