While the world has transitioned steadily into the digital realm, there’s been a renewed interest in the power of printed materials. Things like beautiful packaging, business cards and of course, stationery.

When you think of stationery, the stodgy designs of our parents’ annual newsletters or the stern typefaces of a lawyer’s letterhead might come to mind. But stationery comes in many forms, from bold and fun to classy and elegant and everything in between. And the best part is, it’s a part of your brand you can hold in your hand. An email dashed off can always get your basic message across, but there’s no denying the weight of a real letter, whether you choose to type or write it out.

Stationery design
By Prozmajevski

Since stationery can be used for important communiqués, designers need to make sure their designs are professional, on trend, impactful—all without overwhelming the actual message that will be written on the page. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some tips and inspiration to make sure your stationery is relaying the clearest message possible in the most stylish way possible.

How to organize the information

The first step is to take stock of the physical dimensions of the stationery you are designing for. A suite of products might feature standard A4 size for letters, as well as a A5 (half letter), envelopes, and business cards. The copy and brand assets will further limit the amount of space to work with. While a logo, street address, web address, phone number, and email might fit on the full sheet, the half sheet and business card might have to be trimmed back to just the website, depending on the design.

Minimal letterhead design
by velvetdesign

Next, give some thought as to what the stationery needs to communicate and how it will be used. If a client will use the stationery for writing lengthy letters, they would require more whitespace. If they simply want to scrawl out a personal note by hand, they would probably need less.

The design to the right organizes its information with ample white space and a dramatic logo. The oversized logo feels weighty but the pillow of whitespace around it makes sure it doesn’t feel like it’s dragging down the page.

A watercolor wedding invitation
Whitespace draws the eye to the center of the page. Design by GoodEnergy for Hanna Marin and Caleb Rivers
Resume design
This resume design uses the rule of thirds to highlight information into a side column. Design by creative_design_dtp for Alexandre Bilodeau

It’s a given that a letterhead will have a good amount of white space for written words—but even the white space needs to be well thought out. A solid grid is an essential starting point. Use the Rule of Thirds (which tells us to break a page up into thirds for the greatest visual appeal) to plan your layout, using no more that one third of your available space for logo and contact information. The remaining two thirds should be blank. You could have the information frame the white space on the top and bottom. Or instead list the pertinent details down the side in a column.

Branding and logos

A full suite of branded stationery
by Mila Jones Cann

Once you’ve figured out the best way to organize the information, it’s time to move on to the fun stuff: the design! If you’re working with a preexisting logo, think about the different ways you can use it throughout the branding. The suite above uses the simple four leaf clover logo at different sizes and inverted colors to effortlessly tie the products together. The largest logo is only half on the page, bringing interest to the background, as well.

Invoice stationery design
by undrthespellofmars

This design keeps the letterhead very simple, with ample white space. The envelope contrasts beautifully in a slate color that echoes the logo. This is a great reminder of how less can absolutely be more when it comes to branding.

To color or not to color

While conventional wisdom says muted colors are more professional, keep in mind a good design breaks all the rules. Take for example, 2+2’s super fun design for a consulting firm. It demands attention with its colorful palate, while still being professional and polished.

Is it right for every brand? No, especially considering that color will impact the cost to print. But it will definitely help the client stand out in a crowded marketplace of boring consulting firms! On the other hand, look at how the stark black and white design above brings a minimalist heft to a suite for a hair salon.

A resume design
Photos or other colorful imagery can be highlighted with a monochromatic design. By snorlax341

Typographic vs graphic

Other brands have gone in the direction of clean, uncluttered and modern. Designs like the ones above eschew heavy graphic elements for simple, refined text across each element of the brand identity. This is particularly effective for clients like architects, lawyers, and luxury brands who want their branding to feel expensive, effortless and uncluttered.

Finishing touches and printing techniques

Now you have a well-organized, great looking design, it’s time to think about production. If you want your design to truly stand out, this is the time to consider high-end printing options. Letterpress, hot foil stamping, and reverse side printing bring a luxuriousness that your recipients will be able to experience in a tactile way when they open your envelopes. While these options will cost more to print, if your intent is to stand out, they are well worth the expense. Even a local print shop might not be able to handle all the bells and whistles like foil and embossing, so be prepared to use a commercial printer.

Stationery design featuring gold foil
Design by TwinkleBee for sHe artists
Stationery design featuring gold foil
Design by duwi.sleman for Lorindale

Along those lines: it’s important to ascertain where the final products will be printed before you settle on important design elements. Will they be in black and white, printed on an office printer? Or printed in batches by a high quality offset printer? Maybe even downloaded as a PDF and sent electronically? The complexity of the design needs to match what you or the client want to spend on production. Make sure your files are the appropriate quality and in the correct color space for how they will eventually be used.

Stationery design featuring gold foil
by Jecakp

It’s also important to make sure you have the right files in hand at the end of the process. You can use a range of programs to design stationery and related ephemera but make sure the resulting files aren’t too complex (or too simple) for the clients’ intended use.

For example: say a nonprofit wants a simple logo letterhead and matching envelope template to send letters to their donors. In that case, a complex Photoshop or Illustrator file might overwhelm them and it would be best to create a template file they can easily set up in their program of choice.

Stationery stands out

We all want to make a great first impression. Often your stationery, whether used for personal or professional ends, introduces you to someone far before you meet in person. Follow these tips and designs to make sure your stationery is truly something to write home about.

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