And we’re baaack with Part II of IV!
This one is…long (as always!). Here, I’m going to go over a base system for pricing. There are no hard-and-fast rules for pricing and this isn’t a foolproof method in that it doesn’t work for every project, but it should hold you over with the basics until you get more comfortable in the time it takes you to complete a project, what your overhead costs are, and what your skill level is.
Disclaimer #1: I don’t speak for all calligraphers/stationers. All of the pricing you see on my blog, website, or social media is based on my methods, materials, overhead costs, taxes, and other costs of running a business. I’m not recommending that you run out and charge $X per envelope for addressing, because not all calligraphers are the same. For example, I can’t charge Laura Hooper’s prices for envelope addressing because a.) I haven’t been doing calligraphy as long as she has, b.) she has perfected calligraphy styles that require a higher rate per piece than my styles, and c.) she’s Laura Hooper and that name means something in the calligraphy/wedding industry because of the value she’s created for her brand.
Disclaimer #2: Everyone does pricing a little differently and my methods may not work for you. I also don’t use these methods for Every Single One Of My Projects Ever, but I do use the one below as a starting point for projects like envelopes and place cards. I’ve been a professional graphic designer in agencies and as a freelancer for almost 8 years, so I’m able to manipulate my pricing here and there. When in doubt, ask your calligrafriends.
Haven’t read Part I? Click here to catch up!
This section is a bit number-heavy, but super basic and super important math. Bear with me for a few minutes.
This example is also for envelopes only, and it only works if you’re planning to make a living off of calligraphy. Don’t insert $20k per year into this formula and then tell me you’re going to charge $1 per envelope. If you’re doing this as a hobby or a side gig, please skip to the part where I tell you (around) how much you should be charging per envelope. The problem with the stationery industry is that there isn’t any set price for anything, and there’s barely even an acceptable range of prices (as you can see from Carla Hagan’s survey she did last year).
First, find out how much money you need to make to live. You would do this with any job you applied for, so why is calligraphy work any different? For example, as single woman living in Central Florida (this was before I got married), I needed to make at least $70,000 annually to live the way I wanted to live. That number is higher now that I’m married and living in Seattle with a brand new car payment, but we’ll stick with $70k for the sake of this example.
So how can I make $70,000 per year with my calligraphy? Better yet, how do I price my work so that I actually WILL make $70k?
First, divide your annual income by 2,080 hours (52 weeks a year, 40 hours of work per week).
$70,000 / 2,080 = $33.65 per hour (Let’s round that up to $35, because no one wants to see such a specific number on an invoice.)
Now double that number. Why? Because unless you have client order backed up in your queue, you won’t be calligraphing or designing for 40 hours per week. Let’s be honest for a moment here: if you’re working as a calligrapher or stationer full-time, you’re probably spending 75% of your time on marketing, answering client emails, billing, planning your social media posts, networking, paying taxes, searching for supplies, and other random administrative tasks. So you’re spending 20-30 hours a week doing admin work and 10-20 hours actually doing calligraphy, a.k.a. what you love.
When you think of it that way, how does it even make sense to charge $1.50 or $2 per envelope? You wouldn’t be able to live on that, that’s for sure – even if you were rolling in orders!
So, if you’re charging $70 per hour, that’s just a blanket charge for everything, right? Wrong! You have to break that down even further for things like envelopes and place/escort cards. Let’s consider envelopes for this example. If you haven’t completed an envelope order before, do this experiment:
1. Prepare a mailing list of about 50 names (any addresses will do, it’s just important to have a list ready).
2. Set a timer for one hour.
3. Address as many envelopes as you can. (IMPORTANT: make sure these are envelopes that you would be proud to give to a real client! It destroys the integrity of the experiment if you rush through them and address haphazardly.)
4. Repeat steps 1-3 two or three more times, over the course of several days if it’s easier for you.
5. Average the number of envelopes you can complete in one hour.
Once you have that number, do the following calculation:
$70 (hourly rate) / 20 (# of envelopes completed per hour) = $3.50 per envelope
Why are we charging $3.50 per envelope?
1. Your materials must be factored into that as well: wear and tear on your nibs, ink, paper towels, and the depreciation of any tools you use to address your envelopes should be factored in (light pad, laser level, nib holder, chalk pencil for guidelines, etc.)
2. There are other things to consider when pricing such as: time spent answering emails, printing the client’s address list (that’s ink/toner and paper right there!), phone consultations, and other administrative tasks.
3. Skill in a trade automatically increases the value of the end product, and your skill is worth getting paid for. Not everyone can do what you do, and no one can do it perfectly the first time they pick up a nib holder. (I mean, I’m sure there’s someone out there who can do it perfectly fine, but 99% of people can’t on the first try, you know?)
4. $3.50 per envelope is well within the standard rate range for envelopes in most parts of the country.*
Note that this price does NOT cover any special materials you may have to purchase, including the envelopes themselves or special ink (some people bake custom mixed ink into their costs). $3.50 per envelope definitely doesn’t also cover return addressing.
Also, keep in mind that different parts of the country have different pricing points. I know, I know – that makes things more difficult. But as you can see from Carla Hagan’s pricing survey she conducted last year of over 600 calligraphers in the US (including me!), there are definitely discrepancies based on location.
If you’re just starting out, I know what you’re going to say: “Holly, I’m a beginner and can’t calligraph as quickly as you can. Wouldn’t that mean that my hourly rate is much higher than yours, which would then make my per envelope price even higher?!”
The short answer is this: Technically yes, if you’re using the formula above, but no…not really. Projects like envelopes, place cards, escort cards and similar wedding fare have industry standard pricing that doesn’t change too much over various skill levels. (It does, however, change for different types on calligraphy styles – for example, an envelope done entirely in Copperplate will be cost much more than an envelope with the guest names in modern calligraphy and the address in block print.)
You might be shaking your head at me at this point, thinking, “I can’t get away with charging $3.50 per envelope. That’s way too high!” And yes, it may be higher than you’re used to. It may even be more than what others in your area are charging. It’s certainly higher than many sellers on online marketplaces. But again, the problem with industry pricing is that we don’t have a union or group of people who sat down and said, “Envelopes will have a starting rate of $X and any price below that doesn’t exist.” So, consequently, people set their own rates. And some people set their rates so low that it hurts the industry as a whole: the calligraphers who have spent the time perfecting their craft are being beaten down by their clients, who tell them that they saw another calligrapher offering the same service for half the cost.
If you’re still lost or don’t know how to price individual products, ask your fellow stationers and calligraphers! I can’t tell you that everyone will be 100% transparent with their pricing, but if you approach them with enough information that proves you’ve done your research, they’re MUCH more likely to help you out. Plus, you will have earned their utmost respect because you’re honestly trying to price yourself correctly…and in this small community, that respect will go a long, LONG way. I promise.
I’m going to go over that in more detail in another post, but to get your mind turning, ask yourself these questions:
1. What will the client use my project for?
2. Do I need to include an exclusivity clause in my contract? Will I be willing to give my client free use of what I design/calligraph for her indefinitely, in any way she’d like?
3. What supplies do I need to complete the project?
4. How will this project be billed: hourly, flat rate, or a combination of both?
5. Does my client understand the value of my work? If not, how can I educate them as nicely and succinctly as possible?
6. How do I feel about discounts?
7. Do I need to add any extra fees to the project, i.e. rush charges, list set up fees, material sourcing fees, etc.
Because most of my work is completely custom, these questions (and more) are what I ask myself before each project. It’s helpful to understand your projects completely before agreeing to a price (simply tell your client, “I’ll get back to you with pricing as soon as I break down the scope of the project.”) or committing to a timeline you’re not comfortable with (“I’ll have to look at my project calendar before I can commit, but I’ll let you know by the end of the day/first thing tomorrow morning!”).
In a nutshell: know your worth. Insist on your worth. Don’t settle for less than your worth.
This is a tough one and really only comes from experience. Once you start valuing your knowledge, it becomes easier to stand up for your work, your value, and yourself.
Think about YOUR knowledge base and experience. Remember that you aren’t just charging for your billable time for a project, but THE TIME IT TOOK TO BE ABLE TO DO WHAT YOU DO. This is so, so important and I probably sound like a crazy person…because I say that constantly.
I’ll use myself as an example, because hey, I know that girl! As far as experience goes, I have the basics listed below:
• 7+ years of professional agency graphic design experience with a primary focus in branding, layout design, and print materials.
• 3+ years of self-taught calligraphy experience.
• 2+ years of print production experience including foil, letterpress, thermography, embossing and other specialty printing methods.
• 26+ years of creative writing experience (I wrote a novel!) with over 3 years of professional copywriting experience.
With my experience listed above, I can:
• Create an invitation suite based on my client’s requests and my printing capabilities.
• Provide phone call and email support to help them through the process of designing their stationery.
• Work with printers to make sure their suite is completed to perfection.
• Anticipate issues with paper, ink, or a particular design and resolve the issue.
• Deliver an above-average product that makes the client over-the-moon happy.
And that’s just applying my experience, that’s not my entire knowledge base…because the list above are just numbers and facts.
They certainly don’t include the time spent researching vendors to find the best fit, trying (and failing) at designs, making good paper choices, ruining paper because you didn’t set your printer up right, gaining an appreciation for which inks will work on which types of paper (I think almost every calligrapher out there has tried Sumi ink on metallic envelopes before realizing it doesn’t really work well), learning how to watercolor, learning brush lettering, learning which watercolors work with your style, experimenting with packaging, developing your own brand, taking photos of your work and maintaining a social media presence, finding the best marketing solution so that your ideal bride can actually find you, learning proper print production methods, understanding how to set up a correct file to send to your printer and why it needs to be that way, coming up with an elegant way to build your client invoicing and billing and proposals that matches the level of service you provide (ahem, DUBSADO ROCKS), understanding the difference between uncoated and coated Pantone colors, trial and error while printing CMYK and RBG (and when to do which), and so, so, SO much more.
When you take all of that into account, it makes sense to get paid for it, right? After all, you’re a professional and your clients are PAYING YOU for your professional work, otherwise they would do it themselves!
That’s a question I can’t answer for everyone, but I would imagine it has to do with fear.
After Part One of this mini blog series went live, I talked to SO many stationers/calligraphers who had the same issue with industry transparency. Some suggested that it’s because pricing is very personal and can’t really be shared across the board because of different techniques, and others thought it might be because different styles of calligraphy are priced differently.
The popularity of modern calligraphy in recent years has reminded people why they love paper wedding stationery in our digital age. With the rapid influx of new industry professionals rather than a gradual growth, it’s been difficult for newcomers to confer with those who have been in the industry longer about standard practices. It doesn’t help that online retail sites offer similar services for a fraction of the cost of an independent stationer’s work.
You may be entering the stationery world unaware of the negative impact of improper pricing, but my hope is that you connect with others in your community (whether that be in your city or online) to learn about pricing, standard practices within the industry, or to just glean new information from them. Make it a symbiotic relationship! They might not know about a new product on the market that could make drawing guidelines obsolete, or perhaps you figured out how to mix the perfect rose gold ink color.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention several incredible resources that helped me gather the courage to speak up about pricing and helped me develop my own pricing. Each one of these resources are so great independently, and I encourage all of you to check them out!
• Carla Hagan and her husband conducted a really great survey of calligraphers across the country last year. You can see the averages for pricing for several different types of work, and we’re all so happy to see some transparency leaking into the industry!
• You can also check out Molly Suber Thorpe’s Calligrapher’s Business Handbook for more information about pricing. It’s a short read but packed with information!
• Becca (@thehappyevercrafter) and Joanne (@indetailcreative) created an awesome pricing guide called the “Panic-Free Pricing Guide”, which you can purchase here! I love this resource as well as it has definitely made me more confident when pricing products and services I haven’t done before.
• And last, but definitely not least, The Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines (it’s a mouthful) is THE best book for graphic designers (and there’s a section on lettering!). If you don’t have this book, I highly recommend forking over the $27 on Amazon and buying it immediately. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times this book has saved my pricing life. And it’s not just for graphic designers, even though the book’s title might suggest otherwise – it has tons of information about legalities, work for hire, licensing, LOGO WORK (because the pricing in our industry for that service is almost as bad as calligraphy and stationery work), and much more.
That was quite a long-winded way of saying that we’re all in this community together. And instead of harping on that any longer, I’m going to leave you with this quote that Pinwheel Press shared on their Instagram. It’s from a book about printing by Warren D. Wells, but it applies to all occupational communities:
Did anything I shared here resonate with you? What have been some struggles you’ve experienced while learning to price your projects? Tell me in the comments below!
If you’re still struggling with pricing, send me an email and we’ll chat! I would love to help you figure out pricing for your products. If you’re too shy (and I know that feeling all too well!), you can always check out the books and resources I have listed at the bottom of this post.
Thanks for sticking with me for this super long read!
You’ll hear from other calligraphers and stationers about their pricing struggles, tips on how they price their work, and more. To be notified when it goes live, sign up below!