Font Color in Email

Question from the Peanut Gallery today:

“What color font needs to be used when you are writing emails to a person in a higher position? Some say it doesn’t matter, and others say it is better to use black. To my knowledge, it is always best to use only black or blue. Kindly advise us as to what is right.”

As always, the answer is: “That depends.”

There are three things you should consider when making the judgment about what color font to use in any document, whether it be email, PowerPoint slides or printed in hardcopy form.

1)      Readability – You want enough contrast between the background and the text so that the reader’s eyes don’t have to work too hard to figure out what the letters and numbers are. If the background is white, then black or dark blue offer the most contrast for type clarity. However, if the background is blue, don’t use red, which is incredibly hard to read. I’ve seen this combination in several PowerPoint slideshows, and it drives my eyes buggy. Use white or yellow instead.

2)      Reproducibility – If your document is ever going to be faxed, scanned, or photocopied, then black is the font color of choice on a white background.

3)      Flavor – If you want to establish your personal image as an out-of-the-box thinker and unique individual, you might choose to use a violet or purple font color. If you’re a florist with a green thumb, perhaps a dark green font would convey that subtly to the reader. If a serious business image is your aim, then choose black or navy blue.

Let me tell you a little personal story about red font color in an email. When I was telecommuting at one magazine job, I did most of my communication with the office-based management via email. One subscriptions report prepared by the Vice President and circulated to the whole staff had some numbers that didn’t seem to add up. I did a “Reply to All” and highlighted the numbers in question in a red font in the email to make them stand out from the other numbers. Well, the VP took offense and got really miffed, and our working relationship was never the same after that.

Moral of the story: red ink is bad; black ink is good – especially in business!


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