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Email safe fonts vs. custom fonts: what you need to know

Reading Time: 6 minutes

The text’s typeface is one of the most essential elements for all marketing communication materials: brochures, articles on the web, emails, etc.

The correct email fonts help to reflect your brand identity, and contributes to the design and aesthetic feeling, text readability, and reader’s perception.

Essentially, this means that you shouldn’t underestimate this design detail that may seem small but is in actuality quite vital.

The current email infrastructure determines some limitations on typefaces. So you can’t use whatever font you want if you want your emails to look good to all your subscribers.

So today we’ll try to make you aware of the email-safe fonts and their alternatives to help you create stunning email campaigns.

Best, safest fonts for emails: Why care about fonts for your campaign?

There are two main reasons for this.

Reason #1

The first thing about choosing the right font is a match between the font and the topic you are writing about.

For example, Times New Roman is one of the the standard email fonts and it’s famous for being used by default in documents.

Hundreds of pages of my Master final theses are written in Times New Roman, so it’s probably not the best typeface to use in a newsletter where you’re trying to make a friendly connection with your subscribers.

Another good example is the Comic Sans font. Would you use your bank service if it sent flyers, bills, and emails written in Comic Sans? I have doubts about this because the font looks unsophisticated and not trustworthy at all.

The Comic Sans font has received a lot of attention even from scientists who provided studies for why it is so hated by people. For the sake of general understanding, I’m including a short video explaining the Comic Sans phenomenon.

Reason #2
The second thing is the technical reason. Not all email clients can display fonts equally. Outlook, Apple Mail, Gmail – they all have sets of default fonts that differ from each other. Your subscriber’s email client will display your message in the intended font style only if this font style is compatible on their end.

In other cases, your message will be displayed in the predefined email client’s fallback typeface, which might be far away from the one initially intended. Considering that Gmail is the leading email provider, it’s safe to stick to Gmail supported fonts.

So what would be a great solution to avoid any mismatches?

Use email-friendly fonts

Emails have a list of fonts that are considered to be safe to use. This means that by using them, all your subscribers will see your text the same way.

The most popular safe fonts for emails are:

  • Arial
  • Verdana
  • Helvetica
  • Georgia
  • Tahoma
  • Lucida
  • Trebuchet
  • Times

All the typefaces mentioned above have great readability. Georgia, Verdana, and Trebuchet are some of the most neutral and easy-to-read typefaces.

In the table at the end of this post, you will see that email-safe fonts also have fallbacks. However, their alternatives are so similar that no one will notice the difference.

Custom fonts in emails

Sometimes it’s not enough to use email-friendly fonts. The reasons for this might be various, one of it – a need to follow brand identity. In this case, email service providers offer to import the font you want to the custom email HTML by yourself and offer a fallback if needed (~ 50% of cases).

Omnisend added extra web fonts to the custom template creator, so you don’t need to code or insert anything on your own. If a particular device does not display a certain web font, it is being changed to a similar fallback font. We take care of it. It means that you are safe to choose any of the fonts and be sure that your newsletters will look good anyway.

What subscribers will be able to see your custom fonts? Those on:

  • Apple Mail on OS X
  • Apple iPhone
  • Apple iPad

According to Litmus, this covers about half of your subscribers.

In April 2018, Gmail updated their webmail client’s interface with two popular fonts – Google Sans and Roboto. This means that if you use either of these fonts in your emails, they will render in Gmail as well.

You can always check in your Google Analytics (Audience -> Behavior -> Operating System) what percent of your subscribers will be able to see the web fonts.

Below, you can find a complete list of fonts supported on Omnisend with a complete list of fallback fonts, so you can know what to expect.

Font name Fallback 1 Fallback 2 Font type
EMAIL SAFE:      
  Arial Sans
  Courier New Monospace
  Verdana Sans
  Helvetica Arial (on Windows) Sans
  Times Times New Roman (on Windows) Serif
  Georgia Serif
  Tahoma Geneva (on Mac) Sans
  Lucida Sans
  Trebuchet Sans
CUSTOM:      
  PT Sans Verdana Arial Sans
  Source Sans Pro Verdana Arial Sans
  PT Serif Georgia Serif
  Open Sans Verdana Arial Sans
  Playfair Display Georgia Serif
  Ubuntu Verdana Arial Sans
  Roboto Verdana Arial Sans
  Oswald Verdana Arial Sans
  Raleway Verdana Ariel Sans
  Dosis Verdana Arial Sans
  Anton Verdana Arial Sans

Though the web fonts, as well as email fonts, are an issue for lots of internet users, the given fallback fonts are the ones that you usually use anyway.

So why not to experiment and make a campaign with these new fonts?

Ensure your email displays consistently for all users

When choosing the best fonts for your email, you must select an email-friendly font available across all devices and mediums.

If you choose a font not available across your reader’s mobile or computer device, they may substitute it for another Gmail-supported font. Ultimately, your email design ends up looking different than what you intended.

Avoid this by using the above-mentioned email-safe fonts.

Focusing on email safe fonts & web safe fonts

Employing web-safe fonts for email is a great way to express your website’s intent and personality. Traditional and formal fonts are perfect for news and commentary websites, whereas more adventurous brands prefer a creative font.

Here, we’ve listed the top standard email fonts popularly used:

  • Arial Black
  • Calibri
  • Cambria
  • Corbel
  • Helvetica
  • Papyrus
  • Segoe UI
  • Terminal

Make sure you test your desired fonts to pinpoint the best font for outlook emails, captivating clients, and delivering your message effectively.

Plan B: how to use your brand fonts if they’re not “email safe”

There are a lot of fancy typefaces that brands choose to express their brand identity.

Although some of them you can definitely try (at least ones from the list above), the fanciest ones should be avoided in email copywriting.

However, they’re still great for using in your email images.

See the example below:

Due. chose Helvetica for their email copy and a nice typeface to enrich their main image and highlight their deal.

I also like the Vente-Privee password reminder. These guys have found such a creative approach for this automated email. The nice typography makes this email unexpectedly beautiful.

4 things to remember when choosing which email fonts to use

Choosing a safe email font can be an arduous task. Here, we discuss what tips and tricks you should remember when selecting email fonts:

  1. Avoid using more than two email fonts. If you choose safe fonts, using too many styles can make your email complicated and hard to read.
  2. Preview your desired email across various devices to ensure it’s supported across all major clients.
  3. Select a safe font to ensure excellent readability. In addition, make sure your selected font is legible, clear, and distinctive. 
  4.  Choose the perfect body font and font size for your selected safe font.

5 general tips on email copywriting:

  1. Don’t write long pieces of content in your promotional emails. Usually, people don’t read them. Use imagery and a clear call-to-action instead.
  2. Make your email easy to scan: use headlines, spacing, and lines for different content blocks.
  3. Font size matters. The best size for headlines is 18-22 pt, while the best for content is 14-16 pt.
  4. Choose neutral, email-friendly fonts for text elements and use custom typefaces for imagery.
  5. Don’t mix many different typefaces, type sizes, and colors. Primarily, this is because it never looks good. Secondly, though, it’s because it makes it hard to read and understand what’s most important in the email.
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Article by
Karolina Petraškienė

Karolina is a writer, content marketer, and email enthusiast at Omnisend. When she's not curating articles, you can find her in the woods challenging herself in hiking boots or off-roading her bike.