Envelope Addressing: Getting Started

If you’ve been writing and practicing your calligraphy, chances are, you may have thought about, or someone might have already asked you, to address some envelope. Despite the digital-ness of the world today, envelope addressing still exists because it gives invitations and cards its flair and elegance. Usually, inkjet printers do not do justice to an envelope which may happen to house a gorgeous card. 

My first project was, yep, envelope addressing for a bride in the US. I was contacted by the relative here and was requested to write on envelopes with grey ink. The panic in my head kicked in as soon as we hung up, and the first thing I thought of was, “Grey ink???” The next one was, “Oh god, what if the ink bleeds?”

Sorry for the crappy resolution. This was my instagram post 125 weeks ago, my first envelope job. That's actually a pot lid drying rack, and I had the names taped to my wall. Haha!

Sorry for the crappy resolution. This was my instagram post 125 weeks ago, my first envelope job. That's actually a pot lid drying rack, and I had the names taped to my wall. Haha!

Two years later, I still enjoy envelope addressing, and now have a set of questions and considerations prior to saying, “Yes, I can do that,” to a client. I hope this helps anyone who’s still in that phase of deciding whether or not to accept his first envelope job. 
 

The Material

Ask about the envelope itself. This gets you an idea about the struggles you may encounter. Do set expectations that not ALL envelopes are calligraphy-ready. 

  • Is it textured? This may determine your nib choice. Did they have it letterpressed? Letterpressed papers can be very cottony and would therefore be a tough job on the nib and ink. 
  • Did the supplier or printer say it’s calligraphy-ready? A lot of printers would know this from experience from previous clients. 
  • Where was it from? Some clients are opting for DIY invitation cards, by buying card sets to print on. From experience, Japan pressed papers are okay (hello, Muji!). I’ve personally purchased several Paper Source envelopes, and some clients have provided me with Crane & Co., Staples, and other US-made sets, all of which worked fine with sumi black ink.
  • What color is it? Does it have a liner? From here you’d know if you can work with the awesomeness of a lightpad, or if you need to manually draw lines on each envelope. 
     

The Ink

Of course—ask what color is needed for the envelope. It is usually safe to have the following colors with you: black, white, and gold. I suggest walnut from time to time, too, for rustic or vintage themed events. For custom colors, ask to be sent a digital swatch. If you’re pairing this off with the invitation colors, you may also request for a sample of the invite when the envelopes are sent, since digital swatches may vary depending on the screen you’re viewing it from. For my first calligraphy job, I learned the difference between cool grey and warm grey. (Seriously, I didn’t know greys are hard to mix!) I use gouache for custom colors. 

Writing Style

Have the client choose which style to use: send snapshots of your style/s, depending on how many scripts you know. For a freehand-er like myself, this is extremely important. I casually ask my clients if they’ve seen my work, and refer them to instagram if possible. A lot of non-calligraphy inclined clients may not understand that the human hand is not capable of replicating just about any font on the computer, and I therefore cannot just write in, say, Old English. Or, that I am not able to write in someone else’s freehand style. 

If you add flourishes, ask if flourishes are expected, or if it’s not needed. I once had to write envelopes for an intimate formal event hosted by a man, so the femininity of my script needed to be toned down a bit. 

A photo of my recent envelope project. These are Crane & Co. envelopes that my client got from the US, written with sumi-walnut ink. Photo from my client, Caren, after she added wax seals. 

A photo of my recent envelope project. These are Crane & Co. envelopes that my client got from the US, written with sumi-walnut ink.
Photo from my client, Caren, after she added wax seals. 

Tie the Design In

If the invitation was self-made or designed by another artist, politely ask for a snapshot of the main page. This helps you get a feel of the overall design and theme. You may not want to be doing a bouncing freehand on the envelope if the invitation is obviously very formal.
 

What to Write

In the Philippines, invitations are hardly mailed, so we most likely just write names (e.g. Mr & Mrs Juan dela Cruz) on the envelopes. You should always ask if the envelopes will have addresses on them, as this will be a factor in price, and turnaround time.
 

Timeline

  • How soon does the client need it?
  • How many envelopes are there?
  • How much time do you need for that quantity?
  • When will you receive the envelopes?

Agree on a timeline that works for you and the client. Overestimate your production time. Give 1-2 days allowance on top of your actual turnaround time, in case you need to run errands, find specific ink, or just have emergencies you need to attend to. Remember that—especially if this is your first time—you need to have enough time to practice the size and layout, mix and test the ink and nib, and even make your own envelope guidelines! Give yourself that panic time in case you run into a challenge.

Now, I know you might think these are too many questions to ask a client, but believe me when I say that it is a lot better to ask the questions before you accept the job, instead of accepting it and then later on changing your rates, or worse, declining the project altogether. 

Once you and the client have discussed the above points, agree on the timeline and rate, and CONGRATULATIONS you have just landed your first envelope job! Let a teeny tiny panic kick in as soon as you receive the envelopes, but do stay tuned on this blog, as I'll write more about envelope addressing.

Have questions? Comment now so I can answer it asap or on the next post :)