5 Rules for Using Images in Your Email Templates

beauty image of beach and calm ocean with clouds overhead for images in email

Even the world’s most beautiful email template can be ruined by bad images. While it’s true that images are email-specific in the sense that you probably won’t use the exact same image for multiple emails, there are still 5 universal guidelines you should follow when creating or selecting your images.

1. Pick the Right Image Size

There is a happy medium between images that are too large or too small. Blurry or grainy images result when an image is scaled incorrectly — i.e. when a small image is made larger. Large images will be clearer, and a general rule to follow is that your image must be twice its original size to maintain its quality on a retina display. In general, larger images are better.

Load Times
However, a word of caution: the larger your images are, the longer they’re going to take email clients to load. A long load time can be the difference between between someone reading or ignoring your email. People are impatient — Kissmetrics reports that 40% of web visitors will abandon a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load, and the same is true of email load times.

To make sure your emails don’t load too slowly, test them using a service like Litmus’s Image Check.

Retina vs. Standard Display

Retina vs. Standard Display

[Image via Extreme Tech]

Sebastian Raschka explains the difference between retina and non-retina displays in more depth on his blog, but, to summarize, what distinguishes a retina display from a standard one is that the human eye cannot discern pixels on a retina display at a typical viewing distance. This is because, as I mentioned, retina displays allow for double the number of pixels as a standard display.

If it will take longer than 3 seconds for your email to load with a retina-quality image, you should skip it. In the US, the average Internet connection is 12.6 megabits per second, so files larger than 37.8 megabits will exceed this threshold. That said, mobile devices typically load slower, depending on their network connection. In the US, the average mobile device loads at about 5.8 megabits per second.

2. Use Professional Images

Whenever you’re featuring photos of your products that you took yourself, make sure they’re displayed against a solid-colored background. A photo of a product in someone’s living room or on someone’s kitchen counter doesn’t make it seem like you’re running a professional business. Check out this great example from Huckberry:

Huckberry Shirt
[Image via Huckberry]

Stock Photos
If you’re struggling to find photos to use in your emails, you can always use stock photos. There are paid stock photo sites, like iStock or Shutterstock, that have huge image inventories. There are also a bunch of great websites where you can find free, high quality stock photos. Listed below are some of my favorites:

3. Choose the Right Image Format

There are three commonly used image formats: PNG, JPEG, and GIF. Litmus breaks down the pros and cons, but for most purposes, PNGs are best. This is because they are lossless, which means they don’t lose quality when they are compressed. Lossless images are the opposite of lossy images, which lose quality when they are compressed. JPEGs, for instance, are lossy images. This example from Bluewave illustrates the visual differences between the three:

JPEG GIF PNG Example

GIFs are also lossless and are great for text, but have a limited color range. Their file sizes also tend to be larger than PNGs so, if you’re worried about load times, GIFs aren’t a good option.

PNGs are the best option because they are lossless, allow transparency, and don’t produce enormous file sizes, with the only caveat being that they aren’t supported by Internet Explorer 6 or earlier. That said, over 98% of web visitors use browsers that support PNGs.

When to Use GIFs Instead

Helmut Lang Coat

[Image via Milled]

Because GIFs can be animated, they are a great addition to certain emails. For instance, you can create a countdown clock using a GIF. GIFs can also add humor to an email and draw recipients’ attention. They are also a great way to display certain products like, say, a reversible jacket.

4. Don’t Use Images to Replace Text

Going overboard with images will increase the file size and load time of your emails.Typically, the reason for using images instead of text would be to include a custom font or an image with text on top of it. If you’re using a custom font for your logo or are including an image with a text overlay, there’s no way around using an image. For headings and paragraph text, on the other hand, don’t use images in lieu of text — and by this I mean don’t insert an image of the word “Welcome” instead of typing it out.

If the images in your email don’t load, an all-image email will look blank — not to mention, all-image emails can trigger spam filters. Your emails should be coherent with or without images.

Alt Text
Because some of your email recipients might have images disabled, it’s important to use alt text. Alt text is a text description of an image. So, a photo of a flower could have an alt text description of “Flower,” but it’s good practice to be as descriptive as possible. In the event that your images don’t load, the alt text will describe what is meant to be represented, which is better than a blank screen.

5. Don’t Forget About Mobile

45% of email opens are on mobile, so you need to make sure your email layout is responsive. By responsive, I mean that the images in your emails should stack rather than retain their desktop format. If your emails keep their desktop format, they will be too small on mobile. Again, use a testing service like Litmus to see what your emails will look like across devices.

Conclusion

Use these guidelines along with my layout, font, color, and email anatomy best practices, and you’ll be good to go. In my next post, I’ll tackle copywriting to conclude our email design series.

 

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1 comment

  • Great tips here Marissa! I love testing countdown timer GIFS in emails.

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