Do you know why emails look so different in different clients?

Email inconsistency across different clients and devices is a common source of frustration for both senders and recipients. This inconsistency can manifest in several ways, leading to emails not appearing in the inbox, content not fully loading, or images not displaying.

Here we will have a look at the reasons why your emails might look different to some recipients, and some strategies to help you ensure that your emails always look the way you’d expect them to - to everybody that receives them no matter what they are using.

The Reasons for Email Variations

Email clients interpret and render HTML and CSS differently. While web browsers like Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer have their own unique engines for rendering web content (keep reading to find out what this means), email clients have their own as well. This results in different interpretations and displays of the same HTML and CSS code across different email clients.

This can lead to discrepancies in several areas:

Spacing - The space between elements can vary greatly from one email client to another. This is often due to differences in how each client interprets margin and padding properties in CSS.

Fonts - Not all email clients support all font types. If a certain font isn't supported, the email client will default to a different font, leading to inconsistencies in typography.

Image Rendering - Some email clients block images by default or interpret image dimensions differently. This can affect how images appear in the email.

Versions - Different versions of the same email client can also render emails differently. For example, newer versions of Outlook use Microsoft Word for rendering, which has different capabilities than older versions that used the Trident engine.

Dark Mode - Dark mode reverses the color scheme of an email, turning light colors dark and vice versa. Not all email clients support dark mode, and those that do may implement it differently, leading to potential inconsistencies.

Responsive design and media queries are tools used to make emails display properly on different screen sizes. However, not all email clients support these features. For example, older versions of Outlook do not support media queries, so responsive design techniques may not work as expected in these clients.

Find out here how Mailosaur Previews is the solution to thoroughly test emails across over 100 different scenarios to ensure a consistent experience for all recipients.

Mobile Responsiveness

The rise of mobile devices has significantly impacted email rendering. With an increasing number of people checking their emails on smartphones, it's crucial for businesses to optimize their email designs for these devices.

According to a report from Campaign Monitor, the shift towards mobile has made it more challenging to engage readers with email content. Factors such as file sizes can impact the time it takes for email content to fully render on a mobile device, affecting the user experience.

In addition to this, there can be discrepancies in how emails are rendered on different mobile devices. For example, the same email might render differently on a Google Pixel compared to a Samsung, even though both are running the same version of Android.

To address these challenges, email designers often use media queries and responsive design techniques. Media queries allow designers to apply different styles depending on the characteristics of the device viewing the email, such as its screen size or resolution. Responsive design, meanwhile, ensures that emails automatically adjust to fit the screen they're viewed on, improving readability and usability on smaller screens (Source).

However, not all email clients support these features, which can lead to inconsistencies in how emails appear on different devices. For example, some email providers might support GIF animations or embedded videos, while others do not.

Finally, it’s important to note that while mobile rendering in crucial, click-through rates from emails read on mobile devices tend to be lower than those read on desktops. This underlines the importance of optimizing not just for readability, but also for engagement and conversion.

Testing and Optimization

Testing emails in various email clients is of paramount importance due to the variances in how each client interprets and renders HTML and CSS. As mentioned earlier, factors such as spacing, fonts, image rendering, dark mode compatibility, and version-specific quirks can all lead to different displays of the same email.

Without comprehensive testing, you risk sending out emails that may not display correctly for some users, which can negatively impact your brand's image and the effectiveness of your email campaigns, and Mailosaur Previews shows you exactly how your email will look in more than 100 different email clients and devices, ensuring your email works for everyone, everywhere.

Best practices for optimizing emails for consistent display include:

Use a Responsive Design - Ensure your email design is responsive so it adapts to different screen sizes. This improves readability on smaller screens.

Keep It Simple - Complex designs and layouts are more likely to have rendering issues. Stick to a single-column layout for the best results.

**Inline CSS **- Some email clients strip out CSS in the header, but inline CSS is generally well supported.

Use Standard Fonts - While custom fonts can make your emails stand out, not all email clients support them. Stick to web-safe fonts for the most consistent display.

Test, Test, Test- Use Mailosaur Previews to test your emails across different clients and devices before sending them out.

By following these best practices and regularly testing your emails, you can ensure a consistent and engaging experience for all your recipients, regardless of which email client or device they're using.

Dive in a little deeper

For those of you that want to know a little more about the technicalities around email rendering keep reading and we will explore a little more about understanding email clients, the role of HTML in email as well as finding out what an email rendering engine is.

Understanding Email Clients

An email client is a software application that provides a user-friendly interface to send, receive, and organize email messages. Email clients communicate with email servers to fetch new emails and deliver outgoing emails.

Here's how they work in receiving and displaying emails:

Receiving Emails: Email clients use protocols like IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) or POP3 (Post Office Protocol) to communicate with the email server. When a new email is sent to your address, it's stored on the server. The email client checks the server at regular intervals for new messages, downloads them and alerts you to their presence.

Displaying Emails: Once an email is downloaded, the client displays the content in a readable format. It decodes the raw data of the email (including text, HTML, images, and attachments) and presents it to you as a complete message.

Interacting with Emails: Beyond just receiving and displaying, email clients also allow you to interact with your emails. You can reply, forward, delete, archive, and move emails to different folders. Many clients also support features like calendars, contact management, and task management.

Some of the popular email clients include:

Gmail: Google's web-based email client, known for its simple interface, robust search features, and powerful spam protection. Gmail also integrates with other Google services like Calendar and Drive.

Outlook: Microsoft's email client comes in both a web version and a desktop version (part of the Microsoft Office suite). Outlook supports email, calendar, contacts, and tasks, and integrates with other Microsoft products.

Apple Mail: This is the default email client on all Apple devices. It supports IMAP and POP3, and integrates well with iOS and MacOS, offering features like Handoff and the ability to draft emails using Siri.

In short, an email client is an essential tool for managing your digital communication, turning raw email data into a user-friendly format, and offering features to organize and interact with your messages.

The Role HTML in Email

HTML, or HyperText Markup Language, is the standard markup language used to create web pages. It's also commonly used to design and structure emails. HTML allows you to add styling, images, links, and more to your emails, making them more engaging and interactive than plain text emails.

Here are some ways HTML is used to structure and design emails:

Layout - HTML is used to create the structure of an email. This includes defining sections of the email like the header, body, and footer with HTML tags such as < div >, < header >, < footer >, etc.

Typography - HTML allows for control over the font, size, color, and style of the text in your email. You can use tags like < p > for paragraphs, <h1> to <h6> for headers, <strong> for bold text, and <em> for italic text.

Links and Images - You can include clickable links using the <a> tag and embed images using the <img> tag. This allows you to direct readers to a website or display product images, logos, etc.

Tables - Many email clients have limited support for CSS, a language used in conjunction with HTML for layout and design. As a result, tables (<table>, <tr>, <td> tags) are often used for layout purposes in HTML emails, even though this practice is less common in modern web design.

Styling - While there are limitations, inline CSS is often used in HTML emails to control the style and appearance of elements. This can include colors, borders, padding, and more.

Responsive Design - With the use of media queries in the <style> tag, you can create responsive emails that adapt their layout depending on the screen size of the device the email is viewed on.

It's important to note that not all email clients render HTML in the same way, which can lead to inconsistencies in how your email looks across different platforms. As such, designing HTML emails often involves careful testing and consideration of various email clients' quirks and limitations.

Lastly, always remember to provide a plain text version of your email alongside the HTML version for email clients that can't or won't render HTML. This is also beneficial for accessibility purposes and can help avoid spam filters.

Email Rendering Engines

Inconsistency in email rendering is often due to the different rendering engines that the various email clients use. These engines are responsible for transforming the HTML code of an email into the visual representation that you see on your screen. As a result, it's crucial to keep in mind that the formatting of your email may differ depending on the rendering engine used by your recipient's email client.

Here’s a brief introduction to some of the key rendering engines:

WebKit - This is an open-source rendering engine used by Apple Mail, the default email client on all Apple devices, and by Outlook for Mac. It's also used by many mobile email clients on iOS and Android. WebKit is known for its strong support of HTML and CSS standards, including some advanced CSS3 features. However, it doesn't support every aspect of HTML and CSS, so there can still be variations in email rendering.

Gecko- This is the rendering engine used by Thunderbird and the Mozilla family of browsers, including Firefox. Gecko's rendering of HTML emails is generally reliable, but like all rendering engines, it has its own quirks and inconsistencies.

Trident - This was the rendering engine used by older versions of Microsoft Outlook (2007-2019). Trident was notorious for its poor support of CSS, leading to many challenges and workarounds for email designers. Newer versions of Outlook have switched to using the Word engine for rendering HTML emails, which also has limited support for modern HTML and CSS.

In addition to these, there are other rendering engines like Blink (used by Google Chrome and newer versions of Opera) and EdgeHTML (used by Microsoft Edge).

The fact that different email clients use different rendering engines is one of the reasons why an email can look different depending on where it's viewed. This makes testing across multiple email clients an essential part of the email design process. It's also why email designers use a mix of old and new coding techniques to ensure their emails look good across all platforms.

Future Trends and Solutions

Email rendering is a complex process that involves various technologies and standards. We have access now to multiple email clients, each having its own way of interpreting and displaying HTML and CSS. This leads to inconsistencies in how emails are rendered, causing issues such as broken images, unresponsive layouts, and misaligned text.

One of the developing technologies impacting email rendering is Dark Mode. With the rise in popularity of Dark Mode in operating systems and applications, it’s becoming increasingly important for emails to support this feature. Dark Mode changes the color palette of an interface to reduce light emitted by screen devices, as a way of reducing eye strain. It also saves energy consumption on OLED or AMOLED displays. However, implementing Dark Mode in emails can be challenging due to the lack of standardization across email clients.

In response to these challenges, there are ongoing efforts to develop industry standards to address inconsistencies in the email experience. For instance, the Email Markup Consortium is a group of email professionals striving to establish such standards. These standards could potentially streamline the email rendering process, making it easier for developers to create emails that display consistently across different clients.

There is also a growing interest in modern rendering engines for email clients. While many clients already use these engines, their implementation is inconsistent. More uniform adoption of modern rendering engines could significantly enhance CSS support and improve email rendering.

Overall, the development of new technologies and standards is crucial for improving the email rendering process. As these advancements continue, it's likely we'll see more consistent and effective email display across different platforms and devices.

Mailosaur Previews: Mailosaur Previews offers a solution for testing emails across 100+ scenarios, ensuring consistency across clients and devices. As email rendering continues to evolve, advancements in technologies and standards promise a more uniform and effective email display experience.

Start your free trial with Mailosaur Previews to see exactly how your email will look across diverse email clients and devices.