How to turn your calligraphy into handmade greeting cards
Updated: Mar 14, 2021
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?
Let’s dive in and I’ll talk you through my process, suppliers and give you some options to get you started 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 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 (how I envy you), then you will need to vectorise your calligraphy for a plate to me made for you. Not being the proud owner of my own press yet, I have no suppliers to share at this time.
For full disclosure, I do vectorise my calligraphy before getting it made into a rubber stamp. That’s a skill set I have and can exploit, and I’m a terrible stickler for detail!
My general process for digitising my calligraphy is:
Take a high-resolution scan, full colour
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, then clean up the result
While that three-point list may make it sound like a quick process, it is a lot more in-depth and time-consuming! 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, and as you come to understand the tools and the nature of your style of calligraphy.
And while we’re here, no, Procreate will not vectorise your calligraphy, it’s a raster-based piece of software.
But what to do if you don’t know how to use Adobe software? If you have access to the Skillshare platform, that might be a good place to start if you want a bunch of lessons all in one place. If not, looking through YouTube might also throw up some interesting content with some diligent searching.
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 as if it’s too flimsy it won’t stand up properly but if it’s too thick and you won’t get it to fold nicely. You can get uncoated stocks (where the ink might bleed a little, and the colours may not be as vibrant), silk (which is coated to give it a smooth touch, but the ink from your stamp might splurge a little on), and gloss (super shiny, I don’t recommend). 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.
When it comes to ink, the Tsukineko pads from Japan are widely considered to be excellent and for good reason. They have a whole bunch of colours, they have metallics and neons, and certain pads can be used on different surfaces if you have the desire to go nuts and start decorating random things like fabric or wood!
The main thing I want to impart to you here is Test! Test your desired cards and ink pads until you get the desired result. Start with a few core colours in smaller sized pads, then when you know which types you get on with you can then size your pads up and get more colours!
My favourite shop for ink pads is Buddly Crafts as they have both a great range and are reasonably priced. They don’t stock the Tsukineko Radiant Neons though :/ (I get those from Blade Rubber Craft if you were wondering). And if you want a bunch of different papers to try, a good place to start is talking to one of the reps for G.F Smith who are paper merchants. They also have a sample service.
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 card down to size (plus a few extra to allow for spoiling) to last the whole run. Then I scored the entire batch. Cutting a few, scoring those 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.
Printing was also done in large batches. You’ll need to have some sort of rack to store your cards to allow the ink to dry. The Tsukineko inks are fairly quick-drying, but not instant. I am a fan of these racks from The Calligraphy Store (they’re also useful for place cards and envelopes that need to dry).
My cards are a three colour process, with two colours used on one stamp, and the last colour on a separate stamp. I this instance I used a large black pad for the writing part of the stamp, and a small gold pad for the illustration part of the stamp (the small pad allows you to be more precise in the application of colour). My method is to pick up the pad and ink up the stamp, rather than have the pad on the desk and take the stamp to it. I find that I have better control over what parts of the stamp are taking ink that way.
While your cards are drying, you can take the time to clean and care for your stamps. This post from the English Stamp Company is the exact method I use. You’ll need some talcum powder and a paintbrush.
! 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 and improving it. I’ve never been a big fan of flat lays where there 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. That said if you don’t have an abundance, a good quality ring light can help out a lot, and it helps to make your metallics pop in a way that natural light doesn’t!
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.
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, any skewing and making 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 the 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. Admittedly I’m probably not charging enough, but there’s something so wholesome about writing out love notes for people that I don’t mind at all! (Note, this attitude is probably why I did badly in my Business Studies GCSE many moons ago.)
Then which platform? You might have your own website, in which case you might be able to leverage something like Shopify. Which 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 comparing 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 first line of cards you can find the on Etsy.