Next time you have an event — whether it’s brunch with five people or a wedding with, well, more than five people — try making place cards for it! Place cards pave a beautiful path to organized seating, and they add elegance to any table.
The other day, I was making calligraphy place cards for one of my calligraphy workshops. I was “in the zone”, enjoying listening to a podcast and writing, when I realized: I don’t have any information about making basic place cards on the TPK blog! Today’s tutorial should fix that. It will walk you through creating elegant calligraphy place cards from start to finish!
1. Choose the Blank Place Cards
You can use any paper to create place cards on! If I’m calligraphing for a formal event, I generally go with Medioevalis place cards. I purchase them locally at Two Hands Paperie here in Boulder, CO; but you can order online. That said, Medioevalis is fairly expensive, so you could totally DIY your own Medioevalis-like place cards by cutting watercolor paper into 5″ x 3.25″ rectangles. If you choose to go that route, you’ll definitely want to invest in a paper cutter!
2. Test Your Card and Ink Compatibility
After you purchase the place cards, you’ll want to make sure they interact well with the pen you plan on using. Trial and error has shown me, for example, that Paper Source place cards don’t do so well with a dip pen.
Below you’ll find an example of a Paper Source place card with walnut ink calligraphy. You can see that the ink has soaked into the paper and spiderwebbed out a bit! Not such a great look for a calligraphy place card.
Conversely, here’s a Medioevalis place card. See the nice, clean strokes? The paper simply reacts differently with the ink.
If you happen to find that the place card paper of your dreams doesn’t work with your dip pen and ink, all is not lost! You can check out the Seven New Calligraphy Tips post for a few solutions including spraying the paper with a fixative and/or adding gum arabic to the ink. Otherwise, you can decide to switch things up and create a faux calligraphy place card like the Amy Style piece shown below!
Standard pens (ballpoint, gel, etc.) work with nearly all different types of paper. Effectively, they are a great “plan B”!
3. Fold Your Place Cards (If Necessary)
There are two different types of place cards: flat and tented. Flat place cards are basic, small, non-folded cards that you can place in some sort of holder or directly on a dinner plate. Tented place cards support themselves because of their tent-like shape. This step focuses on how to fold tented place cards; if you plan on creating flat place cards, you can ignore the information here!
First, use your fingers to fold the card in half. Try to focus on lining up the corners and edges such that the card is exactly the same on both sides.
Next, use a bone folder to apply pressure to the crease. This will ensure a crisp, effective fold.
Once you have created the fold, you’ll want to unfold the place card so you can create calligraphy on it!
4. Calligraph Your First Card
The process for making your first calligraphy place card is a little bit different than the process for making all the rest of your place cards. That’s because this place card will set a precedent and can be used as a reference for centering your text on subsequent cards!
First, use a guidelines template (like the 1/2″ template found in Beautiful Beth Style Envelopes) to draw pencil guidelines for your calligraphy. You’ll want to end up with three horizontal guidelines and one vertical guideline (to denote the center of the place card). You can see that I drew fairly dark pencil lines so they would show up nicely in the photo below. Definitely make your pencil lines much lighter so that you can easily erase them!
After you draw the pencil guidelines, use your pencil to create a draft of the name you intend to calligraph on the place card. You should try to write in the calligraphy style you plan to use with your dip pen, and don’t bother with centering the calligraphy yet. Once you have written the name, use a ruler to measure it. “Elizabeth”, pictured below, measures 2.25″.
Based on the length of the name, you can now draw centering guidelines on the place card. Divide whatever length your name is by 2, then draw vertical guidelines that distance away from the center. For example, “Elizabeth” measures 2.25″. 2.25″ divided by 2 is 1.125″, so I know that I need to draw vertical guidelines 1.125″ (in other words: 1-1/8″) on either side of the middle guideline.
Once you have drawn the two vertical guidelines, you can write on the place card with a dip pen and ink! Just make sure you start at the vertical guideline on the left, and that you end at the vertical guideline on the right.
Erase your guidelines, and your card is finished!
5. Add Embellishments (Optional)
If you want to add some pizazz to your place cards, feel free to experiment! I added a novelty postage stamp to the place card below, then I used an artistic corner design to enhance the card as a whole. The embellished corners beautifully complement the Janet Style calligraphy used for this piece!
6. Create the Rest of the Calligraphy Place Cards
You can use the measurement you got for the first card to estimate name lengths of subsequent cards. This will save you time because you can skip writing out the name in pencil for the other cards. (You still will need to make the horizontal and vertical pencil guidelines, however!)
Here’s how the estimation process works: first, you know that the name on the first card you created has X amount of letters in it. In this case, “Elizabeth” has nine letters (E-L-I-Z-A-B-E-T-H), and it measures 2.25″ long. Let’s say, though, that the next card you are going to make is “Lexie”, which has five letters.
What you’re going to do in the case of “Lexie” is measure Elizabeth’s name up to the fifth letter (because, again, L-E-X-I-E is five letters long). Based on where the fifth letter falls in “Elizabeth”, you’ll know that “Lexie” will be about that long. In this case, “E-L-I-Z-A” measures 1.25″.
You can use that measurement to draw your right and left vertical pencil guidelines for the “Lexie” place card. Check it out! “Lexie” is just about 1.25″ long.
Centering place cards does require some math, but once you get the hang of the estimation process, it’s really not that bad!
Before I sign off, I’d like to add a couple of tidbits to this post. First of all, you don’t need to do anything in the way of embellishments to make an elegant card! I happen to love the basic look of the Kaitlin Style place card pictured below.
Secondly, you may wonder when to write one first name versus a first and a last name. I use place cards at calligraphy workshops to identify participants, and I generally use first names if the participant is the only one present with his or her name.
If, however, I have two participants with the same first name, e.g. “Lisa Watson” and “Lisa Fraser”, then I make a place card that shows the last name as well.
For large and/or formal events, however, the safest bet is always to write out the attendee’s full name.
If there’s anything I haven’t touched on in this tutorial, please feel free to ask in the comments! I am happy to answer any questions you have for me. Otherwise, I hope you enjoyed learning about making calligraphy place cards!
Thanks very, very much for reading TPK, and have a wonderful rest of the day!