Color will make or break your next email campaign. Sound too bold to be true?

When your email message is opened, you have a split second to make a good impression. Long before any of your words are absorbed, your reader sees the appearance of your email.

And color is the first thing that makes an impression. Will the impression be that your business is polished, professional, and trustworthy?

Or will the impression be that your business is scattered, disorganized, and hard to communicate with?

Let’s aim for the first one, shall we? Here are three ways you can create a winning color scheme for your next email campaign:

1. Choose colors that make sense to your ideal customer

Hopefully you’ve envisioned your ideal customer as you wrote your email campaign. You know who you’re aiming for, and what their challenges are. You have an idea of their age range, and maybe their predominant gender.

When it comes time to design your email campaign, keep that information at the top of your mind.

Remember, you’re not designing your campaign for you. You’re designing it for your ideal customer.

Think about what’s important to them, and what their lives are like. Think about the kind of consumer products they interact with, and what colors are used on those products.

Then translate what you know about your ideal customer to a set of colors that will make sense to them. Use colors they’re familiar with, and relate them back to your product or service.

2. Exercise restraint with a limited palette

Let’s pretend you’re going to create your email with a box of crayons. You do not have 64 crayons to choose from. You don’t even have eight!

Imagine you’ve been given a box of five crayons. With these five colors, you’re going to create a color scheme for your campaign.

When you use these five colors, don’t count your white background or black type. Here’s how to apply them to your email design:

  • Pick two main colors. Make these the dominant colors with a prominent place in your email header, your headlines and your subheads.
  • Pick two light colors to use for backgrounds. Use these anywhere you want a hint of color, or where you want to create a sidebar or text box.
  • Pick one accent color to use for calls to action, buttons, or the occasional arrow. This color should be bolder and brighter than the others, and should be used in moderation so you don’t dilute the effect.

Using colors with restraint is one of the most important moves you can make to master color. Pick your “crayons” carefully, and resist the urge to use the whole box.

3. Apply your scheme consistently across campaigns

When it comes to branding, familiarity breeds attention.

The response you’re aiming for when someone opens your email is friendly anticipation. And color can help you get that response.

Branding your email campaign over time with the same handful of colors will help it become a familiar and trusted presence in your readers’ inbox.

Without reading a word, they’ll know who it’s from. Your email will start out with an advantage because it will be recognized.

Start scheming a winning color palette today

Use these tips to put together a winning color palette for your emails.


  • Think about your ideal customer and tailor your colors to them.
  • Use a reduced palette of colors for maximum impact.
  • Apply your color scheme consistently over time so your emails will be recognized as soon as they’re opened.

Still baffled by color? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2012 and has been updated for relevancy and accuracy.