Behind the Scenes: Sketching 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 one of our custom stationery series.
Take Note of Key Details
Just like with any thoughtful endeavor, we never just jump head first into stationery designs. When I receive an inquiry, I begin by pulling out a sheet of paper and pencil and making note of key points: names, wedding date, budget, quantity needed, suite size, venue, aesthetic, etc. Typically, I can immediately get a sense if the budget is realistic or not, based on everything that’s been requested, so I take notes on any compromises we may have to make.
Plot Out Basic Card Sizes
Then, I start to break down the suite itself, starting with the paper and envelope sizes. Depending on what pieces we are including in a suite and what their budget and overall aesthetic is, I’ll determine if we should do an oversized A9, square, #10, or a standard A7 invitation. The other piece sizes fall into place afterwards. I plan so all cards stagger nicely in size when they’re assembled.
On my piece of paper, I draw these sizes out as thumbnails so I can get a visual sense of how things will interact with one another. I’ve found this step is particularly helpful when picturing how embellishments and unique elements can be incorporated into the suite.
Once sizes are planned, I start developing the quote itself, checking costs of paper and printing in the sizes I need. If any adjustments need to be made in order to meet budget, I will flex things around.
Sketch Analog Thumbnails
I always begin the sketching process by making small thumbnails on my paper. These sketches don’t express much detail, but instead test rough ideas in regards to composition, calligraphy, illustration, and type. These thumbnails are really my first response to thinking about the clients’ aesthetic. I consider how minimal or detailed things should be, and begin thinking about what story I should try to tell in their stationery. For example, if a client is particularly thrilled about their wedding venue, I brainstorm how and where I can feature a venue illustration. I normally also include some initial thoughts alongside these thumbnails to call back on as I move forward into more polished digital sketches.
While creating these thumbnails, I am also considering how different materials will be incorporated into the suite. Colors and finishes of paper, ink choices, envelope types, and different embellishment options are already coming into play in my mind.
Sketch Digitally in Procreate
Because I want things to look a little cleaner and more precise for clients, I refine initial thumbnails into digital sketches. While starting with pencil and paper helps me ground first ideas, the flexibility of digital sketching is great for playing around with those concepts. Things can be moved around and erased, so experimenting with composition is really easy, and I use that to my advantage.
Using Procreate also makes the process so much faster, because I can achieve a clean and professional sketch without spending hours scanning and cleaning up images in Photoshop. With a simple Airdrop from my iPad to my laptop, my sketches are ready to be uploaded into the client proposal.
I begin by I marking the shapes of the cards and envelopes themselves. I call this the frame layer. In a different layer, I start sketching the design itself. While these are still fairly rough, I make clean marks, gesturing the illustrations, calligraphy, and type. When sketching, it’s important to draw things out both quickly and clearly. You want to easily communicate ideas to clients, but also be efficient with your time. These initial sketches are rarely the end point for the design, so pouring hours into perfecting them doesn’t make much sense, knowing that your client will provide feedback and want to change things up a bit.
I send three different sketch options to clients, so when I’ve finished sketching out the first design, I’ll create a new layer and sketch the second. Each option lives in its own layer, separate from the frame layer.
Integrating Sketches in the Client Proposal
When all the sketches are complete, I export a JPEG of each option with the frame, and Airdrop them to my computer. From there, I can upload the photos directly into my client proposal in Dubsado. The sketches are shown to the client alongside a general explanation of our process, photos of my initial material choices, and the quote itself, which is broken down by item. I also include a box where they can give me feedback and tell me their thoughts. They can select the items they’d like to order and submit the proposal, and then those items are automatically added to their project. I then send over a contract and an invoice, so they can officially book with me.
While no one has a 100% booking rate, I have found that by including sketches and material choices alongside custom quotes, potential clients have a better understanding of what they are getting for the outlined cost. They see that I’ve invested some time and energy into their proposal, and immediately get a sense for just how intricate custom stationery work is. We put a lot of time into our designs, and that care and attention to detail adds up to something really special—something they can’t get from a mass-market retailer.
Sketching really is the heart and soul of our creative process. It opens the door for innovation and creativity, and allows us to explore ways we can best tell the stories of our clients. It is such a powerful tool, and can make or break that first impression with potential 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 business owner 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.
Georgia Pacific Premium Cardstock Paper
After years of shelling out money on countless sketchbooks, I found I had accumulated piles of full books, each with only a few pages worth keeping. I saw how much waste I was creating throwing out metal spirals and hardback covers. So instead I started buying standard sheets of cardstock. It’s significantly more affordable per page, and I no longer throw out a ton of excess material. Instead, the single sheets I no longer need can easily be recycled. This also makes the process of storing sketches I want to keep so much easier!
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 suites, I work pretty small, and the precision of a mechanical pencil fits that task well. This pencil is sturdy and has served me well for over 5 years!
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 sticks 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.
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 with 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 digital sketches and spot 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 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.
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!