There are two kinds of envelopes in this world: envelopes that lend themselves beautifully to calligraphy (“calligraphy envelopes”), and envelopes that are best-suited to other mediums (“everything else envelopes”). Naturally, if you’re learning calligraphy and you wish to use your skills for snail mail, you’ll want to make sure you have a few calligraphy envelopes on hand. The question, then, is how do you identify calligraphy envelopes vs. everything else envelopes? Well, as you may have guessed, that’s the very issue we’re examining today!
Properties of Great Calligraphy Envelopes
The first thing you’ll want to look at when purchasing envelopes for calligraphy is the weight. As a general rule, the thicker/heavier the envelope, the less likely your calligraphy ink will bleed when you create calligraphy on it. I know that the adjectives I’m using (“thick, heavy”) are subjective, so let me explain it this way: your envelope shouldn’t feel like it’s made out of printer paper. When you flex it, there should be a little bit of resistance; it won’t feel flimsy.
If you’re buying online, it can be difficult to ascertain whether an envelope is high-quality or not. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to find out the poundage* of the paper used to make the envelope. Some sites — like envelopes.com — reveal the poundage. Other sites play it coy with this information, and in that case, it’s a good idea to shoot them an email asking what poundage the paper is; sturdy envelopes will be 70-80 lbs. I wouldn’t purchase anything 60 lb. or below because you run the risk of ink bleeding due to thirsty fibers that are spread farther apart in the paper than they are with higher poundages.
*You can learn more about poundage in the Different Types of Paper post here on TPK.
Ultimately, it boils down to this: you should always try an envelope before you purchase a big lot of them. If the merchant you are purchasing from offers samples of their envelopes, take advantage of that! If not, try to purchase a very small amount, and try writing on them. You can never know for certain whether an envelope is going to interact well with your ink or not until you try!
Choosing Dark-Colored Calligraphy Envelopes
Believe it or not, you’ve got more leeway as far as dark-colored envelopes are concerned regarding envelope weight. Here’s why: if you’re using a dark envelope, you’ve got to use a light-colored opaque ink. In order to be opaque, the ink will need to be considerably viscous, and inks with a high degree of viscosity don’t tend to bleed. They’re just too thick to spread out quickly and get lapped up by the paper fibers!
You can write on just about any dark-colored envelope with the following opaque inks:
- Gouache (pictured in the brown/yellow Janet Style lace envelope above) – Can also be used on light-colored envelopes.
- Finetec (Pearl Colors or Golds) – Can also be used on light-colored envelopes.
- Winsor & Newton white calligraphy ink (shown in the pink Kaitlin Style envelope below) or Dr. Ph. Martin’s “Bleedproof White“
All of the products listed above aren’t actually inks, but a variation of watercolor or acrylic paint that can be used as ink. That’s a good thing to note so you know what to expect when you order!
The point I want to make in this section is this: you can use any weight of dark calligraphy envelope that you want as long as you are using a viscous, opaque ink. Regardless of poundage, you probably won’t run into ink bleed issues.
Dealing with Difficult Calligraphy Envelopes
There may be situations that require you to use envelopes that aren’t well-suited to the calligraphy ink you want to use. When those situations arise, you have two options: add some gum arabic to your current ink, or mix up a gouache “ink” to use. You can learn how to use gum arabic in the Seven New Calligraphy Tips post, and you can learn about using gouache in the How to Use Gouache to Write Calligraphy post.
The ultimate goal, really, is to just thicken up your current ink with gum arabic enough that the ink doesn’t bleed (as shown in the photo above); or to use an “ink” like gouache that’s thick enough by nature that it doesn’t bleed. Ideally, you should have access to high-quality envelopes that don’t let the ink get all spider-webby, but life isn’t always perfect! When you run into a not-so-great envelope situation in the future, you’ll know how to handle it now. 🙂
Calligraphy Envelopes Brand Recommendations
Here’s the thing: there are about a gazillion companies out there selling envelopes that are perfect for calligraphy. Just because they don’t show up on this (very short) list doesn’t mean they don’t have awesome stuff! That said, these are the merchants I find myself going back to again and again:
Luxe Calligraphy Envelopes:
Crane & Co. sells gorgeous, 100% cotton envelopes. They are perfect for weddings and super-elegant events! However, you’ll want to make sure you buy plenty of extras to practice on and to account for mess-ups. The fact that the envelopes are cotton means that they aren’t quite as smooth as other envelopes, and it will take a little bit of a learning curve to figure out how to write on them.
Once you do get your groove as far as writing on the Crane’s envelopes, you’ll love the results! The envelopes are nice and heavy, and they interact with a variety of inks beautifully. For example, the photo above features Winsor & Newton dark blue ink and Janet Style calligraphy. The blue ink takes on a new, multi-toned life when used on the soft Crane’s paper!
I want to add a note here that you can get free samples of Crane’s envelopes at Neenah Paper; that’s a great way to try them out before you commit to a sizable order! Just click on the “Samples” tab, and you can select what you want from there! Just an FYI: they do charge you a nominal amount to cover shipping costs.
Calligraphy Envelopes that are Suitable for a Variety of Events:
There are a lot of envelopes that fall into this category, but my go-tos are:
- Paper Source (all envelopes) – To order samples, you may contact customer service at 1-888-727-3711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Envelopes.com (only 70 lb. envelopes and above) – Samples are $1.00 apiece; learn how to order them here.
- Cards & Pockets (all envelopes) – You can purchase very cost-effective sample packs here.
The Amy Style calligraphed envelope above was created using a Paper Source envelope, but none of the companies I listed have steered me wrong in the past. Paper Source and Cards & Pockets always send high-quality, heavy envelopes; and envelopes.com is transparent about the poundage of the paper used to make their products, which is great!
I’d like to reiterate that there are many fantastic places to purchase envelopes from, and I’ve probably listed 0.1% of the merchants in this blog post. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find your favorite/s! My envelope experience is, unfortunately, limited to buying within the US … so if you live outside of the US and you know of a reputable envelope source in your area, please share in the comments! Other readers will benefit immensely from that information!
Thanks so much for reading TPK; I so appreciate that you’re here!