Dark Mode: Email marketing’s most annoying enemy

dark mode: email marketing's most annoying enemy

We all know bestie dark mode by now – she’s pretty and mysterious and easy on the eyes when you wake up to check your phone in the middle of the night. Dark mode is the friend of many internet users – most devs have used dark-mode interfaces for as long as they’ve been available, and even your dear old nan has probably confused herself by switching dark mode on by accident before.

Every app, every device, every UI, and (almost) every email client worth having, will have at least taken a look into dark mode, if they don’t already have a dark mode live for users.

The benefits of dark mode for everything, not just emails

Dark mode has become suuuper popular in the last few years, and for a few good reasons! One of the most significant is that it reduces eye strain when you’re looking at screens. This is why every developer you know (the kings and queens of intently staring at a screen for hours and hours on end) has used dark mode for years now. 

Most surveys estimate that between 75% and 95% of smartphone users use dark mode in some way – whether this is through their own phone’s interface, on certain apps or switching between light and dark mode. 64.6% of people also reportedly expect sites to automatically apply a dark theme, which is incredibly significant. Screentime has also risen significantly for lots of people in the last few years, and with an increasing number of companies adopting hybrid or fully remote working, the hour-counter is only going to go up.

Dark mode can help you in a bunch of ways, including:

  • Reducing eye strain, especially in dark environments.
  • Better readability for both words and data – people actually tend to make quicker (but just as accurate) decisions when viewing data in dark mode, according to research by Salesforce.
  • Extended battery life on your devices, from reduced screen brightness overall.

dark mode data optimized

Types of dark mode in email marketing

To clarify, dark mode itself isn’t annoying, or an enemy. I like dark mode and I use it on my personal emails, on my phone and on any apps that will support it! It’s really (as it always is) the email clients that are a pain in the arses of marketers when it comes to dark mode.

Nothing is particularly simple when it comes to email marketing – the sheer number of different devices, clients, providers and preferences makes sure of that!

However, there are, generally, three key approaches to dark mode for email providers – all of the main providers (Apple & iOS, Android, Gmail and its related apps, Outlook and its related apps, to name a few examples) will use one of these, and some are more practical than others:


No Colour Changes

For email clients taking this approach, your emails will look the same in dark mode as it does in light – just with a dark mode border and subject line! The body of your email will remain in light mode, or at least exactly as you originally designed it. This makes life very easy for email marketers, but also kind of defeats the point of dark mode emails in the first place, so swings and roundabouts!

Apple Mail, iPhone Mail, iPad Mail largely support this way of going about dark mode.


Partial Colour Invert or Partial Dark Mode

Partial colour invert detects areas in your email with light backgrounds and then inverts the colours, resulting in white text and dark backgrounds. If you have dark areas in your email designs, partial colour invert will usually leave them as they are, so you’ll get a consistent dark-mode application – however if you’re going for a high-contrast design, partial colour invert will tend to get rid of this.

Outlook.com, Outlook 2019 (Mac OS), Outlook App (iOS and Android) and the Gmail App (Android) are a few key email clients that use partial colour invert.

laptop with dark mode lights


Full Colour Invert or Full Dark Mode

Full colour invert does exactly what it says on the tin – fully inverts the colour scheme of your emails. If you have dark sections, they’ll become light, if you have light sections they’ll become dark. Light text on a dark background in light mode will also invert, to become dark text on a light background. Unlike partial colour invert, it’s consistent, but partial invert gives you a “true” dark mode experience, whereas full colour can be a mixed bag.

Outlook 2019 (Windows) and the Gmail App for iOS are the two main clients that use full colour invert, and this is probably the toughest mode for email marketers to work around, but work around we will!

Making dark mode work for your email marketing: A few expert guides

dark mode phone settings

If none of that has made any sense to you, or even if it has and you now have a great thirst for knowledge – here’s a few articles who have, in all honesty, said it better than me!

  1. This guide from Simple View comes with some very helpful visual representations of the different types of dark mode, and gives you a few helpful tips for universally designing around dark mode of all kinds in your basic email-builders (your Mailchimps, ActiveCampaigns, Klayvios etc.). It’s super-easy to read and nice and beginner friendly, but with plenty of info that’s useful for email marketing specialists as well!
  2. Campaign Monitor have an excellent guide for more technical email specialists, with lots of useful code-based workarounds and hacks for dark mode in emails. If you’re using HTML or custom themes for your emails, this is the article for you.
  3. If you’re neither a beginner nor a pro developer but still need some tips on creating dark mode emails, Email on Acid have got your back. Alongside your campaign builder tips and tricks are some of those HTML hacks, explained simply and laid out in a way that even beginners to the world of <html> can digest without too much trouble.
  4. For ✨visual learners✨, this guide from Uplers is god tier. Super visual, super clear and super concise, the importance of dark mode and the quickest, simplest ways around it are all laid out very beautifully indeed.

And If you’re truly ravenous and entirely insatiable in your quest for email marketing dark mode tips, and still in need of more, why not give Embryo a bell