Picking a font for an email signature can be tricky, there are a lot of factors to consider both from a technology, brand, and psychology perspective. If you haven't made an email signature before then some of these factors may not be immediately obvious to you.
What fonts can I use in an Email Signature?
Unfortunately the range of fonts that can be used in an email signature is pretty limited. You basically need to choose a font that most people have loaded on their computer already. Generally this means sticking to a font that comes with an operating system. There is a table with most of them below.
Why can't I use web fonts and Google Fonts in My Email Signatures?
Many email clients do not support fancy new web fonts, and even those that do will probably not support using them in an email signature because of security and formatting issues, I explain this in a more technical way in this article about web fonts in email signatures. But to summarize it in a clear and concise way, 99% of the time it won't work and you will just end up more frustrated!
But what about my brand font!?
I know, it's frustrating because you can't use that beautiful font your brand guidelines require. Unfortunately this is just the state of email signatures right now and until all of the companies behind email clients like Outlook, Gmail, Mac Mail, Thunderbird, and all of the mobile versions get together and develop more of an open and consistent standard like the web has, this just isn't going to happen. Double check the brand guidelines if it is for a large company, because some of them will still identify an alternative web safe font or document font that can be used in these instances. Otherwise, your best bet is to find choose something as close as you can get.
What the heck is a web safe font?
Web safe fonts is an idea that dates back to the younger days of the Internet. The idea was that you can choose whatever font you want, but that doesn't mean that everyone will have that font on their computer, so you should really pick from a list of fonts that most people have on their computers. Usually these are fonts that come installed with Windows or Mac OS or maybe a piece of popular software like Microsoft Word. There is no way to guarantee everyone will have the font, but you can choose a font that has a majority share, and know that even someone who doesn't have that font will likely "fall back" on another similar font.
What web safe fonts can I use in email signatures?
|Times New Roman||99%||97%|
|Lucida Sans Typewriter||74%||99%|
Statistics are from CSS Font Stack.
But which font should I choose?
That depends your brand and your preferences, but I'll try to give you some information and ideas to help you make up your mind. We'll need to do a small Typography 101 lesson first:
Serif vs. Sans-Serif
A serif is a tiny projection on the end of a letterform. It is mostly decorative but they also serve a purpose when it comes to how the eye reads text on a page or a screen. These little projections can help to guide the eye and create an inferred line across the page, making it easier to read. A Sans Serif font is simply a font that does not have these decorative projections.
A Sans Serif font is generally regarded as more modern and are more typically used for reading on screens today. Using a Sans Serif font will convey a more clean, straight-forward, simple and no-nonsense attitude. It may also indicate a sense of honesty and sensibility according to Fabrik. Examples might be technology companies like Apple or Microsoft, younger retail stores like Target, and car companies like Toyota. If you aren't sure what to choose, this may be the safe bet.
A Serif font is typically used in printed media like books and newspapers, but can also be used by organizations who are looking to be perceived as more traditional, invoking a feeling of class, heritage and being more established. If you are looking to convey a sense of trust and respect, then this is a good way for you to go. Examples here might be educational institutions like Harvard, financial institutions like Wells Fargo, or car companies like Mercedes-Benz and Maserati. Be careful though, sans serif fonts tend to look worse at small font sizes on the screen, starting around 12px or less.
There are technically other kinds of typefaces such as Script, Decorative, Slab, and Grunge, but most of these are not popular enough to be on a majority of computers so should not be used as a "live" typeface in an email signature unless they are saved as a part of an image that is a part of the email signature. In addition, they are often harder to read so are best suited to logos or decorative text and not basic important information like your name or phone number.
No really, just tell me, what font should I choose?
If you really want me to make a recommendation then the tried and true choice for a sans serif font would be Arial. It's a nice looking modern font that is on 99% of computers and mobile devices making it a safe bet. It may be boring, but no one will complain about your choice.
If you are looking for a safe bet as a serif font then I would have to choose
A note about font size
In general we recommend to keep the font size on your email signature between 11px - 13px. The main reason is that you don't want the email signature to stand out more than the main copy of the email and be distracting. Staying around the body copy font size or even a little smaller is recommended. You can read more of our recommendations about font and image sizes in our guide.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the state of fonts in email signatures is quite sad and not looking like it will catch up with the web anytime soon given how splintered the market is and the lack of an organizing standards board between the major players. For now, the best we can do is make a good, safe choice of font. Since you can't lean on typography as heavily to communicate your brand, you'll have to lean on your logo and the use of color in your email signature. Do the best you can, and that's enough!