How to use CSS background gradients in HTML emails

Last updated: May 30, 2022

Many email clients support CSS background gradients.

In this tutorial, you will learn how to use the tailwindcss-gradients plugin to add colorful gradients to your HTML email templates. We will also cover how to add a VML fallback for Outlook on Windows.

Getting started

Let's start by creating a new Maizzle project.

npx degit maizzle/maizzle example-gradients

Install dependencies:

cd example-gradients

npm install

Next, install the gradients plugin:

npm install tailwindcss-gradients

Once it finishes, open the example-gradients folder in your editor.

CSS Gradients

Let's configure and use tailwindcss-gradients with Tailwind CSS.

Tailwind CSS config

We need to tell Tailwind to use the plugin. Edit tailwind.config.js and require() the plugin inside the plugins: [] array:

tailwind.config.js
module.exports = {
  plugins: [
    // ...,
    require('tailwindcss-gradients'),
  ]
}

Next, we need to define what kind of gradients we want to generate, based on which colors. We do that in the theme: {} key from tailwind.config.js.

For example, let's register linear gradients based on the existing color palette:

tailwind.config.js
module.exports = {
  theme: {
    linearGradientColors: theme => theme('colors'),
  }
}

Use in HTML

Simply add the utility class on an element that supports background-image CSS.

We also specify a background color first, so that email clients that don't support CSS background-image gradients can display a fallback:

src/templates/example.html
<table class="w-full">
  <tr>
    <td class="bg-gray-200 bg-gradient-b-black">
      <!-- ... -->
    </td>
  </tr>
</table>

Outlook VML

Outlook for Windows doesn't support CSS gradients, but we can use VML.

You need to add it right after the element with the CSS gradient class:

src/templates/example.html
<table class="w-full">
  <tr>
    <td class="bg-blue-500 bg-gradient-b-black-transparent">
      <!--[if gte mso 9]>
      <v:rect xmlns:v="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:vml" fill="true" stroke="false" style="width:600px;">
      <v:fill type="gradient" color="#0072FF" color2="#00C6FF" angle="90" />
      <v:textbox style="mso-fit-shape-to-text:true" inset="0,0,0,0">
      <div><![endif]-->
      [your overlayed HTML here]
      <!--[if gte mso 9]></div></v:textbox></v:rect><![endif]-->
    </td>
  </tr>
</table>

As you can see, you need to set a fixed width on the <v:rect> element - it is recommended instead of using mso-width-percent: 1000;, as that is pretty buggy (especially in Outlook 2013).

Body gradient

We can also add a VML gradient to the body of the email.

To achieve this, we:

  1. create a <div> that wraps our template: this will be used as the solid background color fallback
  2. place the VML code immediately inside that div, basically wrapping our entire template. Note how we're using mso-width-percent: 1000; instead of a fixed width on the <v:rect>

Here's an example:

src/templates/example.html
<div class="bg-gray-200">
  <!--[if gte mso 9]>
  <v:rect xmlns:v="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:vml" fill="true" stroke="false" style="mso-width-percent:1000;">
  <v:fill type="gradient" color="#edf2f7" color2="#cbd5e0" />
  <v:textbox style="mso-fit-shape-to-text:true" inset="0,0,0,0">
  <div><![endif]-->
  <table class="w-full font-sans">
    <tr>
      <td align="center" class="bg-gradient-t-gray-400">
        <!-- your content here... -->
      </td>
    </tr>
  </table>
  <!--[if gte mso 9]></div></v:textbox></v:rect><![endif]-->
</div>

You can see both examples in the project repository.

Avoid inlining

Most email clients that support CSS gradients also support @media queries.

We can register a screen breakpoint to prevent Juice from inlining our gradient:

tailwind.config.js
module.exports = {
  theme: {
    screens: {
      screen: {raw: 'screen'},
      // ...
    }
  }
}

We can then write the utility class like this:

src/templates/example.html
<table class="w-full">
  <tr>
    <td class="bg-gray-200 screen:bg-gradient-b-black">
      <!-- ... -->
    </td>
  </tr>
</table>

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