The 5 dangers of designing wedding stationery sounds…ominous, right?
Maybe you’re a calligrapher or hand-letterer and think it’s time to grow, and designing stationery seems like the next logical step. And if you’re here, that’s most likely the case.
Since it’s become quite trendy to take this next step, I thought I’d try to clear up some misconceptions about this amazing, frustrating, sometimes heartbreaking, yet incredibly fulfilling industry.
I’m here to give you 5 things to consider before you dive headfirst into the world of wedding stationery!
It’s challenging. Behind the gorgeously-styled photos of completed suites, there are rivers of tears involved. I’ve bled for this job (cardboard paper cuts and x-acto knife slices are no joke, my friends). It’s frustrating, because there are so many behind-the-scenes things that clients aren’t privy to, but that you have to bill for if you want to end up making more than minimum wage:
Beyond the tools listed above (and there are SO many I didn’t list!), there are layers upon layers upon unpeeled onion layers of tasks that make up a suite…not to mention those little things that can add up to costly mistakes like reprints or unforeseen expenses. Did you advise your client about weighing their finished piece at the post office before mailing it to get an accurate postage rate? Did you order the correct envelopes to fit the job? Do the correct envelopes fit the pieces inside?
Ask any stationer and we’ll tell you a horror story about the lessons we’ve learned and the little nuances that can keep us up at night.
What’s mine, you ask?
Mine actually takes place before I was a stationer, but it scarred me forever when it comes to registration. I sent a booklet job to print without including a blank page on the inside front cover. Of course, it was a rush job, my boss yelled at me, and it wasn’t pretty in my head for awhile.
Now, I print out EVERY piece from a client’s suite before I order them and create a physical mock-up of what their suite will look like. Yes, even when I’m SURE it will work. Why?
Because it’s a good habit, for one, and it also makes me take my time. Rushing through a project always spells disaster!
Are styled shoots worth participating in? Absolutely. (But that’s a different topic, and I’ll talk more about that in another post.)
The question you need answering is this: Are styled shoots necessary to become a wedding stationer? The easy answer is no, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
You can get a job at an invitation/stationery store and learn how to take invitation orders, which will help give you limited idea of printing styles, paper and ink colors, how long production takes, and general client interaction. This will give you very limited experience, in my opinion, because you won’t be doing what you want to do…which is designing your own pieces. And that is a completely different animal.
But if you participate in a handful of styled shoots before you start selling invitations, you kill two birds with one stone. And I do mean a handful of styled shoots, not just one. Not all styled shoots (or the materials you submit to them) are created equally.
One: You find out how much time it takes to create a single suite for a “client”. From there, you can really start to grasp why pricing should be what it is. (If you need help with pricing, be sure to read my blog series on The Stationery Pricing Taboo, Parts I, II, III, and IV.)
Two: You’ll have a better understanding of what types of clients you want to serve. This is important and requires some thought and usually some practice. You may think you want to target luxury clients (because of bigger invoices), but you may find you like the more fun, whimsical bride who isn’t all that into handmade paper or letterpress.
Three, and most importantly: You’ll find out pretty quickly whether you actually like creating invitations or not. If the thought of designing 50 slightly different invitations based on your last styled shoot suite makes you want to vomit, you probably won’t like designing invitations as a career.
Hopefully, you’ll continue learning throughout your life. That’s what keeps you interesting as a human being, keeps you healthy mentally, and keeps your creativity alive. It’s also one of the chief indicators that you’re a living creature, because if you didn’t continuously learn, then you’d be…well, an amoeba or something.
But there’s a difference between learning experiences (i.e., “It rained out of the blue and ruined my chalkboard! Guess I’d better seal it next time.”), learning the important things (i.e., building trust with your outside vendors and resources), and learning the tricks that come with some experience (i.e., how certain printing techniques will be more cost-effective than others or which paper is the most popular option).
Learning experiences are the growing pains that everyone experiences, no matter their skill level. These never go away, but hopefully they only come around once (which means you’ve learned from them).
Important things to learn take way more time. These will come in the form of using a printer you’ve never used before, they drop the ball, and so you have to decide whether to use them again or not. And this isn’t limited to just production vendors – there may be certain wedding professionals that you refuse to work with because your styles clash, you don’t get along, or they’re not organized enough for you.
The tricks that come with experience are my absolute FAVORITE. These are things like, when printing 4bar or A2 envelopes on your inkjet printer at home, insert a tall piece of card stock into the open envelope, so that it’s sticking out of the top. The printer will be able to grab your envelope more easily that way!
Ask yourself: why do you want to get into wedding stationery? Is it because you like what you see on your Instagram feed every day: the beautiful dusty blue letterpress invitations and custom monograms inside floral wreaths? I understand the draw. They’re gorgeous.
But guess what? Those invitations are very trendy right now, but may not be around much in the next couple of years…or even months. (sadly.)
If you haven’t yet, look back on the designs from 3, 5, 10, and 15 years ago (for a start). You’ll see the big design trends without having to sift through the small trends, but can you see how much times have changed? We may all look back in disgust at designs we created years ago, but those designs were what the brides were clamoring for then.
Sure, we as designers can influence the market a little bit. We control the content we put out there, but there are so many other factors that influence stationery design:
These are just a handful of factors that influence design trends, and it’s pretty limited to the wedding industry. But if a clothing trend took the world by storm tomorrow, you’d better believe you would see some of that crop up somewhere in stationery design.
If you’re not ready to change along with the trends, you’ll get left behind. That means that you have to take a good, hard look at what it means to be a stationer. Are you designing because you’re passionate about it? (You should be.) Are you doing calligraphy or graphic design and you just want some extra income? If you’re planning to be a casual invitation designer, I promise you this: you’ll be hurting before long; there are just too many ways to screw up an invitation.
As with any business venture, it’s important to establish what you’ll be offering, who you’ll be offering it to, and how you’ll be offering it. Will you be doing bespoke, high-end stationery for luxury brides? Do you prefer to work with budget brides, offering digital downloads for them to print on their own? Are you somewhere in the middle?
A great way to establish what kind of stationer you are is how many clients you can reasonably take on per year (or month, for that matter). I try to limit myself to 1 client per month, though sometimes (depending on the scope) I can work with 2 per month. All of my designs are completely custom from artwork to calligraphy and I print, assemble, and mail for my clients (usually), so I need a bit more time to complete these things.
But I have friends who bust out 10-20 suites a month. They may use stock graphics (which are TOTALLY acceptable to use as a stationery designer, as long as you don’t claim to have created them yourself!), or rely heavily on fonts because they don’t offer lettering, but they’re still stationers through and through.
The point I’d like to make is that you need to find your niche and the work that you’re passionate about, and marry the two. It may be that they are two totally different things. You’ll have to decide that yourself, but it’s important to look inwards before you start asking for advice or looking to others for what THEY are successful doing.
Remember: just because someone else is successful at something doesn’t mean you automatically will be, too.
It’s a competitive world out there. With all of the available technology and the ease of communicating with people around the world now, we can work with clients outside of our bubble. We can work with people timezones away without ever having to pick up the phone! It’s really impressive when you think about it.
If you’re reading this blog post, the chances are that you’re really interested in joining the stationery community (if you’re not already part of it). And good news for you: we’re all a bunch of nice ladies and gentlemen here. We love sharing where we get the best products made, what worked and what didn’t, and especially the times when the post office has failed us.
And you’re doubly in luck, too, because when I started writing this blog post, The Stationer’s Summit didn’t exist yet…and now it’s here!
I’ll be one of 18 (yes, EIGHTEEN) instructors who are so excited to be teaching new and current stationers our tips and tricks during some amazing courses. All of these courses were chosen with stationers in mind specifically – meaning, if you’re a photographer or planner or caterer, this summit probably isn’t worth investing in 😉
Here are some details about the Summit, which opens for Early Bird Registration on August 26, 2019:
Nat Otalora of Papel and Co.
An Intentional Approach to Stationery, Clients, and Positivity in Your Business
Holly Goodman of Sablewood Paper Company
Stationery on the “Move:” How to Network and Redefine your Audience
Laura Joseph of Paper and Honey
Making a Meaningful Impact with Wedding Stationery: How to Tell Your Client’s Story
Elisabeth Young of ElisaAnne Calligraphy
Sourcing & Pricing Vintage Postage for Clients
Cami Monet of Cami Monet
Creating a “One and Done” Lookbook & Sketch for Your Client
Kathryn Joachim of Creme Brands
Utilizing Fonts in Your Designs & Understanding Font Legalities
Alex Bray of Prairie Letter Shop
Best Practices for Calligraphy Envelope Addressing
Victoria Rothwell of Design House of Moira
A No-BS Approach to Client Revisions & Proofs
Jessica Hinton of Empress Stationery
How to Develop a Semi-Custom Stationery Collection
Jess McSweeney of Jessica McSweeney
Calligraphy National Stationery Show for the First-Timer
Taryn Sutherland Gross of Twinkle and Toast
There is No One-Stop-Shop: Working with Multiple Paper & Printing Resources
Britt Rohr of Swell Press
Understanding Letterpress Costs & Preparing a Letterpress File
Laney Schenk of Design by Laney
Making the Transition from Calligrapher to Stationer
Shasta Bell of Shasta Bell Calligraphy
What You Need to Know About Handmade Paper
Ciarra Claire of Ciarra Claire Fine Art
Marketing Basics for Booking Dream Stationery Clients
Jessica Peddicord of Simply Jessica Marie
Licensing Your Artwork to Other Stationers: Pricing & Process
Cami & Elisabeth of Biz Birthday Bash
An Honest Conversation About Pricing
Carley Zuercher of CZ Invitations
Pinterest Strategies for Stationers
Thank you all for sticking with me through another novel-length blog post! I love writing these for you and I love to hear your feedback, so if you have a topic you’d like me to address in a future blog post, drop me a line on my contact page.
Have a great rest of your week, lovelies!
Disclaimer: posts may contain affiliate links and any opinions expressed here are my own and are not paid for. I’m just a gal who’s super passionate about calligraphy, stationery, and spreading love through weddings.