How to turn your amazing calligraphy skills into unique greeting cards
Updated: Feb 16
At some point on your calligraphy journey, you may think “these would look great as cards” or similar. And you’d be right! But what does that process look like? Do you have to learn a bunch of new software? And then how do you even go about selling them? In this post, I’ll talk you through my process of turning my calligraphy into greeting cards, potential suppliers, and give you some options to get you on your path to starting your own small business!
It starts with an idea
There are events that come up throughout the year, big ones like Christmas and Easter, and reoccurring ones like Birthdays and Anniversaries. Choose a place to start. I decided on a Valentine’s Day theme to launch my cards range. But I didn’t want to go all-in with a ‘Valentine’s specific’ range as that wouldn’t serve me well for the rest of the year.
So, pen in hand, I came up with a bunch of great ideas that could be Valentine's or Anniversary appropriate, and then I got feedback from some friends and family, people whose good taste and sense of style I trust (if you read this you know who you are!). While I would have loved to put all seven initial ideas into production right away, I didn’t have the budget to do so. In the end, I took the top four rated designs to work with.
Time to digitise your calligraphy
Depending on what your production method will be, digitising your calligraphy doesn’t have to be as intense as it sounds.
For example, if you want to make it into a rubber stamp, the team at getstamped.co.uk can work from a jpeg, which means just so long as you can get them a clean, high-resolution scan they can work off of that (make sure to read their specifications). Great news for anyone who doesn’t know how to use Adobe.
However, if you’re lucky enough to own a letterpress, then you will need to vectorise your calligraphy for a plate to be made for you. For that, you can use either Centurion Graphics or Lyme Bay Press.
My general process for digitising my calligraphy is:
Take a high-resolution scan, greyscale
In Photoshop, clean up any weirdness using the Spot Heal and Clone tools, adjust the levels for everything to as close to pure black and white as possible, and then desaturate
Import into Illustrator, use the Trace tool, and then clean up the result
While my three-point list may make it sound like a quick process, it is a lot more in-depth and time-consuming than you'd think! If you do want to make your calligraphy into a vector format, make sure you factor hours into your schedule to do it properly.
The good news is, while it will never be a quick task, it gets quicker the more often you do it as you come to understand the tools and the nature of your style of calligraphy.
A more comprehensive tutorial for vectorising your calligraphy can be found on Skillshare by Molly Suber Thorpe. If you haven't used Skillshare before you can usually get a one-month free trial. And if you do sign up, you'll also be able to find tutorials on how to use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator too!
And while we’re here, no, Procreate will not vectorise your calligraphy, it’s a raster-based piece of software. However, if you can get your calligraphy/design into a near-perfect state in Procreate, you can skip Photoshop and import your design straight into Illustrator for vectorisation.
Choosing your materials
If you think of all the different cards and inks out there, you have lots of variables when it comes to the final outcome.
When you look at the stock you want to produce your cards on, things to consider are colour, texture, weight, whether it’s coated, and how environmentally sound it is. For example, white card stock can often look grey where it’s been over-bleached. You can get different card stocks that have a texture pressed into the paper as it’s made. Weight is important too. If it’s too flimsy it won’t stand up properly but if it’s too thick you won’t get it to fold nicely. You can get uncoated stocks, silk, and gloss. And you should always make sure whatever you end up using is FSC-approved because trees need protection too!
I chose Munken Design’s Pure Rough as it has a beautiful feel in hand and has very sound eco-credentials. Uncoated stock is the way to go for me, as I don't want to deal with ink splurge. The downside to this is your colours might not be as vibrant as you'd like as there's an element of them being absorbed into the paper. The same with metallic inks, some of the metallic mica gets absorbed into the paper so they appear less shiny.
The main thing I want to impart to you here is to test! Test your desired cards and inks until you get the desired result. Start with a few core colours in smaller-sized amounts, then when you know which types you get on with you can get more colours!
If you want a bunch of different papers to try, a good place to start is G.F Smith. They are paper merchants, and have a very generous sample service should you want to try a bunch of different things out.
Produce your cards
The best way to manage your time when it comes to production is to do one job in a large batch. For example, for my cards I had to:
Cut the card to size
I had a rough idea of how many cards I wanted to make, so I cut enough cards down to size (plus a few extra to allow for spoiling) to last the whole run. Cutting a few, printing a few and then repeating that process is not the best use of time as you build up a rhythm doing one job at a time.
You’ll need to have some sort of rack to store your cards to allow the ink to dry. I am a fan of these racks from The Calligraphy Store (they’re also useful for place cards and envelopes that need to dry).
! Top tip. Usually, the card I order arrives with slightly dinked corners. My method for dealing with this is to break out my trusty pair of GHDs (I would imagine other hair straighteners work just as well). I make sure the heated plates are spotless before I switch them on, then a quick pass once they’ve heated up and you would never know that there had ever been a problem with the corner.
Unleash your inner Photographic Genius
Getting great pictures of your art is not as easy as people make it look. To this day I struggle, and I have no idea how others make it look so effortless! That said, I have been investing some time into looking at how I can develop my style to improve it. I’ve never been a big fan of flat lays where there are seemingly random piles of stuff put alongside the art, it’s not to my taste. But if that’s yours then run with it!
Natural light will always be your best friend when it comes to photography. A North facing window will be best so you don't get any hard light and unseemly shadows.
You’ll need to sacrifice one of each version of your card to take your shots. I say sacrifice as they generally look a little ‘pawed’ after being handled a lot, not something I’d want to send to a customer for their enjoyment. But these are great to keep on record as little mementoes to look back on at a later date! I like to style mine with the envelope they are supplied with and some brass paperweights or holders, and maybe some wax seals too.
I have a mini Canon SLR for my photos (which I’ve had for ages and even thought about selling at one point, it’s nice that it’s finally getting some use!), but I know plenty of people use their phone cameras when they start as they are genuinely excellent these days!
Once I have my shots I then take them into Lightroom (another Adobe piece of software). This is where I clean up lens distortion and any skewing and make sure the colours are a fair representation of what will be received.
Time to Sell!
Or is it? First, take a moment to think about how you’re going to pack your cards up to send them out. How will you price your product and will you offer any personalisation? Which platform will you use to sell them? That’s a lot of decisions right there!
You want to make sure your cards get to their buyers in tip-top condition. Many people use a cellophane bag, or a compostable version to give them some protection should they get wet in transit. The problem with these is that regular cellophane isn’t recyclable, and even compostable ones take ages to break down. With this in mind, I chose glassine baggies. While they’re not as glamorous as cellophane is, they are paper at the end of the day so are recyclable. You’ll also need board-back envelopes to send them out in so they don’t get rumpled in the mail. And don’t forget to order some paper for printing invoices and address labels!
You can also choose to customise the experience of receiving your order a little more. I ordered some branded stickers from printed.com, and designed a little thank you note, every one of which gets personalised before packing.
Then pricing! That’s a minefield in itself. I chose to price mine competitively with others I saw on the market in terms of product and postage. I also chose to offer the chance to have the card written out on behalf of the customer with some lovely calligraphy! And this is a chargeable extra.
Then which platform? You might have your own website, in which case you might be able to leverage something like Shopify. This means you’ll get fewer charges, but you’ll also have to work harder to drive footfall to it. Then there are e-commerce platforms like Etsy and Folksy, which will give you more exposure but you’ll also be up against more ‘competition’. I went with Etsy as it looks as though it has more traffic than Folksy. That said, at some point, I’ll probably look at selling on Folksy too and compare my returns.
And there you have it! You’ve made it to the end of another epic post. I hope you’ve found it useful. If you have any questions or want to add your own insight, hints or tips drop a line in the comments below.
And if you'd like to see my greeting cards you can find the on Etsy.