HTML vs Rich Text vs Plain Text Email Formats


Today, we’ll explain the difference between HTML, Rich Text and Plain Text email formats and which one you should use.

The best email format to use depends on your situation. If you need advanced functionality with flexible styling options or you want to use a fancy email signature, use the HTML format. If you’re only looking for adjustable text options, such as italics or bolding, use the Rich Text format. When you just want text and no other options, you can use the Plain Text format.

However, there are a few more things you should know about the 3 different email formats and when to use them.

The Difference Between HTML, Rich Text, and Plain Text


This is the most popular email format, especially when using professional email signatures. HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language and is the coding language used by all websites around the world (including this one). Whenever you go to any website, it’s coded in HTML.

However, HTML also has a very important use in emails. When you create a new email using any of the most popular email clients such as Outlook, Apple Mail or Gmail, by default they will compose the email message using the HTML format.

An important thing to remember is that not all email clients render HTML in the same way. For example, Outlook uses the Word Rendering Engine, Apple Mail uses the Webkit rendering engine, and Mailbird uses the Chromium rendering engine. This means when you send an email in HTML format from one of these to another, the email might look slightly different.

Benefits of using HTML email format:

  • Supports use of hyperlinks
  • Allows you to use embedded or hosted images
  • Lets you use different font styles, colors etc
  • Allows the use of HTML tables
  • Supports the use of most HTML attributes

All these features make the HTML email format the most desirable when sending out email newsletters, promotional emails or when you use a HTML email signature that requires images and lots of design flexibility.

What a HTML Email Signature Looks Like


Rich Text

This is another popular email messaging format, and rightfully so. It’s used in many situations where the HTML format is not needed, but you still want some text adjustability.

Using this format, you can create email signatures that have some text styling options and also images. It’s important to note that Rich Text format doesn’t allow HTML attributes.

Some email clients, such as Apple Mail refer to a HTML email format as Rich Text. So, if you’re looking for the HTML option in your Apple Mail preferences, it will send emails as HTML format when you select Rich Text format.

Benefits of using Rich Text email format:

  • Supports text adjustability such as italics, bolding, underlines etc
  • Allows the use of embedded images
  • Lets you insert bullet points
  • Allows some text alignment options

The use of Rich Text Format (or RTF) is still quite widespread in the world of emails. It creates a perfect balance between HTML and Plain Text emails.

What a Rich Text Email Signature Looks Like


Plain Text

Plain text format allows only the use of, well…plain text.

It doesn’t allow any formatting options such as bolding, italics or any font size adjustments, and definitely no images. This makes it a bad choice if you’re looking to create a great looking email signature.

Benefits of using Plain Text email format:

  • Supported by all email clients
  • Lower email overheads, which means the size of emails is smaller
  • Less chance of your email being detected as spam because you cannot inject malicious HTML code

This is the best email format for sending emails that are frequent and don’t require any styling options. Plain text email format is supported by all email clients, making it a safe choice when sending alerts or notification style emails.

What a Plain Text Email Signature Looks Like


Which email format is best for email signatures?

HTML is the best format to use for email signatures as it gives you the flexibility and power to create an amazing email signature that your recipients will love.

Using a Plain Text email signature will mean you’re limited in what you can do and the signature will never look as good as a HTML signature.

Since all modern email clients support the HTML format, it’s always best to use that format when composing emails since you can get the most out of it, without any drawbacks.

How do email formats get converted?

Most email clients will downgrade email formats automatically if needed.

Meaning, if you receive a HTML email, it can be converted to Rich Text or Plain Text automatically, but not the other way around. Although you can convert a Rich Text or Plain Text email to HTML format, you need to do it manually for each message.

You can read more about this here.

Wrap Up

Since HTML is the best format to use, check that your email client is set to compose and reply to emails in HTML format.

If not, any emails you create or reply to will be converted to plain text and that breaks email signatures as well as other formatting in the email.

7 Replies to “HTML vs Rich Text vs Plain Text Email Formats”

  1. How one’s outgoing email looks is not the only consideration. It appears that embedded images composed using Outlook Rich Text can cause Windows Live Mail to display the entire email in Plain text, without any images. Forwarding the same email from the same Outlook to the same WLM client, but now using HTML instead of Plain Text, displays correctly. I had always been using Rich Test in Outlook. This is a recent discovery after trying fruitlessly to discover why someone’s WLM went to plain text (even though their settings were correct). It may also explain why a certain recipient often has problems clicking on my links, but not those from other people–I will test that.

  2. I’m researching the use of HTML vs Rich Text emails because I realized today when I went to insert a .jpg file displaying event information that the link in the .jpg is no longer clickable. I can make it clickable in .pdf but again, when I insert (not attach) the PDF , it also makes the link to register for the event no longer clickable. I’m not wanting to use traditional event software for the sign up because for one, we have our own system that will be taking the registrations and none of the event registration software supports signing up for more than one event at a time.

    Trying to figure out if a work around to be able to make either the entire .jpg or a section of the .jpg clickable to the form for registration sign up. This has proved to be very frustrating!

    Any suggestions/ help you can offer would be greatly appreciated!

  3. So how do I find an email client for Android that: (1) can compose & send emails in RTF or HTML, and (2) doesn’t try to take over my phone and my life? (On Windows, I use SeaMonkey mail to do this … SeaMonkey browser is the current name for the pioneering Netscape Communicator – which got taken over by AOL)

  4. I am going crazy trying to fix this. First letter of every new line capitalized when composing an email when I don’t want it to.I am using HTML. Would rich text solve this problem?

    1. Hi Thomas,

      I don’t think rich-text would solve this issue because it doesn’t seem like this is happening due to the format, but possibly some other issue with the email client?

  5. I used to use Windows Live Mail and had no trouble with the different Font Formats. But now that WLM is no longer supported by Microsoft, I use Outlook. It has been ok, but yesterday it didn’t like my exchange of emails composed in HTML. The recipient’s reply would not show on my Outlook, and I could only see what I had previously sent! But a copy of that reply was also received in my Edge client, and it actually showed the text that the sender had added in their reply to my initial email.
    I don’t want to switch to Edge because I find it hard to use/manage.
    How can I change my Outlook to respond the same way as Edge, i.e. by showing the text created by the respondee?

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