University Web Developers

University Web Developers

Our new VP wants us to use an email template that resembles our letterhead in our daily communications.

If you do this, would you mind sharing a sample with me?

If you don't do this and have strong feelings about why not, I'd love to hear those too.

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Is this for internal only? Are you using some kind of email delivery service, or just Outlook?

A basic template would probably have a PNG/GIF image at the the top with the letterhead/logo, and then a table to constrain line length to match the letterhead image. 600px wide or less is standard.

Typically concepts from the print world don't usually make sense in the web/email world. If this is going to external stakeholders, then yes it should have some sort of branding on it. But if its internal, the added images just create clutter on the email server (although that's my inner IT nerd talking).

Since my post I've been given a few more details. The template would be for external communications, through Outlook. I was concerned it would be for every email and like you mentioned - would "create clutter."

I like your idea of having a table template. Unfortunately, I'm using Outlook for Mac 2011, which – according to my research – does not support templates. The best thing I can do is "Share" a Word file to Outlook as HTML, but it really doesn't work the way it should. The width does not constrain and Gmail views the header image as an attachment and not part of the email.

Though there have been advances in email standards, it's still difficult to have consistency among the various email clients.

Maybe a service is the way to go. Thanks for your insights, Erik!

I've had similar requests as well. Someone wants to send a pretty HTML email through Outlook/Entourage. Unfortunately, as you noted, it's a mess. Outlook uses Word's HTML rendering engine and trying to code an HTML email for it is like charging hell with a water pistol. I've done a lot of work on this recently, and this is the best solution I've come up with:

  1. Create your email as a web page. Use very, very, very basic HTML - like it's from the 90s. Go very light on CSS, if at all.
  2. Open the page in Internet Explorer on a PC and go to File > Send > Page by email
  3. This will open it as a new email in Outlook, and you can send it out.

I have not found an optimal solution for Outlook/Entourage on a Mac. You could use Safari's send page as email feature, but it defaults to the Mac Mail app. Perhaps there's a way to get it to work with Outlook. You could try "Select All" on the web page, and paste it into a blank Outlook message.

Here is a template I recently created that is designed to look good on desktops, tablets and phones. Everything is percentage based, and use of images is minimal. There is some use of -webkit-text-size-adjust to refine the text for iPhone and iPad.

One other oddity I've found with Outlook - it strips out certain CSS that it doesn't recognize, like media queries to format it for mobile. So it has to be very basic.

However - since this is for external audiences, I would highly recommend paying for an email service. It's the one thing that should almost always be outsourced. I can recommend Campaign Monitor and MailChimp.

Aside from the HTML issues in Outlook, another thing to keep in mind is that many of your readers will be viewing the e-mail on mobile devices. Fixed width tables can be very difficult to read on a smartphone or other small screen.

I did a presentation on this at the J. Boye conference in May. You can download the slides at 

In summary, my advice is to design a single-column layout with flexible width divs and inline CSS.There are a few tricks to help your design render correctly in Outlook.

To send the e-mails, I'd suggest using Thunderbird, which would allow you to paste HTML code directly into your e-mail without having it altered as Outlook does.

Test your e-mail on different devices and mail clients to make sure it displays properly.

Of course, this approach won't work if you have to rely on non-technical users to send the e-mails. As Erik suggested, a bulk e-mail delivery service might work better for you. If the goal is simply to "pretty up" routine e-mails, a simple Outlook template that just includes a banner image of your letterhead may be the best way to go. Good luck!


Thanks Erik and Paul! You hit on all the issues I was concerned about. Great tips!



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