Dark Mode Email: An Introductory Guide and Tips

The only dark side of where people would want to be is of the apps and software they use- obviously, we’re talking about the dark mode. 

Dark mode has become quite popular over the last few years. 

So much so that not just applications, software, and browsers are using it, but even smartphone UIs and computer operating systems have to add the feature to their computers. 

It has become such a trend that marketers have to consider it while crafting their design and copy for their viewers or readers. 

It was only time that it also hit email marketing as well, where email clients started adding dark mode in their email design. 

This begged for the optimization and basic understanding required by marketers to ensure that their users are able to see their email, as well as they, appear in light mode. 

Hence, email development adds another chapter for marketers to worry about but not to worry as even if you know nothing, this guide will help you in : 

  • Understanding the dark mode in email 
  • History of dark mode 
  • Learning how email clients adapted to the dark mode
  • The effect of the dark mode on email deliverability 
  • Helpful tips for dark mode email design
  • How email clients interpret the dark mode 

What is Dark Mode Email? 

The dark mode is the condition or state of your screen, software, or platform in which colors on the user’s device are inverted to lower the amount of light on the screen. 

The decrease in the light coming from the screen relieves eye stress and makes users comfortable working on screens late at night. 

It commonly inverts the white ground to black background and black text to white text which eases up the strain on the user’s eyes. 

Dark mode, not just on emails but on computers, browsers, or any other platform known to benefit the users for comfortable long-term use of the screen at night or in dark conditions. 

The History Of Dark Mode  

It might surprise you, but what is considered the dark mode today? That’s how the computer used to look in the old days of its earlier days of invention. 

At that time, computer displays were using Cathode-ray tubes, so it was the best display technology to be found at that time. 

The first modern implementation of dark mode was used by an app called Pocket in the year 2012. 

The pocket app helps their users to save anything from the internet in one place with one click, so they can go back and read it when they have time. 

So it made perfect sense to put dark mode in their app as users must read these saved links across the web late at night. 

The idea was the same to make the text easier to appear on the screen in a darker room or night, perhaps reading in bed.

The dark mode is taken to the Pocket’s website as well and then plenty of applications pick up the feature and start integrating it into their platforms as well. 

In 2016, Twitter also enabled the night mode feature for their Twitter users. 

In the last few years, tech giants like Apple and Windows also enabled dark mode in their systems as a color choice. 

So this means when users opt for this dark mode, all the apps and windows will be in dark mode by default. 

The Effect Of Dark Mode On Your Email Deliverability 

What you need to understand is that email users are in a rush, and they receive tons and tons of emails on a daily basis. 

They are a fickle group, and they are basically looking for reasons not to pay attention to email or not open it. 

Any incompetence or lack of optimization you show them through your design or copy will make them impromptu towards your emails. 

Also, many email clients do not focus on the optimization of email design features for dark modes, such as logo placements, banners, pictures, etc.

Due to this, when users are using dark mode, and your email is not optimized as per dark mode, it makes your emails look messy, unprofessional, and hard to read. 

They are not going to put effort into reading a bad-looking email, so either they will delete it, ignore it or spam it.  Overall, this will have a negative impact on your email deliverability. 

Dark Mode In Email 

Email clients do not share any documentation for email developers to control the dark mode in email. 

If you look at the dark mode usage in an email today, one of the statistics states that 13% of email users of the iOS 13 mail app utilize the Dark mode. 

Other email clients such as Gmail, Outlook website, Outlook app, and Apple Mail also started offering dark mode making it easy to read emails at night. 

Pro Tips For Dark Mode Email Design 

Pro tips for dark mode email design

Plan According To  Different Email Clients 

There are different email clients that started introducing their own dark mode for the users. Apple Mail and Outlook 2019 started offering their dark mode on the desktop. 

Then you can also consider Gmail and other Outlook email clients that offer dark mode for Android smartphones and iOS as well. 

You have to keep in mind that every email client reads an email bit differently. 

There always will be some differences in the rendering of emails depending on the email client you consider for email marketing. 

Not all email clients show you the email the same way in light mode as you see it in dark mode. 

Then there are some email clients which show exactly the same in the dark mode as what you see in the light mode. 

This impacts the user experience for the email, so when you are optimizing your email design, you need to make sure you are choosing the right email client. 

The ideal case scenario will be crafting an email design and choosing the right email client where your email looks good in either of the modes- light or dark. 

There are some email clients that recognize the email design with its color scheme and automatically change it to dark mode with relevant color changes. 

So, for example, if you craft a design where the background is mostly white with the majority of the text in black and then some in red and yellow. 

You would want an email client that recognizes this and changes the background to black, changes the black text with white, and then yellow and red ones inverted as well. 

Here are how each email client works :

  • Unchanged:  Apple Mail, iOS Mail 
  • Partially inverted: Outlook Android app, Gmail Android App, Outlook.com, iOS app, Outlook 2019 for macOS, Outlook iOS app
  • Fully inverted: Outlook 2019 for Windows, Gmail iOS app

Use Transparent Images In Email Design

When you design your email, you need to make sure to use transparent images in order to optimize it for dark mode usage. 

This is because when your user changes the email app or platform into dark mode and the colors are inverted, changing black to white and white to black, your design will look natural. 

When you don’t do this, the white background in the design changes to black and so the background of your image appears in a box with a white background on top of a black background. 

With light mode, this doesn’t matter because the white background of the image and the overall white background get mixed in, so you don’t see the box surrounding the image. 

This makes the email design look ugly and unprofessional as well.  

Make Sure You Outline Your Black Text In White 

When in the dark mode in email, the black text in your email message will not show up because the background will be inverted to black as well. 

So to make sure your black text still shows up in the dark mode is to highlight it in white. 

It won’t impact anything when the user sees your message in light mode, as white highlights will mix up with the white background. 

But it will highlight the text and make it appear on a black background when it is inverted in dark mode. 

Test Your Dark Mode Email Design 

This step comes right after you finish drafting and designing your email. 

You would want to first test it out in the dark mode before you launch it in an email marketing campaign. 

Not just with the dark mode you also need to see how it looks in the light mode to see the comparison and whether the email client reads the email right in dark mode or not. 

You Can Also Go With Plain Text 

Another best way to go forward is to play safe by designing your email in the simplest way possible, i.e., with plain text. 

When you go with plain text, you don’t have to worry about any design elements or color schemes at all. 

Even in the dark mode, the plain text just simply turns white from black, and the background changes to black from white. 

Since there are no images or graphics, you don’t have to think about it or any other elements. 

Email Clients On Dark Mode 

No Changes At All 

There are some email clients that allow you to keep your email design or template unaffected by dark mode. 

They do have a dark mode where their UI changes as colors are inverted, but it doesn’t necessarily change how your HTML email design is rendered. 

So, in this case, you won’t see any impact on the email design and its color scheme, even if the email client UI is in dark mode. 

It doesn’t matter whether the email app is set to the light mode or dark mode; your email will look the same. 

These email clients preferably render your light mode design as that’s their default unless you are using some code to trigger dark mode. 

Default Mode vs. Custom Mode 

There are very few clients that automatically enable their default dark mode to your email design. 

It almost enforces the dark mode on your email design, where your email must be optimized accordingly to look visually good enough as it appears in light mode. 

Unless you do something to stop or change it, dark mode is enforced on your email design by the email client. 

The only problem is these default styles aren’t good enough, so the best option to go forward is the custom mode. 

Designing and coding are required to create your own Dark mode theme. This is important if you don’t want your emails to be a victim of these badly crafted default themes. 

Here’s an example of both light and dark themes used by Litmus 

Partial Color Invert 

Partial color invert is basically the first Dark Mode theme which identifies the areas in your email design with a light background. 

Once it detects these areas, it inverts it into a dark background where the dark text changes to the light text. 

Usually, this inverting process is smart enough to leave the areas that are already dark as usual, it is. 

Most email clients use this particular method of partial color invert. One of the examples of this email client is Outlook.com which uses the partial color invert, as you can see in the following screenshot. 

Full-Color Invert 

This is the most enforced and disruptive color scheme as the full color invert not just inverts the areas that are light backgrounds but also changes the dark background as well. 

So in case you already made your email design in dark mode, this enforced full-color invert ironically changes it back to light instead of making it dark or keeping it dark. 

This clearly means that full-color invert processes do not necessarily recognize the light and dark backgrounds but enforce a complete invert process. 

The invert process happens irrespective of their current status as light or dark mode. 

Not just this invert process radically changes the email design but also, using the same reason, the email client does not allow the feature of dark mode targeting. 

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