Wow, this is a doozy of a topic. I’m sure you’ve read TONS on this subject already, or have asked yourself this question a million times during your invitation search. What do wedding invitations cost? What’s different about this post is that I am going to break it down into actual prices that I paid for each aspect of the invitations, so you can see exactly how much is markup, how much is profit, how much is expense, etc.
Warning: this post is long (I say that before I’ve even written it), so if you’re ready to take this journey with me, I am sure it will be eye-opening.
There are a few disclaimers, but the most important one is this: The first sentence after the photo below is going to PISS YOU OFF. Especially if you are a bride that has worked with me in the past. I wrote it this way on purpose, and I know it’s going to make your blood boil, so I need you to promise me this – if you keep reading below this photo, you have to promise you’ll make it to the end. Otherwise, you’re just all going to hate me, and that’s not the point of this post.
Below are the invitations I’m going to walk through today. All photos are from Geoff Rivers. I will price them out as I price custom suites now which is different than how I priced them when I created this suite. There are a ton of different ways to price, so this is not the end-all be-all way of doing this. There are also SO many options for invitations, and they’re all priced differently, so this one will include the following at quantities of 100:
Okay time for the angry part…
These actual invitations cost me: $756.50, and if you bought these invitations today I would charge you $2,882.15. You mad yet?
I think this is where the questions come in. How on earth would someone pay $28/invitation? This seems crazy. I get it. And this doesn’t even include shipping.
It probably seems like I’m trying to make you mad here, and I am a little. I frankly want to charge even more and am hoping to increase prices this year. The reason for that is…well…this shit takes time. And money, and experience, and expertise, and a lot of other costs that aren’t considered. So while I want to rile you up a little, I mostly just want to educate, so you understand why on earth those “pieces of paper” are costing you over $20 apiece. Since you all promised me you’d get to the end, let’s dive on in…
Flat printing is the most cost effective printing option on the market. I use a 120# Eggshell Stock (check out this post for more info on what the heck that means), in bright white or soft white, for the same price.
100 cost me: $100 (I swear this isn’t made up, they were $89 + $11 shipping!)
I charge: $360
Every industry has margins. You’ve seen Shark Tank, right? Standard stationery industry markup is 2.5-3x. This means that of the money you pay me, about 1/3 will go to literally covering the cost of the materials, some will go to taxes, and the rest is profit -YAY. Well, before it has to go to keeping the lights on, and paying for samples that I sent you free of charge, and swatches, and color decks, and all the other things that make this possible. But then some of that actually turns into profit sometimes, which means I can eat, whoo hoo!!!!
And if you’re wondering, that extra $60 you see above is not bad math. It is for the additional assembly time it takes to add in the inserts, most of which do not go to each guest, so I have to check and re-check the guest list carefully. I also typically don’t charge if someone needs multiple versions of the same card (2 different RSVP cards with different events on them for instance), so that extra little bit covers these types of costs.
The main invitation has foil and flat printing on it!
100 cost me: $279
I charge: $479
As you can see, this is a steal (less than 3x margins)! I charge $350 for a foil upgrade from the original cost of the invitation which is about $1.20 each ($0.42 before markup). If you’re not familiar with foil printing, there are two parts to it: first, The Die, which is made out of metal, then actually stamped into the paper. I include an upgrade to double thick invites for foil, to get added depth to that impression. Then there’s part 2. The Stamping, which is the actual process of running the job on the press.
Places like Minted use the same dies over and over again for non-custom foil accents, which is why they can afford to offer foil at such low prices, whereas I cannot. The die costs me $175 for 5×7 size, so my typical markup is only 2x (less if you include the upgrade to double thick paper).
You need 200 return addresses, so this is double your quantity. Also, white ink printing only works well on certain types of paper, so certain envelopes won’t work for white printing! This typically has to happen from a non-local printer, so there are shipping charges included as well. There is no vendor that can create ALL of the pieces needed for this suite, so organizing and project managing the different vendors is yet another function of that expertise and experience that I keep referring to!
200 cost me: $150
I charge: $300
Another steal! This markup is double, and is really bad for my business. But here we are. White ink printing is expensive!
I charge: $3.75 per envelope ($375 here). The costs associated with calligraphy are very limited: a nib, nib holder, and ink together costs about $15 at most, and all of those can be used on other jobs in addition to yours. There are other costs like laser lights, lightboxes, etc. but the main thing here is time! I can do about 20 per hour, so that’s about $75/hour. Envelopes are not my biggest money maker, but I feel comfortable with that time and I am doing fewer envelopes the more stationery I create, so it’s a good balance!
100 cost me: $78
I charge: $215
These are SO FUN, aren’t they? They always surprise me with how expensive they are, though. Printed ones are $0.78 each, so I have to charge $2.15. It’s important to keep that 3x margin AT LEAST on these, because I typically assemble the liners for my clients and that takes 1-2 hours for 100.
100 cost me: $15
I charge: $140
Yep, belly bands are a big margin item for me! Everyone buy them! I do also have to purchase an adhesive to attach them, but the biggest cost here is the assembly, because it takes a while when you have to get the band perfectly centered every time. I always order about 10-15% extra which I don’t bill for either.
This one is usually simple and doesn’t quite take an hour. However, it does take time to set everything up and sometimes there are revisions, so I charge $45 for it.
And we’re here…this is the most important part of this entire conversation. My design fee for 4 pieces is currently $1,000. When I first started out, I was only charging markup on printing as that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. However, those costs, as we have discussed, are entirely separate from your design time. If you only charged what we’ve talked about so far, there would be a ton of time not covered, from admin work, to answering emails, consultation calls, preparing mockups, proofing, etc. Plus…duh, the actual designing.
Every single project is different, so this will at best be an estimate, but I try to make $125/hour for specialized time and $55/hour for passive time. Passive time includes sourcing materials, research, driving, etc. All of this is stuff that any client could in theory do. Yes, it would take them longer because they don’t know what to look for or where to start, and they would probably mess up a million times along the way, but in theory there is no expertise involved in this time specifically.
Specialized time includes all things that an average person can’t do, such as calligraphy, design, painting, sketching, etc. To acquire all of these skills has taken years of time, money, study, practice, and yes, to some extent, talent, that other people do not have. It also includes the knowledge of what paper terms mean, what fonts have the right look that you want, what size papers fit in what size envelopes, what colors are tough to print, and how to make them work anyway. I get asked almost every day if we can just switch the colors on something, and have to say “Yes, but a simple color switch here will affect x, y, and z other items and therefore your cost/production time/etc. will change xx amount as well”.
This is why designers, artists, and calligraphers are hired in the first place – because we have specialized knowledge that the everyday consumer does not. The $1,000 design fee allows me about 5 hours of specialized time and about 4 hours of passive time. This works for me at this moment in time, but in the past I’ve lost money on some suites that have a lot of revisions or more specialized requirements.
Of course, I have not included ALL aspects of running a business in this post (and it’s already my longest one yet). There are additional costs such as monthly fees for design programs, font prices, or pre-made design elements when something is out of my range of skill. There are mess ups, there are extras that I order in every single order for samples and in case some are flawed. There are rush fees when clients delay their responses to proofs, there are rush fees when you get sick and can’t order envelopes on time, and sometimes there are rush fees when printers mess up too. And of course, there are reprints when a bride misspells her own name, and then second reprints when she realizes that she also misspelled her fiancé’s name, both of which you do at cost despite the extra time, because you are not a monster and you have a heart.
There are also plenty of practical, legitimate ways to bring these costs down. Paper choices, color choices, print methods, and quantities are all things that I can make work more in your favor if you are willing to accommodate. Try to remember that there is usually no “built in” room for sales or discounts with custom artwork and stationery. Any amount that we take off is a direct hit to our own pocket, not like at Target where a 10% discount can be absorbed through a few hundred thousand other channels.
Paper is one of those areas, in contrast to photography or food, where we don’t often spend any money or attention until we are planning a wedding, so you have no frame of reference to judge from. I am bombarded with places like Wedding Wire, The Knot, and other websites telling you that the average invitation cost for “high spenders” is $1,000, and then sent beautiful pins on Pinterest as inspiration that could not possibly be created for less than $25-30 apiece, but with that $1,000 budget in mind. This is confusing and frustrating not only for me and fellow designers, but also for couples who can’t figure out where that money is going, and who keep seeing references to “greedy” wedding vendors charging too much – which is exactly why I felt compelled to write this post.
Most independent stationery designers (like myself) are small businesses, run by 1-2 individuals who simply love what they do (also like me!) and are trying to make a living out of it so their puppies can eat at night and maybe one day some kiddos too! So if you were angry at the beginning of the post, I hope you are starting to understand why these pieces all cost what they do, and the time and energy that go into creating each and every one of them. Please feel free to add thoughts or questions in the comments below – especially let us know if this was helpful to you in determining what wedding invitations cost.
We would love to provide more insight in any way that we can to help make the invitation journey easier for you!
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Hi, I'm Laney!
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I make wedding invitations and I teach artists how to work smarter, make money, and run a business that works for you.
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I’m a design student in Australia who has been asked to create a wedding suite, I had no idea how to go about quoting for this job as well as justifying what I’d add on for designing fee. This post has been a huge help as stationery design is an avenue I’d love to specialize in. So a big thank you for doing this blog post!
I’m sorry for the delayed response but so glad that this was helpful! I know it’s a tough thing to understand and I have played around with my pricing a million times (and even have changed some things since writing this a little!). I hope that this post is at least a small step towards better understanding in the industry as a whole!
Thanks Laney for this post!
I am saving it as a bookmark because I will definitely need to read it again and again!
I am a calligrapher and want to start my business here in the UK but I’m at a complete loss as to what to charge and for what! I find that pricing transparency isn’t really good in the industry and it’s hard to know how to position your business, especially with bespoke services.
I needed to read that not only for me and so I can be confident building my pricing list, but also so that i can explain it better to people asking why it is so expensive! I feel like there’s a lot of education to be done about the value provided by art/craft businesses when people are so used to buy everything in bulk and for so cheap!
Thanks and love your IG stories, keeping it real!
Hi Helene! I am sorry for the delayed response but so glad you found the post helpful. I agree that things are just not transparent and there are SO many different ways to price that it makes you start to question yourself (and makes your clients start to question you too!). Hopefully this is a tiny step in the right direction for the whole industry!
reading your post again and I just realised you are allowing yourself 5 hours of specialised time within your $500 design fee. Are you really designing a 4 piece suite such as in this post in 5 hours? colour palette, watercolour, calligraphy, font choice, digitising all in 5 hours? Do you mind clarifying because if that is the case I really need to work on my speed!
GREAT question! So the short answer is that it depends on the suite entirely. I have been able to get much faster at most of my processes, but a lot of the time designing is spent kind of sketching and dreaming up ideas, and honestly I don’t always include that time in my count. This is one reason I’m hoping to up my design fee this year. However, most suites once I nail down a design can be done in that 5 hour timeline. I task batch to do all my watercolor painting at the same time during a week, or all my sketching, or all my calligraphy, so that I’m working on multiple suites at a time and that helps!
Laney, this is so great. As a custom designer I have struggled with the issue of clients not seeing my worth. Bravo.
Hi Kathy!!! I definitely get that (I know we chat about it a lot in WSC) but hopefully more education will help with that issue overall 🙂
such a timely post for me, lady! thanks for the breakdown!!
I am so glad you liked it! I hope it’s helpful 🙂
Thanks so much for posting this! I am launching my stationery business in September and it is really helpful to get a sense of how others charge. I have been building my portfolio for over a year now, and am now fine tuning the business side of things.
I got the sense from your post that there was a small part of you that felt bad about charging "too much" but another part that felt like you weren’t charging enough. Not that my two sense matters, but I actually think you should charge way more for your design services! It can be hard when there are companies like minted out there charging just a fraction of what we need to charge to keep our doors open, but I think all the reason to distinguish yourself from them (which you do). I think that charging one rate for your time is perfectly acceptable. Sourcing papers and colors takes so much skill as a designer, and I think should generate the same rate as your graphic design fee. When it comes to things like emailing, marketing, creating proposals, networking etc…I imagine these things need to come from your hourly rate, not to the individual clients? I have been told that you should expect to take home just 20%-30% of your hourly rate, and the rest needs to account for those such un billable hours, margin of error, overhead. I would love to know your thoughts on what percentage of your hourly rate you actually take home… I hope I don’t come across as an arrogant know- it -all but I just thought I would share my thoughts 🙂 I am so appreciative of how generous you share your ideas and experiences. Truly truly! And I love your work and want you to feel completely justified in charging what you are worth!
Hi Elsa! You are so sweet and I thank you for taking the time to write this!!! I agree with your assessment that there are two sides to all of my feelings – on one hand I’m ALWAYS telling everyone they should charge more and talking the talk, but on the other hand it’s tough to walk the walk, especially when you’re still somewhat new to the industry. I think one part that’s tough is that we can’t be like lawyers and bill actual hours – some jobs I feel like I got a steal of a deal because the client was simple, didn’t make many revisions, and all the printing and production went perfectly. Other jobs, there are hours of phone calls, a million tiny revisions, and 52 mistakes during the assembly process haha! So I think I do a decent job of taking home a majority of that income, but an exact percentage or number would be tough to quantify!
I am just SO glad to be having the conversation! Coming into this industry, it is like shooting in the dark figuring out pricing, so having you share your insights about the business side of things is so awesome. Eight years ago, I was over-the-moon excited to get my first job illustrating a children’s book (it had been my dream since forever, and illustration was my major at art school) But the reality of it was that I was paid $5000 for a project that took a full year, and it was totally unsustainable. I hated it. It was honestly so disheartening, that I abandoned all pursuits of being a freelance artist and became an art teacher instead. (yes, i see the irony) But I really have that entrepreneurial bug, so I am plunging in again! I also do enjoy business strategy and feel that all my failures in business (way more than just that one including opening a restaurant. That was totally cuckoo) have taught me well. I am living in San Francisco which is of course one of the most expensive cities in the world, and this definitely has to play a factor in my pricing. I also have been working as the business manager for a cake maker/artist who has a minimum cake order of $2,000, and although she certainly doesn’t do the volume of cakes she did before I came on board, she is doing the kind of projects she wants to be doing, which is awesome. When I first came on board, Jasmine felt like she was a slave to her business and although raising her minimum was SO scary, it made space for opportunities we never thought possible! (Granted, she has been at it for over 12 years and is very established which is part of the reasons she can charge that). But still! Seeing all the positive change that happened when she valued her time more has been SO inspiring! Jasmine charges more than most others in her field, but honestly, I don’t know how others keep their doors open charging what they do (especially in San Francisco). Granted, running a bakery has way more overhead than a stationery business does, but running any business has many unforseen expenses that come up which need to be accounted for. I am planning on allocating my hourly income as follows: 10% towards tax, 30% to go back into my business for all those unbillable hours such as emailing, marketing, reinvestment into my business etc, 10% towards fixed overhead expenses, 30% towards my hourly take home, 10% margin of error, and 20% profit. I will also be up charging materials 50%, so hopefully some of this can go towards my take home. If I charge $100/hour, this puts me at $30 take home which still isn’t much, but my hope is that with more experience I will become more efficient and will be able to make a larger percentage of that. I have spent around $8,000 for start up costs ( I am using unusual materials, and had to do a lot of prototyping, so my start up cost is probably more than most other people starting out). I am hoping to use my hourly rate to pay myself back for the first 6 months. When I broke it all down, I realized I am charging more than others which is so scary considering I am not yet established. But, at the end of the day, if I don’t value my time, who will? Anyways, Laney, would love to stay in touch, and continue to share stories, insights, frustrations, triumphs etc. ! My gmail is email@example.com if you ever want to reach out and my ig handle is @elsamadelinedesign Thank you again for starting this conversation!
Hi Elsa! Thank you for such a thoughtful comment – I apologize for just now responding! I wish you all the best of luck and think it’s SO important to charge what you are worth, and not worry so much about what everyone else is charging. If they want to do it for $xx, then let them! That doesn’t hurt you, because that client isn’t your ideal client in the long run. I’m so glad you’ve had a lot of experience with various artistic businesses, I think that will all come in handy starting your stationery business!!!!
Wow thanks Laney for this. I was not mad at all. As a DIY bride I was amazed how much things cost so I decided to do it myself. Then I realise how much materials actually cost and the amount of time it consumes. I love crafts and art so much anyway that even if I had the money I would do those crafty things myself anyway. I have great appreciation for the experts and why the price is the way it is after it all.
I’d have to say this was my starting point of my calligraphy journey. I fell in love with calligraphy the moment I discovered the pointed pen.
Thank you for this post and I think the whole world needs to be educated about this. Artists I’ve always believed is to be one of the most underpaid workers there. They put in so many hours for only a few dollars earned. This post just solidified how and why that is.
This is so true now that I want to embark my calligraphy journey into something more and start a business in a world where “why am I paying $5 for a piece of paper” when people pay hundreds of dollars for clothes you’d only wear once if you get to it ?
Hi! I’m so sorry I’m just seeing this but I appreciate your kind words so much. I truly find that the education is all it takes to help quell some of those negative feelings about why stationers (and wedding vendors in general) are charging "so much". A lot more goes into it than people actually realize when it comes down to it, and there are so many moving parts that it takes a lot of time, experience, and effort to coordinate all of that! I can’t wait to see where your journey takes you – I hope to follow along with it!!!
This is an amazingly helpful article! Thank you so much for your transparency. In the end, it really does just help the entire stationery industry make sure they’re getting paid for their time! Your resources are so valuable to somebody who is slowly starting out 🙂
Thank you for your transparency, Laney! I always have had a hard time explaining to clients where all the money goes and how I am truly only making a small profit. I’m so thrilled that you shared this knowledge and now so many brides and other stationary and calligraphy artists have it too! Keep up the incredible work!
Hi, very nice website, cheers!
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