Best HTML Email Builders 2020

Email is a durable and and effective marketing channel and will remain so into the 2020s.

Despite a number of new marketing options emerging in the last decade, the ROI on email marketing continues to beat many other channels.

High quality email marketing is a multi-stage process:

  • Design the email
  • Build the HTML email template
  • Test the email in different email clients (or use a testing service)
  • Send the email (usually through an Email Service Provider (ESP))
  • Track & analyse opens and clicks on the campaign send
  • Adjust, rinse and repeat!

While there are a number of software tools to help with sending and tracking, the number of options in the email build space has traditionally been somewhat lacking. In recent years this has started to change and this article covers an up to date list of software to help you build better HTML emails.

So, skipping the visual aspect (what makes an email look good and convert well). What does make a high quality HTML email build?

  • Works consistently in all email clients (with appropriate fallbacks in older clients)
  • Responsive, so it works well on mobile devices and varying desktop widths
  • Looks good on retina and other high resolution displays
  • Small download sizes so quick to download (especially on cellular networks)
  • Accessible to users with assistive devices
  • Contains modern features like carousels and live images (where appropriate)

What is an email builder?

An email builder is a software tool that lets you create HTML emails. They all provide a visual representation of the email which you can add to or edit and they all output the raw HTML and images which you can then upload to your ESP. They are all accessible online and are typically paid for with a monthly subscription.

Why use a email builder?

The main alternative to using an email builder is coding the email by hand with HTML and CSS in your code editor.

Crafting an email with HTML and CSS yourself can be a challenging process. There are many different email clients out there all of which have their own quirks and rendering engines. A lot of modern CSS doesn't work or is only partially supported. Email clients are changing all the time and new clients are regularly introduced. Tiny changes in the markup of the email can cause the email content simply not to display or other visual errors.

Using an email builder instead comes with a number of benefits, including:

  • Consistent output - email builders do have bugs but they are less frequent then with hand coding
  • Regularly updated - the output can stay up to date with new clients
  • Building emails with drag and drop can be much faster, and cheaper!
  • Direct upload to ESP can save time and streamline processes
  • Collaboration features such as comments, workflow etc
  • Other benefits of cloud based software: always on, accessible from any computer, backups taken care of etc
  • Reusing content is easier and quicker than maintaining a codebase and copy/pasting

For total control and flexibility working in native HTML and CSS can offer more for a cost in time, experience and complexity. So for many cases an email builder is the right way to go.

Types of email builder

ESP bundled email builders

These are probably what most email marketers are familiar with, the email builders bundled with the Email Service Providers (ESPs) such as Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor.

If you are using Mailchimp you might consider the Mailchimp email builder but it wouldn't make a lot of sense to use a bundled email builder from another provider.

The main benefits of a bundled email builder is the direct integration into the ESP (for example merge tags are generally easier and there's no import/sync template step), as well as one less piece of software to learn, pay for and use.

If, as in most cases the bundled email builder is not good enough for your needs then you're most likely going to reach for a standalone email builder.

Standalone email builders

While ESPs have been bundling email builders for about a decade now, standalone builders are relatively new to the market.

A standalone email builder is a separate piece of software solely dedicated to building emails. While most have a free plan it is likely you'll need to pay for it separately and import the emails either manually or automatically into your ESP.

These have the advantage that their sole focus is building emails. While many ESPs have a basic email builder, many have not been updated for some time. Standalone email builders are updated more often and often have more functionality.

ESP bundled builder comparison

  Mailchimp Sendgrid Campaign Monitor Mailjet
Content features
Inline text editing No Yes Yes Yes
Google web fonts Small selection By adding custom HTML Small selection Small selection
Text styles A small fixed set No No No
Hi-resolution image support Built in No No No
Layout features
Available block types Text, Boxed text, Divider, Image, Image group, Image card, Image+caption, Social Share, Social follow, Button, Footer, Code, Video Image, Text, Columns, Image & Text, Button, Code, Divider, Spacer, Social, Unsubscribe Text, Image, Spacer, Divider, Button, Video Text, Button, Image, Video, Divider, Spacer, Social, HTML, RSS
Layout schema Header/Body/Footer Big list of elements Sections which can contain content items Sections which can contain content items
All the builders listed contain elements that do respond to device width
Set of "mobile styles" for limited selection of text types Image responsiveness Image responsiveness
Box Model (Margin, Border and Padding) on items A few basic settings Padding Bottom spacing Padding and one border
Columns No although some content types have 2 columns 1-4 1-3 1-4 with options
Nested columns No No No No
Testing features
Inbuilt email testing No Yes Yes (with unlimited) No
In browser device preview Yes No No No
Plain text preview No Yes No Yes
Workflow features
Users 1 1 1 5 with premium
Design locking/templating No No No Page layout, background colors and text styles can be locked fo all users or specific users
Section locking with premium $20.95pm
Other workflow features Comments for multi users
Other features
Countdown timer No No Yes (with Unlimited) No
Template Library 90+ 6 60+ 40
UX Impressions Dated Clean and modern Ok, but no way to start from a blank canvas Clean and modern
URL Mailchimp Sendgrid Campaign Monitor Mailjet

ESP bundled builder conclusions

If you're going to choose an ESP Bundled builder your decision will most likely be made on ESP related factors. That said Sendgrid and Mailjet have more visually pleasing user interfaces and are better featured then Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor, with the standout leader being Mailjet. Both Mailjet and Sendgrid's builders are newer to the market, so that might explain the result here.

It's worth noting that there are loads of ESPs with bundled email builders and we couldn't include them all, so we've only included the most common / widely available.

ESP bundled builder comparison

  BeeFree Stripo Milliner
Content features
Inline text editing Yes Yes Yes
Google web fonts Small selection Small selection Wide selection
Text styles No No Yes
Hi-resolution image support No Possible but not native No
Layout features
Available block types Text, Image, Button, Divider, Social, HTML, Video Image, Text, Button, Spacer, Video, Social, Banner, Timer, Menu, HTML, Carousel, Accordion Image, Text, Button, Space
Layout schema Sections which contain content items Stripes which contain Structures which contain Blocks (content items) Rows which contain columns which contain content items or other rows indefinitely
All the builders listed contain elements that do respond to device width
Image responsiveness
Mobile styles Image responsiveness
Breakpoints on many element types
Box Model (Margin, Border and Padding) on items Border and padding on Columns Full on buttons All item types have full margin, border and padding
Columns 1-4 with some layout options, no resizing 1-8, resizing possible
Nested columns No No Yes
Testing features
Inbuilt email testing No Yes No
In browser device preview Yes, separate page Yes, separate page Yes, directly in the editor
Plain text preview No No Yes
Workflow features
Users From Team plan ($25) From Agency plan ($25) Unlimited
Design locking/templating No No No
Other features
Global styles Font and link colour only Several font settings No
Countdown timer No Yes No
Template Library Hundreds 300+ No
UX Impressions Clean and modern Clean and modern Clean and modern
Built in Image editor Yes, basic Yes, basic No
Code editor No Yes No
Undo/Redo/History No Yes No
Kinetic email
These are in-email interactive elements
No Carousel, Accordion No
Baseline price $15 $9.99 $0 while in beta
URLs BeeFree Stripo Milliner

Standalone builder conclusions

All the email builders on this list offer a free version, which might just do for a one off email, but you'll have to upgrade to a paid plan if you're making regular use of them.

Of the three, Stripo and Milliner stand out. While Stripo is very well featured Milliner offers total control of the look of your email, a very flexible box model and more control of responsive elements so will be better suited when you have precise design requirements.

As the builders of Milliner we are of course biased. While we are new to the market and so don't have quite the feature list as some of our competitors, we started Milliner with a vision to be the first "professional grade" email builder. We think our builder offers the most flexibility and control over your email and we'll keep adding features until we match our competitors. We hope you've found this article useful and that you'll give us a try.

Other options

Postcards - while not exactly an email builder so not directly comparable to the above options Postcards has a large library of well designed components which you can assemble then edit and change settings. The editor is clean and easy to use and comes with ESP integration. Pricing starts at $18pm.

Taxi for Email - not so much a builder as a whole suite of tools for creating email campaigns. It's aimed at companies with larger email output and more specific requirements. Its pricing would not be comparable with the services listed above so we haven't included it for that reason.

The Litmus Builder - We should also note that Litmus (an email testing service) has an email builder which while it's more of a code editor than a visual email builder, does have some useful features which we think includes it on the list here. It is however not directly comparable to the others on this list.