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 1024x768.
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:
“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.