Thursday, July 29, 2010

"How do I become a stationery designer?"

Every now and then I get a few e-mails from people letting me know how much they love my work. I love that! It really keeps me going, it's a huge motivator for any designer to know that their work is admired and appreciated. Today I woke up to a different kind of e-mail. It was a fan asking for advice on how to become a stationery designer...

"Hi Dio, I love your work and your personal story! (I read the interview that Soy Fashionista did with you, which led me to your sites.) I really want to become a stationery designer (weddings in particular) but I'm at a bit of a loss for how things work, and I'd like to know more about the technical side. Could you share a little with me about the technical process of it all? (I know the first order of business should be for me to take more graphic design courses, but first I'd like to know how it all fits together with stationery design in particular.) Like, what software & equipment do you use, do I have to be able to freehand draw all designs or do you use some stock images too in your work, do you use a digital pen and tablet with illustrator to create your drawings, do you outsource printing or do you do your own printing, etc.? It's really hard to find any information on this and I would so appreciate any advice you could offer someone who aspires to have a career like yours!
Thanks so much! ~ Paula"

Experience and Education
The truth is, every stationery designer has a different story. I bet there are many out there that started their career as a hobby, having never worked in a design setting. I shared a bit of my story in that interview for Soy Fashionista nearly a year ago. For me, leaving the corporate world to own my business was a natural process. By then I had already established myself a designer. I was Senior Designer for a marketing office where I had gained much experience taking a vision and putting it on paper for the weekly/monthly promotions that our company ran. I also knew how to use the software and most important of all, I knew how to communicate with the print shops. I spoke their lingo and understood terms like "press check, full color printing, spot color printing, cost per ink wash, film plates, die cut, scoring, drilling, camera ready, vector image, gloss coating, varnish, PMS colors, etc." I knew what they meant when they asked "how many originals in your print job?" That's the technical stuff that I can't sit here and explain. It's what you will gain with your education and work experience, and it very much applies to wedding stationery. When a client requests an estimate, I have to determine the best type of printing for their budget (offset or digital) and then go from there. If it's offset they need, then I usually have to quote for spot printing & the communication with the printer begins according to the client's needs. I do some in-house digital printing with a high quality laser printer I purchased, but it's limited to the type of stocks I can print on.

Vendors and Materials
The hardest part for me was finding printers and wholesale vendors. I couldn't find affordable printing in town, so I had to shop around in the LA area and online, there's so much variety out there. My advice is for you to shop around too, it's part of the process.
As far as card stocks and materials, Envelopments has been such a blessing for me! They are organized, they have great customer service and provide all their resellers with all the tools they need to be successful.

Software and Equipment
Everywhere I worked before starting my own business was PC based, so naturally I too am a PC based designer. I'd like to own a Mac one day, but it's not something I see in my near future simply because I'm very comfortable with what I have at this point and I don't need the extra expense.
I use the Adobe Creative Suite, I haven't upgraded since CS2. I feel there is no need, what I have works fine without the upgrades. Most of my work is created in Illustrator. I used Corel Draw many years ago when I first started and I love it! It's more affordable than Illustrator and you can do the same thing with it. I don't own a copy of it, but I loved it back when my employer had it available for me to use. I only use InDesign when addressing envelopes with computer calligraphy, or basically any time I'm designing anything that has a heavy text content. PhotoShop is a must have for working on images you want to publish on your website and blogs.
I have always wanted to invest in a digital pen and tablet, but I just haven't. Nothing is really stopping me at this time except the fact that I feel I have to do some research about all the options available and I've just been too busy to give it much importance.

Original Work vs. Stock Images
Adobe Illustration is great for creating your own vector-based artwork. If you don't have the time or illustrations skills to create your own artwork, you can also purchase stock images from sites like The beauty about purchasing vector art is that you can always break it apart and modify so that you're not just plopping someone else's artwork into a layout and calling it your own.
Which brings me to another topic. Please be original. Define yourself, find your style, seek inspiration but NEVER copy anybody else's work or claim it as your own if you didn't create it.

In Summary
It's A LOT of work!!! You have to do all the legal stuff first like registering your business name, getting your resale license, finding vendors. Then when the business is running, you have to do your own bookkeeping or hire someone who will. Owning a custom stationery business is not just about the creative stuff, you also have to figure out how you'll be pricing your goods and services, do consultations, answer e-mail requests, phone calls, produce quotes, coordinate a variety of projects and deadlines, determine whether or not you'll process credit cards, do your own purchasing, shipping, receiving, keep track of inventory, and do lots and lots of research every day and find creative ways to market yourself. Never start any job without a contract and be prepared to revise such contract constantly during the first year, or each time a client gives you a headache (hey, it happens). You will eventually settle into a written agreement that is nearly perfect for your everyday use.

Good luck Paula! May your hard work and determination pay off.


~ Dio Perez

UPDATE, August 2016: I am very excited to announce the arrival of Stationery Boot Camp and the Stationery Crash Course.Stationery Bootcamp an online training course for entry-level designers and those who, like me, are very passionate about custom stationery design but are in the same place I was 13 years ago – not knowing where to start. Whether you are looking for a career change or looking to turn a hobby into a profitable business (as I did), Stationery Boot Camp will prepare you to excel in your craft and thrive as a creative professional.

Click on the image below for more information.

Stationery Boot Camp


Krafty Kiesha said...

Thank you so much for this in depth response. I have been looking all over the place for information just like this! Your work is absolutely great!

heatherxedge said...

Who would you recommend getting digital printing done through? How does that work with ordering from Envelopments?

Dio Perez said...

I would recommend calling local print shops and asking for samples and printing rates for both digital and offset printing. Some printers are happy to provide samples at no charge, others will charge. As far as Envelopments, you can have the stock shipped to your studio or pay for them to drop ship to your printer.