[2023] Image Only Emails: Pros, Cons, Strategy, and Examples

A key challenge when it comes to email marketing is being able to translate your branding consistently using an email marketing builder. Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to monkey around with an email builder and just send out an image-only email?

Let’s face it – MailChimp, ActiveCampaign, SendInBlue, Constant Contact, Pardot (and every other email marketing platform) makes it really hard to create perfectly branded and beautiful emails. The spacing can be off, the fonts are always an issue, and phones now have dark modes making it really hard to get represent your branding perfectly.

So it’s tempting to create an email in Photoshop or Canva and then just upload the image into the email marketing program. Doing just that is called sending an Image Only Email.

There have been a lot of discussions about this type of email marketing and we’re here to set the record straight. The internet evolves fast, and we have found most information about image-only emails are out of date.

Our digital marketing agency, Birch River Design Group, exclusively uses image-only emails in our email marketing service with incredible success. Our email KPIs are above and beyond normal text-based or email builder emails.

Since we can now perfectly brand our emails and get the best results – we can set incredibly clear expectations on what we can and cannot deliver.

No longer do we need to try to invent a new way of using MailChimp’s editor month after month to make our clients happy. We’ve moved our email marketing clients out of what we call client limbo and into really happy clients!

So let’s dive into Image Only Emails! Information, pros, cons, strategies, and examples used by huge brands ahead!

Should an Email Be Image Only?

Don’t underestimate the value of using images in email marketing! In an email, images allow you to communicate your message in a more powerful and effective way than you could have with text alone.

Moreover, images grab attention! Images create more interest and can better draw attention. This is important when it comes down to competing in a crowded email inbox! Plus, emails that include pictures tend to have higher open and click-through rates.

The short answer is, yes you can. When deciding whether an email can be an image-only email, consider your audience, message, and visual assets.

Sometimes, an image-only email might not be appropriate, so assess on a case-by-case basis. The image-only format has risen in popularity in many industries which is why we provided examples of well-executed image-only email marketing later in this blog!

Should You Use Images in Email Marketing?

So why wouldn’t you send image-based emails? There was a time, long ago, when images in email were used nefariously to compromise security systems, and many email clients blocked them to protect users. Today, however, with more advanced, intelligent spam filters, images in emails can be reliably delivered. Images also appear by default in many email platforms; Gmail announced in 2013 that images would display by default on desktop, iOS, and Android.

Including images in your emails is normal and accepted, but what about using only images, instead of a text-based email?

Text-Based vs. Image-Only Emails

First, what is the difference between a text-based and an image-only email?

Text-based emails are created using different information blocks that can be customized and formatted to your liking (unlike a plain-text email that is just how it sounds … plain.) When using this kind of email, you build it section by section in your email marketing service and can add hyperlink buttons with your CTAs. Most email builders use a drag-and-drop method to customize the organization and flow of your message.

Image only emails are messages in which all of the information, photos, graphics, and text are contained within a single .jpg, .png, or .gif. Rather than being contained within different sections in the email tool, all of the design elements are combined in a design tool, and the image is uploaded as the body of the email into your email delivery system. The entire image is then hyperlinked so that the reader can click anywhere on the image and be redirected to the right page.

Pros of Using Image-Only Emails

Beautiful Design

Using an image allows you more creative control over the look and feel of your email without having to take formatting on different devices into account; your text, pictures, and CTAs will all appear exactly how you wanted them to.

Design Tip: Make sure that your images are sized properly to load quickly in email messages and formatted correctly to open on mobile and desktop devices. 

Consistent Branding

Adding more thought and design to your email campaigns can boost your revenue. Having a consistent brand presentation has been shown to increase revenue by up to 33%!

More CTA (Call-to-Action) Space

The clickable surface area of your CTA goes up when you use an image file for your emails. Rather than the only link occupying a small bit of real estate in your button, your reader can click the text, ‘button’, photo/graphic, or anywhere else on that section of your email and be directed where you want them!

Cons of Using Image-Only Emails

The Danger of Bad Deliverability

Images can decrease your email delivery IF you do not resize your images to the proper file size before uploading them! Before you send an email, check with your email client to see what size they recommend you use, and remember always to send yourself a test email first!

A/B Testing Your Emails

When making any changes to your email marketing strategy, it is important to A/B test your new strategy against your previous version; this means sending one email that uses your traditional format and another that is image-based while keeping all other factors constant.

Things to Look for When A/B Testing Your Email Marketing Campaigns:

Changes in Open Rate

Negative changes in open rate might mean that your messages aren’t being delivered as well as the previous version. Check that the right image requirements are being met!

Changes in Click Rate

A decreased click rate could indicate that your CTAs may not be as strong or get lost in the image. Make sure you are still including clear, button-like CTAs.

Increased Numbers of Unsubscribed

If unsubscribes increase dramatically, you’ve likely made a change your readers don’t like it.

Give image-based email marketing a try and play around with what works. Maybe this format yields strong results in promotional emails but not re-engagement emails. You won’t know until you try!

Strategies for Image Only Emails

There are myriad ways to use images in your email marketing campaigns. Here are a few strategies and examples from real companies using the image-based format for different types of emails.

Promote a Sale

Using image-only emails to promote a sale can be highly effective thanks to the clean look you are able to create. Using big, bold imagery attracts the customer’s attention and keeps the focus on your message. The large surface area of clickable, hyperlinked space takes advantage of every square inch of email real estate.

This example by Warby Parker benefits from placing the offer right at the top with a cohesive transition into the visual elements.

Introduce Features/Perks

Email is a great place to show off your product and its features. You can create an informative and interesting message using image-only emails without worrying about formatting issues or boring your readers with too much text.

Strava laid out some of the tools available to subscribers to show the value of paying for the subscription. Providing easy-to-read summaries helps encourage users to try out the paid features. A common feature is placing the CTA “button” on top of the images to keep focus and draw attention!

By using multiple images stacked on top of each other, they could link to different pages while creating the look of a single design.

Strava's Image Only Email Example

New Product Announcements

You have a new product, so show it off! When you are selling a new product, image-only emails offer a great opportunity to showcase it in a variety of ways. From product shoots to user-generated content, an image, as they say, is worth a thousand words.

The Citizenry introduced their newest throw using an image-only email that gives it the editorial feel of a high-end catalog. Again, they stacked images on top of each other creating a beautiful, informative email.

Citizenry's Image Only Email Example
An Image Only Email Example from Press Coffee sent on August 9th, 2022

Make an Announcement

When it’s time to make an announcement, image-only emails are a great way to capture attention. Think of them as a promotional poster in your readers’ email!

Sprouts Farmers Market used this method of promotion to announce a giveaway. The graphic that was used is far more creative and on-brand than the same message would have been in a text-based email.

Sprout's Image Only Email Example

With this newly gained knowledge, go and impress your readers with bright, creative newsletters in their inbox folder! Need help creating image only emails?

Elyse Keeny

Elyse Keeny

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