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'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 (plus it makes me sad).
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:
- Flat Printing for 3 pieces (RSVP, details, rehearsal dinner)
- Foil + Flat Printing for Main Invitation
- White Printing for Return Address + Flat Printing for RSVP Envelopes
- Calligraphy for Guest Addresses
- Printed Envelope Liners
- Printed Belly Bands
- Custom Postage Design
- Design Fee for all 4 Pieces (Main Invite, RSVP, Details Card, and Rehearsal Dinner Card)
Okay time for the angry part...
These actual invitations cost me: $756.50, and if you bought these invitations today I would charge you $2,282.15. You mad yet?
I think this is where the questions come in. How on earth would someone pay $22/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...
1. FLAT PRINTING FOR 3 PIECES
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, about 1/3 will go to taxes, and the other 1/3 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.
2. FOIL + FLAT PRINTING FOR MAIN INVITATION
100 cost me: $279
I charge: $479
As you can see, this is a steal! I charge $350 for a foil upgrade from the original cost of the invitation which is about $1.20 ($0.42 before markup). If you're not familiar with foil printing, there are two parts to it: 1. The Die, which is made out of some crazy heavy 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 5x7 size, so my typical markup is only 2x (less if you include the upgrade to double thick paper). You're welcome ;)
3. RETURN ADDRESS PRINTING
You need 200 return addresses, so this is doubled. Also, white 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 printing is expensive!
I charge: $2.75 per envelope ($275 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 $55/hour for the cost. 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!
5. PRINTED ENVELOPE LINERS
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.
6. PRINTED BELLY BANDS
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.
7. CUSTOM POSTAGE DESIGN
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.
8. DESIGN FEE FOR 4 PIECES
And we're here...this is the most important part of this entire conversation. My design fee for 4 pieces is currently $500. 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 $70/hour for specialized time and $35/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 like I have before, 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 $500 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 I definitely do lose money on some suites that have a lot of revisions or more specialized requirements (I allow for unlimited revisions, but charge for complete design overhauls past 2). This fee is expected to go up at least 25% this year.
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 bent. 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. I think this would be a great topic for a blog post next month, but 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. The truth is that even typing this out has made me want to charge more, although people already tell me every single day that the proposals are too high, and "if we could just get it down about $400...".
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! We would love to provide more insight in any way that we can to help make the invitation journey easier for you! And if you are a fellow designer who needs help with pricing structures, we hope this was helpful, and keep an eye out for our coaching programs opening up at the end of Q1!