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The other week, we held a simple reader poll to determine the maximum width that designers were using for HTML email. After all, its been over 6 years since we issued our original recommendation that emails should be no wider than 550-600px – since then, the average display dimensions have ballooned beyond 1024×768.

Like much of HTML email design, change is slow. Many email client preview panes are still not suitable for emails exceeding 650px wide. Extra-wide emails (say, exceeding 800px), either introduce awkward scroll bars to the preview pane, or are horizontally truncated. Gauging from a purely non-scientific sample – 467 reader votes received – this seems to be common knowledge amongst designers:

Results from our email width poll

“Although the average display is getting bigger, we find that B2B email still requires the 600px limit. It sucks when the whole agency has 1920px wide screens…”
Stephen Muchmore, Armcom

A whopping 74% of votes were for a maximum email width of 550-650px. 90% of this segment voted explicitly for a width of 600px. In contrast, we received hardly any votes for fluid (100% width) layouts. 20% of respondents said they designed for an email width of 751-850px, with the majority of these responses being explicitly for an 800px maximum. In comparison, most recent fixed-width web designs angle for widths of around 900 – 1000px.

The width limitation is largely set by the small, bottom-right aligned preview panes that feature in desktop clients such as Outlook and Apple Mail. Webmail clients are far more forgiving, with Hotmail and Gmail’s preview panes expanding to the width of the email design, although banner advertising tends to take up loads of precious screen real estate.

The practical upside to being limited to a usable width of 550-650px is readability – the wider the email, the more difficult it is to read. Emails become unusable once horizontal scrollbars come into play, so it really does pay to keep your designs thin, trim and terrific.

Thank you to everyone who took part in the poll and a huge congratulations to the winners of our Campaign Monitor schwag. Stay tuned for more giveaways in the coming weeks.

  • Brett Atkin

    Your highlighted quote from Stephen M. doesn’t make sense. You shouldn’t design an email for those within your own company, it should be designed for the typical user in your target audience.

  • Oscar Pettersson

    We’ve found the rough 600px width limit is now more relevant than ever with the increase in users viewing the emails on their mobiles – typically 10-20% for some of the audiences we mail. Personally, I find this width great on the iPhone!

  • Shaun G

    @Brett Atkin – Where in the quote does it say anything about designing for people within his own company? If you got that from B2B, then you don’t know what B2B means.

  • Shannon Mølhave

    @Brett Atkin – I think the highlighted quote was just that many people (including the outside audience) have very large monitors these days, so it sucks the preview panes are still so small. BTW we design a lot of internal HTML emails in addition to outside public ones, so it’s not unheard of depending on the project.

  • Søren Sprogø

    Funny, I “surveyed” a bunch of Danish newsletters back in 2006. My conclusion back then was, that the average width was 590-600px.

    Not much has changed I see :-)

    But as you mention in the post, it is not really about the width of the users screen. Once you go above a width of 600px readability of text starts to suffer. As a rule of thumb, lines of text shouldn’t exceed 60 characters otherwise the eye have problems doing a “carriage return line shift”, ie. start reading the next line. Somehow a fixed width of 550-600px doesn’t tend to break that rule.

  • Justin Sykes

    Horizontal emails are popping up now, so hopefully there will be more variation in the future! :)

  • Hugo

    @JuJustin Sykes yah, good luck with that… Im sure it will stick, just like my square shapped steering wheel idea for the new BMW series. Ergonomics are overrated #sarcasm

  • Mitch Lapides

    Good post, Ros. It’s interesting to see how email marketers are reporting their preferences, but what really matters is what the resulting data demonstrate. Certainly, at FulcrumTech, we’ve seen that the growth in mobile requires a growing requirement to design emails for the narrower end of the scale – 550-600 pixels wide. I agree that usability issues arise with wider emails, but, more importantly, the question is how the open rates and click-through rates perform. The bottom line is the result you achieve – whether it is ROI or any other metric. Although there were a couple variables that actually changed in a recent email promotion test we did for a client, we saw a clear drop in both open and click through rates as the email width increased and the amount of content grew.

  • Automaten spielen

    Also ich vermute das ist nur eine Mode

  • sockless Joe

    I don’t have any socks on….

  • Mal

    FYI – I couldn’t read the HTML email this was sent to me with via Gmail on my iphone. The layout was too wide and made me have to scroll. Thank goodness for the “web version” link.

  • ReaderX

    @Mitch – I’m curious why the open rate would decrease due to width and content amount. If people haven’t opened to see… then they wouldn’t know it’s wider or has greater content. Had you meant something else? Or did I misunderstand? Thanks.

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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