Behind the Scenes: Printing Wedding Invitations
The process of designing and producing custom stationery involves so many layers. From initial inquiry and quoting all the way down to packaging and shipping to clients, there are countless levels of consideration, industry knowledge, and hands on creation required to bring invitations to life. It is so much more than a pretty design on a piece of paper. With behind the scenes posts, we are pulling back the curtain and giving an inside look into the process behind our custom stationery.
This is part three of our custom stationery series.
final print approval
In part two of this series, we talked all about refining stationery designs, proofing, and receiving final print approval from our clients. Having couples sign off on the final proof is a crucial step all stationers should have in their process. Not only does it protect the designer, it also protects the client by clearly laying out exactly what they end result will be.
in house and outsourced printing methods
We offer three printing options as standard: digital, letterpress, and hot foil. While I hope to one day print all three methods in house, we currently only handle certain digital print orders in our studio. Our in house printing specializes in handmade paper and envelopes, although we also do all matte cardstock orders in house as well. In some cases, we outsource digital printing, like when a design involves white ink, is photo based, or is to be printed on cotton paper.
Preparing files: letterpress and foil printing
Letterpress and foil are both plate-based printing methods. The design of each card is raised on a plate, which is then used to press the design onto the paper. Letterpress uses ink to transfer the design to paper, and foil uses heat and foil sheets.
To make these plates, files need to be vectorized, CMYK, 100% black, and 300dpi. If your design calls for full-bleed printing, you should always include a bleed margin in your file. Some printers will also ask you to include crop marks. You should specify card sizes, ink or foil colors, paper choices, quantities, and any other details like edge painting or die cutting when ordering this kind of printing. Your printer may have a list of specifications and requirements on their website, or you can ask them directly through email, phone, or in person. They should also list or quote a turnaround time, and let you know when and how they take payment.
preparing files: digital printing
While designs do not need to be vectorized for digital printing, if you are outsourcing, you still need to expand any fonts. This allows the printer to print your pieces perfectly, even if they do not own the fonts you used in the design. Make sure that if your design calls for full bleed, that you have a bleed margin set up (standard is 0.125”).
If you are digitally printing in house, file preparation is fairly minimal. When printing on matte cardstock, I always print with crop marks, however these aren’t needed when printing on handmade paper. Just like when outsourcing, if a design calls for full bleed, include and print with bleed margins.
When outsourcing printing, you have to design and proof based on your printers capabilities. If ordering letterpress, you can specify a specific Pantone color, however color matching digital isn’t as simple. Each printer will have its own settings and way of reading color, and each kind of paper handles color a little differently.
One of the wonderful things about printing in house is how much control you have over the final product. Color adjustments can and should be made at the beginning of the printing process, so that the final product matches the digital proof as closely as possible. Each kind of paper will take color differently, so adjusting is really important if you’re using multiple kinds. If you’re digitally printing, these adjustments can be made in Photoshop, Illustrator, or in the printer settings themselves.
digital printing on handmade paper
The look and feel of handmade paper is so dreamy, but achieving a clean print on it can require a little work and patience. Each papermaker has a different formula and method, so ease of printing will depend on where you order your paper from. I’ve specifically sourced and tested paper from different vendors, and found ones that work beautifully with my printer, with minimal hiccups.
The Canon Pixma Pro 100 in general handles handmade paper pretty well. Even still, I always order some extra sheets in case things don’t go my way. Printing using an “envelope” setting will keep abrasions and ink smears to a minimum, so long as your paper isn’t buckling a lot. If it is, try lightly ironing the paper before printing, so things are flatter when running through. I have found feeding the paper into the printer in small quantities keeps the print more consistent. Always run a few test sheets and play with settings before printing the whole batch.
If a paper gets a few small ink smudges, you may be able to do some “paper surgery” depending on how the paper behaves. Some varieties are easier to fix than others. A needle, X-Acto, or awl can be used to lightly scrape areas that have smudges, and then a white eraser can pull off loose fibers and blend things back down so the area is less noticeable. This process can be time consuming, so it may easier to reprint altogether if there are a large number of issues.
When printing in house, trimming down paper falls to you. We always do this step after things are printed, so we can ensure designs are printed straight and clean on the card. You can either trim by hand in small stacks with a ruler and X-Acto, or invest in a guillotine cutter. We currently do things by hand, simply because non-commercial guillotines are typically less precise, and we don’t have the means for a commercial trimmer. (Maybe when we start printing foil and letterpress in house!)
Printing is a totally different skillset from designing, and it takes a lot of patience and practice to find what systems and processes work best for you. Having a high quality digital printer in house has made a world of difference to our business, and I highly recommend investing in one if you haven’t already.
If you’re interested in offering other printing methods like letterpress or foil, I recommend doing some research on how it’s done, or even taking classes or observe in person. Even if you don’t have the means to handle those methods in house, understanding how the process works will only help you in the design process, and in communicating the concept to clients.
Tools & Supplies Used
This client management system has changed my life! I use the Dubsado platform to manage all of my projects and leads. I send emails, quotes, contracts, invoices, questionnaires, proofs—you name it. And if you want to embed a lead form or proposal onto your website, you can do it! All my contact and inquiry forms automatically generate client profiles in Dubsado, so I can see everything all in one place. If you’re a creative interested in Dubsado, you can use our affiliate link (or the code “caitlinobryantdesign”) to get 20% off your first month or year, whichever plan you choose.
Adobe Creative Cloud Subscription
Adobe now offers their suite of products through a subscription based service called Creative Cloud. I have the “All Apps” package, because I utilize upwards of five of their programs, depending on what kind of project I’m working on. I regularly use Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop for stationery work.
While rare for us, if the suite design includes any painted elements, I may use Photoshop to make color adjustments while printing in house. I also use Photoshop to clean up any analog illustration work the design calls for.
Illustrator is the program I use for designing polished invitations. It has the ability to vectorize type and images, which is crucial when designing invitations for letterpress or foil printing, and its type tools for single page documents are far superior to that of Photoshop.
Canon Pixma Pro 100
We print in house on our Canon Pixma Pro. We love how easily it handles handmade paper and envelopes, and the amount of control and precision we have. Color adjustments are easily made in both printer settings, and in Illustrator or Photoshop themselves.
Paper of Choice
Our in house printing specializes in handmade paper and envelopes, however we also print on matte cardstock. If you are outsourcing your printing, each printer will have their own list of paper options, and some will let you source your own and send it to them. Be sure to research which paper options are available when first proposing designs and materials to your client.
I use my X-Acto and ruler to trim down cards after they’re printed. There are tons of different models of knives, but we love our heavy-duty X-Acto. It has replaceable snap-off blades, so when one dulls down, you can snap off the tip and keep going.
I’ve found that a cork-backed stainless steel ruler is the way to go. While knives can cut into plastic and wood rulers, the stainless steel is pretty X-Acto proof, so you’ll keep your straight edge. The cork back will help keep the ruler from sliding while you’re cutting as well.
The Pixma Pro can only handle 13x19 sheets, so I only need a cutting mat around that size. I have an Alvin self-healing mat that has lasted me for six years and is still going strong.
HAVE ANY QUESTIONS? LET US KNOW!
In our custom stationery series, we are walking through our entire process: from sketching all the way to packaging. If you have any questions about our process, or would like to know more specifics, let us know!