Composing Complex HTML Mail Messages

Last reviewed on February 8, 2014

Outlook 98 and later versions support sending and receiving mail in the HTML format used by many other Internet mail programs. Outlook 97 can neither send nor receive HTML formatted email.

When a multipart HTML message is received by Outlook 97, the plain text portion of the message is displayed and the HTML portion is attached.

How To | Stationery | Updates | Notes | More Information

How To

Outlook does not provide a command to insert tables or other complex elements into HTML messages, nor does it give you a way to edit the source of an HTML message. The View Source command that you see on the right-click context menu in an HTML message does not let you save any changes to the source back into the message. There are several ways to compose complex HTML messages, though.

Method 1: One approach is to create the HTML content using your favorite HTML editor. Save it as an .htm file, and then use one of these methods to get it into the Outlook message:

  • Check Tools, Options, Mail Format to make sure Outlook is set to use HTML as its default message format. In Internet Explorer, browse to the HTML page that you saved as a file. Then, choose File | Send | Page by Email.Or, in Outlook itself, make sure that WordMail as your editor is turned off and use the Web toolbar in Outlook 2000 or the Address box in Outlook 2002 to navigate to the web page. Then, choose Actions | Send Web Page by E-mail. (Thanks to Margaret Blauvelt for this tip.)
  • Create a new HTML-format Outlook message. In Internet Explorer, browse to the HTML page that you saved as a file. Choose Edit | Select All, then Edit | Copy. Switch to the Outlook message and paste the copied material into the body of the message.
  • Create a new HTML-format Outlook message. Choose Insert | File and select the saved HTML file. At the bottom right corner of the Insert File dialog, click the small arrow next to the Insert button, and choose Insert as Text.

Method 2: Another way to create an HTML message with really rich HTML tags is to use Microsoft Word to create the document, then choose File | Send To | Mail Recipient. This adds To, Cc, and Subject boxes to the top of the Word window, where you can fill in the recipient address and subject. When you send the message, Word uses HTML format. Unfortunately, in Word 2000, it also bloats the message with several KB of Office-specific XML formatting information. Word 2002, on the other hand, provides a way to strip the XML. You’ll find this Filter HTML before sending option in Word 2002 under Tools | Options | General | E-mail Options, on the General tab.

Method 3: Outlook 2002 (and up) provides yet another method: Simply use Word as your e-mail editor (Tools | Options | Mail Format). WordMail in Office XP is much better than in previous versions. You can use all the Word composition tools and choose whether to send the message in plain text, HTML or RTF format.

With WordMail as your editor, you can also edit the HTML source directly if you have the Web Scripting component from Office XP installed. You must add the HTML Source command to your toolbar (View | Toolbars | Customize). Normally, Word does not display this command unless you are editing an .htm file. I have tried this method only in Office XP, but it might also work in Office 2000.

Method 4: Use code to create an Outlook MailItem object (objMsg in the snippet below), then use FileSystemObject methods to read the contents of a saved .htm file:

Set fso = CreateObject("Scripting.FileSystemObject")
Set ts = fso.OpenTextFile("c:\testfile.htm", _
strText = ts.ReadAll
objMsg.HTMLBody = strText

Method 5: Create a new document in Microsoft FrontPage, then use FrontPage’s File | Send command. (We tried this in Office XP, but not Office 2000 yet.) The resulting message will include an extraneous two line feeds and horizontal line at the top, but you can easily delete these. This method preserves internal bookmarks. (Thanks to Stephen Green for this tip.)

Be careful with your <img> tags if you use this method, because the message always uses the exact tag from your document, even if you have Outlook set to embed images in outgoing HTML messages. Therefore, the <img> tags will need to point to files available on the Internet. This, in turn, may annoy people who use dial-up Internet connections, since Outlook will try to connect to try to display the images when the recipient opens or previews the message.




Adding an internal hyperlink in an Outlook message is tricky. If you create the message with the Insert | File method, Outlook adds “outbind://32/” in front of the bookmark link, making it unusable. If you use the File | Send | Page by Email method, Outlook adds a <BASE> tag to the header, making all the internal hyperlinks point back to the original web page, again making the link useless. Using Word seems reliable, though. Either start with a Word document, then use File | Send To | Mail Recipient, or, in Outlook 2002, just use WordMail to create the HTML message directly. Another workaround is to create the page and save it as stationery, then use that stationery to create the message. Method #5 above, using FrontPage, also works.

Outlook has a setting that controls whether images referred to in <img> tags are sent with your message — Tools | Options | Mail Format | Internet Format.

In some Outlook configurations, printing from HTML messages does not include the names of any file attachments in the printout. One solution is the Print on Demand utility, which adds two new buttons to print the message with the attachment names appended and to print just the attachments.

Written by

Diane Poremsky
A Microsoft Outlook Most Valuable Professional (MVP) since 1999, Diane is the author of several books, including Outlook 2013 Absolute Beginners Book. She also created video training CDs and online training classes for Microsoft Outlook. You can find her helping people online in Outlook Forums as well as in the Microsoft Answers and TechNet forums.

Please post long or more complicated questions at Outlookforums.

9 responses to “Composing Complex HTML Mail Messages”

  1. Lucky

    For outlook html mail, it was great till outlook2007. but from outlook2007 on, includes outlook2010, it does not support real html mail.(use word tag for format and use word engine to render)

  2. Frank

    Thank you VERY much for your easy to follow step by step directions to get my Dreamweaver file to Outlook. Reading your above "resume" thank you for helping us tackle our problems.

  3. Carl Savino


    Do you offer any fee-based HTML support? I know the basics but we want to go a few steps beyond to create a professional looking HTML-based enewsletter that renders correctly for the most commonly used email readers. I received an e-newsletter whose format that I like and would like replciate and modify.

    I look forward to hearing from you!

    Carl Savino
    Corporate Gray
    (703) 690-6381

  4. antonio

    is there a way to pass the value of a subject line from outlook email to a web page text box

  5. Antonio

    Fairly new at Outlook. What I have is a web form that an employee fills out and sends and email to the property manager (PM) in regards to a building issue. The email has the Ticket# in the subject line. I need to capture that Ticket# from the subject line so the PM can easily update the textbox on the Administratior webpage. I thought the best approach would be to have a button or a link in the received email(PM) so all he has to do is click i and capture the Ticket# from the subject line(first 15 characters), and possibly send it to the Clipboard, where it can be pasted into the textbox(if that is easier). THe PM can then do his thing. Not sure how to do that or how to write a module to do it.

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