Ask The Expert, Design, Studio, Tips and Tricks, Uncategorized, Weddings

October 26, 2017

The Stationery Pricing Taboo, Part IV

On the Blog: The Stationery Pricing Taboo Part Four

“You’re more of an artist than a stationer,” my husband said to me last week. I blushed a little bit (little ol’ me? an artist?!) and agreed half-heartedly, but I wasn’t sure. Am I an artist? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I am an artist. And if you’re reading this, you are, too. We create something from “nothing”, and if that isn’t the most basic definition of an artist, I don’t know what is. Plus, the last time I checked, calligraphy/watercolor/floral illustrations/line drawings/crest designs/etc. are all pieces of art.

So, if we’re all artists…why can’t we charge artist’s prices?

Since I published the first of these posts about pricing almost a month ago, my husband and I have had more discussions about pricing than ever. (And I have lots of conversations with my husband And I rant about pricing to my husband a lot.)

I’ve also spoken to a LOT of you about pricing. Some of you are grateful for sharing pricing guidelines, others send me high-five emojis and say that they’ve been so worried about their pricing but they aren’t anymore, and others are interested in pricing for a particular project or two.

I’ve also noticed many of you speaking up about your pricing fears and poor pricing decisions in the past (we’ve ALL had them, myself included!). A couple of weeks ago, I was at the airport scrolling through one my Facebook groups. I read a post from someone who was asking for advice for how to price an illustrated watercolor map, and asked if $50 was a good price. You don’t have to know what the map looked like to know that that price is way too low, and I’m happy to report that a lot of you (you know who you are!) stepped up and shared what THEY would price for a similar piece*. It made me so happy to see that people are getting more comfortable sharing!

But then I realized, we’re still not doing enough. Someone (or several someones) need to set pricing standards, or we’re going to continue to undervalue our work and make less and less money.

My girl Rebecca (@keen_bee) said something to me the other day that made me chuckle but also is so true: “[Stationery pricing should be] like buying a car, [where] prices are everywhere and no one hides them, so no one is every shocked when they start shopping for one.” Um, I COULDN’T AGREE MORE.

Kelsey of Kelsey Malie Calligraphy shared a nice little tidbit the other day in her Instagram stories: “The number of hours it takes to affix vintage stamps is always shocking…A good reminder to clients of why stationers charge assembly fees.” We got to talking about it, and she mentioned that sometimes planners ask her to include assembly for free. (Um, wat?) We even have value problems within the wedding industry! How are we going to fix this?!

And yeah, I know that not all projects can be priced. Custom work isn’t as cut and dry as semi-custom suites or as simple as envelope addressing…but who else agrees that we at least need a price FLOOR for some of these items?!

During one of those rants I mentioned earlier, my husband brought up another good point as we discussed pricing models: there really isn’t a hard and fast rule for pricing like there is for, say, therapists (who are hourly) or teachers (who make a salary that’s typically commiserate with the amount of schooling they’re had). We’re more like mechanics, in that our costs include our materials (parts of the car), time spent actually creating (labor), and time spent perfecting our skills (the difference between a master mechanic and one that works at Jimmy’s Brakes and Tire on the street corner).

Full disclosure: I update my pricing throughout the year based on lessons learned and whatnot. I also increase my prices at the end of every year, because (basically) that’s another year of experience I’m adding to my arsenal. So these prices may not be the same one year from now, if you’re reading this in the future. (In case you are, it’s 2017 and I need to borrow your time machine!)

But enough of that for now. I couldn’t let Dominique, Tess, Cami, and Sarah share their pricing with you last time and not follow through with pricing of my own! Below, I’m sharing pricing for four real projects (whaaat), how I’m going to use my pricing confession to start changing the industry, PLUS an amazing discount for a seriously amazeballs product that was released only yesterday!

This is crazy, y’all. I don’t know of many people in the industry who have shared their pricing structure in depth like this (at least in blog post format!) so buckle. UP.


Acrylic Seating Chart Signphoto on right by faye’s faith photography

Acrylic Escort Sign, $265
pictured: 48″ wide x 24″ high, 103 guest names

This pricing does NOT include tax, shipping, and shipping supplies – all of that is added on top of the cost outlined here. Don’t forget to add those charges to your pricing!

Acrylic signs are deceptively easy. They’re much easier than writing on mirrors, mostly because they’re see-through and you can put a template behind it (gasp! I just gave away one of my secrets!). I don’t bother with guidelines or chalk or tape or any of that nonsense – it’s wayyy too time-consuming when it comes to acrylic. Why do that to yourself?!

This is how I arrive at my pricing:

  • Acrylic piece: approximately $40 + tax at your local hardware store – now multiply that by 2 (for travel expenses, research time, and profit)
  • Lettering: $1.25 per name
  • Design + application (including client emails, layout of sign, proofing, and paint pens): $55, or my hourly design rate

Because I use a layout guide underneath my acrylic signs, I don’t make any mistakes. (Like, ever. It’s amazing.) This increases my profit margin exponentially…and the peace of mind I get from having the layout guide is priceless.

Tip: If it isn’t obvious, print out a layout guide for acrylic signs. If you’re adding a layer of paint on the back of the sign for a pop of color, do that after you’ve written the names and table numbers. Your brain will thank you.


Wedding Vow on Easel

Custom Wedding Vows, $130
pictured: single vow, 92 words, 11″ x 14″

This pricing does NOT include tax, shipping, and shipping supplies – all of that is added on top of the cost outlined here. Don’t forget to add those charges to your pricing!

Wedding vows are obviously completely custom pieces, so how do I go about pricing my work? I’ll admit, this one took me quite some time to figure out.

I’ve been selling custom calligraphy wedding vows for just over 2 years now, and I think I’ve pretty much settled on my pricing structure. Again, while I update my pricing throughout the year based on lessons learned and whatnot, I do increase my prices at the end of every additional year of experience I add to my arsenal. The prices listed below are available on my Etsy page, but I wanted to tell you how I arrived at them.

Vows less than 150 words each take me about 25 minutes per vow to calligraph, or 50 minutes total. But I also:

  • message back and forth with the client about what they want,
  • send the client a layout proof so that they can see where I’m planning line breaks,
  • cut the paper to the correct size,
  • set up my workspace with the ink color they’d like/the correct nib for the size vows I’m working with/get paper towels and my water cup ready/print the layout proof that I can reference while writing them,
  • let the vows dry for 12-24 hours before:
    • wrapping them in tissue paper, then bubble wrap, then rolling them carefully,
    • packaging them in a tube for mailing,
    • and taking them to the post office to be mailed…
  • ALL WITHOUT ANY MISTAKES. If I make any mistakes, I basically eat the cost of a vow. Yeesh.

It’s a lot, right? Luckily, my system allows me to work quickly, otherwise I wouldn’t make any money off of wedding vows. At first, I didn’t make any money – trust me. I charged $60 for a pair of 150 word vows and it was excruciating to write them without making mistakes. It was depressing, and I hated doing them.

Are vows expensive? Yeah, they can get pretty pricey. But think about what you’re creating for your client: invitations may be mailed out and eventually discarded by guests, but those vows will hang on your client’s wall for (hopefully) their entire married lives, reminding them of their vows to each other. They are heirloom pieces, timeless pieces to last the rest of their lives. They should be pricey.

Sidenote: I know a lot of other calligraphers charge per line for vows and add extra costs for mixing special inks. That’s a fine way to do vows, it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t want to count lines to give my client an accurate quote quickly…that’s why I count words. Plus, long words balance out the short words and I think it mostly evens out in the end.

Here is my pricing for custom calligraphy wedding vows, based on size and length of vows:

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Tip: If you’re just starting out creating vows, make sure you do a test run or two before actually taking on a paying job. They’re more time-consuming than you think, and so many calligraphers underprice their vows.


Florida Wood Seating Chart

Wood Seating Chart, $850
Large-Scale Installation, 6′ wide x 5.5′ high

This pricing does NOT include tax, shipping, and shipping supplies – all of that is added on top of the cost outlined here. Don’t forget to add those charges to your pricing!

First off, let me say this: this sign was a BEAST. It took about 15 hours from start to finish…and when I was done with it, I kinda didn’t want to see it ever again (but then I slept for 12 hours and didn’t want to give up my baby).

Not shown here are the FOLDING LEGS my dad dreamed up to make sure the sign stood up on its own, the paneling strips in the back to make sure the whole sign didn’t just bow in on itself, and the buckets of glue and nails holding this bad boy together. Every bit of it was stained (even some of the back), and each of those boards are almost 12″ TALL, just to give you some perspective. It was all hand-painted without a stencil and sealed with two top coats for protection while transporting the sign to the wedding venue 2 hours south. The strips of paper are all different lengths, based on the number of guests at each table, and it’s hand-written in my calligraphy style.

And guess what? Transportation isn’t included in that price, or tax, or packing materials. That’s just the price for the sign.

Why am I including this crazy one-off sign in my pricing post? Because we all have clients that want something unusual. Something out of our comfort zone, or so extravagant that we’re sure they’ll cringe when they see the price. This sign was definitely out of my comfort zone (I’d never made anything with folding legs before) and so extravagant that I thought my client might pass out.

For you, extravagant might come in the form of a very large mirror for a seating chart, or perhaps a huge laser-cut installation that you don’t even know how to begin. It might be hand-calligraphing a table runner for the couple’s head table, or creating a hanging banner welcoming guests to the wedding.

My point is, don’t be afraid to take on extravagant projects, and certainly don’t be afraid of their price tags. Chances are, if your bride is asking for something like this, she already has a good idea that it’s going to cost more than a couple hundred dollars.

Tip: If you come across a client with an extravagant project in mind, don’t freak! Sit down a make a list of all of the materials you’ll need to complete the project. Price them each carefully and add up the total. This is what it’s going to COST to create the project, and the price should cover this at the very least. Then think about the worth of the project: is this going to be a statement piece at the wedding? What is the perceived value to the client? Remember that you don’t have to charge hourly – with projects like these, try pricing them based on their actual worth!

Extra tip: Before sending your pricing off to your client, check in with your fellow stationers/calligraphers to find out what they think about your pricing! Try to choose someone who you look up to and whose value you respect – that will hold you more accountable for your pricing!


Watercolor Heirloom Semi-Custom Suite

4-Piece Semi-Custom Invitation Suite with Addressing, $2443
optional add-on pieces shown in photo

This pricing does NOT include tax, shipping, and shipping supplies – all of that is added on top of the cost outlined here. Don’t forget to add those charges to your pricing!

This is the real reason you clicked on this blog post, amiright? What do I charge for a complete invitation suite? The answer is: it depends. If you’re a stationer, then you know that adding even a single piece to an invitation suite can change the cost significantly. Not only will your client pay for another piece to be dreamed up, sketched, designed, revised, revised again, officially proofed, revised once more, and then printed, cut, scored, folded, foiled, letterpressed, etc.,…but the postage might go up as well! So many factors to consider! (Where’s that terrified emoji when I need it?!)

This is a suite I designed for a recent event that will be introduced as one of the pieces of my semi-custom collection launch. Why am I giving pricing for a semi-custom suite? Because it still requires the same amount of time to dream up, sketch and revise, and finalized for future clients to personalize. Plus, semi-custom suites are a growing trend in the stationery industry right now, so I thought it would be beneficial to see how I price these.

I also don’t like to give breakdowns of my full suite packages any longer, so this is the only time you’ll see it! I used to, but then people would pick items off one by one because it was “too expensive”. Sigh. I should have drawn on my background in graphic design and printing from the start, in which we never broke anything down. Printing was part of the design package and those two were not available separately. Learning experience, right?

So…here is the full suite breakdown! Included in all pricing is my design fee, printing costs, and 2 revisions per piece. Assembly, postage, taxes, shipping are not included.

100 suites
Digital printing
110# cover weight, 100% cotton paper

The Pieces
A7 invite with custom crest design + watercolor, spot calligraphy, and one hand-deckled edge (double-sided): $855
A2 reply card with spot calligraphy and watercolor and one hand-deckled edge (single-sided): $525
A7 envelope with guest addressing in calligraphy and digitally printed return address (includes envelope cost): $665
A2 reply envelope with return address in calligraphy (includes envelope cost): $398

Optional Add-Ons
Details card with spot calligraphy and watercolor and one hand-deckled edge (add-on option, not included in semi-custom base suites): $555
Matching crest + watercolor envelope liner and assembly: $295
Digitally printed A2 reply envelope addressing (in lieu of calligraphy): $265

Whew! I tell you what, I actually feel a lot better now that I’ve shared that! I’m sure I’ll get some virtual pitchforks thrown my way for that one, and I’m sure this is one of the higher-priced semi-custom suites you’ve seen…but I can tell you right now that the crest will likely take two hours per order, the watercolor will take about 30 minutes to paint/clean up/adjust as needed, the spot calligraphy may take several rounds (depending on the client’s style), and hand deckling one edge on each of those pieces? Pssh. For 100 of the invites alone, that will take anywhere from 30-40 minutes. And that doesn’t even take into account printing costs, ordering envelopes, rounds of proofing, ordering envelopes and addressing them, and (of course) consultations with the client.

So is $2,443 a lot of money for a suite? It doesn’t sound like it anymore, does it?

Maybe I should raise my prices.

Tip: First, invest in the Stationer’s Quote Calculator (see below). Then get pricing from local printers and national printers (we stationers have lots to recommend!) and use their pricing to help give you a baseline – you definitely should not charge anything less than what it would cost to cover the printing, right? Ask printers for wholesale pricing and make sure you mark up your cost (because you’re the professional, and your client likely won’t know how to submit files correctly for printing!). If printing digitally, ask for a hard copy proof to check color accuracy. Order all of your paper as soon as possible, because problems always arise when you’re running behind schedule. Develop good relationships with your printers BEFORE you spring rush orders on them, and bring them treats if you do send them a rush job. Talk to your industry friends about their packages vs. line items (everyone does it differently). Pour yourself a big glass of wine before you hit “send”. Treat yourself to another glass of wine when your client accepts your proposal.


Changing the industry taboo…by starting with myself.

Yesterday, I met a fellow wedding professional for coffee and we (of course) got to talking about our respective industries, how low pricing hurts both of us, and how to share our unique skills with clients. She admitted that before she read this pricing blog series, she didn’t know just how much work went into custom stationery/calligraphy or how we arrived at our prices…but now that she had a better understanding of the process, she could communicate that to her clients better to give them better pricing and service expectations.

That was a HUGE win in my book! I wanted shout from the rooftops that I DID WHAT I SET OUT TO DO, which was help educate not only new stationers but wedding industry professionals in general. Did I educate everyone in the wedding industry? Not even close. But I did help at least one person see the true value of stationery. Just imagine what we could do if we all banded together! It would be some sort of guerrilla education for the wedding industry.

What could possibly help change the pricing taboo in our industry? Does it start with a few individuals, or a community effort, or possibly a stationer’s association?

I’m not sure what the right answer is, but I do know one thing: as an individual, the owner of my own company, and someone with a voice, I can help promote change. (That sounded a little bit like an after-school special, didn’t it? If you don’t know what that is, you’re missing out on some classic pre-teen television and I can recommend some gems.) No, I’m not solving world hunger or fixing the homeless problem in Seattle, but I am trying to solve a problem. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything, right?

So, I’m taking a stand against poor pricing decisions by holding myself accountable to everyone in our community. When I post a completed project on Instagram, I’m going to list the price for it. That won’t be every day, of course, but often. When I release my semi-custom collection, my website will have as much pricing listed as possible. No longer will my clients have to reach out to me and ask me for pricing, only to be shocked when I tell them what it’s worth.

Am I afraid to share my pricing? A little. Hey, it’s the internet after all – people can be mean. Sometimes, people who don’t agree with you feel like it’s their patriotic duty to let you know in the most public, worst possible way. Sometimes, you get blasted on private Facebook groups for your opinions. Sometimes, fellow vendors find out your pricing and deliberately undercut you just to make a sale. All of that has happened to me and it sucks.

But sometimes, you learn something about your passion from others who share it. Sometimes, you help make a difference in someone’s business. Sometimes, you get the sweetest emails from people telling you that because you spoke up, they finally found the courage to charge what they’re worth. Almost always, the good outweighs the bad.

I’m just a girl who owns her own business, willing to take a risk to facilitate change. Because at the end of the day, who am I hurting by sharing my prices? Answer: no one, not even me.

I propose a challenge: the next time you post a completed envelope order, place card set, stationery suite, or wedding sign, tell us what you charge for it! If you gave your client a discount because she’s your sister, only share what you would charge full-price.

If you’d like to take this challenge with me, share the price of the item(s) in your photo on social media and use the hashtag #bootopricingtaboos. If you have a few pieces in a photo, you don’t have to share the pricing for each piece, but I encourage you to share pricing for at least one.

Let’s see what kinds waves we can make.


BONUS: if you’re still doing pricing the old-fashioned way, YOU NEED THIS TOOL.

If you’re anything like me, you bust out your trusty notebook or a boring old piece of computer paper and list all of the items your client needs for their invitation suite: 5″ x 7″ invite, 4 bar reply card, A7 envelope, 4 bar envelope, calligraphy guest addressing, return addressing printed… You get the idea. Then you may have to think about which vendors you need to contact to get a price, especially if you don’t use them often or you’re looking for pricing on specialty practices (looking at you, engraving). Then you get pricing, add your design fee/whatever you call it, add tax/delivery/shipping, crunch some more numbers, and voilà! 4 hours later, you have a quote that you hope you didn’t leave anything out of.

If that sounds like you, I have some great news! After the Pricing Taboo, Part III went live, Jian (a fellow calligrapher and stationer) reached out and introduced me to an AMAZING tool that she created and launched just YESTERDAY: the Stationer’s Quote Calculator! (update 10.14.22: I’ve removed the link here because this isn’t live anymore, bummer! If you have any other similar resources you’d like to share, please email me and let me know!)

The Quote Calculator is fantastic for so many reasons, which I’m going to list below:

  • BEST FEATURE AWARD: MARGIN OF ERROR (You know, that thing we all learned about in statistics.) This is a built-in tool that accounts for fluctuations in pricing, currency exchange rate changes, and misquoting shipping or something similar. It’s not going to cover up a major error like leaving off reply addressing costs (guilty), but it might help cover your butt if you forget to add shipping for one of your materials.
  • After the initial setup, all you do is choose the vendor/supplier you want to use, update the quantity and design fee, and the program (basically) gift wraps a total price per piece/package for you. If only buying a gift for my mom were that easy.
  • The calculator automatically gives you a recommended price per piece after calculating the vendor’s price per piece, shipping, tax, exchange rates, and your design fee.
  • It’s a HUGE time saver.
  • It comes with a very easy-to-follow manual! For my visual learners out there, you can also watch a great mini-tutorial video on the main page of the Quote Calculator!
  • There is a private Facebook group for troubleshooting, tips, and tutorials, and updates.
  • You don’t have to spend hours learning a new program (even if the thought of using Excel freaks you out and you’re a complete right-brainer a.k.a. creative!) And if you get stuck, see the bullet point above this one.

To prove it to you all, I sat down yesterday to do a little science experiment. Luckily, I had a potential bride looking for a invitation suite quote on handmade paper and envelopes. I didn’t have my handmade paper vendors plugged into the calculator yet, so I thought it would be the best basis for comparison. I timed myself calculating my pricing using my tried-and-true paper method, then timed myself inserting handmade paper pricing into and using Jian’s Stationer’s Quote Calculator to determine my pricing. I knew there would be a big difference in time spent between the two methods, but I was unprepared for just how much time the Quote Calculator would save me. Are you ready?

Here are the results:

Tried-and-true computer paper method: 2 hours, 48 minutes
Number of revisions because I forgot to include something: 3

Stationery Quote Calculator method: 32 minutes
Number of revisions because I left something out: 0
TIME SAVED: 2 hours, 16 minutes

I know what you’re thinking: how is it even possible that it takes you that long to get pricing for a suite? Well, maybe you do things differently than I do, but I have a lot of handmade paper vendors that I like to use. I also have to find strange sizes for some pieces, because not everyone offers traditional A7/A2 sizes…and that means I then have to find envelopes that match my client’s vision in the appropriate size. Then I have to add those products to my cart to calculate shipping, tax, and occasionally currency exchange rates. Then I have to write it down, add my markup, and calculate my own taxes, possible exchange rates, and estimated shipping base price. All of these things don’t take a lot of time on their own, but they add up quickly.

If you have kids or other obligations, you have to factor in this thing called LIFE, too. Something as simple as a phone call or panicked email from a bride can derail even the most earnest price gathering.

My long-winded point is that the Quote Calculator has already changed my life. I’m so glad Jian created it and let me beta test it, because now I get to offer YOU something in return: 30% off the Stationer’s Quote Calculator! Woo-hoo!

To get your own copy of the Quote Calculator for the discounted rate of $99, visit this link and use the coupon code sablewood at checkout. (The prices are in Australian dollars, so the price will be listed as $125.30 AUD, but with the current exchange rate, it’s looking more like about $96.05!)

Happy pricing, fellow stationers and calligraphers!


That’s all, folks!

Thank you all SO much for joining me on this (super long) blog series on the Stationery Pricing Taboo. It’s been so much fun to discuss this polarizing, unnerving, scary, and interesting topic with so many of you, and I am so excited to hear that it’s made a difference in some of your lives. Let’s continue talking about pricing! If you’re unsure, ask your stationer friends (not your mom, she thinks you’re worth a million bucks and unfortunately you can’t really charge that…yet. 😉 ). If you want a second opinion on a quote before you press send, feel free to send it to me! I’ll talk you off the ledge, give you a pep talk, or whatever you need to feel more confident.

Remember: like the Wildcats, we’re all in this together. (I promise I won’t quote HSM again for a very, very long time.)

I may write some posts in the future about my pricing structure for various projects. In the meantime, what are some topics you’re most interested in reading about when it comes to the stationery world? Do you want to see more tutorials? Tips and tricks for printing or writing on unusual materials? How to establish your brand voice? Tell me in the comments below!

Holly signature

(If you haven’t read them yet, catch up on the Stationery Pricing Taboo Series here: Part I | Part II | Part III)

*That watercolor map price, by the way, was quoted by several people (including Part III contributor and watercolorist-extraordinaire Cami Monet) to be at least $500.

  1. Thanks so much for this blog post series! It’s been extremely helpful! On a side note, “sablewoodpricing” code does not work for the calculator, but “sablewood” does. That said, per the checkout on jianery the discount is for $ 53.70, so the total is $ 125.30. Is that a mistake on jianery or on the blog post. Please clarify when you have a minute. Thank you again for all your insight!

    • Holly says:

      Hi Lauren! I’m sorry that the code didn’t work for you – I’ll update it in my post right away! Jianery is located in Australia, so the price showing is Australian dollars. The conversion rate should bring the price to the correct amount! Hope that helps. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my series and I’m so glad you’ve found it helpful!

  2. Thank you for this series, very encouraging and informative! I’ll be thinking of this info as I try to amp up my side calligraphy/illustration biz. But also I work full time in a retail stationery shop, and it’s becoming so important to educate brides on the reality of what to expect for their budget, especially with the advent of finding inspiration and competition online.

  3. mehrab says:

    cool! nice post

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