Thursday Throwback: How to Save Money on Wedding Programs, Menus and Placecards (and more!)

May 3, 2012 § 2 Comments

In last weeks Thursday Throwback post on how to save money on custom invitations I promised this week I would repost the follow-up on how to save money on your day-of wedding ceremony and reception stationery (something that is discussed much less often).

So, without further ado…

Many couples are so focused on their wedding invitations, they forget that their stationery budget also must include any day-of stationery or accessories required – that could be (but not limited to) programs, menus, table signs, placecards, escort cards, seating chart, general signage etc. So, repeat after me, the first rule for getting the most value for your wedding day stationery is: don’t forget to budget for it.

Notice I said, the most value – while I enjoy the sensationalism of the words “save money” in the title of this post, what I really mean is how to get the most value. It’s not always about strictly saving money, but rather getting the most for the dollars you spend.

Again, the caveat here is that I am talking about working with a designer/stationer, although many of these tips can be applied to DIYers as well. Here’s a tip specifically for those of you who are planning on doing it yourself though…DON’T.

Yes, I hear you thinking it…”here she goes again”. In this case, it’s not about the quality of what you can produce, the material costs involved, matching your day-of stationery to your invites etc. It is strictly about the “cost” *to you* of trying to produce your own day-of stationery. Remember that in most cases the information you need (menu choices, seating plan, number of guests) is not set until 2-3 weeks before your wedding. Which means that all of these are basically being produced “last-minute”. Think you may have some other rather important things going on 2-3 weeks before your wedding? Absolutely.

I can’t tell you the number of stories I hear about brides staying up ’till all hours the night before their wedding working on their wedding programs or place cards etc. In fact, I was that crazy bride too…up till 4am tying beads on to the bottom of ribbon keeping our programs together. I’ve said it before and I will say it again – if I had it to do over, I would NEVER attempt to do it myself. I spent way too much of my time (and still quite a bit of money as well) dealing with something that would have been better left to a pro.

But, I digress (as usual!). So, let’s get to the juicy bit, shall we? Here’s my tips on getting the most out of your day-of wedding stationery budget:

Hire a designer/stationer
Not only because of my DIY rant above, but because a good stationery designer can help you to figure out exactly what you need, what will work best for your event, and how to fit all of those items into your overall budget. A designer/stationer’s assistance with these items can actually mean the difference between staying within budget and blowing the budget completely.

Order everything at once
If you think you have a good idea of exactly what you’re going to need and how many, order your day-of stationery (and thank yous, don’t forget the thank yous!) with your invitations. Some stationers and designers may offer a discount for orders over a certain amount, or may be more willing to negotiate a discount if you can commit to ordering your additional stationery at the same time. A word of warning though – this does not apply to every stationer. There are many out there (including Hip Ink) that do not discount at all, so don’t *expect* to get a discount just because you are willing to order up-front (but it certainly never hurts to ask)!

Choose the right items
Make sure you are choosing the right items for your needs. For example, make sure you consider exactly how much information will be going into your ceremony program. If you have a small amount of information, a one-page program will be just fine; but, if you order a one-page program and expect to fit in a tome approximate in length to the Declaration of Independence, well…that’s gonna cost you. Having to upgrade later will likely incur greater costs than if you are realistic at the beginning of the process about exactly what you need. What about seating? If your guests will be seated at large tables and will be able to choose their own seat, you’ll need escort cards (which indicate a table number) rather than place cards (which are inscribed with the guests names and are placed at their specific seat). What’s the difference? Escort cards are per couple/family, which place cards are per guest, meaning you’ll need at least twice as many (and pay twice as much unnecessarily if you order incorrectly).

Don’t over do it
Along the same lines – not every ceremony or reception items needs to be ordered on a per-guest basis. Ceremony programs are almost always wasted when ordering one per guest. Why? Couples or families tend to share their programs as they sit and wait for the ceremony to begin. Having enough programs for each and every guest will almost always lead to a large number of leftovers – a huge waste (of paper *and* money). Menus are a similar situation – while many couples choose to have 1 or 2 menus on their tables, there is a growing trend towards menus at each place setting. While this can be lovely (especially if they are personalized), it can also be a bit over the top (even in appearance, depending on the tablescape). Consider doing one menu for every other place setting and you can cut your costs in half.

Do double-duty
Another way to get more value from your wedding day stationery is to have pieces that are multi-use. What about combining your menus and table numbers/signs on a tented or three-sided card? Or doing personalized menus or favours at each place setting (removing the need for placecards)? Being creative about pieces that can pull double-duty will allow you to stretch your day-of stationery budget, and possibly upgrade the quality of the fewer items you choose.

Keep it simple
Wedding invitations are a standalone, stand-out item that give your guests a glimpse into your big day – with big impact. Day-of stationery is just part of the overall look and feel of your wedding, so don’t feel that you need to have complicated, layered, embellished day-of stationery if it isn’t within your budget. There are many ways to creating striking and beautiful items that will fit in to your overall decor and theme, using a more design-based approach. Again, you’ll want to match your day-of stationery to the formality and tone of your event, but that doesn’t necessarily mean breaking out the ribbon, crystals etc. Well designed items on lovely, thick cardstock can go a long way (and stretch your budget a long way as well).

And now, as wedding season is now in full-swing, a big shout out to all of you getting married this summer and fall (especially our Hip Ink brides and grooms!). Congrats!

Thursday Throwback: How to Save Money on Custom Wedding Invitations

April 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

You’ve probably all seen articles advising you on the ways to save money on your wedding invitations, and they are often along the lines of “send invitations by email, do-it-yourself or by print-your-own boxed invitations”. Yes, each of those is a valid way to save money on invitations, but what about those couples that are looking for more value rather than just less cost?

I’m pretty sure there are a number of people who think this blog exists solely to help part engaged couples with their wedding budget. The fact is that I wouldn’t be in this business doing what I do if I didn’t love high-quality, unique, beautiful, gorgeous, over-the-top wedding stationery – and yes, often it’s pricey too. But I certainly have lots of couples who come to us with very specific budgets, and whatever that budget may be, the are looking to maximize the value they are getting. So, the title of this post may be a bit misleading – some of these tips will help you save money, but some will help you get more value out our your wedding stationery dollars.

Today I’m going to share my tips for getting the most value when choosing custom invitations/working with an invitation designer:

Get a head start.
If you’ve chosen custom invitations, you’re already off to a good start. Believe or not, working with an invitation designer can actually help save you money in the long run – designers can be much more flexible than many of the invitation companies out there, and can and will often handle requests that larger companies will not even consider, or will charge a hefty premium for. With a custom invitation, you can control the budget very easily, and make changes on the fly to help ensure that your invitation suite stays within a price range you’re comfortable at. If you’re in love with a design that way over-budget, a designer can also often simplify the design, keeping the elements that you love, but cutting out the ones you don’t need – giving you a similar look, for a much lower cost.

Avoid making those common mistakes.
Oh yes, we’ve talked about them a lot, haven’t we? Pretty much every big mistake covered on our Top 5 list will end up costing you money – make sure you learn as much as you can about how to avoid those mistakes, and your budget will definitely thank you!

Less is definitely more.
While it’s lovely to have multiple paper layers, pockets, ribbons, crystals etc., all of those embellishments come with a fairly high price tag – both due to the cost of the actual item as well as the labour cost involved in assembly etc. The best way to get great “bang for your buck” is to hire a great designer who can work with you to create a gorgeous invitation that is big on design and small on fancy accoutrement (that’s French for bling). It can be challenging to find a designer who can pull of this look – your best bet is to look for someone that has a strong background in graphic design and ask to see their portfolio of work that is simple with no embellishment whatsoever. A great designer should able to produce a stunning flat panel invite, as well as more embellished looks.

Pay attention to printing.
Printing costs can make a huge impact on the bottom line. While you may love the look of an engraved or letterpress invite, it may be necessary to consider digital printing instead – no, it’s not quite the same, but you may not feel the additional costs is really worth it. If you do choose an option like letterpress, understand where the costs are – setup. If you have a small number of invitations (say 50), letterpress is not terribly cost-effective because of the high set-up costs. If you’ve got a large number of invites (say 200), the cost becomes much more reasonable on a per invite basis. And stick to one ink colour, rather than going for 2 or 3 colours – each additional colour requires it’s own plate and pass on the press, so it raises the costs substantially.

Choose “high-impact” upgrades.
If you’re looking for something more than a flat card, consider the impact vs cost of some common upgrades. As an example, you may find that an envelope liner may be the same cost as a crystal embellishment – while crystals are certainly pretty, the envelope liner will have far more impact on the overall design and feeling of your invitation, and allows for more opportunity to add some unique flair. If you’re working with a tight budget, ask your designer for their advice on what choices will offer the most bang for your buck!

Ditch the RSVP envelope.
Unless you are having a very formal wedding, it’s completely acceptable these days (and can even be a much nicer option in some cases) to include an RSVP postcard which can be dropped in the mail as is, rather than the traditional RSVP card with return envelope. RSVP postcards are definitely growing in popularity, and you’d be surprised how much those tiny envelopes can cost! And while we’re at it – if you were considering using both inner and outer envelopes, forget it. Outer envelopes are quite unnecessary these days, and are generally only found on the most formal of invites.

Ditto for the Reception card (and other inserts).
Again, only formal wedding invitations these days usually have separate reception cards. While it’s traditional to include the reception information on its own card, it really isn’t necessary. You can also eliminate the need for other insert cards like maps, directions and accommodation and guest information cards by setting up a wedding website. They are easy and quick to set up, available for free from a number of sources, and allow you to simply direct your guests to your wedding website for more information – rather than including everything in printed form.

Consider postage carefully.
One way you can easily reduce your invitation costs is to make sure you consider the impact of your choices on the cost of postage. Your best best is to make sure that you choose a standard-sized invitation, and one that does not have lots of additional layers, pocketfolds etc. The heavier your invite is, the more you’ll pay in postage, and ditto for oddly-sized invites as well. Also, make sure that any embellishments that you’ve chosen don’t impact the post office’s ability to process your invitation normally, which will also result in additional non-machinable charges. Unsure? Make sure you take your hard copy sample to the post office so you are aware of any issues before your invites are produced.

Hope y’all found this week’s Thursday Throwback helpful – next week, I’ll be reposting on a similar subject you’ve probably NEVER seen mentioned: how to save money/get more value when it comes to your ceremony and reception stationery and accessories!



Thursday Throwback: Are Custom Invitations Right For You?

March 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

It’s true – Friday Rewind is now Thursday Throwback (which pleases me greatly, for you know how I love alliteration!). Enjoy this post from last year on how to figure out if custom invitations are the right fit for you…

So, in the past we’ve touched on deciding what type of invitation is right for youdetermining if DIY invitations are right for you, etc. But today, we’re going to look specifically at custom invitations (after all, that is my bag, baby), and why you might want to choose a custom designer to help you bring your invitation vision to paper.

Okay, so I’m biased. I think everyone deserves what a custom invitation can offer – a completely personal and unique way to set the stage for your big event. But why should *you* choose custom invitations?

Here’s just a few reasons:


Custom designs are unique and tailored specifically to each client and event. Your invitations are designed just for you, incorporating your personality, style and vision of your big day. Having an off-beat event? Even better! Many clients who choose custom invitations are looking for something that is a real reflection of themselves or their event, not something that has been mass-produced to appeal to a wide variety of audiences and situations.


You deserve to have an invitation that you will be excited to send out to your guests, one that sets the tone perfectly for your special event. Custom invitations don’t have to be expensive, and in almost every case they will be of a higher quality (both in design and paper/construction) than the standard ‘book’ invitations out there. You’re already spending money on your invitations – you should be able to have what you REALLY want, not the next-best-thing. Working with a designer can actually help you stay within budget, as they can work with you to achieve the look you are after, while keeping your overall budget in mind.


Every custom invitation suite is created from a vast array of available papers, embellishments, styles and graphics. There are literally millions of options when it comes to custom designs, so if you’ve looked at invitation books and just aren’t finding anything that fits your vision, custom is a great way to allow you to pick and choose the colours, textures and style that you love and combine them into a one-of-a-kind show-stopper!


You’re a busy bride with lots on your plate and no time to do it. Many designers can provide full service invitations – from design to assembling, stuffing, stamping and mailing – the only thing you’ll need to do is collaborate with your designer on your idea of the perfect invitation and then leave the rest up to them. If you’d like to be more involved, it’s always an option, but choosing custom invitations can actually save you time in the long run, although you will need to make a time commitment up-front to meet with the designer and share your ideas etc., as well as review proofs etc.


Destination, unique/personalized and multi-cultural weddings can often require elements (inserts, enclosures, multiple languages etc.) that many catalog companies can’t (or won’t) deal with. Enter your trusty custom designer who can help you create an invitation that suits your specific needs with all the style and flair you deserve.


Many standard invitation catalogs offer very few matching items for their invitations, and you may be stuck having to track down and purchase items that “sorta” match from a number of sources. Most designers can customize just about anything for you (table numbers, seating charts, favour tags, guestbooks, out-of-town guest bags, water bottles, luggage tags…you get the idea!) and everything will match exactly.


Many custom designer work on their own, or with a very small staff, so your invitations are handled by a minimal number of people from start to finish and you’ll get the opportunity to create a relationship with the person who is responsible for every aspect of the creation and production of your invitation. Questions, comments, issues? You know who to call (or email). You’ll get a much higher level of truly personalized service when working directly with a custom designer.

Sounds great, right? Well…I happen to think that it is!

But, and there is always a but, working with a custom designer is not for everyone – couples who find decision-making overwhelming or who are on very short timelines, I’m looking at you here – so make sure you consider all the possibilities before choosing the type of invitation that’s right for you.

From The Studio: Purple and Yellow New York Wedding Invitations

February 22, 2012 § 1 Comment

Happy Workshop Wednesday y’all!

I’ve got lots of eye candy coming up over the next few weeks, but I realized the other day that I hadn’t featured an invite on the blog yet that I just loved working on!

Kathy (also a graphic designer!) emailed me from Miami to let me know she was having a New York themed wedding and searching for the perfect invite for their celebration. She found my original blog post on Kristy & James’ New York invitations (pictured below) and the rest is history. We had such a fun time working out the details of their suite, taking their NYC transportation theme and all-purple colour scheme to the next level!

While generally speaking our custom work is “from scratch”, we do from time to time have couples that fall in love with a certain suite and want to use that as inspiration for their own. In this case we re-used some of the elements from Kristy & James’ invite, as well as the general layout of the main invitation, and combined that with Carlos and Kathy’s more specific theme.

Here’s a reminder of what Kristy & James’ New York themed invites looked like:

Kathy loved the look of the middle invite panel, and wanted a very similar look for her invite as well (and although they loved the tri-fold idea, they were looking for a slightly more traditional panel invitation). Kathy and Carlos’ colours were strictly shades of purple and grey, so the original design called for those colours only.

But, after looking at the finished suite, there was that little *something* missing. While I love the look of modern and monochromatic, it needed a little…BAM! Enter the perfect complement to a beautiful regal purple – a hit of bright sunny yellow. So, we took the colour of the NYC cab (which was used on the back of the RSVP, not pictured) and brought a little bit of that signature pop of yellow into every element in the suite, to bring it all together.

Speaking of bringing it all together, we also added a belly band and address label with a checkboard pattern to complete the look!

One of my favourite parts of the suite was the custom map/timeline I created to continue the subway theme – with subway-sign style markers for the ceremony and reception, and a subway-stop timeline to let guests know about the evening’s activities.

While it certainly wasn’t the most original invite I worked on last year, it was one of my favourites – I just loved the colours, the theme and most of all the couple!

Congratulations Kathy and Carlos!

From The Studio: Vintage Rustic Glam Winter Invitations featured on Style Me Pretty

February 15, 2012 § 1 Comment

All images in this post by Blynda DaCosta Photography

Hope everyone has recovered from Valentine’s Day – remember, now is the time to stock up on chocolate ladies 😉 I’m sure there were also lots of romantic proposals yesterday, so congratulations to everyone who became a soon-to-be-newlywed!

Today I’m thrilled to share some images from a creative shoot I participated in recently with some truly talented vendors: Alanna and Dawn, the event pros from Eph*ra Event Design; fab photog Blynda, from Blynda DaCosta Photography; florist Marissa, from Ruffles and Twine; Natalie, from Cupcake Diner; makeup artist Megha Sawhney and model Cheryl, as well as a number of other ladies who made the shoot a success.

We were so excited to have wedding super-blog Style Me Pretty feature our shoot last Friday, and so today I wanted to share some of the images of the paper goods I created for the shoot.

Sadly, I don’t have room to show you ALL of the amazing images (flowers, cakes, decor…oh my!), so I’d urge you to check out the full gallery on SMP for all the great details!

Now, for the paper…

The concept for the shoot (shot at the beautiful Berkeley Church event space in Toronto) was a mix of rustic, vintage and glam elements with a warm and cozy winter feel. Participating in this shoot was fun, as I’m sure we’ve all seen the icy winter look before (even at my own winter wedding!), but it was nice to create a warmer feel with winter whites and creams and rustic touches of beige and brown. I must admit though, I did sneak in just a little ice blue – didn’t seem quite right without it!

The invite I created for the shoot was an oversize 6″x9″ invite nestled in a cream silk box. The front of the box was decorated with twill tape (a nod to the rustic feel of the shoot), feathers (did you notice the birds here and there in the decor?) and a bit of bling with a fleur de lys brooch.

Inside the invite design was a multi-layered panel, mixing different neutral shades and textured papers to create a substantial invitation with a light airy feel. My original concept for the design and layout of the invite was inspired by the look of a vintage french apothecary jar label, so that was the basis of the formal yet whimsical graphics and type.

To add a bit of glam detailing, I used both Swarovski crystals and pearls to give the overall design a little sparkle and bit of vintage charm, but my favourite detail of all was the small mother of pearl button that adorned the ribbon holding the response card – the shimmery blue-grey was the perfect complement to the ice blue highlights of the invitation itself.

I also created a petal fan program which reproduced the look of the invite throughout. Petal fan programs are a perfect fit for vintage weddings, with their timeless romantic feel.

I also created table numbers, escort cards, favour tags and a sweet table sign, which were all featured as part of the decor. Here’s a couple of quick shots:

I am always honoured to be asked to work on creative shoots, and so excited to see our work featured. A big thank you to all the ladies who worked on this gorgeous shoot!

From The Studio: New Hip Ink Couture Business Cards and More!

January 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

[Yes, it’s true – Workshop Wednesday is more of a Workshop Thursday today!]

I promised a while back I would show some of the new Hip Ink Couture branding collateral (a fancy marketing/advertising word for “stuff”) and a bit more about the process, and last week I promised to show our new business cards as well as the promo packages and stationery giveaways from the WedLuxe wedding show.

So without further ado, let’s get into the good stuff 😉

First, because I can’t contain my excitement, our brand new business cards (which I already have to reorder, so I guess that means they were popular!) – designed by yours truly and printed by the extremely talented Alexandra from Dolce Press in Batavia, New York.

I wanted something that was luxurious, made a statement but was still modern and hip, and Alexandra delivered exactly what I asked for – a 3″x3″ square duplexed (two sheets adhered together) card, with the logo foil stamped on a charcoal grey stock for the front, and the back letterpress printed in charcoal grey with a beautiful blind pressed pattern.

As a custom designer, I feel like my business card is my resume, my mini-portfolio, so it’s important that they reflect who I am and what I do. I am seriously over-the-moon in LOOOOOVE with these cards. They are exactly what I pictured and have lots of potential clients talking!

Just because, we need a close-up of that blind pattern, right? Great shot of the metallic look of the foil too!

Let’s rewind a little though…

It’s been a challenge trying to rework the current Hip Ink brand into two different flavours – Hip Ink Paper Co., our umbrella brand, which consists of our still-upcoming invitations lines and hopefully more stationery items down the road, and Hip Ink Couture, our luxury custom-designed invitations. I wanted Hip Ink Couture to still reflect the modern, hip sensibility of the original Hip Ink brand, but it needed to be more than that – more upscale, more elegant, more sophisticated.

Aside: Strange as it may sound, I see Hip Ink Paper Co, and Hip Ink Couture as twin sisters – Paper Co. is a nerdy cool designer chick with a whole lot of personality and a little bit of sass and Couture is the fashionable and trendy design diva with a flair for the dramatic. If they were shoes, Paper Co. would be a pair of Steve Madden’s and Couture would be a pair of Laboutins.

It started with the logo:  I wanted to incorporate part of the original Hip Ink logo, but add something that gave it an air of elegance and luxury, something that specifically was the opposite of the Hip Ink wordmark, to reflect what I do for my clients all the time – bring together sometimes opposite elements and inspirations and make it work.

Hand calligraphy was the first thing that came to mind, and I quickly sketched out what I was looking for (by the way, if anyone is wondering, this is part of what I did on my “corporate retreat”) and I was set. It literally came together in 5 minutes (with 5 months of thought behind it!), and I knew that I wanted the talented Moya Minns to create the custom calligraphy that would be entwined with our original wordmark to make up the new logo. And Moya worked her magic to create exactly what I had pictured in my head!

But…brand building is so much more than a logo. It’s about feelings, colours, images, a voice – so much more. To nail down the visuals, I needed to create a “brand board” of sorts, that would be my guide to creating new visuals for Hip Ink Couture. Here’s a peek at part of the board I put together:

How does the brand board come into play when it comes to designing new collateral? Think of it as the roadmap – you might know where you want to go, but the brand board (and other branding exercises) help you get there.

For example, I wanted to create a hand-out package for the WedLuxe wedding show we participated in, to give to interested couples and vendors, that included a business card and some additional info. With 11 stationers participating in the show, it needed to stand out.

To figure out where to start, I went to my brand and target customer descriptions:  The target Hip Ink Couture customer is looking for one-of-a-kind custom invitations that tell their story through great design, inventive materials and packaging and luxurious quality. As a brand, Couture is cool, clean and sleek – elegant and luxurious, but never over-the-top.

My answer was right there – I need to show and tell what we do, to tell our story in an innovative and luxurious way, and the vehicle was a hybrid between a promo package and an invitation design that would be typical Hip Ink.

It started with 5.5″x7.5″ boxes covered in grey velour (really cool tactile quality) which were foil stamped with our new logo.

Nestled inside, wrapped in silver tissue was a sample invitation of sorts (letterpress printed in a peacock blue ink and blink impression for our logo and details, on a super-thick 100% cotton Crane Lettra stock), that summed up exactly what we do.

Underneath, a scalloped pocket card containing a personal note from me (signed individually), as well as an insert with information about The Invitation Blog and a business card.

The packages were a big hit with the brides and grooms (as well as planners and other vendors) at the show, and I’ve already had a few clients tell me that they decided to contact us just based on these packages – while it was definitely a big investment, I’m hoping that it made a big impression!

And last, but certainly not least, were the adorable note card sets that we put together for the gifting lounge at the WedLuxe Show. In last week’s post on the show you can see the packages themselves in the photo (3 notecards with 3 matching platinum envelopes, wrapped with peacock blue velvet ribbon), but I wanted to show you some closeups I took.

The beautiful and whimsical calligraphy is by the fabulous Laura Lavender on Vancouver Island.

So…more to come over the next few months as we continue to transition Hip Ink Paper Co. and Hip Ink Couture – hope you’ll stop in and check it out!



Invitation Advisor: Weddings Pros – Will Work For Free?

January 24, 2012 § 4 Comments


Okay, so today is a big day for The Invitation Blog – this is our 200th post! Not sure when I started I thought I’d be hitting 200 posts in 18 months, but here we are – and we also just surpassed 50,000 views last weekend (although we’re up around 53,300 already) and have had over 6200 views during the month of January so far (that’s on track to almost double our busiest month previously). Oh, and we even smashed our one day view record on Jan 18th, with 462 views – the crazy part being that I didn’t even post anything that day! Yay for wedding season 🙂

The numbers themselves though are really meaningless – what is amazing is that everyone has been and continues to be so supportive of The Invitation Blog and the idea of a putting some straight-up truth out there about weddings, stationery and the like. Thank you!

And so, that brings me to today’s post…

Every now and then, a fellow stationer or wedding pro will say, “you really need to write a blog about this”. And usually they are right, about whatever it is they are talking about. And usually it’s something that is an issue that comes up with clients due to lack of knowledge or understanding. And usually it causes friction. And this is one of those things.

Aside: My high school English teacher just expired after reading the above.

Straight up, so there is no misunderstanding: I do NOT work for free. Never. I may work for payment in something other than cash every now and then (ie. trade, advertising etc. – something of tangible value, not just “exposure”), but never for nothing.

And yet, as clear as I am with potential and current clients about that (as are, I’m sure, most vendors), it still comes up every now and then. And based on what some of my colleagues have to say, quite frequently for them as well. Clients who feel it’s okay to ask us to do work for them for free, for whatever reason.

There’s a few different flavours of this phenomenon as well: some of the requests can be fairly innocuous while some can be just brazenly ridiculous, sometimes just based on lack of knowledge or thought and sometimes based on people being willing to take advantage of anyone just to save a few dollars.

Luckily, I would say that mostly it’s the former, in both cases.

Commonly what may happen is something like this:

A client comes in to chat about a custom project – we look at my past work, we chat about colours, papers, look at samples etc. and put together an idea that appeals to them. I then send off a quote that clearly states our policy – we require a $250 design deposit to begin work on a project. That’s actually generous compared to many in the industry – in most cases it’s 50% of your total order. I do what feels right to me – something that protects me (ie. I get paid for the design work I do) and the client (they don’t stand to lose more than $250 if we can’t come up with a design they like – which has never happened, at least so far).

Then, I may receive an email from the client that says something like, “Can you put together a proof for us so we can see what it’s going to look like? We just can’t visualize it and want to make sure we like it before we go ahead.”

In a word…NO. I’m not being a hard-ass, but that’s how custom anything works – that’s why it’s custom. Because it’s just for you, created from scratch. I get the idea of a client being a little apprehensive, but that’s life – whenever you hire a wedding vendor you are taking a risk to some degree. If you had a designer making a custom gown for you, would you ask them “can you just make me a dress so I can see what it’ll be like before I decide if I want to pay you?”. Obviously not. Again, I would hope that usually this is just a result of a couple not realizing that what they are basically asking is “can you do some work for free on the off chance I’ll be happy with it and hire you”.

There’s a (dirty) word for that in the design industry – spec work. Even AIGA (American Institute for Graphic Arts) thinks it’s uncool (you can read more on their stance here:

It always stings a little to hear that too – after all, it comes down to a trust issue. After spending 60-90 minutes with a couple talking to them, getting to know them, showing them my portfolio of past work, giving them ideas of what I would do for them…it kinda sucks to hear them tell me that basically they don’t trust me with $250, that they aren’t sure I can come up with something that will be “good enough”. Ouch.

It happens outside of custom design too though – it could be clients asking for free proofs (“we just want to see it with our names first”), additional items that weren’t originally included in an order (ie. custom illustrations, maps, additional inserts etc.), even things like rush orders or reprints at no cost (due to delays or mistakes that the client themselves are responsible for).

And let me be clear: the examples below may be stationery related, but this happens to all sorts of wedding vendors as well. While I think maybe it’s an issue that is most prevalent with invitations, I know that those same couples would have no issue asking another vendor to do the same for them.

The one that makes me scratch my head the most is the “please donate XXX for our wedding in exchange for free publicity”. I’ve gotten a few of those emails in my time and it makes me laugh uproariously. It usually starts out with a story about why or how the couple can’t pay for the wedding of their dreams, and then asks us to donate invitations completely for free and in return we’ll get amazing publicity because all the wedding guests will see it. Ummmm…you’re joking right?

I can absolutely understand wanting things you can’t afford (trust me), but when did that become my issue as a vendor? You’re asking me to work for free (worse than that, as paper, printing etc. are still things I have to pay for), so that you can have the wedding of your dreams? I get it, the big bad wedding industry is at fault for telling couples they need to have this or that…blah blah. That doesn’t fly on this blog – I have never suggested that couples spend outside of their means (the mantra here is “make sure your invitations match your event”), and I never would, so let’s have a little respect and common decency, shall we? I have bills to pay and kids to feed too!

Aside: It’s not just those with no budget asking – it’s people with huge budgets too. It would probably sicken people to know how many of the goods and services that made up Kim Kardashian’s wedding were “donated” in exchange for publicity. Hope those vendors thought it was worth it. Let’s just say that next time KK wants to get married, she better not be knocking on my door asking for something for free 😉

Do I think there are legitimately couples out there who deserve to have weddings that they can’t afford.? Yes, I do. So too do many other vendors – that’s why organizations like Wish Upon A Wedding exist – and I fully support their mission and the couples they help. If you feel you are a couple who could use assistance, based on extenuating circumstances, I’d urge you to contact your local WUAW chapter, or one of the other similar organizations out there.

So what’s the takeaway advice today?

Consider what you’re asking of your wedding vendors, *before* you ask them. Are you asking them to work for free? Would *you* work for free? If your boss came in at 5pm and told you that he decided you should work all day tomorrow for no pay, would you be happy?

Asking a vendor to go above and beyond is one thing, but just consider what it really means for them, and make sure you ask appropriately, respectfully and accept the answer with dignity. You’re much more likely to get the same in return.

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