So you want to send an HTML email?

While we believe print still holds a very real place in the realm of communication, we know digital forms also play their role. Design and Printing Services designs, tests, and sends HTML emails, and today we want to share that process with you.

Much like with your print pieces, we can take your content and transform it into a coded HTML email. We have access to various WSU distribution groups system-wide so you can get your message to your desired audience easily!

Planning your email

When it comes to planning your HTML email, there are a few things to keep in mind regarding your content. It’s best to keep it concise and drive to your main website when possible. HTML emails are usually tailored toward short attention spans, and they will be competing with the other emails in your reader’s inbox. If your content doesn’t grab your reader’s attention, they will probably click through and delete as they’re sorting through the rest of their emails.

It’s also important to not rely on your image to convey important content. There are 2 parts to this. Your reader may not or cannot download images in their email, so having the content outside of it helps make sure they’re getting your message no matter what. It also is a good web accessibility practice as, depending on your alt text, a screen reader won’t be able to read the content embedded in an image.

Smashing Magazine says there’s a pretty standard formula to create a strong HTML email, and this aligns with the way our designers typically set them up as well: a header image at the top, your main copy, a call to action, and the footer. It may sound like a simple formula, but it’s a strong one, and it’s one readers have come to expect from HTML emails.

A typical layout of HTML email.


While our designers will bring in the brand as appropriate, if you have an established campaign of materials, it’s important you are able to share that with us to incorporate as possible. Providing your coordinator with any images or color palettes, or if you have an idea for the layout, will help move your HTML email project through design more efficiently too. And if you’re interested in our more cost effective options, we also have email templates we can use to keep the design cost of HTML emails as low as possible.

Web accessibility

Web accessibility is an important part to consider when it comes to HTML emails. The biggest items to keep in mind are color contrast, using linked text instead of linked URLs, and avoiding text-heavy images (put that information in the body of your email text instead). You can find more information about WSU and web accessibility on the web communication website.

Starting your email project

Once you’re ready to begin your HTML email project, contact your coordinator or submit a project request! After we receive your content, a designer will take your email and bring in their expertise to create a coded digital message.

We will not send out the email without you seeing it first! The HTML file is saved under a unique URL from the beginning, so your coordinator will send you that link to review. Similar to how we will provide a PDF proof for review, you will have the chance to make changes to the HTML email.

If you’re really looking at taking your digital communications to the next level, you’ve probably curated a custom email distribution list. We can distribute to those too! By providing your list as an Excel sheet with each email address on its own line, we can send your HTML email to whoever you’d like.* You can even combine sends to the WSU community lists we have and your custom lists!

Another strategy you can utilize to step up your email is variable data. Yes, we can do it with HTML emails as well as print! There is a caveat since browsers aren’t able to pull the data file the email version uses to display variable data, but it’s a great way to personalize your digital communication.

A sample email with variable data merge codes.

Testing your HTML email

The most important part of the process, however, is the testing phase. Email clients all have their own settings that are applied when an email is viewed in their program, and Outlook in particular can introduce things that conflict with the code. By sending the email out to a small group ahead of time, we can look at how the email is performing and try to catch potential issues before it sends. When you receive this test, remember to view it in both your desktop and mobile devices so you can see how everything is looking as the screen size is adjusting as well!

Once the email has been given the green light, it slides into our queue! We strategically distribute HTML emails based on their audience in order to spread out how many emails that group receives in any given day.

Congratulations! You’ve just sent an HTML email!

*When sending your email list, please email it through our secure file transfer website in order to help protect the information within those lists!

Want to see samples of our emails? Click on any of the images below to go to their URL!

A mobile phone displaying the  Edividend HTML email.
A WSU winter paper doll HTML email displayed on an Iphone.
A mobile phone with appeal HTML email on display.

Ready to start your HTML email? Gather the following information and then contact your project coordinator. Not sure who your coordinator is? No problem! Fill out the project request form and your coordinator will be in touch!

• From name: Who is this email coming from?

• Reply email: Who should email replies go to?

• Subject: The subject line of the HTML email (50 characters/spaces maximum).

• Value statement: Typically a 3 to 5 word call to action that displays at the very top of the email.

• Send date: The day you’d like your HTML email to go out. (standard turnaround time is 5 to 7 business days)

• Send list—Who are we sending to? Choose a WSU Mailman list(s), submit a custom list as an Excel file, or do a combination of both.

• Opt out email address—Who the list member will need to email in order to unsubscribe (custom lists only).

• Authorized budget code