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11 Steps to Going Custom

Hours upon hours of looking for invites and you still haven't found the perfect one? Call off the search and start customizing your own.

Photo: Courtesy of Dauphine Press

Don't confuse designing your own wedding stationery with a DIY project. It's all about working with a professional stationer to master the perfect look. Maybe you're a visual person who has a specific creation in mind; or you've shopped around and realized that the options out there -- as many as there are -- aren't the right match for you and your day. Custom-made stationery can be the key to rounding out your wedding's style. But before committing to this project, be aware of your wedding budget and the time the process will take. Trish Kinsella, stationery expert and president of Dauphine Press, gave us the inside scoop on how to master a custom job.

Step 1: Think About Your Vision


Take some time and dream up what you'd like your wedding invitation to look like: soft colors, letterpress font, photo embellishments. Which hues and overarching style (modern or traditional) visually fit you as a couple? Ideally, you should have a general idea before speaking with a professional. "Think about the words you use in conversations with friends and family, when describing your wedding style and the vision you have for your celebration," says Kinsella. Is it Hollywood glamour or rustic elegance? You want to be prepared to tell your story and share it with the designer you select.

Step 2: Set Your Design Plan


Decide how far you'll want to take your customization with colors, patterns, and layers of paper. More complicated projects may demand a more skillful team of professionals. Do you want a combination of specialty printing methods? Is the design you're dreaming up unique or does your custom job involve a simple letterpressed drawing of a daisy, your favorite flower? Maybe you want a personalized invite but don't have a specific idea. Your best bet is to consult a professional who will guide you through the process.

Step 3: Do the Research


It's important to find the person who will listen and carry out your ideas. Personalities and styles differ, so make sure you find the right match. Kinsella recommends starting with referrals from friends, your wedding planner, or other wedding pros. There are many options, so check all your resources from independent designers to custom studios -- visit stationery websites and look to local planning guides. You may find that your ideal designer is at your neighborhood stationery store or on the other side of the country. Thankfully being able to email jpeg proofs of designs helps make this a smooth transaction, no matter the distance between you and the professional you've selected.

Step 4: Gather Your Notes


Start compiling a file of invites you like: hand-drawn sketches, past invitations you've received, and magazine clippings that motivate your creativity. In addition, professional stationers often have portfolios filled with hundreds of examples that can serve as further inspiration for your own personalized look.

Step 5: Interview Designers


It may sound contradictory, but you need to walk in with a focus as well as an open mind. Examine the designer's work and share your ideas. Kinsella says, "It's important to connect with the person who will be creating this piece of work for you." Do you find that he or she is listening intently to what you have to say? Most important, based on what you are hearing and seeing, is the style compatible with your own? Have you seen any past work that you love? If you're not fond of most of their examples, don't be afraid to keep shopping around and don't forget to discuss logistics: Be realistic when it comes to what you can and cannot afford. Don't rush the process. Finding someone who really understands your vision is worth the extra effort.

Step 6: Choose a Color


Your wedding colors are the strand that runs through all the elements of your day. Decide how you will incorporate these hues into your paper products: Will you use a colored font, a colored pattern, or colored paper? A mix of the three? Can't settle on one color? Then select two. Pick a pair that will be complementary, but don't settle on pale pink if fuchsia has always been your favorite. Most important, examine how each color looks on the paper stock. Don't assume that aquamarine font will look the same on white as it does on cream.

Step 7: Decide on a Motif


Do you want a monogram or another symbol woven throughout the day's festivities? If so, consider adding these themes to your wedding stationery. For example, an invite to a tropical wedding might include seashells and coral. Take a look through your designer's books and tag past work that you think might mimic your own style.

Step 8: Select the Size and Shape


Believe it or not, the envelope drives the size of the invitation, says Kinsella, so your design needs to fall within your chosen envelope formats (square, rectangular, skinny rectangular). And the envelope shape sets the tone for your wedding style (an unusual size signifies an untraditional wedding).

Step 9: Set Deadlines


Know the time frame you are working with before you begin. Set a realistic deadline that starts with your intended mailing date, plus the time needed for assembly and calligraphy. Ask about the turnaround time and charge for proofs. Once the job is approved, how long will it take to print? These aren't necessarily the fun aspects of the process, but if you don't think about them now, they'll only stress you out later.

Step 10: Discuss the Printing Process


Before you seal the deal, ask about the entire team. Who does the printing? Will your designer do a final check when your job is being printed to ensure everything is exactly as you approved? Will you see a final proof? Is it the right paper quality for your design? "A fabulous design can fall flat on the wrong paper," says Kinsella. Who assembles the invitations? Does the designer do this for free or does a fee apply? How many revisions can you make? Know from the start about design fees and proof charges. Get a written contract that includes an estimate and timeline. You should also expect to make a deposit to start the project. A comprehensive design plan will eliminate too many changes that may accumulate. Most designers allow for one to two rounds of edits -- extra costs can be substantial. Be organized from the beginning and you will minimize errors and unexpected charges.

Step 11: Finalize the details


Taking the customization route can be truly rewarding -- just remember to take it one step at a time, because even the font can set a certain tone. Don't force something that you don't love at first glance in hopes that it will grow on you. Think of the big picture and realize that each element plays a role that can be carried through your entire celebration.

--Krissy Tiglias

See More: Wedding Invitations + Wedding Stationery