Did you end up here because you want to create responsive email templates for your business, but you still aren't sure about the quickest method and the best email building tool for your requirements?
It's OKAY! You aren't the only one struggling with this topic.
Lucky for you, I'll do the heavy lifting by presenting the benefits of different email template creation methods and comparing the top 11 email builders for you.
Where should you start?
Generally speaking, you have two options if you want to do everything on your own:
- You can code an email template from scratch in HTML or in one of the newly emerged, email-specific markup languages like MJML.
- You can use a drag-and-drop email builder tool (either inside your ESP or a standalone software).
(There's actually a 3rd option too: instead of spending your time with email creation, you can work with an agency or freelancer email pro who will do the job for a fee, in which case they'll use one of the above methods.)
What is the difference between email coding and using drag-and-drop email editors?
Email coding is a very technical procedure for creating responsive email templates. It requires in-depth knowledge of HTML, CSS, and various email rendering methods, while drag-and-drop email builders let you create email template designs with the ease of WYSIWYG editors (What You See Is What You Get).
The upside of email coding is that it gives you full control over each and every aspect of email design, while most email builders are limited in some ways and the email code quality varies from provider to provider.
Even if you're a professional HTML email coder (or you hire one), it's much faster and safer for you to choose one from the WYSIWYG email builders listed below. They will definitely help you cut down on email production time, but take your time and choose wisely; look for a tool that gives you enough flexibility with design while also producing high-quality, email-specific code.
All of the email builder tools listed below will create the required HTML email code for you automatically. But don't forget: for some of them, you might need additional tools (like email rendering checkers) to extend their functionality, while there are others that work well standalone.
What to expect from a drag-and-drop email builder tool?
When you're using drag-and-drop email creator software, you shouldn't need to spend any time with email coding. Changing little parts also becomes faster and easier, without needing any design or technical knowledge.
Scaling the email production, creating richer experiences, and coordinating newsletter design with the design of other marketing channels are must-haves for every business, according to Litmus's top email design and production trend in 2019 research.
A genuine email builder can help you in all three of these requirements:
- Scale email production by using branded templates, applying design systems with modules or Blocks (often also called snippets or partials)
- Enrich reader experiences with beautifully designed, animated visuals and interactive elements
- Coordinate branded design of marketing channels by using tools that help re-create the same brand appearance for every digital channel — even email designs — fighting all the limitations of responsive HTML emails
Needless to say, a good email builder's output is HTML code that is 99% bulletproof in every major email client. Why? You don't want to risk your CTR% just because your email fails to render properly for some recipients.
Drag-and-drop responsive email editors
Below you'll find a list of the most-used independent email design tools, plus MailChimp's email editor as well.
I included MailChimp since it is the most widely-known email marketing service provider on our lovely Earth. As such, most of you have tried or seen their email design tool before, so it's a good baseline for comparison.
Like I mentioned above, you may need additional tools (like email rendering checkers) to extend the functionality some of these builders. Calculate the price of extra software before you make a final decision.
MailChimp's email editor
Since MailChimp optimized its platform mostly for SMBs, their email editor is quite simplistic and easy to understand. It contains all the basic features that are commonly used in email designs.
If your business is just starting out, most likely you'll be good to go with any email template that you can create using their simplified drag-and-drop interface, or you can choose one from their built-in email templates collection ("Themes" in Mailchimp's lingo).
These emails will do the job, but most of them won't bring you the full potential, and they definitely won't help you stand out in a crowded inbox.
The editor interface is very limited in general, and will prevent you from creating something unique. Apart from different colors, fonts, and images, your emails will look the same as other MailChimp users', and the editor can sometimes be frustrating to use — for example, you can't easily resize an uploaded image.
Beefree is a freemium email editor that's developed by an Italian ESP called Mailup. The first version of Beefree was launched in the autumn of 2014. Since then, the software has changed and improved a lot.
Generally speaking, it's easy to use and includes a series of nice looking email templates that any business can customize for their needs.
Their email editor interface is quite flexible when it comes to design customization, but there are still some things you won't be able to do in the Beefree editor. For example:
- Using unequal column widths — it's either 50-50%, 66.6%-33.3%, 33.3-33.3-33%, or 25-25-25-25% in Beefree. You'll need to fit these limits, or else it won't be an ideal solution for your email design needs.
- Creating a 5 column structure — for example, if you need to add custom social icons. 4 columns are the maximum.
Although Beefree started as a 100% free software, currently the free version is very limited. The users of the free version can choose from about 50 email templates, but won't have the option to save their work for future purposes.
So you'll need to switch to a BeePro subscription very quickly if you'd like to use a visual email builder to update your weekly newsletter or other promotional emails regularly.
Their paid packages are reasonably priced, knowing what value a drag-and-drop email builder can add to a marketers toolset.
The editor interface is pretty much the same in all paid packages, but there are some features which are only available in the $25 or $45 pricing tiers.
Although you won't find any information about which email clients Beefree supports, their email HTML quality is one of the better ones among the email builders. On the other hand, the official compatibility list is not published, so you can never be 100% sure about which email clients your Beefree email will properly render on and which ones will have issues, so always make sure to run some tests using Litmus or Email on Acid.
Chamaileon is the new freemium email design product of EDMdesigner.com that helps teams of all sizes to create and manage email designs at a scale.
The interface itself is the most flexible of the online email builders in the list, which makes it more complicated to use than Mailchimp's editor. Deep customization options come with a learning curve, but after you've mastered your editing skills, it will give you total freedom in email design and template customization.
There are 100+ free responsive email templates built-in to the software, all of which have unique designs and are optimized for different use cases like E-commerce, SaaS, or general-purpose newsletters. All of the templates have pre-saved blocks that you can re-use in your own email design. That means at least ~1000 pre-designed content modules that you can mix-and-match to create entirely new emails without "designing" new sections from scratch.
Chamaileon is the only email design software that offers an HTML import option, making any email template you find editable in the software. In other email builders, there's no automatic process for this, so you'll need to either recreate your custom design using their editor or fiddle around in the HTML code to add certain tags to it in order to make parts of the email editable inside the tool (just like in the case of MailChimp).
The HTML import works well with most email HTML, but the imported version isn't always a 100% match. The improvement of the import service is a continuous project for our team, so expect serious enhancements over the next 6 months.
While using Chamaileon for designing emails is completely free, downloading or exporting the HTML emails are limited in the Free package to 5 exports/month. It's probably enough for you if you're just going to have a monthly newsletter. For email experts and marketing teams who prepare more campaigns throughout an average month, I recommend the Premium plan, competitively priced at $20 per user.
Coffeecup's Responsive Email Designer
Coffeecup's email builder is desktop software that works on both Windows and Mac, and its pricing is quite simple — $129/year.
The free trial version includes all features, but it's limited to 3 exports and test emails in total, so it's only useful for testing, not for real production use.
The software is roughly as advanced as Mail Designer Pro 365 and has a similar user experience as well. It offers various customization options, and you can create unique-looking emails with it, but you'll need to master the interface and have a deep understanding of email layout and structure.
I ran a test on the exported code using Litmus and found that the code it produces is not responsive on the mobile Gmail App (Android, iOS), as well as on Samsung Mail and Outlook for Android.
This is a huge issue, since Gmail is the most popular web-based email client, and the majority of its users use it through the native mobile apps.
I'm not sure if this rendering issue only happens with the chosen built-in template or if it happens with others as well, but based on this test, I would just recommend it only for those people who will tweak the HTML code a bit after exporting.
Designmodo, a veteran site providing valuable products, information, and resources for designers, has recently launched a new email builder product called Postcards.
After giving it a chance, I realized that it is not really an email builder, but rather more of a configurable email template with 100 modules, very similar to those that you can buy on Themeforest for $19.
In Postcards, you can't design your own layouts or structures; you are purely limited to using what they offer. There are 10 different menu "modules", which in fact are rather only 5, but in dark and light themes.
Knowing the limitations of their software, I think it's not really worth the $18 or $30 / month investment. For this money, all other email builders mentioned in this article offer many more templates and better customization options, especially if you take into account that a simple $19 email template from Themeforest is comparable to Postcards.
Mail Designer 365
Mail Designer 365 is a Mac-only email designer software starting from $30 or $40/user per month, depending on which plan you choose.
The software itself has a nice UI and offers deep customization options. It seems to target designers who are familiar with photo editing tools like Photoshop.
Quite surprisingly though, users can't create their own layouts and are limited to using the built-in blocks only. This might not be an issue for some users though, because there are 60+ different layouts available to use in various combinations, up to 6 columns.
What I'm unsure about, just as in case of most other email builders, is the final email HTML quality. There seem to be way too many customization options in the editor, and I suspect that many of them won't render correctly in Outlook or some of the other more picky email clients.
Unfortunately, it's not possible to test the software properly in the free version, so to get the real hang of it you'll need to choose a paid plan almost right away.
If you are a designer with a Mac and some money burning a hole in your pocket, go for it. Just make sure to run email rendering tests as well, or you might see an unfortunate result when your team or client sends the final email blast, and it falls apart on some email clients.
Mailstyler is a bit old-school, Windows-only email builder that you can buy for a $99 one-time fee.
The interface itself feels like an older Windows application, but it's quite easy to use. After digging a bit deeper, I figured out that it's more of a Themeforest template editor with advanced customization options, as you don't have the freedom to create your own blocks, but only to reuse the 60+ pre-designed content blocks.
The produced HTML works well in most email clients, including Outlook and Gmail, so if you like the design of the interface and want to invest into a desktop software instead of a template from Themeforest, Mailstyler is worth a try. You can test the full functionality for free after installation.
Mosaico is a very basic email builder, but — based on the Postcards example I gave above — I should also call this one a configurable email template.
There are a minimal number of blocks and almost zero customization options. You can only replace the images or text, add images, or change the color scheme, but you won't be able to customize widths or change spacing.
It seems to be a solution that will only work for you if you use an email service provider that doesn't include a visual email builder and you are satisfied with a very simplistic email design. If you need more than this, you should choose from the other, more advanced email builders listed in this article.
Publicate.it took a bit of a different approach, and tries to help people who want to publish random content they find online to their Wordpress site or as an email message without spending too much time on design or content writing.
The software itself includes 70+ email templates, which are quite well-designed, so it can easily fit the needs of various businesses. But you won't be able to customize any of those templates to your needs, only replacing text or images is possible.
What you can do though is add your own rows to the template. This is where you'll have the chance to choose from various layouts and content elements or drop random content that it aggregates for you from one of the sources listed below.
This content aggregation is a great feature that's useful primarily for bloggers or consultants who just want to share helpful stuff they find online with their newsletter subscribers or blog readers.
Since Publicate.it integrates with Gmail and Outlook, it's a great tool for those who don't necessarily use an email service provider to send their emails.
It doesn't have a free version though — only a 14-day free trial is available. After that, you'll be asked to pay at least $15/month for 1 user or $49 to $99/month for unlimited users.
If you are a blogger or a publisher who uses Gmail or Outlook for email sending and don't want to spend too much time with email newsletter production, Publicate is a great choice, but if you want to go deeper into customizing your email designs, you'll need to look further.
Stripo is a rather advanced email builder from a Russian company called Ardas Group. The software targets email marketers and designers who want to produce email designs on their own without writing a single line of code.
The editor interface is significantly more complex than Mailchimp, but as such, offers quite deep customization options. For example, you can create structures with up to 8 columns, a feature that can come in handy when you want to add small icons or text content next to each other.
On the other hand, it's not possible to nest structural elements into each other or to adjust padding/margin by pixel. These two things will sound quite limiting for designers with advanced needs, but won't be too important for most email marketers who just want to get the job done.
Unfortunately, designers sometimes love to use crazy custom margins and structures where both of these settings are required, otherwise you might find yourself compromising a bit on the design.
I would also say that the Stripo drag-and-drop experience needs some work. They place the drag icon on the left side of structural elements, but on the right side of content elements, so you sometimes need to bounce around to figure out where to drag something from to be able to move it.
The software has 250+ pre-designed email templates, but if you go and check them out, it turns out they're all just variations on a theme, so the actual number of unique email templates is somewhere below 100 — still an admirable collection.
Stripo's free plan is limited to 4 exports per month and only offers email support. The first paid plans start from $9.99/month, while the agency plan is $25 per month. Both seem to be worth the price if you can live with the limitations and the offered email templates.
Topol offers an easy to use (if quite limited) email builder that includes only 7 pre-designed email templates and a "from scratch" design mode, where you have the freedom to create your own design using basic building blocks.
The editor interface itself is quite beautiful and easy to use. You can build nice, simplistic email designs with it that will get the job done, but won't be too exceptional or unique.
It offers limited customization options in terms of the number of columns it can handle and spacing configuration.
They have a free version, but if you want to save your work, you'll need to subscribe right away to a paid plan — just like in Beefree. Their paid plan is very cheap though — it starts from only $7/month, and you can start with a 14-day free trial at first.
If you are on a small budget and can live with the built-in limitations of the interface, Topol can be a good starting point for you, or you can just keep on using the built-in email builder of your ESP, especially if it's Mailchimp, since their editor offers roughly the same flexibility but includes more templates.
Beautiful emails that sell are the next step in the email evolution. In 2019, smaller companies (even SMBs) are able to mimic the comprehensive, expensive, and custom email designs that international brands have been practicing for years.
With the help of a drag-n-drop email builder, the task of designing emails shifts to be hassle-free. While the cheapest email editors have the same functionality of an average ESP's built-in editor, advanced email builders give you the functionality that even the most experienced professional designers can utilize.
You need to make a decision based on the method and team size you have at your disposal to create emails. There are some solutions (like Stripo) that will be useful if you have a real email geek in-house (who can adjust the email HTML if needed) and a senior designer for planning the right layout while knowing the limitations.
Meanwhile, some other products, like Chamaileon, become handy if you have a team of marketers and designers, but none of them willing to learn the expertise of email HTML. For them, it's easier to build an email from pre-designed content blocks even if they start from scratch. Of course, you need to check if they can tweak as many elements as possible on the email design without coding.
Knowing what the future holds when all companies moving towards cloud-hosted web apps, I can't count the Mac and Windows clients being possible solutions for long-term goals. Don't tie yourself down to limited desktop applications where you don't have to. Portability and collaboration are vital to every modern work environment.