Working with a Stationer

Martha Stewart Weddings, Fall 2006

From the first save-the-date card mailed to the last thank-you note received, a wedding creates a lovely paper trail. The best way to follow this path? Enlist an expert stationer as your guide. With a stationer's help, you will be able to come up with personalized invitations and accessories that not only convey information but also capture the mood of your event.

What Is a Stationer?
Simply put, a stationer is a company from which one can order wedding or other stationery. In many cases, this will be a store that carries the lines of different stationery designers as well as its own proprietary creations. The work of each firm is typically showcased in albums or in displays of the different typefaces, inks, papers, and printing processes available. Depending on the size of the outlet, the number of albums to consider can range from just a handful to several dozen.

However, some stationery designers -- including many smaller, boutique operations -- do not offer their albums in stores, opting to sell directly to customers. In this case, the designer takes on the role of stationer, helping the client place the order and overseeing the printing. It is also possible to order wedding stationery from websites and mail-order catalogs, which frequently cut out the role of the traditional stationer entirely, selling goods directly from the manufacturer.

But as Julie Holcomb, owner of Julie Holcomb Printers in Emeryville, California, says, "A stationer provides service: advice and guidance on wording, items to be included, quantities to be ordered, turnaround times, and reliability of manufacturers." You can find a good stationer by word of mouth, says Eve Weinsheimer of A Day in May Design in San Francisco. Ask friends, vendors, and your wedding planner for recommendations.

Once you've located a reputable stationer or designer, you should make an appointment to browse their collections. If you're dealing with a store, a salesperson there can point you toward designers who excel in the aesthetic you're looking for, as well as some who are in your price range.

Understanding the Process
"We wouldn't expect you to have all the specifics worked out beforehand," says Dominique Schurman, chief executive officer of Papyrus, a national chain. Store employees can help suss out the tone and theme of an event as a starting point. It's a good idea, though, to bring inspiration to your stationer -- in the form of, say, fabric swatches, vintage illustrations, wallpaper samples, photos of your location, and more.

If you don't know what you're looking for, your stationer can walk you through the options available from different designers' collections of invitations and accessories, such as programs and menu cards. Styles selected from an album are referred to as template designs, and many companies offer a selection of monograms and clip art you can add to make them your own.

If, on the other hand, you do have a precise idea of what you want, custom design -- a process by which a designer works from scratch to the customer's specifications -- may be best. If you'd like original artwork, many designers can create an illustration for you, whether it's a monogram or an icon. And most can put you in contact with calligraphers if you want hand lettering or calligraphic art.

Timing is an important consideration when deciding between templates and custom designs. Some designers need up to three months to complete custom orders, so to be able to postmark invitations two to four months before your wedding, you'll need to start shopping at least seven months in advance. Most template-design orders will not require this much lead time; as little as a week's production time may suffice.

Another factor is budget: Custom designs are usually more expensive than standard ones, but you'll have an invitation that's to your exact specifications.

After you've selected your design, the stationer will provide you with a proof or mock-up of each piece. Look at these carefully, checking that all agreed-upon elements are included and everything is spelled correctly.

How Much Will it Cost?
Prices per set, which generally includes the invitation and envelope and the reply card and envelope, range from $2 to $70. The type of printing process will greatly affect the cost. Custom designs with special details -- such as handmade paper, calligraphy, painted embellishments, and hand-applied botanicals -- are the most expensive.

Most stationers will request a deposit of at least 50 percent at the time of the order. Read the contract carefully before signing, and ask questions to prevent costly surprises later on. It may also be cost-effective to order your accessories -- such as programs, menu cards, seating cards, place cards, and thank-you notes -- at the same time you order the invitations.

With clear, open communication throughout, your stationery is sure to be an original reflection of you.

Printing Processes
The method you choose will affect the price: Here, a breakdown from most expensive, letterpress and engraving, to least, offset and thermography.

Letterpress
Paper is pressed onto an inked, raised surface, creating an impressed image; rub your fingers over the type, and you'll feel the crisp, textured results. Letterpress works especially well on soft, thick paper and for designs using fine lines.

Engraving
Etched crevices of an engraving plate are filled with ink; paper is stamped between the plate and a hard surface, producing raised type on the front and indentations on the reverse. It's a classic choice for fine linework; light-color or metallic ink shows up well on colored stock.

Offset Printing
A simpler and more economical method: An inked impression from a plate is transferred to a rubber cylinder and then to paper to create a flat image. It's ideal for many ink colors, large blocks of color, or gradations of hue.

Thermography
This is a popular printing process that mimics the dimensional result of engraving: The paper is dusted with a resinous powder and then heated, causing the powder to melt and leaving behind raised lettering but no indentations on the back of the paper.

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