Marketing automation tip: energize email with background images

Customers’ inboxes are bursting at the seams. We are all fighting – kicking, biting, and clawing, it seems – to get to the top of the inbox heap and entice customers to open our emails, click to our websites, and purchase our products or services. Are your email’s killer content and graphics fading into a lackluster background? A simple, strategic background image may be just the je ne sais quoi you need to shake things up and compel your customers to read, instead of delete, your email.

Enhancing readability and combatting image blocking. 

Effective emails balance live text and design elements to attract customers’ attention, ensure messaging is easy to read, and combat image blocking. (Need a reminder? Brush up on Whereoware’s email effectiveness checklist, complete with explanations and definitions.)

Many email clients and reader preferences turn images off by default, requiring the reader to “click to display images.” It’s impossible to stand out from the crowd with a blank email! Emails must be visually appealing when images are displayed, but also readable when images are disabled.


Generally, there are two acceptable methods for creating emails. Marketers can create an email with a combination of live text and images, but the live text must be on a solid background. Email recipients will see the email’s message, even when images are disabled. Some marketers crave design flexibility and find this option too limiting, so they create an all-image email instead. Unfortunately, this alternative runs the risk of recipients opening an email and seeing only the dreaded white screen of disabled images. To get around this issue, marketers can place live-text on top of a background image. So while the images are disabled, your text still shows up, and when they are enabled, your email recipient is reading a great looking email.

And now, a demonstration:

Check out the example below of an email for our client Coton Colors. The background image complements the overall email design and appeal, giving us the flexibility to create the exact email we intended. As you can see, recipients can still read the email, even when images are disabled.

But isn’t it hard?  

Background images were considered a big no-no, because it was too difficult to get them to render properly in ALL email clients – until recently!  Thanks to the fine folks at Campaign Monitor, using background images is now a lot easier. They developed an easy-to-use code generator for using background images, here at

A word of warning: we found a few email clients that don’t support background images – BlackBerry 4 and 5 and Lotus Notes 6.5 and 7. Combat this issue by choosing a fallback background color that complements your overall email design and company brand. The alternative solid background color will replace your background image when opened in an email client that does not support background images.  It’s easy to apply a fallback color with the handy dandy code generator (referenced above). You just fill in the hex code of your selected color in the fallback color field.

Test thoroughly. 

Here at Whereoware, email testing for design, readability, and effectiveness is the really annoying song playing in everyone’s head all the time. Test, test, test. Before you use a background image, test it out in different email clients, mobile devices, and browsers, and test that your email still looks as you intended when images are disabled.  We use email preview tool Litmus to see what our email will look like in every email client on popular browsers. This will reassure you that your background image is visible and messaging can be easily read by your customers regardless where they open the email.

Because sometimes we want to get fancy.

Eye-catching images and graphics complement exciting subject lines and dramatic offers to influence a customers’ next interaction with your brand. It may seem like a small change, but try and test a background image to see whether this technique successfully reaps higher open, click through, and conversion rates.