Picking the right font for your next email campaign is tricky. It’s a decision you don’t want to underestimate, take lightly, or leave to a gut feeling.
While choosing a font may initially feel like an insignificant detail, it can truly make or break an email campaign. The right font enhances your message and elevates your brand’s image. It improves readability, enhances the reader’s perception, and, most importantly, prompts the reader to continue reading.
Choosing the wrong font, on the other hand, can be distracting and deflate your overall message. Worse yet, it could mean your target audience never even starts reading your message, or hits archive before getting to the call-to-action.
With a seemingly inexhaustible supply of fonts to choose from, it can be downright overwhelming to make a decision. It’s a decision that needs to be approached both intuitively and systematically as there are very few hard and fast rules.
However, once you know the basics, you’ll feel more comfortable innovating, experimenting, and taking risks. You’ll also feel confident about breaking the rules and producing something unique and remarkable – something that reflects your brand’s true identity and contributes to the overall message you’re trying to convey.
Email Typeface Best Practices
Before getting into which specific fonts to pick, let’s break down some of the basics.
First, it’s important to remember that font size matters. The ideal size for headlines is between 18 and 22 pt, and the content should ideally fall somewhere between 14 and 16 pt. According to a study by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, the smallest size people are comfortable with is a 12 pt, or even 10 pt font, but nothing smaller.
It’s also best to choose more neutral basic fonts for text elements and save the fancy custom typefaces for imagery and graphics. For example, Helvetica for email copy is an excellent choice, and something free-spirited like Aventura would be great for the title or image copy to enrich the primary image or message.
Finally, don’t mix too many fonts, colors, and sizes. Aesthetically, too much variation is off-putting and distracting. You want the text to be legible and flow naturally. Save the color or font shift for the most important elements of the email. A good rule of thumb is not to exceed more than two total fonts and do your best to find ones that match. Here are some font pairing resources you may find useful:
Opt For an Email-Friendly Font
Choosing the right font for an email is all about creating a consistent experience – one that encourages the reader to keep reading each line, so that they understand the value proposition and make it to the call-to-action at the end.
When talking about email fonts specifically, it’s important to note that most email clients impose limitations on which fonts you can choose. For example, Gmail doesn’t support web fonts, which are fonts not found by default on most operating systems. Some common web fonts are Open Sans and Roboto.
It’s also essential to note that not all email clients will display fonts in the same way. Apple Mail, Gmail, and Outlook all have different default fonts and will display your message in the manner you intended only if the font style that’s chosen is compatible with the recipient’s email client. To ensure all your emails look as you intended, it’s best to opt for email-friendly fonts such as:
These fonts are available on most computers and, more importantly, are easy to read. Sans Serif is particularly popular, and Georgia, Trebuchet, and Verdana have a natural and neutral easy-to-read typeface as well. On the other hand, fonts like Comic Sans and Courier are also readily available but should be avoided if you want the reader to take you seriously.
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Narrow Your Focus and Define Your Goals
The very first thing you want to do when choosing the right font for your email campaign is form a detailed image in your head of how you want your audience to react to the text. Let that guide your decision-making process by asking yourself:
- Is the email I’m sending fun, playful, and exciting?
- Does it have a formal and sophisticated tone?
- Should it stand out and shake things up?
- Would a uniform and less polished look come across as being more personal?
Don’t go overboard with the questions. The exercise is merely designed to help you narrow your options and get in the right headspace for choosing a font that suits your needs and engages your audience.
Take a little time to also factor in your industry and brand’s image. Some brands and industries choose their fonts based on a desired emotional response. An example here would be tech brands deploying modern and geometric fonts that display simplicity, minimalism, and cleanliness – something crisp and cutting edge that matches their logo and marketing theme.
Focus on Legibility and Readability
Two prominent researchers, Norbert Schwarz and Hyunjin Song, created a study that demonstrated how complex fonts can make the perceived message appear more difficult than it actually is. The image below depicts two different fonts shown to study participants. Those who saw the instructions in the harder-to-read Brush font versus Arial estimated the task to be almost twice as difficult.
The font you choose needs to have an equal amount of readability and legibility, which people often think are the same thing.
Legibility is the design of the font.
It’s the width of each stroke, the height, whether it has serifs or not, and the overall presence of novel design elements. Decorative typefaces usually have lower legibility since they are meant to be glanced at, not read at length. They force the reader to process what they are seeing before soaking in the message.
Conversely, typefaces with high legibility are based solely on function and their ability to be read at length. You’ll find them in books, newspapers, and of course, emails. They often have generous spacing and a tall height, which aids in increasing legibility, allowing the reader to proceed as quickly as their cognitive skills will allow. It’s important to consider how your fonts will display on different devices and varying screen sizes as well. Whenever possible, try testing them under different circumstances to ensure the message is received as intended.
Readability is the arrangement of the font.
It’s the type size, type case, line spacing, line length, contrast, and color – all largely, or completely – under the control of the creator. Readability is undoubtedly the most important design element. Without it, your reader will find your message complicated or daunting rather than simple and inviting.
When it comes to size, try testing whether a typeface is readable by setting your font size to 10 pt. If it’s still readable without straining your eyes, you’re all set. Ensure your line spacing is generous to prevent readers from losing their place and having to re-read sections of your email. Consider also adding generous white space between paragraphs and thoughts to break up the text and improve overall readability. Little details like that go a long way to improving your email’s effectiveness and hopefully its conversion rate, too.
The right font amplifies your message and clears the path to content consumption. After all, the goal of choosing the best font for your email campaign is to get people to read through to the end. If you’re looking for further inspiration, check out some of the examples at Really Good Emails.