The world of custom & semi-custom stationery can be intimidating. How do you know what your invitations and stationery will look like if they haven't already been created? This is an overview of what it can be like to work with a custom or semi-custom stationer — in particular The Blackline Bottega — to give you more confidence in choosing whether it's the best option for you as a couple or whether a semi-custom or off-the-shelf option might be more your style.
1 | Off-The-Shelf, Semi-Custom and Custom Stationery
There are three main processes that stationers tend to offer; off-the-shelf, semi-custom or custom stationery. Off-the-shelf stationery is the least flexible of the three; allowing you to purchase a design and have your names, venue, times dropped into the existing format and printed on set card stocks. Alternatively it can also be a design that has built in blanks so you can fill them in with pen. Semi-custom stationery - like the suites I offer online - are base designs that can be tweaked with your details, elements altered, fonts changed and layouts shifted slightly to accommodate your individual needs. Semi-custom stationery generally has more options in regards to printing finishes and card stocks also. Custom stationery generally means you're working collaboratively with the designer from scratch to create the stationery of your dreams. You might be bringing together different references and inspiration sources to create something that feels uniquely you; and generally the stationery design does not already exist.
TIP: When working with a custom stationer, it's really important to consider their innate style of design. Custom doesn't mean they will create anything and everything. Most of my custom clients & couples' approach me because; they love the simplicity of my designs, calligraphy or hand-lettering, or monotone and neutral suites. Asking for something completely out of the realm of what a designer or artist normally creates is unlikely to result in the stationery of your dreams; so pick your stationer based on the overall tone of their work.
2 | Be Prepared to Collaborate
Whilst custom stationers will inevitably work differently, you should be prepared for some degree of collaboration and design input when working in a custom fashion. When couples' want to work with The Blackline Bottega, the process is collaborative from the get go. Calligraphy is written and sent back and forth for approval. The design and mock ups are sent back and forth for approval and comment. There is no part of the end outcome that comes as a complete surprise. From feeling cardstock textures to discussing minute details, custom stationery requires the couple to have a really strong vision of what they're after for it to not become overwhelming and to help the designer nail the brief.
If the thought of this makes you recoil but you still want some options, semi-custom stationery may be the way to go. Finding a base design that you're more or less happy with and making small tweaks to it will cut down the amount of creative decisions and input required from your end.
3 | A Longer Lead Time
Custom stationery often takes a lot more time than off-the-shelf and semi-custom stationery. Without an existing base design to work from, the lead time for custom stationery is inevitably much longer as the designer needs to understand exactly what you're after before putting together assets and designs. It can also mean that the stationer is working with other artists and their lead times — for example, several of my suites have included watercolours and maps from other artisans — and that has to be factored in. If you're working with a short deadline or time frame, make sure to mention that when obtaining a quote. If you have a very short timeframe, it might be best to consider off-the-shelf stationery that can generally be turned around much faster than a semi-custom or custom suite.
4 | Overall Cohesion
One of the greatest pros of working with a custom stationer is having cohesion across both your invitation suite and on-the-day stationery.* Whilst semi-custom and off-the-shelf stationery won't always always have matching on-the day stationery and signage, working with a custom designer means anything can be created and your pieces will inevitably be cohesive from start to finish. I frequently work with couples' who have purchased off-the-shelf stationery for their invitation suite only to discover that they can't continue the look or aesthetic into their day because the retailer doesn't provide options.
TIP: It's important to check with your custom stationer what they actually provide in their services. For example, some custom stationers may not work on signage; but might be willing to work on the print-ready design for you. This will mean having to work directly with printers rather than having your stationer oversee the printing process. It's great to factor that in from the get go so your budget doesn't slowly creep upwards.
5 | Expertise & Process
Wedding stationery is made by an array of artisans, vendors and designers. When speaking to your stationery or stockist, I always recommend asking or looking into their lead times, process and what their area of expertise is. For example, if you love the work of an artist or calligrapher, do they have experience in graphic design? What do their printed outcomes look like? Or, should you be working with a graphic designer who can integrate the artists' / calligraphers' work? Asking questions of your supplier and finding out what is their preferred method of working is always a great idea regardless of whether they supply off-the-shelf, semi-custom or custom stationery. It will also give you insight into how they manage their process, what might be possible for your on-the-day stationery and what the client experience will look like. Not all creatives work in the same way and you won't know what you're getting unless you ask.
TIP: Your stationer is also going to be your spell check and if included in their services, your editor. Whilst we are all human and mistakes happen, it's good to pay attention to your vendor's emails, website, vibe, reviews and response rate to check if they're the right fit for you. Choosing a supplier based on their instagram feed is not always the best way to go. (And this applies to all suppliers!)
And now that we've looked at some of the differences between Off-The-Shelf, Semi-Custom and Custom Stationery, you can follow the journey of a custom wedding stationery suite being created here.