Email serves more of a productive than a creative purpose, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add a bit of personality to your messages. An easy way to do this is through an email signature, which can make your messages more distinctive without adding to their file size or creating extra work for you as you compose them. Plus, it can make your email more distinctive, acting almost as a business card if your recipient prints it out.

However, email was originally a text-only medium, and some older email programs have a limited ability to display pictures, colours, or even specific fonts. In addition, some users have their email client set to display email as text-only – meaning black, 12-point type in a standard operating system font.

Who can see what?

It’s important to keep in mind your recipient’s viewing capabilities when creating your signature. While most people will be able to view anything you throw at them, some won’t. Also, a lot of us turn off our email client’s ability to automatically download graphics. This means that if you use a graphic for your signature, such as a scan of your actual signature, some recipients won’t see it.

There are several other important reasons for using text for your signature line. Both TextEdit and Apple Mail automatically recognise email addresses, phone numbers and mailing addresses, to help you add them to Address Book. If, however, a graphic has been used to convey that information, you won’t be able to use this feature. Therefore, don’t include any essential information in graphic-only form. Not only will your message not be received properly, but large graphics files can overwhelm a slow Internet connection.

The good news is that you can still be hugely creative by simply formatting your signature’s text with different fonts, font sizes, spacing, and colours. You can also use symbols from any font to create decorative dividing lines and simple graphic treatments.

Verdana is a good choice for a font, because both Mac OS X and Windows include it. If you create your signatures using only the basic cross-platform system fonts, such as Verdana, Arial, and Times New Roman, you’ll increase the likelihood that your recipient will see exactly what you created.

Since there’s no such thing as ‘tracking’ in email (adjusting the spacing between characters in text), you can instead add a space between each letter, and an extra space between the first and last name. A bonus of this design is that if your email recipient has all formatting turned off, it will degrade gracefully to an attractive signature line.

You can also use Times New Roman in various sizes and styles – centring text by using multiple spaces before each line, inserting vertical bars between items, and adding colour judiciously.

Limit font count

The above example uses just one font quite successfully. If, however, you want to use more than one, limit your choices to two. It’s much better to use colour and size to distinguish the different parts of your signature rather than additional fonts. You can, for example, use coloured angle brackets to imply a sequence of services available. Alternatively, rather than using a smaller type size for less important information, colour it grey instead of black. And when it comes to key details, such as phone number, website or email address, use a different colour. Also consider using non-text characters, such as asterisks, periods, bars, and brackets between the words. These are safe to use because they exist in all fonts.

Feel free to experiment and apply colours either to an entire line of symbols or to every other symbol, but be careful not to overdo things. There are lots of options for creating attractive signature lines without needing to use placed graphics files. All you really need is your imagination and a willingness to experiment with different fonts, sizes, colours, and special characters.