red green eyeglasses on snowflake background

Accessible Holiday Emails and Color Blindness


The holidays are all about bringing people together. Marketing and advertising campaigns depict families and friends cooking together, unwrapping presents, lighting candles, and giving back to their community. But there’s a group of people who are unable to enjoy festivities in the same way as others: those with red-green color blindness.

Red and green are absolutely everywhere during the holidays — on signage, in decor, in magazines and catalogs, on websites, and in emails. In fact, you’ve probably used this color combination in your own marketing campaigns. However, according to Healthline, about one out of twelve men and one out of 200 women have red-green color blindness. 

It’s the most common color vision deficiency in the world. and it could represent a significant portion of your subscribers. So how exactly does this affect your holiday email campaigns and what can you do to create more accessible holiday emails?

What is red-green color blindness?

People without color blindness are able to see and tell the difference between three colors: red, green, and blue. Nerves in the retinas of our eyes called “cones” perceive the colors, send a message about them to our brains, then convert them into color vision.

People with red-green color blindness are born with either no cones to perceive red or green, or simply a shortage of those cones. All About Vision lists four ways this occurs:

  • “Red-blind (protanopia) – Red can’t be seen.  
  • Green-blind (deuteranopia) – Green can’t be seen.
  • Red-weak (protanomaly) – Some red is visible; green and blue are normal. 
  • Green-weak (deuteranomaly) – Some green is visible; red and blue are normal.”  

So, depending on the type of color blindness a person has, they might see things that are red and green all in a kind of murky green tone. Or they may have trouble differentiating between shades. 

How the holidays look with color blindness

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that you have a subscriber named Jeff who has red-green color blindness. Experiencing the world during the holidays is, well, difficult to say the least. Christmas trees appear muted, or all the ornaments blend in with the needles.

Light shows all look like shades of brown and grey. Holiday ads are hard to understand and catalogs are difficult to read. Depending on the specific type of colorblindness Jeff has, Santa looks something like this:

Santa Claus with different color vision deficiencies
Image courtesy:

Everything’s a lot harder to engage with than the rest of the year — including your emails. Jeff struggles to read the text on top of your holiday graphic. Your CTA buttons don’t stand out at all. And the carefully-crafted green Christmas tree you decked out with red ornaments containing your logo is virtually impossible for him to consume. He feels left out of the holiday fun.

But what if your emails could accommodate him? They would stand out for him and show him that you care. Let’s take a look at a few more ways that color blindness impacts your holiday emails and how you can make them work for everyone on your list this year.

Could color blindness impact holiday emails?

Yes, absolutely. Here are just a few elements that could be impacted:

  • Special offers. If your special offers are just red and green then, to some people, they would look festive. For people with colorblindness, they would actually look less special and be less appealing. 
  • CTA buttons. If they’re green on top of red, they may be missed entirely. Or, they could just be monotone and blend in with the rest of your email.
  • Links. If you make all your links red or green, it could be very difficult for someone with colorblindness to tell them apart from the rest of your text.
  • Imagery. If your product is red and you place it on a green background to make it look more festive, it’ll end up looking the same as everything else. Or, it might disappear entirely. 

Take this holiday email from Starbucks as an example:

Notice that pretty much everything is red or green. A red, white, and green holiday cup sits on top of a background that fades from green to red. As you can see, the email certainly doesn’t have the same impact for someone with red-green colorblindness.

Starbucks email red-green color blind filter
Simulation of protanopia from a color blindness simulator

Now, let’s consider this one from Configure:

You can see that all of the offers are in either red or green: the coupon code, discount amount, and CTA button. For someone with red-green color blindness, nothing would really stand out from everything else. It would all be monochrome.

Color blind simulation of holiday email
Simulation of deuteranopia,

We’re not trying to say you should never use red and green in holiday email campaigns.  However, it’s wise to avoid using those colors for important elements or to convey essential information. That’s good advice for the entire year — not just the holidays.

Tips and alternatives for accessible holiday emails

So what can you do to create accessible holiday emails?

1. Rely on holiday-themed copy and symbols more than colors

Instead of sharing holiday cheer through color, consider using things like symbols. Think wreaths, candy canes, snowflakes, gifts, and stockings. Apple did this in a really unique way in one of their email campaigns:

Though they stuck to their typical brand colors, they turned their products into wreaths and snowflakes, highlighting the holidays in a fun way.

Or, be creative with your copy. Mention holiday smells (gingerbread, anyone?), use holiday language, or even include funny holiday riddles or jokes. Rapha’s gift guide email is an excellent example of this:

Via Really Good Emails

The brand uses phrases like “bike bells ringing” and “all the trimmings” to get in the festive spirit without typical red and green color schemes.

2. Consider other holiday color combinations

Or, embrace other holiday colors! You might use blue and white to depict a snowy scene, silver and gold for a classy Christmas feel, or black and white to advertise Black Friday deals. Not only will this make things easier for your entire audience to consume your emails, it can also help you stand out from the hundreds of red and green emails they’ll get this season.

BarkBox embraced this concept in their holiday email:

They went with a blue color scheme, adding white snowflakes and music notes to make it seem wintery. It still feels festive but works for everyone on their list.

3. Distinguish links with more than just color

While it may be tempting to make your links red or green this holiday season, make sure you’re distinguishing them in other ways, too. Consider adding an underline, an arrow, or another symbol to make links stand out.

4. Use patterns or textures

Patterns and textures are a great way to add holiday flair without using red or green. Create your own, branded pattern or find a great texture from a stock library. BathLife used a beautiful, classy gold pattern as the background of their holiday email:

texture or pattern on accessible holiday emails

5. Make your CTAs stand out without color

If someone’s color blind, your green or red buttons may look the same as the rest of your email. But you want them to stand out! So think of other ways to highlight them:

  • Make them big
  • Add an icon
  • Include a border
  • Switch up or emphasize the font
  • Place them in their own area of the email

Test email accessibility all year long

We’re not trying to squash the festive mood. There’s nothing wrong with using red and green in seasonal email designs. The holidays are simply a good time to think about color vision deficiency and how it impacts the email experience. But email accessibility is important every single day.

And the best way to know that your emails look good for every single one of your subscribers is through pre-deployment testing. That’s where Email on Acid shines. The accessibility features in our email readiness tool check your email for color contrast, code for screen readers, title attributes, alt text, and other accessibility factors. You can even preview the email with filters that display different color deficiencies.

Color deficiency tool
Email on Acid’s color contrast checker, part of Campaign Precheck’s accessibility tool.

Enjoy unlimited testing with Email on Acid. That means you can preview campaigns on dozens of major clients as many times as you need before hitting send. That’s not a holiday promo, my friend. It’s just how we do things around here.

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People all over the world live with visual impairments. How many of them are on your list? Can they read and act on your email campaigns? Email Accessibility is about more than just improving your reach. It shows empathy for every subscriber. Use Email on Acid to check accessibility before you hit send.

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Author: The Email on Acid Team

The Email on Acid content team is made up of digital marketers, content creators, and straight-up email geeks.

Connect with us on LinkedIn, follow us on Facebook, and tweet at @EmailonAcid on Twitter for more sweet stuff and great convos on email marketing.

Author: The Email on Acid Team

The Email on Acid content team is made up of digital marketers, content creators, and straight-up email geeks.

Connect with us on LinkedIn, follow us on Facebook, and tweet at @EmailonAcid on Twitter for more sweet stuff and great convos on email marketing.

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