Fonts in Email … Am I Still Stuck With Arial and Times?

The answer is yes … and no. I know, I know, that’s not a really helpful answer. So, let’s take a deeper look at the options you actually do have for selecting fonts for email

Start With the Status Quo: Web-Safe Fonts
You already know these. They’re the play-it-safe fonts that come installed on your computer: Arial, Courier, Trebuchet and, of course, the infamous Times New Roman. These are Web-safe, cross-platform fonts and come as part of the operating system.Email programs are happy to display these fonts found on your computer because Web-safe fonts exist on every computer. Using these fonts will always allow proper rendering of the text in your email. So that 24-pt headline in Arial Bold looks correct as your email application searches your computer for Arial Bold, finds it, then renders and displays the headline properly. It’s that simple.

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Using Web-safe fonts allows you to feel confident that your email will look as it was designed. But what if you want your headline to appear in a fun, or more playful, font to better convey your message? Or you simply need to use your corporate typeface, and it’s not on the Web-safe list?

Can’t my Creative Team Use any Font I Want and Simply Make It a Graphic?
Yes, designers do it all the time. They design a fancy headline in a font, convert it to a graphic, and place it in the email wherever it’s needed. This makes for very dynamic designs, but causes a couple of potential problems for your email message:

  • Images turned off: If the recipient of your email has images turned off, that pretty type treatment shows up as an “X” in the layout. What they see then depends on your designer giving the graphic proper “alt text.” Alt Text is text assigned to the image that will display, in simple unformatted text, when images do not display.
  • SPAM filters dislike images: Spam filters look for certain “spammy criteria” in your emails. One of the top, if not THE top criteria is low ratio of text to image area. If your email has too much area being used by images and not enough by live text (text you can cut and paste in an email) your email may be flagged as SPAM. That’s why it’s important to have as much of your email as “live text” as possible.

I’m not saying you can’t convert your copy into well-designed type into images. You just need to be very conscious of how much of your email is image vs. live type. And, be aware that these days many people have images turned off in their email clients.

Can’t I Use Web Fonts Like Google Fonts?
Web fonts are fonts hosted online by companies like TypeKit, Webtype, WebINK or Google Fonts that can be used to display text in your email. Designers use special coding that tells your email application where to find the fonts online instead of on the email recipient’s computer. These fonts can then be displayed in your email message on any computer.

You’re probably wondering that if this is possible, then why aren’t all email marketers using Web fonts? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Support for Web fonts across email clients or software is not strong. Why? Improvements to and updating of email clients doesn’t seem to be a top priority for software developers. (My guess is that most aren’t in marketing!) Where Web browsers are making huge strides in performance and use of the latest technologies, most email clients have had minor updates and improvements.

Because of this, older email clients like, AOL, Outlook and Yahoo do not currently support Web fonts. Microsoft products seem to lag behind as well, because they use their own method to display text and graphics compared to the other players.

On the flip side, smart phones and newer email clients developed for iOS (iPhone/iPad), Android platforms, and Apple Mail, Android and Thunderbird email clients do support the new technologies. But until the most popular email clients follow the latest standards, we’ll continue to struggle with web fonts displaying properly or at all in emails.

So What’s a Marketer to Do?
The problem is consistency. You need to know the email you send will consistently be displayed in the intended fonts. Although there are coding tricks that can be used to “replace” Web fonts not displayed with Web-safe fonts, you begin to lose control of the look and feel of your email designs. Or worse, the fonts don’t display at all. Marketers can’t take that chance.

As much as I hate to say this, because I love to implement new technology in my creative, you should play it safe for now. Continue to use current methods of combining Web-safe fonts with a blend of “type as an image.” Just be very aware of your balance of images to live text. You don’t want your email campaigns to be labeled as SPAM.

By Patrick Fultz

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