Let’s design stunning stationery

Custom stationery speaks volumes about your client. As a designer, you have a lot of tools to bring their style to life. Here’s how to deliver a design they’ll love.

3 Main Process

Stationery Design Process

Collect Data Information

Information and brand guidelines

Referring to Guidelines

Logo, color, typography style, iconography, and patterning.

Document Formatting

Size and specifications

How to create Stationery Design?

Your client just ordered stationery but you’ve got some questions. Read on for specifications, design do’s & dont’s, and a glossary of design terms. It’s everything you’ll need to hand-off an awesome design.

1. Talk to your client first

Designing stationery is usually pretty standard, but there’s still a few important questions you need to ask your client before getting started.

The pre-design checklist

  • Does your client have a brand or style guide?
    Talk to your client beforehand to see if they have a brand or style guide. This will help ensure you’re staying consistent with their company’s brand elements like logo, colors and typeface. 

  • Does your client want a specialty printing technique or finish?
    Ask if your client’s printing budget allows for advanced techniques like embossing, foil blocking or die-cutting before adding them into design.

  • Will this design be printed by a personal or a commercial printer?
    Ask client if they’re printing themselves or at a commercial printer. Don’t use borders unless the letterhead will be professionally printed.
  • Will this design be printed on a special type of paper?
    If it is, you may need to adjust your design to work with that type of surface.

  • What type of stationery is it?
    Confirm size and specifications for each piece before you start designing (standard sizes are listed below)

2. Decide Size and specifications

Yes, “sizes and shapes may vary,” but standard stationery can still stand out. The most common sizes are slightly different for printers in America and the rest of the world. 

Follow these specifications to ensure your letterhead and envelope designs print correctly. But if your client wants a special shape, you’ll need to request specifications directly from them.

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3. Finish a stationery design

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The post-design checklist

  • Is the client using a commercial printer?
    Remove any letterhead borders if your design will be professionally printed.
  • Did you leave room on your envelope?
    Don’t forget to leave space for stamp, return address and the back on envelopes.
  • Have you checked your bleed?
    Ensure all text is within the safety line and all imagery is stretched to the bleed. 


Once your client has approved the final design, send them all of the design files. Here’s what they need:

  • An editable version of the final design (AI, PSD, PDF, EPS or INDD)
  • All web preview images (JPEG or PNG)
  • A link to purchase any commercial fonts used in the design

For letterheads, some customers may request DOC files – learn how to convert your design into Word letterhead template. 

Make sure all files are saved in the CMYK color mode and 300dpi resolution.

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4. The dictionary of design

CMYK and RGB… droids from Star Wars, right? Design lingo can be a little tricky, but we can translate. Here are some design and printing terms you’ll need to know.

Color Mode

The color mode is how to represent colors in your design. When designing for print, you should be sure to set up your document in CMYK mode.

  • CMYK: An ink-based mode used in print.
  • RGB: A light-based mode used for digital and web design.

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Bleed, trim and safe area

To ensure proper printing, you must include a trim, bleed area and safety line in your design.

  • Trim line: Where the printer cuts your image.
  • Bleed area: The area beyond the trim line (typically an additional 0.125″ on each side). You must extend your design out to the bleed area so none of your design is cut off.
  • Safety line: Inside the trim line (typically an additional 0.125″ on each side). All important text and imagery should be kept inside this line.


Resolution is the amount of pixel detail in an image. When designing for print, you’ll need to create a high-resolution design at 300dpi.

  • High resolution: 300 dpi (dots per inch) keep image sharp.
  • Low resolution: Too little info will make image pixelated.

Printing techniques & finishes

Sometimes clients will want something extra special for their stationery. Here’s a few of the things they may ask for.

  • 4-color offset: Standard, full color printing process
  • 1- or 2-color: Limit color to accommodate limited budget
  • Foil ink: Special process using metallic foil, not ink
  • Spot color: Color generated by an ink (pure or mixed) printed using a single run.
  • Foil blocking: Stamp with metallic, foil finishes
  • Embossing: Raise the texture of printed material
  • Spot UV: Make certain areas of printed design glossier
  • Foil blocking: Stamp with metallic, foil finishes
  • Embossing: Raise the texture of printed material
  • Spot UV: Make certain areas of printed design glossier

Top stationery design tips

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.

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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.

1. 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.

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.

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.

2. Branding and logos

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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.

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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.

3. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

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.

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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.

5. 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.

This article was originally written by Meg Reid.

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