With the introduction of MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) internet standards, Rich interactive content based HTML email designs have broken down the monotony of Text based emails.

Let’s explore the various color schemes (apart from the various customizing options), so as to help you understand the emotions attached with different colors; and design the most responsive, profitable, popular email templates.

Eye-Catching Visuals

It takes about 100 milliseconds for you to form an impression of someone. Your customers are forming impressions of your emails just as quickly, with up to 90% of those instant judgments based on color or visual cues, according to Emerald Insight. Since ‘First Impression is the Lasting impression’, the right color should convey the value of your emails instantly, but before choosing the right color, correct color model is important.

RGB or CMYK – Choose Your Model

  • RGB (Red, Green and Blue) is the additive color model of light waves. The more color you add, the closer you get towards white. RGB color model is mostly used in electronic displays.

Fig: Graphical illustration of RGB and CMYK

  • CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key (Black)) is the subtractive color model. You subtract colors to get to white. CMYK color model is mostly used in Print media.

Achromatic, Multichromatic and Everything in Between – Color Schemes

A color scheme is the choice of colors used in design for a range of media. Once you have finalized your color model, you can choose your color scheme out of a color wheel.

Achromatic Color Scheme: Chroma is the Greek word for color and hence Achromatic means ‘One without color’ i.e. black and white scheme. The most powerful color scheme to create minimalistic contrasting visuals, it is widely used to demonstrate contrast using negative space.

Fig. The flyer for a T-shirt designing contest for PETA shows how negative space can be used.

Analogous Color Schemes: Analogous color schemes are formed by pairing one main color with the two colors directly next to it on the color wheel. This scheme creates a softer, less contrasting design.

Monochromatic Color Schemes: Monochromatic color schemes choose one main hue and multiple tints of the same. Lacks the contrast, but provides a clean and polished image.

Triadic Color Schemes: As the word ‘Tri’ suggests, it makes use of three colors which are equally spaced on the color wheel.

Complementary Color Schemes: Complementary color schemes are made of only two colors which are on the opposite sides of the color wheel.


Triadic and the Complementary color schemes provide great contrast, but in doing so can be overpowering. Tone it down by choosing one dominating color and tints of the remaining color(s).

For your email to look professional and inviting, you need to have a master color i.e. base color. The best way to connect with your customers is to associate email design with a Company’s brand which stands for the company’s value proposition, personality and presentation. Here is an interesting example:

Color can affect mood, productivity, hot/cold response and ‘visual ergonomic’ or protecting vision from unnecessary strain. The above image shows various brands’ logo, their adopted color and the personality traits associated.

For instance, Coca-Cola associates itself with youthful and bold personality, which reflects on their shade of red they used in every email.

Apple is an example, wherein their company belief is Balanced and Calm and all their email employs a great use of white space and a clear central focus on the product which is displayed with pops of color to add interest and the information is perfectly aligned and placed, with a vertical hierarchy for easy skimming. The use of different type sizes and grayscale colors let readers understand what’s important and what’s less important with a Blue CTA calling you to ‘Buy’. – also known as the Isolation Effect.

Blue is incidentally also one of the most favored colors for email CTAs irrespective of ages and gender. A study by Joe Hallock has cited that majority of men (57%) and women (35%) picked blue as their favorite color.

Also, button color of CTA has a big effect on the overall conversion of the page. Here, A/B Testing done for Perfomable shows that out of the two different CTA colors, the red button outperformed the green button by 21% since it provides a striking contrast to the overall green theme of the page. This fact holds true for email design too.

The grey-blue color accents are soothing while black or white text on grey makes it easy for you to scan the email quickly as seen in the two J. Crew emails below.

Burberry kept tan as their basic color scheme, clean lines separating each section and a mid-close shot of the trench coats and a close up exhibiting the uniqueness of each coat.

Profitability Through Colors in Email Design

Excessive use of colors in emails colors can defeat the core purpose of your mail by distracting the attention of the reader from the content to color scheme.


Some More Pitfalls to Avoid:

Harsh Colors: Stay away from colors that are overly bright or fluorescent. Tone them down so they don’t compete with your words.

Too many colors: Choose just one or two colors for your emails. The fewer colors you use, the cleaner your design so the reader won’t be distracted from your message. Pick colors that your brand uses elsewhere.

Light text on a dark ground: The most readable combination is dark text on a light ground, so stick to that whenever possible.

Cultural Association: Colors are not universal to all humans in all cultures. In the United States, black is associated with death; but in other cultures, colors like white, purple, and gold are used during the mourning period.

The urge to be dynamic frequently: Once you’ve got the design looking good, resist the urge to keep changing it. Choose a look and stick to it for a while so people recognize your mail in a quick glance.

Color Blindness: Almost 5% of the entire population is color blind – the most common type being Protanopia (red-green color blindness). Such people do not see a complete lack of color instead; they have a harder time distinguishing the two colors from each other as the red color will look like green. This is appropriately depicted in Campaign Monitor (as shown below):


  1. Choose just one or two colors for your emails
  2. Choose your color scheme around a master color, preferably brand colors. Tone down overly bright or florescent colors.
  3. Blue is the most favored color. Use it as a failsafe option.
  4. Choose your CTA button color by taking advantage of the Isolation Effect.
  5. Grey-blue color accents are soothing and black on grey aids in skimming by increasing readability.
  6. In an international mail, take heed into the cultural relevance of the color scheme you select.
  7. Stick one specific design which helps for your mail to be recognized quickly.