Creating and Customizing Horizontal Spry Menu Bars in Dreamweaver

by James Cook on July 14, 2007

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Click here to learn about Creating and Customizing Vertical Spry Menu Bars…

I should start by saying that Adobe has done an excellent job implementing spry menu bars. More to the point, they have documented the CSS files that control the appearance of the menu bars with ample notes to guide the adventurous. They’ve even included a help file that’s actually helpful. Still, in my experience, a program’s documentation is the last place people look for help so I’ve put together this little tutorial.

Note: For the most part the process of customizing horizontal and vertical menu bars is the same but there are differences so I’ll follow up this post with one devoted to vertical menus. However, if you can’t wait, the instructions offered here should provide a good basis for your own experimentation with vertical menu bars.

Getting started:

Before you begin, make sure you have properly defined your website within Dreamweaver.

Create a horizontal menu:

  1. Open an existing document or create and save a new one. Dreamweaver CS3 won’t allow you to add a menu bar to an unsaved document. If you try, you’ll be prompted to save the document before proceeding.
  2. Select the location in your document where you want the menu bar to appear.
  3. Select the Spry tab in the Insert palette. (if the Insert pallet is not visible, select Insert from the Windows menu to display it.)
    Dreamweaver CS3 Insert Palette
  4. Click on the Spry Menu Bar icon in the Insert palette.
  5. You will be asked to select horizontal or vertical for your menu bar layout. Since we’re making a horizontal menu bar, select horizontal and click OK. Your menu bar will be placed on the page.
  6. Immediately save the document. You will be informed that your menu bar requires a number of supporting files and prompted to save them. Click OK and DW will save the files in a SpryAssets folder it will create within the root folder of your website.
  7. With the menu selected, you can use the Properties palette to define the links, menus and submenus of your menu bar (to select the menu bar, click on the blue box labeled “Spry Menu Bar for xxxxx” that appears immediately above your menu bar).

    Dreamweaver CS3 Menu Bar Properties Palette

    Note that the Properties palette also contains a link, “Customize this widget.” That leads to the Help file that you are hoping to ignore by reading this. Take my word for it, clicking that link will be worth your while. Go ahead, I'll wait for you.

Customizing the look of the menu bar:

Menu Bar CSSGood, you're back. In case you didn't figure it out from the help file, I should let you know that the look of your menu bar is controlled by the styles in the CSS file (SpryMenuBarHorizontal.css) that Dreamweaver graciously created in the SpryAssets folder. Since we'll be editing these styles, you'll need at least a minimal understanding of CSS styles in DW. For instance, you should know - or be able to figure out - that when I say “set width: 20%” you should change the style definition so that the width attribute is set to 20%.

Type style and size:

DW does not specify styles for the text in its menu bars so the style attributes are picked up from the page element(s) that enclose the menu bar. If you would like to use a specific font, size, weight, style, variant or case attribute for ALL the text in your menu bar, specify it in the ul.MenuBarHorizontal style. The color of the text will be defined elsewhere.

Menu bar width:

By default, the width of each menu item is set to 8 ems and the overall menu width is set to auto (determined automatically by the width and number of menu items).

To specify a specific pixel width for a menu bar: In the ul.MenuBarHorizontal style replace width: auto with width: XXXpx AND set the width attribute in ul.MenuBarHorizontal li to an appropriate value in either percent or pixels.

In other words, if ul.MenuBarHorizontal is set to width: 600px and there are four items in the top-level menu, an appropriate setting for ul.MenuBarHorizontal li would be either width: 150px OR width: 25%. For a 600 pixel wide top-level menu with 5 items the appropriate setting for ul.MenuBarHorizontal li would be width: 20% or width: 120px. Just make sure everything adds up or you may get unexpected results.

Note that changes made to ul.MenuBarHorizontal li affect only the items in your top level menu. The width of pull-down menus is not affected. Also, you should avoid adding borders to the ul.MenuBarHorizontal li style. They’ll throw off the width calculations we made above.

Menu bar height:

Caution! You can control the height of your menu bar by specifying a height attribute in the ul.MenuBarHorizontal a style. But be careful. This can cause type to be cropped or even disappear if text is resized or a menu item unexpectedly wraps to a second line.

Color of menu items:

The color of menu items in the link state (when they are not being hovered over or clicked) is determined by the ul.MenuBarHorizontal a style. To change the look of your menu items, simply change the default background-color and color styles DW has provided. This is also the place to add borders if you want to visually separate the menu items.

Rollover color of menu items:

To keep it simple, set the background-color and color styles to your preferred rollover colors in the following two style definitions:

  • ul.MenuBarHorizontal a:hover, ul.MenuBarHorizontal a:focus
  • ul.MenuBarHorizontal a.MenuBarItemHover, etc.

In THEORY, the first definition determines the hover state of menu items and the second definition controls the appearance of menu items with open submenus. In REALITY that’s the way it works in Explorer. However in Firefox and Safari BOTH the hover state and the appearance of menu items with open submenus are governed by the second definition. I usually just make sure both definitions have the same settings for background-color and color and forget about it.

Menu bar arrows:

The way DW menu bars are constructed, menu items which open to submenus have an arrow (downward -pointing for top-level menus, right pointing for sub-menus) at their far right edge. These arrows are actually background images. If you change the background color of menu items or their rollover state, the arrows may become difficult to see.

To change the arrows, edit the background image attribute in the appropriate style definition as described below:

  • Edit ul.MenuBarHorizontal a.MenuBarItemSubmenu for top level menu items with a submenu.
  • Edit ul.MenuBarHorizontal a.MenuBarItemSubmenuHover for the hover (rollover) state of top level menu items with a submenu.
  • Edit ul.MenuBarHorizontal ul a.MenuBarItemSubmenu for submenus with a second-level submenu beneath them.
  • Edit ul.MenuBarHorizontal ul a.MenuBarItemSubmenuHover for the hover (rollover) state of submenus with a second-level submenu beneath them.

For reference, DW makes available the following images in the SpryAssets folder:

  • SpryMenuBarDown.gif – black arrow pointing down
  • SpryMenuBarDownHover.gif – white arrow pointing down
  • SpryMenuBarRight.gif - black arrow pointing right
  • SpryMenuBarRightHover.gif - white arrow pointing right

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