Choosing the best font style for your emails

Pick a font, any font, just remember to tell the code which one!Making a choice of font for your emails will probably depend first and foremost on which one(s) you already use for your other communications.

Deciding on a preferred font style for your business is one of those small details which will flow through most of your material, both online and offline.

Keeping logos to one side and concentrating here on information/content text, there are a million and one different font styles to choose from (I should know, I can lose many an hour gazing adoringly at sites like fontsquirrel.com!) but getting tempted to try something unusual and/or quirky can cause headaches down the line.

Any time, any place, any where

Using a web safe font as your text style is thought by many as the best way to ensure that your branded material looks the same whoever is creating it and wherever it's being viewed. eg. whether its being used by your suppliers or your staff, and whether its online on your website, within your email marketing, in everyday email communications, or printed on business cards and brochures etc.

As a reminder, here's our blog re Why we talk about web safe fonts in email

You're never too small to have a brand

"Branding" is one of those terms which often conjures up thoughts of corporate enterprises and multi-nationals, but no matter how small your business or organisation, setting your own guidelines enables you to produce and maintain consistent and professional marketing.

As each piece of material is created (whether its in-house, or promotional material etc) if you keep a level of consistency then your branding will develop, along with your identity and reputation. So even if you are the smallest of businesses, never be embarrassed to tell a supplier if you have preferences you'd like them to keep to.

Alternatively, if a more specific stylised font is your preferred option, then branding guidelines will specify that if this first choice of font isn't available for the medium being used, then digital designers (web, email, or any application online) can use an alternative as a second choice.


Finding the best compromise for your email marketing, if you do use text for your business which isn't on the web safe list


If you have a specific in-house font which you wish to use in your emails, you can either:

  • Go ahead with using the font - but make sure that in the HTML code a web safe back-up font is set, so that if the person opening the email does not have your chosen font installed then there is a "fall-back" so that the email displays real text in the second, similar, choice of font instead. This is quite common practice.
       
    • For example if Calibri (not a web safe font) is set as the first choice font on an email design, then the back-up will usually be set as Arial, followed by Helvetica (a very similar style of font that is installed on MAC and iOS devices), followed by the term "sans-serif". This means that on wherever the email is being viewed, the device/screen will use its default sans serif font.

      In the code you might see: style="font-family: Calibri, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; 
       
    • Designers know which families of fonts work well as back-ups for each other, and will make sure that the back-up is as similar as possible in both size/spacing of letters and according to whether it requires a Serif or San Serif alternative
        
    • In basic terms, the letters on Serif fonts have little feet on them(!) whereas San Serif fonts are plainer and simpler in style.  Serif fonts are often judged to be a more formal style of font.

      Serif font:  N m    the quick brown fox  
      San Serif font: 
      N m     the quick brown fox

  • Use graphics instead of real text - with this method there are no restrictions on how/where the email is being read, the only requirement is that the recipient allows the display of images on their screen.
      
    • There are pro's and con's to using this method. It probably won't cause a big issue if only headings, or occasional pieces of text, are set as graphics but it's not really a good idea for body copy, for a few reasons including: 
        
      • Graphic text is not thought by many to be as comfortable to read on screen as real text. Its not always as sharp and/or scalable for anyone with accessibility settings to make a text size larger.
          
      • You are risking a couple of negative scoring points in terms of how your email might be rated by a spam filter, as a more even balance of text to image ratio is generally favoured..
          
      • For readers of your email that don't automatically allow images to display you're taking a bit of a gamble that your subject line (and maybe an alt tag) will be strong enough to get them to click to display images.
          
      • If creating your own email content, eg. inserting content into a re-usable editable template, then you might not have the resources available for the creation of these graphics, especially at short notice or when copy changes need to be made at last minute.

  • Opt for the middle ground - by using one of an additional list of fonts which are becoming quite widely available, but with a web safe font still set as back-up. 

These are:

Trebuchet MS
Calibri
Lucida Sans
Myriad Pro

You can read more about these additional fonts, and in particular their availability on mobile devices, in the accompanying blog: Font choice on mobile emails