• How to Make Extra Income Selling Calligraphy

    If you’d like to make a little bit of extra jingle this year, consider using your calligraphy skills! You might be surprised at how many brides/grooms, party hosts, and gift-givers will appreciate your services.

    How to Make Extra Income by Selling Calligraphy | The Postman's Knock

    I have always enjoyed experimenting with lettering and alphabets, but the thought of selling calligraphy didn’t occur to me until 2011. I was working at a tech company in downtown Boulder (Colorado) at the time, and a coworker started talking to me about her side calligraphy business. “Brides can hire me to address their envelopes,” she explained, showing me one.

    Wedding Envelope Calligraphy

    That conversation spurred an epiphany for me! It brought me to the realization that I could get paid to do something that I enjoy. In today’s post, I’ll walk you through how you can get started trading your calligraphy skills for some extra income.

    1. Have Realistic Expectations

    Some online pointed pen calligraphy courses justify an exorbitant enrollment price by touting the unbelievable income you’re going to make. Realistically, though, calligraphy is just like any other business: it takes time, contacts, and a lot of effort to be successful. Yes, you can make a nice and reliable income doing calligraphy, but that income likely won’t appear without years of trial and error (and plenty of experience).

    Lindsey on the Computer | The Postman's Knock
    It might seem like your calligraphy business will mostly consist of you happily creating calligraphy at your desk. That is part of it, but you’ll also be in front of your computer a lot working out pricing, corresponding with clients, and editing photos, among other tasks.

    Don’t be discouraged by the effort it takes: if you’re passionate about creating pointed pen calligraphy and you don’t mind the non-calligraphy-related aspects of a business (more on that later), you can absolutely find success. But, for now, I’d set my sights squarely on selling calligraphy as a side hustle. If it grows into something bigger, great; and if not, that’s also just fine.

    Related article/interesting side read: 5 Business Mistakes I Made With TPK

    2. Develop at Least One Calligraphy Style

    Before you can start selling calligraphy, you need to decide on a style or two that you are going to use. It can be any style — it doesn’t have to be a calligraphy style that is original to you. The way I understand it, a person cannot copyright a hand-written calligraphy style*. That means that, legally, you can offer your calligraphy services using any style that you want to.

    *According to section 906.4 of the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, typography and calligraphy cannot be copyrighted in themselves.

    Kaitlin Style calligraphy on wedding invitations
    This wedding suite features TPK’s Kaitlin Style calligraphy and Sans Serif lettering.

    I started off by developing two styles. The Kaitlin, shown above in a 2013 wedding suite, was my more whimsical-type style. I also created a more elegant style called “Flourish Formal“. I made a list of qualities that I liked in calligraphy, and I used those traits — along with inspiration photos from Pinterest and Google — to come up with styles that appealed to me. (Note that you are welcome to sell your calligraphy services using any TPK worksheet styles. Using the worksheets will save you some time, and you can tweak the styles however you want to!)

    3. Take Product Photos

    Photography is vitally important to selling anything online! Bottom line, if you have good photos of your work, you will attract clients. Photography is a vital aspect that will differentiate your style and vibe from that of other calligraphers, and it will give your services a professional feel. For example, would you be more likely to purchase calligraphy based on this photo …

    Unedited Photo Comparison | The Postman's Knock

    … or this photo?

    White Calligraphed Janet Style Envelope | The Postman's Knock

    As you can see from the example above, lighting and clarity make a huge difference. Make sure you take your photos during the day using natural light, and try to keep the camera as still as possible as you are taking the photo to reduce blur. A DSLR camera helps, but is not necessary, especially as our smartphones have gotten more advanced. The most important thing is to be creative with your photos: try to use them to tell a story. For example, the photo of the Janet Style envelopes below showcases a tulip and lace to suggest elegance.

    Iron Gall Ink: A Timeless Favorite

    Ultimately, experimentation will be your best friend when it comes to product photography. It’s also important to read up online for tips (you can find a few in this blog post). As a final note, if you’re intimidated about DIYing your product photography, you can always hire someone else to do it. Ask around! If you have a social media-loving teen in your family, he or she may just be the perfect candidate for composing and snapping eye-catching photo compositions.

    Related article/interesting side read: 6 DIY Product Photography Tips

    4. Decide Your Pricing

    The trickiest part of selling calligraphy is figuring out how much to charge. There is no “one size fits all” for this step, but you can price with a couple of things in mind. First, conduct your own “envelope calligraphy” search on Etsy. Click on a few listings to see what others are charging, and keep those numbers in mind when developing your own price. You don’t want to lowball — that’s not good for you or your competitors — but you also don’t want to price too outrageously high. Molly Suber Thorpe’s The Calligrapher’s Business Handbook offers some input that can help you reach that happy medium price.

    "The Calligrapher's Business Handbook" Book Review | The Postman's Knock
    For excellent input and advice on pricing, check out Molly Suber Thorpe’s The Calligrapher’s Business Handbook.

    To attract your first client, you can price a little bit lower than what’s ideal. That sale, while it won’t make you a lot of money, will show you exactly how the process works in action and showcase any kinks that you need to iron out. Think of it as an internship. In the process, you will most likely come to a concrete conclusion about how much you need to charge. The rule of thumb is that if you finish the job and you feel resentful at how much time you spent for what you were paid, then you need to charge more!

    This video offers my take on envelope calligraphy pricing. It can be shocking how long an envelope takes to address, both for the client and the calligrapher!

    Ironically, I don’t have time to do custom calligraphy work anymore because of the time I spend maintaining this website (and, currently, writing a book). However, when I did offer calligraphy services, I started off with very low pricing — $1.25 per envelope in 2012. After my first envelope job, I realized that was way too low — the envelopes took a long time to make for very little payoff! As my skills increased, I began to increase my prices as well. I also offered calligraphy services for place cards, custom art pieces (like quotes), hand-written menus, and other projects. Remember that variety is never a bad thing when it comes to starting a calligraphy side hustle. While it’s satisfying to write addresses on envelopes, you want to keep things fresh!

    Related article/interesting side read: 10 Items That I Successfully Sold on Etsy: A Throwback Post

    5. Come Up with a System

    At this point, you have to think about what will happen when someone buys calligraphy services from you. How do you want the process to work? How can things function smoothly for both you and your client?

    To complete this step, I’d make a list of the things you need from your client before you can get started. I would include this list in the product description on Etsy or whatever platform you’re using to sell your services. The items on my list included:

    1. Deadline – By what date does the client need the calligraphy?
    2. Number – How many envelopes/place cards/etc. will I will be calligraphing? Will the client want me to calligraph inner envelopes and RSVP envelopes in addition to outer envelopes?
    3. Ink Color – What ink color does the client want? I charged more for white ink and metallics (those envelopes took me more time to calligraph).
    Why is Envelope Calligraphy So Expensive?
    Dark-colored envelopes tend to take way more time to calligraph than light-colored envelopes. For one, you can’t use a light box to help things go faster. Secondly, opaque, paint-like inks tend to smudge during the erasing process if they’re not 100% dry.

    Next, think about what you’ll do when you have the answers to the questions on the list. If the deadline, quantity, and ink colors work for you, then you can write the client back with a price quote based on your advertised pricing. If he or she agrees to the price quote, you can make a custom listing for them. Then, follow the process outlined in the How to Address Envelopes for Clients article.

    6. Make Your Etsy Item Description

    There may be other platforms for selling calligraphy, but I recommend Etsy. Though it’s changed over the years, it’s still a simple and invaluable tool for selling calligraphy. Start by making a single Etsy listing for the cost of an individual envelope. This type of listing isn’t meant for purchasing. Instead, clients should read the item description and reach out to you for a custom order. If you already have the photos and the pricing prepared and you have a system plan, then the product description will be easy to write! To make a description, you’ll first want to settle on a keyword. Think about what people will search for to find your item … for example, “handwritten envelope calligraphy”.

    Behind the Scenes: Creating a TPK Blog Post | The Postman's Knock
    Keywords are important! The more descriptive you can be, the better. “Handwritten envelope calligraphy” is a good starting point!

    Make sure you include the keyword in your item title. For example, you might make a listing called “Custom Wedding Handwritten Envelope Calligraphy: (Whatever) Style“, or “Custom Copperplate Wedding Handwritten Envelope Calligraphy“. After you create the title, start writing the description. Make sure your keyword shows up at least once in the first three sentences of the description! This will help Etsy/Google to connect clients to you. I’d start the description with some information about the calligraphy style; for example: “Kaitlin Style calligraphy is elegant and whimsical, the perfect complement to an artistic wedding.” After you write a couple more lines (which include your keyword), outline the process for the client. I would start by asking the client to send me a private message with the details I need (again: deadline, number, and ink color.)

    Six Steps to Starting a Creative Blog | The Postman's Knock

    Finish up the product description with any additional information that the client may need to know. For example: do you charge more for writing with white ink? What is your typical turnaround time (e.g. one week for every 25 envelopes)? The product description is a great chance to concisely lay out anything that will help the client come to a purchase decision.

    Related article/interesting side read: 8 Tips for Starting a Calligraphy Business

    7. Wait

    Once you have created the item description, you can sit back and wait for your first calligraphy job request! You can pay for Etsy ads to get your items more attention, but I’d skip those at first and wait to see what happens. As long as you have eye-catching photos and a good description outlining a professional process, you will attract clients. Remember to be patient: it may take a few weeks before your listings get noticed.

    Try to post pretty, lifestyle-type photo examples of your envelope calligraphy.

    If selling calligraphy is something you have been hesitating about, give it a try. It will cost you a tiny investment to make a listing on Etsy ($0.25-ish), plus a bit of time to take photos, plan, and write a description. The worst that can happen is someone not purchasing the listing. In the scheme of things, that’s not that bad; you’ll only have lost $0.25 and some of your time; but you’ll have gained an experience. I encourage you to put yourself out there and see what happens!


    PS: Need a little more instruction before you feel comfortable putting yourself out there? Try one of these helpful courses: