Behind the Scenes: Refining Custom Stationery

 

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 two of our custom stationery series.

Behind the Scenes: Refining Custom Stationery. A behind the scenes look at how we take invitation designs from rough sketches to polished and print-ready pieces that our clients love.

reviewing sketches

In part one of this series, we talked all about creating sketches for our client proposals. I’ve found that taking the extra time to do these right off the bat shows how much care we put into our whole process. They help potential clients visualize what they’d be getting for the listed cost, and it also helps them determine if we are the right fit. When clients see sketches and feel like we’ve read their mind, they are not only excited to book with us, but that much more trusting in our skill and expertise.

These initial sketches are crucial for our entire design process. When clients sign our contract, pay their deposit, and officially book with us, the first thing we do is discuss the initial sketches that were included in their proposal. Which option did they like best? What about it did they like? What would they change? Asking a few basic questions helps us get a feeling for where we stand and how we can move forward.

The base sketch is the foundation on which we build everything, so if the clients aren’t 100% committed to any of the initial options, we will have a larger conversation and go back to the drawing board. I always want to have a solid sketch to refer back to when polishing the design, because having that reference can save tons of time and stress.

create polished artwork

When we have a concept that the clients are excited about, we move forward into the official creation phase. Now, we focus on creating polished versions of whatever artwork the suite calls for, be it venue or floral illustrations, spot calligraphy, a custom crest, etc.

We handle spot calligraphy in Procreate, simply because the end result is cleaner, smoother, and more efficient than scanning in analog calligraphy. However, we still use analog methods to create illustrations. I’ve found when I try and develop those things digitally they often feel mechanic and lack authenticity, so I stick with paper, pencil, ink, and paints. After scanning the artwork, I clean anything up in Photoshop, and am ready to bring everything together.

Our illustrator file of the polished invitation suite.

focus on layout

I create a new Illustrator file, and create art boards based on the pieces in the suite. If the design calls for full bleed, I will include a 0.125” bleed mark for the printer.

The next step is to begin designing. Since we already have material choices and a sketch to reference, this process is fairly straightforward and simple. Add in the artwork and calligraphy, type the wording of the invitations and select a font, choose colors, etc. Things should stick fairly closely to the sketch, so pulling all the elements together shouldn’t require much extra effort.

If, for whatever reason, things need to majorly shift from the sketch, be sure to think critically about why you are changing things, and why the new way is better. When you show the first round of design to the client, use those thoughts to explain the changes.

An example of the digital mockup we include in the proof.

proofing

When a polished version of the design is finished, I prepare a proof for the client. I use a Dubsado form to do this, using text, photos, and a digital mockup to walk the client through the design. At the bottom of the form, there is a place for them to write their thoughts and note any changes they would like to see.

I then take their notes and revise the design in Illustrator. Most of the time these notes are fairly simple: a slight change in colors, wanting to make an illustration bigger, or wanting to see other envelope options. Normally, I can revise and send them a new proof within 1–2 business days.

While we technically do not limit the rounds of revision in our custom stationery process, our clients typically only need 1–2 rounds. We allow enough time in our schedule for three sets of revision, so if a client requires more than that, we may have to push back the delivery date.

signature and final approval

When we have perfected the design, we ask the client to triple check and give a signature saying that everything looks correct. Then we can officially order materials and move into the next phase: printing!

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Tools & Supplies Used

Dubsado

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.

iPad, 6th Generation

The most recent iPad generation now works with the 1st generation of Apple Pencil, which means you can take full advantage of both tools without the investment of the iPad Pro. When using Procreate, the lack of power (compared to the Pro) is pretty evident how few layers the iPad can handle, but it still manages to get the job done.

Apple Pencil, 1st Generation

I use the Apple Pencil in conjunction with my iPad and Procreate to create digitized calligraphy. While you can still write things by hand, then scan in and clean up in Photoshop, using the Apple Pencil to write directly in Procreate saves so much time. While I definitely do certain things the analog way (venue and floral illustrations), I now do all spot calligraphy on my iPad with my Apple Pencil.

Procreate

Procreate is the iPad app I use to do all my digital sketching and spot calligraphy. It’s similar to photoshop in that in uses layers, which I take full advantage of during my sketching process. I also love the document grid, so I know that while the sketches aren’t super detailed, they still seem clean and professional to clients. The digital aspect also saves a ton of time.

Strathmore Bristol Vellum

While I write spot calligraphy digitally on my iPad, I’ve personally found illustrating florals and venues digitally leaves my illustrations a little mechanic and lackluster. Because of this, I still create all illustrations in an analog method. I most commonly create line artwork, and use this paper to do so because pencil erases well, my nib runs over it easily, and it can handle sumi ink without bleeding.

Pentel GraphGear 500 Mechanical Pencil, 0.5 + 2B Lead

On occasion, I’ll use a good, old-fashioned yellow pencil, but typically when I’m sketching out the final artwork for suites, I like a lighter and more precise pencil, and this one fits that task well.

Staedtler Mars Eraser

This eraser stick is great because it lasts forever! No more pristine pencils with completely eroded or useless erasers. If and when you do finish one off, you can buy replacement erasers to fit inside the hard casing. It’s a soft white eraser that gets marks up great without leaving scuffs behind. And because it’s a stick shape, you can get really precise.

Moon Palace Sumi Ink

I’ve tried several different kinds of black ink, but Moon Palace is hands down my favorite because it writes smooth and is rich in color. I use this ink with my nib to go over pencil illustrations. It creates lines that scan in and clean up well.

OfficeJet Pro 8600

My grandma originally gifted this printer for me to use in college. While I use my Canon Pixma Pro for printing stationery, I still use the Officejet for general business printing and for its scanner. It has the ability to scan at a really high dpi, which comes in handy when scanning in artwork for invitations.

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. My regularly use Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop for stationery work.

Adobe Photoshop

If the suite design includes any analog line illustration work, I use Photoshop to clean and edit scanned images of that artwork. The Magic Wand tool is my best friend when it comes to erasing white and creating clean PNG files to then import to my Illustrator file.

Adobe Illustrator

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. If you’re editing type in Photoshop, you are doing it wrong! Illustrator gives you so much more control over typography, and is literally designed for vector based work (which any font is), whereas Photoshop is pixel based, and designed for editing photos.

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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!