Is it the Box or What’s Inside?

In The Studio

Or, in this case, the envelope…


I’ve always been a sucker for good packaging and I tend to save up the fun and unique specimens for future projects. I finally put some to good use in today’s Gauche Alchemy project. It’s a fun, quick way to dress up otherwise boring objects–sometimes it’s those little touches that make all the difference!

The Road Trip Invitation Reveal

Wedding Planning

The responses are starting to roll in, so let’s take a peek at what our guests saw when they opened up their envelopes.


At the last moment I opted to do envelope liners, even though they would only just barely show. I was pleasantly surprised that the chocolate-brown envelopes were peel & seal (had a strip of adhesive as opposed to  the usual dry-gum seal) so I used that strip to adhere the liners and added another strip of double-sided tape to close the envelopes. The patterned paper for the liner is the same that I used on the mini-books and I have one more project that will use it, as well.

Will our guests notice that the paper is the same between the various elements? Probably not. But I like that it adds a certain cohesion to the bits and pieces when all taken in together.


Reaching into the envelope they’ll pull out the wine bottle and its single enclosure. I added a band to keep everything together (just like countless brides before me) but the placement of this band turned out to be pretty important in the end.

At first I’d put the band around the center of the invitation bundle, as you do, but because the pieces are different widths the bottle portion tended to free itself from the band’s confines and come out alone, leaving the RSVP card and envelope (not to mention the band with it’s oval inner-envelope-stand-in-informal-guest-designating-label, once again featuring the vine frame from the Save the Dates) inside. While I figured most of our guests would expect there to be an RSVP card of some sort and would probably look back inside the envelope to check, I wanted to remove as many of the “could happens” and preserve the look of the invitation suite, so I experimented until I found the a solution.

What worked best was to first fold the band around the single widest element (the #6 3/4 return envelope) alone–not as part of the stack!–so that the band fit it the snuggest. Then slip the “neck” of the wine bottle cutout under the band and label and slide it up just to the point that the invitation booklet slipped under the oval label. What all of this did was insure (more or less) that when the recipient goes to pull the bottle out of the envelope, the folded invitation catches on the band and pulls it and the RSVP card/envelope out all as one piece.

Something to consider if you decide to go with a non-traditional envelope or invitation configuration!


Once everything is out of the envelope and the band is removed, the label-themed invitation naturally springs open. This has a lot to do with the weight of paper I used (100# Feltweave Cover, for the curious)–even scored and folded and the edges burnished a bit it still wants to open up–and because of this tendency I went back and forth over whether to leave it as an accordion fold or stick the backs of the facing panels down to make more of a booklet. There were pluses and minuses to both, so Mr. Road Trip stepped in as tie-breaker and we went for booklet-style. Again, one of those pesky decisions you don’t expect to be making. Either way, the pop-up tendency works in our favor, as it invites our guests to flip through the panels rather than just skim down the front and put it down.


And then our RSVP card! After going with a shaped invitation, why stick with a plain rectangle for the RSVP card? And what goes better with a bottle than a cork (though I did take a certain amount of “artistic license” by pairing a Champagne-style cork with a non-sparkling bottle style). I used a black and white image of a cork, added some overlays to it in Photoshop to give it more of a cork coloration, and then added our response options.

We look forward to toasting with you!

___I’ll drink to that!
___My glass is empty.

Apparently I should have put “(yes/accepts)” and “(no/declines)” along with the semi-witty options as a couple of folks have asked exactly what we were really asking (one person wondered if it meant to expect them to be drinking or not), but most seem to get it. It was quite a thrill to see the first couple of responses in our mailbox a mere 3 days after sending out the invitations (some of our local invitees are super-prompt!), and the returned corks are being tucked into a French memo board that stands in our hallway, so that’s fun to see each day.


The idea is that the invitation sets the tone for the event. I made sure that I used traditional wording and styles to convey the formality and gravity of the moment but in a non-traditional package to add in a bit of fun. Overall, I think it’s a pretty good indication of what we want our wedding to be like, which I would describe as traditional with a twist.

Coming Soon to a Mailbox Near You!

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

If, of course, you live near one of our invited guests, that is.

After spending the entirety of the recent 3-day weekend completing the design, printing, and assembling thereof, the Road Trip invites have flown the coop (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor). While we want to give them a few days to get to their destinations, can we talk envelopes for a moment, and the addressing of said bits?

Even though it complicated matters a smidgen, I went with chocolate brown envelopes from for our invitations. Even though they’re the usual #10 envelope size (which fits just right with the style of invitation I designed), the color definitely sets them apart from bills and junk mail that might also be in the box that day. With such a dark envelope that leaves only two options for addressing: labels or opaque ink (white or metallic). For some reason I didn’t even consider labels and option, really, so went on the hunt for just the right opaque ink.

I got my first calligraphy for my 11th birthday and have been practicing different styles, off and on, over the last 26 years but I really didn’t feel like fiddling with my dip pens for this. Instead, I started with a couple of paint pens: one with a chisel tip that just disappeared on the paper and one that showed up great that would have worked well for the front but would have been a bit big for the return address flap. So the hunt continued.

Sometimes it just helps to see the options side-by-side.

Sometimes it just helps to see the options side-by-side.

Another trip to the store yielded 2 metallic contenders: Prang brush pens and why-didn’t-I-think-of-that-before Sharpies. Even though the bronze and gold Sharpies fit our color scheme better, the Silver stood out the best of the three and just felt better writing-wise (Mr. Road Trip cast the deciding vote on that one, as he did with a few other invitation elements).

As for the writing, I skipped the exemplars and just went for my usual handwriting with a few extra swoops on the capital letters. After all, calligraphy comes from the Greek for “beautiful writing” and while I don’t claim to have the most beautiful handwriting in the world, it is something I’ve been a tad obsessive about. In high school I would rewrite homework assignments if I didn’t like my handwriting on a particular page and would change how I made certain letter-forms when I thought my writing could use a little shaking up. As a bookkeeper it helps that my writing be more than legible, and when I draw comics I insist upon hand-lettering.

With all of that in mind, I probably shouldn’t have started addressing envelopes at 2 in the morning. I was  up, it was next on the list, but I completely spaced about using titles on the first handful of envelopes and I wasted about a dozen all-told with various screw-ups. This is the point where I didn’t mind having to order a pack of 50 envelopes to send out 25 invites!

A Tip: When using opaque ink on a colored envelope and you need to fix a little bobble, find an ink pen or Sharpie that’s the same color as your paper and “fill in” the little oopsies. It’ll save your sanity when you’re down to your last few or you’ve already put postage on an unfinished envelope.

Of course we're inviting the head cheeses!

Of course we’re inviting the head cheeses!

For stamps I didn’t stress. There weren’t any good wine or grape-themed stamps available outside of places like Zazzle (and I just couldn’t see paying double for postage, even with such a small quantity) so I chose the wedding cake and white roses stamps (which was about $0.20 more postage than necessary, but better safe than sorry). In the end, they looked great against the dark brown envelopes, so all’s well that ends well.

What was your biggest challenge when it came to addressing your wedding invitations?

Our Date is Officially Being Saved

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

Or so several of our guests have reported, since I did finally get them sent out.

When last we talked, my mock-up was looking like this:

Front and back (side by side) of what would be considered a "rack card" or insert, about 1/3 of a standard letter-sized sheet, landscape oriented.

Almost done!

But now they’ve got some color to them and are looking more like this. Exactly like this, in fact.

Front and back of the finished Save the Dates

Front and back of the finished Save the Dates

Once I made the decision to go ahead and have them printed elsewhere it was a no-brainer to work shades of our wedding colors into the mix. I’m admittedly proud of how my vines all turned out, and the hand-drawn frame will be showing up again on the invitations and our table numbers, too!

Since I had to place a reorder of bookmarks at Overnight Prints and had been very happy with their print quality before, I went ahead and piggy-backed the StD order onto that one. They have a lovely matte finish and the texture overlay I added to the final design showed up very nicely when all was said and done.

We did end up with more cards than we needed (the minimum order was 25) but I’m thinking I might trim out our picture and use those in some of the table decorations just so they don’t go to waste. Might as well, right?

Now, OP does offer corner rounding for a nominal fee (it was going to be like $2 or some such) but I saw no reason to have them do it when I have a corner rounder of my own, so that was the only finishing I did besides addressing the envelopes.

Speaking of envelopes, I designed these cards to fit into standard #10 envelopes, though I did pick up a pack of the nicer stationery-style ones instead of plain white. To address them I didn’t even bother with calligraphy (which I’ve been dabbling in since I was 11 or 12), but I did make this handy guide to keep my lines straight.


I don’t know if they still do it or not, but the larger wedding paper suppliers used to include a similar guide with their orders and I just thought it was the neatest thing. If you’re going with a lighter-colored envelopes it’s pretty easy to make your own out of an index card (or two and some tape) and a black marker.

While printed envelopes and fancy labels are becoming more common, hand-addressing envelopes is one of those old traditions that I think is worth keeping alive. It’s just so much more personal.

Of course, if you are using a darker or more opaque envelope and still want straight lines to work from, you can use this trick from those Medieval scribes that spent their days hunched over parchments. Using a straight edge and a pointed instrument of some sort (the tip of a bone folder, the back of a craft knife if you’re careful, etc.) to lightly score a line across your paper. If done just right, you’ll be able to keep your letters on the straight and narrow without your recipient knowing your secret.

Sure beats the flat-bottomed look of writing along a ruler, right?

Printing Terms for the Bride-to-Be, Part III

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

Designing for Commercial Printing

The vocabulary lesson is over, now it’s time to figure out how to get the best possible results from whichever printer you choose for your wedding stationery. Maybe you’re going with a local commercial shop, the nearest FedEx/Kinko’s, or maybe you’re getting ready to upload your files to one of the many online print-on-demand services out there. Regardless of who you choose to print your stuff, there’s one rule that is universal:

Garbage In = Garbage Out

If you give your printer 72dpi clipart you yanked off the web (or payed the minimum on a stock image site for the smallest file size), it’s going to look like pixelated crap when it comes off that press and there’s nothing anyone can do to fix it. If you don’t allow for a bleed in your design, you’re going to either end up with a white border around your image or some of the printed area cut off–and that might include the words if you’re not careful! And if you give them files of the wrong color mode, the colors you so carefully picked on your computer monitor are very likely to look very, very different.

To avoid those unfortunate situations (and a whole host of others like them), here’s some tips on setting up your files correctly for commercial printing.

Just to give you an idea of how close you can cut it--any more than one insert, though, and you'd need to make your invitation smaller.

Just to give you an idea of how close you can cut it–any more than one insert, though, and you’d need to make your invitation smaller.

1. Start with your envelope and work your way backwards from there.

While it’s true you can make your own envelopes, it’s a lot easier to buy them and they come in so many wonderful colors these days it’s a shame to let all of that go to waste. That said, they only make envelopes in certain sizes, and if your invitation, save the date, or RSVP is slightly too big for the target envelope, you’re going to have to buy the next size up. This can mean anything from your card swimming in an over-sized envelope to paying more postage than you need to.

So, if your printed piece needs an envelope, make sure you find out the size of the envelope available in your color and design around that. A single insert needs to be at least an eighth of an inch smaller than the envelope (though 1/4 inch is better–it’ll certainly make it easier to stuff, later), and the more pieces you want to include the smaller the overall size needs to be to for the envelope accommodate the thickness.

Another thing worth thinking about: If you have any intention of lining your envelopes, do yourself a favor and look for A-style envelopes as they feature a rectangular flap instead of the pointed flap of the Baronial-style envelopes. That flap style means a lot less in the way of fiddly cuts.

CMYK (left) vs RGB (right)

CMYK (left) vs RGB (right)

2. If it’s color, it needs to be CMYK.

Anything you see on a screen or monitor is in RGB and uses light to adjust the colors blended from the red, green, and blue values present. This visible light spectrum is amazing and can give you over 16 million distinct color variations. Gorgeous, right? And most of the time your home printer prints those exact same colors, even if you have separate tanks for each of the 4 colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black).

Commercial presses, on the other hand, work in CMYK, and CMYK is limited to a measly 1 million colors, give or take, and that’s where problems set in. There’s no fool-proof method (though there are plenty of strategies) to convert an RGB file to print in CMYK and retain the same brilliance of color you see on your RGB monitor. Yes, it’s frustrating, but them’s the breaks. [Now, I will say, some online printers prefer RGB because of the equipment they use. It’s easier to convert from CMYK to RGB, though, so I still stand by designing in CMYK to give you the best possible options.]

In a program (like Photoshop, for instance) that supports CMYK, it’s as simple as choosing your Image > Mode > CMYK when you begin your document. Unfortunately, the more consumer-level a product is (meant for home use and not professional), the less likely CMYK will be an option and so the file you create may not work as well. Many places can use them, but you’re not likely to get a color match.

The good news is that (if you’re a quick study), you can download a 30-day trial of almost any Adobe product (like Photoshop or Illustrator), and you can also use their Cloud subscription service to “rent” the use of a program for a number of months. $20 or so a month isn’t so bad compared to the $600 each program usually runs (or the $2000 the full Suite costs). You can also use open-source programs like GIMP or InkScape and get most, if not all, of the same functionality.

One other thing that makes colors hinky: monitors. Just because what you see on your screen looks right, doesn’t mean your screen is showing you the truth. Every time we adjust our monitor’s brightness, contrast, etc. we are increasing the chance that what we see is not what we’ll get. If exact colors are crucial to your wedding vision, look into calibrating your monitor. There are programs and devices that will do this for a fee, of course, but you can also use simple tests and the controls on your monitor or laptop to do it yourself, like this Monitor Calibration page from epaperpress.

Just an example why resolution matters.

Just an example why resolution matters.

3. Less is not more when it comes to DPI: resolution matters.

The way CMYK printing works is by laying down four layers of teeny tiny dot patterns (generally) only visible under something resembling a jeweler’s loupe to determine the strength of each color. They work in percentages and the dots can be very spread out or very close together–the closer together (and therefore smaller) the dots, the crisper the images. Potentially. These dots are measure per inch, hence dpi = dots-per-inch.

300 dpi is about the smallest you ever want to submit to a printer. The downside is that these files can be rather big, especially the more layers and details within each file, but 300 dpi is the happy medium in the struggle between file size and image quality. Occasionally, for the very large items (like banners and large signs), a printer may request a lower dpi, but that’s the only exception I’ve come across.

And just because you set up your file to be 300dpi doesn’t mean you can slap a 72dpi (the usual resolution for web images–smaller files means quicker loading times) image in there, drag to the right size and come out the same. My little illustration above shows why that’s not such a hot idea!

That said, most digital cameras save photos at 180dpi. DO NOT go in and change the resolution without good reason (and never muck around with your original file, while we’re on the subject)! Those 180dpi files are also around 2765 x 2074 pixels—unless you’re wanting to blow them up to billboard size (and who knows, maybe not even then), that’s plenty of pixels to work with.

There's just something more polished about images that bleed, especially "random" patterns.

There’s just something more polished about images that bleed, especially “random” patterns.

4. Set up your bleeds correctly.

This is one of those things that really separated the novices from the in-the-know. If you’re using an online printer, chances are they’ve got templates you can download for the various products that show the different areas of the file you submit. The live area is the safe zone for all your important details and images, the cut line lies just outside and shows where the images will be cut off at–it’s usually 1/8″ to 1/4″ outside of that safe area. Finally, the bleed line is 1/8″ all the way around your cut image.

So when you want to create a small card, for instance, that is 4.25″ x 5.5″, you would set your image size at 4.5″ x 5.75″–1/8″ is .125 and since you have to add it to both sides, you’d add .25 or a 1/4″ to each overall measurement. See, that’s not so tough! Then you’d want to set up guides (horizontally at 0.125 and 5.625; vertically at 0.125 and 4.325 for this example) to show where your finished image will stop. Anything you want to extend “off the page” needs to go all the way out to the true margins of the image, while all of your text needs to stay well within your guides.

You also want to make sure you turn off those guides before you save the file for submission, just in case. Normally they wouldn’t print, but we certainly don’t want to take any unnecessary chances, right?

5. All PDFs are not created equal.

Finally, it’s important that the type of file you submit be the right one. PDFs are probably the most common and most universally accepted, but they do come in different flavors. Most pdf files are intended for transmission by email or web download, so they’re lean and stripped down and not meant for more than maybe printing on your home computer.

By contrast, the type of pdf you need to submit to a printer is a Print Ready pdf and it’s got a few more bells and whistles. For one thing, any fonts you used in creating your document need to be embedded to prevent any issues when the printer opens them up. If the fonts are not embedded and printer doesn’t have those fonts himself, the computer will pick a font it thinks might match but it’s just a computer and isn’t going to always make the best decisions. And the more automated the process, the less likely it is that someone will notice before it gets to you. (Though this is also a reason to request a proof, even if there’s a slight upcharge or time delay–better safe than sorry).

A print-ready pdf also retains the highest quality of the document you created, so will have a larger file-size than one intended for web distribution. To insure the maximum compatibility between systems, ask if your printer has a .joboptions file available. This document gets placed in a particular folder of your system and will be available as an option when you export your pdf, preventing many mistakes along the way.

When you’ve created a program or other multi-page document, it’s best to export these as multi-page pdfs, in the order they would be read. To do this you’ll need a desktop publishing program like Adobe’s InDesign or the open source Scribus to do it natively, or a copy of Acrobat (this is different from the free Reader that you need just to open the files) to string your separately-created pages together. Single-sided items like cards or invitations are fine to save as individual images.

If pdf isn’t accepted by your printer or an option in your system, a .tiff file is better than a .jpg. If a .jpg is all you can manage, make it the highest quality you can and don’t keep resaving it as each time you’ll lose some image quality in the process. PNG or GIF files are not good options for print-ready files.


There. Those are my tips to diy-designing your wedding papers to get the best possible results. They represent the questions we have to answer most often at work or items we most have to explain to new customers and designers. Armed with this you’ll have one more tool in your arsenal, should you choose the diy route for your wedding stationery. It may not make the design process any simpler, but at least now you stand less chance of a nasty surprise when you open that box!