Month: August 2014

Color: WTH?

What The Hue? Designers love color. We love love love it. And it makes us want to pull our hair out when we can’t get the color we see on our monitor to match the color we see on paper. There are many variables that affect color: our monitor settings (which will never match our clients settings), the tone of the paper we print on (not all white papers are created equal) and color blindness (for real, 8% of men and .5% of women are color blind). 

Color test on different papers.

Color test on different papers.

Here are some tips to help you get the best results and make peace with what you can’t control.

Let’s start with what you see on your screen. 

– Apple monitors tend to be lighter overall than PC monitors. So if you’re on a Mac and sending digital proofs to someone on a PC, they are likely seeing a darker version. Your only tool for dealing with this is knowledge. Optimize your monitor settings and talk your client through it if they say “it looks dark.”

– RGB will ALWAYS look more intense and pure than printed CMYK. It has to do with RGB colors coming from light and CMYK colors coming from surface material. Here’s a good article for color geeks.

Here’s what we know about color in print:

– Paper can be considered a color. If you choose a natural or ivory stock, you are adding up to 10% yellow to your color mix. For the truest color, pick the brightest white stock. Our brightest whites are the #110 uncoated (it has a cool tone), Savoy (warm tone) and Felt (warm tone).

same CMYK values printed on Savoy White and Savoy Natural

Same CMYK values printed on Savoy White and Savoy Natural

– Uncoated papers will soak up more ink than coated or gloss stocks, giving them a less vibrant appearance. So if you want really bright color on uncoated paper, you gotta saturate it – give it more ink than you think you need.

– CMYK digital printing is not perfect. You won’t get the same result on different days like you might if you used Pantone colors (which are the equivalent of a can of paint). There are only about a million variables that affect digital printing.

For the best results, I have printed my own color swatches (which I update by trend or season) on multiple stocks so I have a good idea of the difference between my screen and my print jobs. I use the DIY product option on so I can fit lots of decent sized color swatches.

My color swatches rank right up there with pictures of my kids in my studio.

My color swatches rank right up there with pictures of my kids in my studio.

If you are designing a stationery suite, try using complementary colors or adding texture into your system to break it up. Matchy-matchy is getting kind of old school and then you won’t be so stressed when your coral invite looks 1% lighter than your coral RSVP card. 

Please post your questions, suggestions or photos of great solutions on our facebook wall, we all appreciate the extra help.

Paper Notes: Options on

paperWe were recently asked for a description of our papers, so if you don’t have time to wait to get a paper sample booklet from the site, here is a little info that might help you out. 

110# Uncoated: A heavy duty bright white with a very smooth finish, this guy prints beautifully and is our house stock.

19pt Savoy Cotton: This beauty is fast becoming the fav for stationery. It has a very subtle texture, enough to make it interesting but not enough to mess with print quality. The white is bright and warm, the natural is a soft ivory color.

110# Synergy Felt: The texture of this paper differentiates it from the rest. The white is bright and prints beautifully. The Ecru is warmer/bolder than Savoy Natural.

110# Ice Pearl: The Princess of all of our papers is almost ivory with a gorgeous pearlescent finish. Photos and flat colors print superbly and the colors pick up a metallic tone from the paper. I ❤ Ice Pearl for invites and holiday cards. 

130# Mohawk Options: For those of you who prefer to use recycled paper whenever possible, this one is a winner. It’s a bright white, heavy stock and prints just as well as the rest of our arsenal. 

110# Gloss: Super smooth, bright white and if you like shiny stuff, you’ll like this paper 🙂

Many of our papers are available in double thick too, go to and see the drop down on the right side of the page to see which stocks you can double up for a completely awesome card. 


Bad news and good news about pricing……

Hi Guys, Mark Sarpa here – CEO of  I have bad news and good news about pricing. We need to raise our prices on our quantities under 75. UNLESS… can help us grow. Don’t worry for now. We are going to hold our current pricing until year end and if we can grow significantly we can hold them into 2015.

Now for the good news, today we are actually reducing pricing significantly and adding higher volume options. By 10:00 am PST today all flat and folded cards will have quantities enabled from 500 to 2,500 in increments of 250. Also you will find the pricing on the top quantities almost 40% less than we previously had posted.

So about the bad news….we need your help… we serve designers and we need more of you. You can help us by sharing on social media or writing a blog article for us. That will help us hold our prices in 2015 on the lower quantities.

We also cleaned up our quantities based on what people actually order to make is simpler.

The new drop down allows in increments of 5 from 10 to 100, in increments of 10 from 100 – 200, in increments of 25 from 200 – 300, increments of 50 from 300 – 500 and increments of 250 from 500 – 2,500.

Rest assured that the adjustments actually mean you pay way less for 750 than you would have for 625 in the past.

Thanks for listening and for being such an awesome group to work for.


4 things you need to know about running your stationery design business.

My career in design has had some pretty cool twists and turns, from building a successful agency in Silicon Valley to outselling Martha Stewart in online custom stationery. The common factor throughout these 20+ years is that managing the business side of things is absolutely crucial to success. Yep, it doesn’t matter how much of a creative genius you are if you don’t take care of the money, the relationships and the long term strategy.

Meet David Baker (not pictured). I told him I would make him look good if he helped me out. I might've photoshopped him a little.

Meet David Baker (not pictured). I told him I would make him look good if he helped me out.

Many years ago I attended an excellent conference called Mind Your Own Business. The keynote speaker was David Baker, a creative business guru. He is an understated guy but his message was anything but… so my partner and I hired him to do a business review for us that permanently changed the way we ran the shop. We captured an additional $150,000 in revenue that year without working any harder.

So I thought you guys might find some of David’s insights helpful on your path to crazy awesome success… here’s what he had to say:

SHQ: What is the biggest mistake small design firms or freelancers make in business?

DB: 1. Thinking “If I build it, they will come.”

2. Poor Positioning. By positioning yourself as a designer who can do everything in order to be relevant to everyone, instead you become irrelevant. Know you’re specialty and sell it.

SHQ: What are the most important factors for success in a small business?

DB: I tested 14,000+ business owners to find out whether there were common traits amongst those who were very successful. 1,340 of those tested were considered successful and almost every single one was a risk taker.

Along with a willingness to make bold decisions, successful business owners have money smarts. Does a designer go out of business because they are not talented? Almost never. It’s because they don’t have money smarts. DO NOT incur debt at risk of the future of your business. If you need to spend to grow, save it up and be comfortable with the possibility of losing it.

SHQ: What’s a Gorilla client and why are they dangerous?

DB: If you add up your revenue and count how many active clients or partners you have, each one should be between 5% – 25% of that business. 8 to 15 clients is a good number for success. If a client is more than 25% of your business you are approaching the danger zone. If they are over 35% of your business you have both feet in it.

Erin: I have had the Gorilla Client experience twice in my career. Both times we made a lot of money. I mean a LOT of money. The second time the GC was, you’ve heard of them right? They filed bankruptcy a few years ago owing us about $100,000 in card royalties. At the time they were about 50% of our revenue. We are still recovering and making damn sure that none of our partners are ever that much of our business again.

Here’s a more in-depth explanation from David about the subject: Gorilla Clients

SHQ: When you do business reviews of creative firms, do you find a common problem that we all seem to have?

DB: It’s common that business owners try to be and do all things. In order for a business to grow, it’s leader needs to focus on strong positioning, getting new business and running the business from a financial perspective.

Erin: If you only read one of David’s articles (and I suggest you spend significant time on his site, he’s got a whole buttload of crucial information for you) read this one: Why Your Firm Might Fail and How to Prevent It


Meet Sarah Schwartz, editor of Stationery Trends

I met Sarah (virtually) recently and it was really no surprise that she is warm, friendly, smart and passionate about stationery. And also has a barking dog that saves it’s energy for when Sarah is on the phone. Just like my dog. While getting to know Sarah it occurred to me that she has a wealth of great info for our stationery designers and she was kind enough to share her thoughts. Make sure you sign up for her blog: – it’s a great snapshot of what’s happening in stationery.

SHQ: What’s the best part of being the Editor-in-Chief at ST?

SS: That’s a tough one to answer! I love getting to scope out trade shows, and just experiencing pop culture with an eye to design trends. In reviewing submissions, I love getting to see so much marvelous work — I am often completely flabbergasted by the talent out there.

It is really amazing to see designers rise and thrive. To that end, I always feel very rewarded when I can bring about a business connection, e.g. between an artist and a showroom.

And I love slowly creating the editorial of each issue article by article, image by image, and then seeing it slowly coming to life during production in tandem with the ST team. Often I get so caught up in the entire process that I forget others will even read it. So then when I receive positive feedback from readers, it’s truly rewarding.

SHQ: What trends do you see coming for next year?

SS: I don’t see foil — specifically gold foil, with tones like copper and rose gold important too — slowing down at all, though I think pared-down presentations of this or any design trend are most dazzling & enduring. Overall, I think anything that bears the touch of the hand resonates — we are seeing something of an artisanal backlash to the digital age.

SHQ: What’s the best way to get products in the hands of retail buyers, high profile blogs and publishers without sounding desperate?

SS: I would find my targets and approach them accordingly, e.g., not with one big, one-size-fits-all, mass push. So, do your homework — e.g., find out who to approach at that retail venue and reach out to them individually, tailoring your query to the spirit of their brand. If you want to be a specific magazine, look at the masthead and find out who the right editor is. Same would go for blogs & publishers. I think everyone appreciates being approached by someone who knows a little bit about how each company operates and its distinctive way of delivering what it delivers. For me, I like to receive an email query telling a little bit about a given item, with the offer of sending a sample if I’m interested.

In your correspondence, spell the first & last names right, spell “stationery” right — and let them know you’ll follow up after say a week. If you don’t hear back, try to be patient and understand they’ve most likely got a pretty full plate. The occasional follow-up is fine, but take care to not cross the line into stalkerdom.

And while there’s nothing wrong with talking up your line — promoting oneself is to be lauded after all — don’t focus on your sales pitch so intensely that you are not open to any advice that may fall on your plate. Finally, if you take that advice and modify your line, reach back out — giving full credit to your new mentor of course! And if any of this doesn’t pan out, it is really hard not to take rejection personally — but keep reaching out and eventually you will find a good fit.

Personally, for almost every vendor that approaches me, I usually try to find the best spot to showcase their line, which can take time. For that reason, I always get a kick out of including someone in ST who submitted imagery a few issues back. I think most magazines, stores and blogs try to tell a story with what they share — so even if you don’t fit into the one they’re telling, you may well fit into the next one.

SHQ: When do magazines, blogs and retailers start scouting for holiday themed items?  How far ahead of the game do we have to be?

SS: Hmmm, that’s going to vary. ST doesn’t really follow the consumer calendar — it is targeted toward buyers and retailers, so we start thinking about winter holiday for our summer issue (which I start working on in spring if you can believe it!).

For my blog, I start thinking about holiday when consumers do — typically fall, though hopefully I’ll have started planning it a bit earlier. Since it drives their bottom lines, retailers I think always have holiday in the back of their mind — they’ll start planning at the summer gift shows — but if they think they can move one of your items, and you can deliver it quickly, they may incorporate it into their mix even after the selling season has started.

SHQ: What do retailers tell you that they wish stationery designers understood about their business?

SS: Oooh, another hard one! I think having a brick and mortar, or even an online venue, has gotten so challenging of late. A lot of retailers dislike it when wholesalers selling direct to consumers — they feel it undercuts their chances of succeeding with a given product line. That is a common complaint, but one I hear less and less these days. I do think smart (and therefore more successful) retailers know their distinctive mix, presentation, expertise and customer service attracts and retains their clients —they’re not going to see an Etsy shop as a serious threat. But they do love it when their vendors promote them on social media! And they love it if they can be the only one carrying a line within a certain radius, say 20 miles. I also think the more they know about the story of the artist or line, the better they can romance it.

Sarah Schwartz is the founding editor and editor-in-chief of Stationery Trends, an award-winning, design-focused trade quarterly magazine devoted to all things paper. In producing each issue, Sarah reviews a huge volume of work encompassing both up-and-coming designers and established industry icons, plus many in between. She travels to trade shows around the world to spot emerging trends and is a frequent industry speaker — her seminars at National Stationery Show are typically standing room only and sell out each year. Sarah has been quoted extensively in the media and blogs at After graduating from NYU, she worked in various editorial positions in publishing including a stint in HarperCollins’ illustrated book division. Sarah lives in Ohio with her husband, young daughter and small dog.