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…A thousand words according to the traditional saying, but sadly some email clients have a slightly different perspective on the matter. All too often emails pop up in my Outlook and all I can see are blank boxes and the warning “Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet”. This might be a good safety catch to stop spammers from reaching you, but it’s not the message that most email marketers would aim to be sending!

However, with a little imagination you can design creative emails that work well even without images being downloaded.

Backup your buttons
“˜Buttons’ can make a call to action stand out and look appealing to click on, but when these are images the entire point of your campaign could be missed in some email clients. Use alternative text to make it clear what the image is, or if you want to be really clever, you could use tables behind your images. In each table cell you can add a background colour and link text, which will appear even if images are turned off.

Using white text on a paler background colour can also mean your message is missed if background images aren’t downloaded (see an example here) so again, using a table to sit behind your image can work well here.

Alternate text

Using background colour on buttons

Get creative

Some email marketers have been inventive enough to use this removal of images to their advantage – Pizza Express has been widely noted for their innovative use of background colour in tables to create picture backgrounds that work while the actual images are not downloaded – you can view them and get some more ideas here.

And don’t forget the basics!

The ideas above are obviously more creative ways to make sure your emails stand out and look good without images, but getting a few basics right is important, too – use images to enhance your emails rather than as essential elements, and use different text sizes, fonts and colours to stand out. Make sure you mention your company or brand name at the top of the email in text as well as using an image logo, as the latter won’t always show if images are not downloaded.


Remember that Outlook isn’t the only email client that doesn’t automatically download images, so watch out for recipients using Blackberries and Android devices, too. Even with high numbers of recipients opening in other mobile or webmail clients that usually download images as standard, it will still depend on the individual recipient’s settings.

Images can make emails look more inviting to recipients that can see them, but allowing those without images to get the same quality of email means you are potentially opening up your emails to a whole new audience.