Getting Started in the Stationery Industry

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When I was first starting out with my business, I would frequent different design blogs for inspiration and guidance on the industry. I’m lucky to be in Brooklyn with so many other talented designers. Being part of that community was amazing but it’s still tough going solo! I thought it’d be fun to share some tips on getting started in the stationery industry today. Now, I’m certainly no expert and am always learning more and more as each day passes, but below are a few things I’ve picked up over the last few years that might help inspire some of the young talent out there! – Courtney of Swiss Cottage Designs

image 3.2 Swiss Cottage Stationary

1. Have a plan: I know this sounds pretty basic and obvious but it’s surprisingly challenging. Decide what your end game is and how you want to get there. It’s so easy to get distracted and quickly drawn off course which is why it’s important to identify your strengths that set you apart and then really make them work for you. Once you’ve established the big picture of where you’re headed, you can start to hone in on smaller details and little side projects. It’s certainly easy to get overwhelmed by everything, but I’ve found having a solid plan and really sticking to it helped me greatly in the early days.

2. Reach out & ask for help: Don’t feel like you have to do it all on your own. When I made the decision to go out on my own, I reached out to other designers in the area who were all were so incredibly helpful and supportive. Their amazing work and kind words inspired me even more to pursue my goal. A community is key! I’ve met some great friends this way. It’s fun to chat with people who understand what you’re going through and who have been there themselves. Also, ask for help! I used to think staying up late and trying to do everything myself was me hustling, when in fact it was the exact opposite! I was tired all the time and burning out at a rapid pace. Have friends and family help you in the beginning and when you get more established, hire help! It makes everything so much better.

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3. Have the resources: Nailing down vendors and resources ahead of time is big. It’s important to have vendors who you can trust and that you work well with. With the paper industry, your printer becomes your best friend. Also, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Diversify and have different vendors for different items and timelines. I find that keeping my options open helps alleviate stress! I really love working with local vendors which is why we get most of our goods right here in New York City. Any extra bits and bobs we try to source off small Etsy shops.

4. Expect to make mistakes: As much as we all wish we were perfect, we ain’t. Believe me you when I say, expect to make mistakes! Nothing makes your stomach drop like seeing a typo on your final printed pieces. Oye! But it happens. It’s how you handle the mistake that will make you better. Take a deep breath and then focus on the solution. There’s no going back in time, so it’s best to keep your eye on the prize and keep moving forward.

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5. Know Your Audience: You can’t appeal to everyone, it’s just not possible. Know the kind of clients and customers you want to appeal to and cater to them. I’m not very traditional, so I know requests for a more classic style of work aren’t always in my wheelhouse. Every time I try to create work like that, I always come up short. That’s why it’s best to know what you do well, stick to it, and trust that the rest will fall into place.

Photo Credits: Swiss Cottage Designs

Swiss Cottage Designs: A Peek at Our Process

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Every designer has a unique method that works for them. With so many different ways to arrive at the final product, there is always room for experimenting with different styles, supplies and ideas; it’s all about trial and error. Illustration is a process that is near and dear to my heart. I studied illustration at Syracuse University and it’s been the consistent force in my life (sorry flair jeans). I thought I’d share our illustration process here and give you a few tips on how we go about our projects. – Courtney of Swiss Cottage Designs

This one is a fun one: it was a crest for a client’s wedding invitation suite. Her last name is Buck and his last name is Scott, so they wanted to play off that and personify drawings of a deer and scottie dog to represent them. I was in love with this idea right from the get-got! Here is how we started Marie’s crest.


Every good project starts with your most tried and trusted tools. The ones shown here were not all used for this project but I thought I’d share a few of our favorites:

image 2.1 Favorite Tools

1. Pentel Brush Pens: I bought these while in London recently and they blew me away. They are amazing for loose sketches and lettering.

2. Poketo Ballpoint Pens: I couldn’t go a day without these guys. They have a fine point and make marking up proofs pretty neat and tidy.

3. Micron Pens: The amount of Micron pens I have is unhealthy. I color code them with Washi tape so I know which points work better than others.

Step 1: After I get my supplies sorted out, I like to start with sourcing a few inspiration images. While the internet can be both blessing and a curse (who hasn’t fallen down a Pinterest black hole before?), it’s a wonderful resource to get started! I always remind myself that I don’t have to create in a vacuum. If I’m struggling to draw a deer, a million source images are only a few clicks away. One of the lessons I’ve had burned in my mind from college was photographic reference. It helps bring a certain likeness to the drawings.

image 2.2 Sourcing Inspiration

Step 2: Next, I sketch out a few options in my sketch book. I love using Straedtler pencils, I find they erase nice and clean so I don’t end up with a muddy mess before it’s all over. If you find yourself at an art supply shop, there are loads of options for leads, colors, weights, etc. so you can find what works best for you and your drawing style.

image 2.3 Process Sketch

Step 3: Once I’m happy with the sketches, I’ll redraw them on vellum tracing paper using micron pens. Micron pens come in every thickness and weight under the sun, so I never have trouble creating the line style I’m after. Line weight change is key! The beauty of this step is that is allows me to add or subtract anything I wasn’t wild about from the original sketch.

image 2.4 Process Tracing

Step 4: Next I head over to my trust scanner! This little guy is key in the whole process. While I love digital illustration, nothing beats drawing by hand. Without my scanner, I wouldn’t be able to translate anything to digital. I scan in each image at a high resolution and always in black and white as I find it maintains the line integrity better.

image 2.5 Process Scanning

Step 5: Now that everything has been scanned, I can start working with color and placement. When I draw, I tend to illustrate everything in smaller pieces. This provides more flexibility in terms of adding, subtracting, or moving elements around. If I drew everything in one large image, it’d be more difficult to edit it down the road. Photoshop brushes are my best friend! It’s astounding how many textures and styles you can achieve using them. For this particular project, I’m looking for a softer, watercolor wash effect. This is the really fun part as it allows for experimentation. If I don’t like it, I can always undo or delete the layer.

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And finally (drum roll!) I’m all done and ready for the client to have a look.

image 2.7 Final Illustration Buck + Scotty… an illustration from start to finish! Some days I might bust out the watercolors or my trusty brush pens depending on the project, but it’s always great to experiment with what works best for you and refine your process as you learn. It’s always a lot of fun and very exciting to see the end result.

Photo/Image Credits: Swiss Cottage Designs

Hand-Lettering with Ladyfingers Letterpress

Greetings! It is an honor and a pleasure to be guest blogging on our most favoritest blog in the world for the next few days! We were thrilled when we were asked to create Sophie’s birth announcements, and are psyched to share with you more unique and curious work from the minds and hands of Ladyfingers Letterpress! –Arley-Rose and Morgan of Ladyfingers Letterpress

Ladyfingers Letterpress via Oh So Beautiful Paper

If you are familiar with our work, you know that we are all about blurring the lines between stationery and “whoaa!?”. We’re a bit crazy about coming up with new and exciting ways in which your guests receive your big announcement. When the right clients come along who are as excited about doing something different as we are, get ready for the unexpected. Piñatas stuffed with an invitation? Sure! Little cutouts of the couple who can dance and move on top of a record player? Why not! Full letterpress rainbow roll knocked-out flats? It can be done! There is no task to large nor too complex for our inquisitive brains. Challenges keep us going. Conformity kills our spirit. And ice cream is always on our minds.

Ladyfingers Letterpress via Oh So Beautiful Paper

Another thing you may recognize about our work is the abundance of hand-lettering. Our obsession began back in the early 2000s when Arley-Rose was using it to rebel against the rigidity of the type world that was prevalent during her time studying at Parsons. Now, its easier and faster for her to draw letters than use design programs to create a layout, and her trademark handiwork has become one of the most identifying features about our work.

Ladyfingers Letterpress via Oh So Beautiful Paper

In our first post as guest bloggers, we’d like to introduce ourselves in this short clip where we give you a short and informal tour of our studio, and take you along as we hand-letter a real life invitation! (Pardon the absence of Morgan, the other mastermind behind Ladyfingers. She was out running errands when we recorded this!)

Interested in getting started with hand-lettering? Here are some tips to create your own illustrative voice using the most valuable design software ever: your hands, your brain, and a pen & paper:

• Materials: I like using Micron .08 or .05 pens and standard sketchbook paper. I don’t usually do a pencil sketch first, since I find that I lose the initial gesture of the design if I am tracing over existing line work. (If you feel more comfortable creating a layout in pencil and tracing in ink, be sure to draw lightly or your ink lines may become compromised when you’re erasing your pencil lines. Feel free to also use a lightbox to trace!)

Hand Lettering Ladyfingers Letterpress

• How does your message sound? Before you start, consider the tone or the voice of your piece. Is it formal? Fun and exciting? Remember that when people read text, they put it in a voice. (Or maybe that’s just me?) Do you want your lettering to sound like its being spoken by Vincent Price or a little kid on a trampoline? Or maybe just you, being really excited, and happy to share your joyful message with your most favorite people in the world? Don’t be ashamed to show how psyched you are! Your excitement will translate into a beautiful piece.

Ladyfingers Letterpress Hand Lettering

• Put some music on! I find that music and lettering have a lot in common. Not only do they both share a rhythm that can inspire people to keep reading/listening, but in the same way that you don’t have to listen to a song very long to know if its a somber song or a happy song, a nice piece of hand lettering should hit you with an expression as soon as you see it. You don’t wait till the last note to understand the essence of a song, so why should you have to wait til the last word to understand the message of a design?

Ladyfingers Letterpress Hand Lettering

• Practice, practice, practice! There is no app for this. There is no photoshop filter that will make your lettering look better. If you want to truly get better at hand-lettering, do it every day and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Your hand and arm muscles will get used to drawing letters and it will become easier. Start with mastering one lettering style, whether its Roman, Script or Sans Serif. Need inspiration? Check out the different type styles on Once you have your favorite lettering style down pat, introduce a contrasting style. For example, I love combining script with a serif face.

Ladyfingers Letterpress Hand Lettering

• Draw other things, too! We wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for a lifetime of drawing. To be a good letterer, you need to be comfortable with your pen enough to be free with it. Gotta know the rules before you can break ’em! Controlled chaos, that’s really what lettering is!

Ladyfingers Letterpress Hand Lettering

Once my drawings are finished, I scan them into the computer at high resolution. Sometimes I’ll clean up little errors in Photoshop and then drop them into Illustrator. I have a specific profile set up under Live Trace  so that my drawings come out crisp and un-live-tracey. Once they’ve been vectorized, I can move letters around and play with the design a little. Sometimes if I am drawing and I don’t like a letter or word that I just drew, I’ll draw another off to the side and move it in when I’m in Illustrator. The key is to have fun! Cuz if it ain’t fun, why do it?

Photo Credits: Ladyfingers Letterpress