The Trials and Tribulations of HTML Newsletters

Explore the trials and tribulations I faced as an Interactive Designer responsible for implementing and testing HTML newsletters for various email clients and operating systems.

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Newsletters are the bane of my existence. Luckily, our team at Hanely Wood no longer has to work on them. Here are some tidbits we learned during the time we spent managing the design of our HTML newsletters.

A glass pitcher of coffee is being poured into a white coffee mug that says “Ugh.”
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Newsletter Testing

A newsletter is a great way to stay in touch and provide useful and interesting information to your subscribers. But you don’t want to publish your newsletter without checking whether it looks good on all devices.

Testing newsletter HTML is an important step in the process of creating a web-friendly version of your email. Simply viewing the .html file in a web browser isn’t good enough.

To test your newsletters and verify that they appear properly on today’s most popular email clients, you should use an email testing tool. You can use the tools below to test how your HTML newsletter is going to look on different devices, browsers, and email clients.

Email on Acid

For the past few years, we’ve relied on Email On Acid to test our newsletters.

Here’s what we like about it:

Many Options for Email Clients
Email on Acid allows you to test with multiple email clients on different browsers, desktop email clients on different operating systems, and mobile email clients on different devices. You’ll be amazed (and frustrated) to learn how different (and potentially jacked up) your newsletter can look in the same email client, but on different operating systems.

Mobile Emulator
The browser and desktop tests only provide screenshots, however, the mobile tests can be viewed in a mobile emulator, allowing you to interact with your newsletter. This can be helpful in determining the usability of your newsletter on a mobile device.

Tips and Tricks
This feature is great for troubleshooting issues with your newsletter. Maybe you can’t use floats or your embedded CSS is getting stripped out. Here’s an example of the Tips and Tricks section for Outlook 2010 on Windows 7:

Tips and Tricks section for a test against Outlook 2010 on Windows 7

Starting here will help you save time in fixing issues with your newsletter.

Sharing Results
Email on Acid allows you to share your test results, which is useful for sharing with someone who doesn’t have an account. We use this to share with our stakeholders so they can take a look themselves in case we missed anything during QA.


One drawback of Email on Acid is that the screenshots are not always an accurate representation of how the newsletter looks on a particular client. There have been times when we’ve been alerted to a visual issue with our newsletter that didn’t appear in an EOA test, but on the actual email client on a given operating system. To recreate these issues, we’ll use Litmus Putsmail to send off a test email to one of our email addresses, then open it in the email client on the operating system in question (usually using some type of VM software such as Parallels).

In addition to Putsmail, Litmus has a suite of email testing features that are comparable to Email on Acid. I have not used Litmus myself, but you can check it out at to see if it’s a better option for you.

HTML and CSS Tips

Use a Boilerplate

Don’t start from scratch. Use a boilerplate because it’s likely been implemented in such a way that the quirks specific to each email client have already been worked out for you. We used a boilerplate off of and customized it from there. Though Emailology no longer exists, I’ve been able to find a gist of the boilerplate at

Hate’s Contextual Highlighting?

Use the following snippet to override’s contextual highlighting:

/* Overrides Contextual Highlighting */

   span {

       color: #000;

       border-bottom-width: 0;

       border-bottom-style: none;


Avoid Deeply Nested Tables

At some point, our newsletter layout was a little more complex than they are now. This resulted in some nested tables that were affecting Outlook. We ended up with a huge gap of whitespace in the middle of our newsletters. We followed the tips from Email On Acid, however, nothing worked. So don’t do this.

I actually don’t recall if we ever fixed this issue. We moved on to a simpler template shortly after.

Include Both Embedded CSS and Inline CSS

Embedded CSS

Embedded CSS is useful for mobile design and overriding the styles of extra elements inserted by the email client.

Here’s a snippet that ensures all your links are the desired color and style, taking into account that Yahoo inserts a span.yshortcuts inside all links:

/*Yahoo adds span.yshortcuts inside all links*/


   span.yshortcuts {

       color: #000; /* Link color must be set inline for Gmail*/

       background-color: none;

       border: none;

       text-decoration: none;


p a:link,

   p span.yshortcuts {

       text-decoration: underline;


p a:active,

   p a:visited,

   p span.yshortcuts:active {

       text-decoration: underline;




   span.yshortcuts:active {

       color: #000;

       background-color: none;

       border: none;

       text-decoration: none;




   span.yshortcuts:focus {

       text-decoration: underline;


Inline CSS

Gmail does not supported embedded CSS. Use either of the following inline CSS tools to convert your embedded CSS into inline CSS:

Learn How to Walk Away

Depending on the complexity of your newsletter, the time and frustration to get it to look exactly the same on every supported email client for each platform are simply not worth it. Maybe your link shows up purple in Gmail despite the styles setting them to blue. Maybe the spacing between paragraphs in Outlook 2016 is a little more than desired. If your content is still readable and still maintains the basic layout, do away with the nuances if you haven’t been able to solve them within a reasonable amount of time.

That’s all I have and I hope I never have to experience the pain of creating newsletter templates ever again. Good luck!


Email on Acid — An email testing tool.

Litmus — Another email testing tool.

Foundation for Emails (formally Ink) — A framework for creating HTML emails.

Emailology’s Boilerplate Gist — An HTML template from the former

Bojler — An email framework created to ease the pain of creating email templates.

Campaign Monitor’s CSS Guide — A guide to CSS support for the most popular email clients.

Email on Acid’s Tips & Tricks — A collection of CSS and HTML tips and tricks for the most common email clients.

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