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The best colors for email marketing and how to use them

As an email marketer, you likely spend weeks, or even months, carefully planning a segmented, personalized email marketing campaign. You’ll test and iterate on the perfect subject lines, craft compelling copy, and choose the calls to action (CTAs). But when it comes time to hit send, how can you be sure you’re using the right colors within your email to achieve maximum impact? 

Fortunately, by examining today’s email marketing practices, we can reverse-engineer the psychology of color to better understand what works (and what doesn’t). With that knowledge, we can make informed design decisions to help our emails grab attention and drive conversions.

So, let’s dive in and discover the best colors for email marketing and how to use them. Here’s what we’ll be covering:

Color theory and how it applies to email marketing

Color theory is a practice to show how color affects our perceptions and emotions. In marketing, it’s applied as a method of persuasion; ultimately, color is used to entice consumers to take a desired action.

From social media to web banners, research shows that the colors we choose as marketers can significantly affect our audience’s behavior. This thinking can also be applied to email marketing, as an email’s design can heavily influence how a recipient responds.

It makes sense. Color adds visual intrigue and brings a new dimension to your emails beyond black and white text. It can help you better direct your readers’ attention to important messages, buttons, or CTAs—ultimately giving you the power to drive user behavior.

Of course, you’ll find plenty of claims touting the meaning of colors: red conveys courage, yellow implies optimism, green means balance, and blue suggests trust. While there is likely some truth to these, people also use their preferences and personal experiences to judge what colors mean to them. 

The result? Standing out in the inbox through the use of color isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. Nuance will always play a role in how your message is perceived, and it’s up to you as the marketer to think strategically about leveraging color to drive engagement.  

Recommended reading: CSS in HTML emails: How to get started (without breaking anything)

Email design best practices to consider

Before we dive into the specifics of color, we must cover a few best practices that apply to all aspects of your email’s design. With these as your guideposts, you can be sure your emails are user-centric and help you achieve your desired results.

  • Prioritize accessibility. Color contrast between your text and background is essential to meeting email accessibility standards. Button colors, link colors, and even the colors you choose for your imagery can play a part in ensuring the accessibility of your email content. Plus, with dark mode’s growing popularity, keeping a close eye on what happens when your email’s colors are inverted is crucial. To ensure your colors are accessible to your audience base, we recommend running your foreground and background colors through an accessibility checker. Then, you’ll know if they pass Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). 
  • Always consider the user experience. The best colors for email design are going to be the ones that don’t detract from the user experience. Generally speaking, less is often more: if you try to draw attention to too many elements of your email, nothing will stand out. Use color and design thoughtfully to elevate your message without overwhelming your reader.
  • Maintain brand consistency to build trust. Your emails should look and feel like your SMS, push, and in-app messages. And each of your messaging channels should reflect the branding of your product and tool. Consistency builds trust, so sticking with your brand guidelines is optimal when designing your emails. pro tip: You can test how your email will appear in dark mode, light mode, and with common visual impairments by using our email code editor

The best colors for email marketing - example of dark mode

The best colors for email text

Now that you know a little about color theory and have a solid foundation of email design best practices, let’s dig deeper into a key component of your emails: the color of your text. While you may want your text to stand out, you don’t want to sacrifice accessibility or the user experience when designing your emails. It’s a tricky balance that can be achieved when you approach your email’s design thoughtfully.

Black and white are classic email text colors for a reason

High-contrast text on backgrounds is always the easiest to read, so black and white is often used for font color in email marketing. 

But you don’t need to be limited to black and white text for all your emails. 

As a general framework, you’ll want to build a consistent, optimized design for the body of your email and then add splashes of color to make specific text elements stand out. Think strategically about how adding colorful elements to your emails can help draw attention to important components, such as buttons, links, and key information. 

Take this State of Messaging announcement email from our team here at as an example: 

The best colors for email marketing - example of using color to make a CTA stand out.

In the body of the email, color is used to draw attention to the most important element: the CTA to read the report. If someone were scanning the email quickly, it would be the one piece that stands out.

When in doubt, follow the WCAG’s guidelines for text contrast. It states that your text and images should have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1. Translation? The luminance of your text should be almost five times that of the background for readability.

Recommended reading: Tips, tricks, and best practices for creating responsive emails

Email background color dos and don’ts

Like your email text, the background color of your email plays a role in how your audience receives and understands your message. Here are a few do’s and don’ts of choosing the right background color for your emails.

  • Do use high-contrast colors. The WCAG’s contrast guidelines of a 4.5:1 ratio also apply to your email’s background. Ensure your background color doesn’t make it difficult for text and images to stand out and be easily read.
  • Don’t use red or green email backgrounds if you can avoid them. While this depends on the type of color blindness a person may have, red and green can easily blend together for some users. Of course, if you really need to send that Holiday-themed email, just remember that there will likely be a subset of your customer base who won’t see it the way you do.
  • Do experiment with color for different email modules. Looking to draw attention to a section of your email, such as a recently released feature, an important announcement, or a shiny new eBook? Consider using a different background color for that specific module. Not only will it break up the design of your email and add visual interest, but it can also help ensure the most important elements of your message stand out.
  • Don’t use background images (or use them sparingly). While images can add visual interest to your emails, background images can often be tricky to get right. Only a small minority of email clients support background images. Translation? They may not render correctly in many of your customers’ inboxes. Plus, if dark mode inverts your font colors, they may no longer contrast against the background image you’ve selected. Choose wisely!
  • Do pick a color scheme—and stick with it. There are five main color schemes that designers tend to follow: complementary, analogous, triadic, tetradic, and monochromatic. If you choose a complementary color scheme, for example, you’d select colors from opposite sides of the color wheel to use throughout your email. While you don’t need to become a color theory expert overnight, it’s worth understanding how color combinations can help make your emails more cohesive and engaging. pro tip: Looking to make things even easier as you design your emails? Consider creating a layout that you can follow with all your emails. You can make the color, font, and design decisions and reuse that layout across all your emails for consistency.

See it in action: How we use color in emails at

Ready to learn by example? Here’s a look at a newsletter we created at for our customers. You’ll notice how we’ve strategically used color throughout the email to draw attention to key messages while ensuring our email is accessible and readable with high-contrast design:

Best colors for email marketing - how we use color at

The two most prominent sections are the ones we want to drive the user’s eye towards—in-app messaging and the announcement of Parcel Unpacked. We do this with strategically differentiated background colors for each section.

What’s more? The font color is designed to stand in contrast to the background, while the entire email still feels like a representation of our company’s brand guidelines.

Using color in email: it all comes back to the customer experience

With the right balance of color and design, your emails can stand out in crowded inboxes, deliver your message effectively, and, ultimately, drive higher engagement and conversions.

Keep in mind that your primary goal is always to create user-centric email designs that prioritize accessibility, deliverability, and readability. With a foundational understanding of color theory and by following a few best practices for your email’s design, text, and background colors, you can enhance your subscriber’s experience and effectively communicate your message.

Ready to take your email marketing up a notch? Learn how to HTML with this two-part guide.

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