How to draw multi-line text on an HTML canvas in 2021

Yesterday, I added PNG export to Browserboard, my multiplayer whiteboard web app. About half the effort was spent getting text to render correctly. 90% of what I found about this topic on Google was garbage, especially on Stack Overflow, so here's my attempt at clearing things up for people who want to do this without relying on somebody's half-baked code snippet.

HTML Canvas has not changed in 18 years

Apple created the <canvas> element to enable Mac developers to create widgets for Dashboard, a feature that died in 2019. Canvas replicates a subset of the Core Graphics C API in JavaScript. Naturally, this hack intended for a proprietary OS feature became the foundation of thousands of browser games and the only browser-native way to generate PNG images from JavaScript.

Because <canvas> is based primarily on a macOS graphics API and not the web, it was not designed with great web support in mind. In particular, its text rendering capabilities are extremely poor. Some issues include:

  1. Line breaks are ignored.
  2. Only one font and style can be used. Multiple styles are not possible.
  3. Text will not wrap automatically. There is a “max width” argument, but it stretches the text instead of wrapping.
  4. Only pixel-based font and line sizes are supported.

So the best we can hope for in “multi-line text support in <canvas>” is to support line breaks, text wrapping, and a single font style. Supporting right-to-left languages is an exercise for the reader.

There is a good JavaScript library for drawing multi-line text in <canvas>

There's a library called Canvas-Txt that is as good as it gets, but for some reason doesn't rise above the blog trash on Google.

If you got here just trying to figure out how to accomplish this one task, there is your answer. You can stop here.

Deriving <canvas> text styles from the HTML DOM

For Browserboard's PNG export, I needed a way to configure Canvas-Txt to match my quill.js contenteditable text editor. The key to doing that is CSSStyleDeclaration.getPropertyValue(), which you can use to find out any CSS property value from its computed style.

The TypeScript code snippet below finds the first leaf node in a DOM element and applies its styles to Canvas-Txt. (If you're using JavaScript, you can just delete all the type declarations and it should work.)

import canvasTxt from "canvas-txt";

function findLeafNodeStyle(ancestor: Element): CSSStyleDeclaration {
  let nextAncestor = ancestor;
  while (nextAncestor.children.length) {
    nextAncestor = nextAncestor.children[0];
  return window.getComputedStyle(nextAncestor, null);

function renderText(
  element: HTMLElement,
  canvas: HTMLCanvasElement,
  x: number,
  y: number,
  maxWidth: number = Number.MAX_SAFE_INTEGER,
  maxHeight: number = Number.MAX_SAFE_INTEGER
) {
  const ctx = canvas.getContext("2d");
  if (!ctx) return canvas;

  // const format = this.quill.getFormat(0, 1);
  const style = findLeafNodeStyle(element);

  ctx.font = style.getPropertyValue("font");
  ctx.fillStyle = style.getPropertyValue("color");

  canvasTxt.vAlign = "top";
  canvasTxt.fontStyle = style.getPropertyValue("font-style");
  canvasTxt.fontVariant = style.getPropertyValue("font-variant");
  canvasTxt.fontWeight = style.getPropertyValue("font-weight");
  canvasTxt.font = style.getPropertyValue("font-family");
  // This is a hack that assumes you use pixel-based line heights.
  // If you're rendering at something besides 1x, you'll need to multiply this.
  canvasTxt.lineHeight = parseFloat(style.getPropertyValue("line-height"));
  // This is a hack that assumes you use pixel-based font sizes.
  // If you're rendering at something besides 1x, you'll need to multiply this.
  canvasTxt.fontSize = parseFloat(style.getPropertyValue("font-size"));

  // you could probably just assign the value directly, but in TypeScript
  // we try to explicitly handle every possible case.
  switch (style.getPropertyValue("text-align")) {
    case "left":
      canvasTxt.align = "left";
    case "right":
      canvasTxt.align = "right";
    case "center":
      canvasTxt.align = "center";
    case "start":
      canvasTxt.align = "left";
    case "end":
      canvasTxt.align = "right";
      canvasTxt.align = "left";


So there you go. Good luck.