Digital = Traditional Artistry
In our digital world, people are constantly looking for ways to cut costs and corners by incorporating digital aspects into their wedding. While I agree that some platforms DO offer a significant advantage (hell, if I had to write every address on an invitation by hand I’d probably have a broken wrist…calligraphers get mad props in my book) it also devalues the industry.
I’m sure people think less of digital art than traditional analog. I mean, digital photos are a dime a dozen, while a gorgeous painting is one of a kind. The first is disposable at the click of a button, and you can recreate it a thousand times with very little effort.
But I urge you to consider the skills and artistry that go into getting the right photo. The one you choose to print and use for your holiday card, or family photo, or honestly even just your profile picture. That skill and talent are the same as that of the painter who painted the canvas. That photographer didn’t just pick up a camera and happen to get the perfect photo, just like the paintbrush does not an artist make. It’s the creative brain, raw talent, discipline and execution that gives you a final product that is worth something. Why should they be valued differently?
What defines value?
Recently, I’ve had an interaction that I’ve had a thousand times–but fell for it once again, because it was an industry professional and I thought they would have a different outlook and understanding of my craft. They asked for a single invitation set, as they wanted a keepsake to be photographed and treasured for their wedding. When I told her my pricing, she stopped in her tracks.
“Is that the price for one invitation?”
I explained that the price wasn’t reflective of the piece of paper the design was printed on, that it was the process and artistry that goes into making that invitation. She ultimately stopped replying, but I’ve had this simmering in my head for a few days now, and I think I need to lay it all out for those who may think that over a thousand dollars for a card set is outrageous.
The short version:
I have been creative at heart my whole life. I proclaimed I was going to be an artist when I grew up and dedicated as much time to visual and performing arts as possible. I’ve trained in everything from welding to theatre tap. When I went to undergrad I knew exactly the kind of program I was looking for and picked up a communications minor because “what the hell?!” I finished with an advertising and public relations degree, a minor in comm, a focus in design, and experiences in printmaking through film photography. I knew I wanted to create for a purpose. I disciplined my skills to serve a tangible need for them rather than just self-expression. My first job was in stationery design, and then marketing design–now I use both to complement each other. I build brands for people.
The long version is that this is over 15 years of experience, experimentation, networking and hard-ass work to make it a real business. I don’t run my business full-time so I juggle a full-time position in marketing and run a business. This means I actually charge less than the heavy hitters because I can afford to and am choosy about who I work with. I have purchased hardware, software and training for myself to make sure I am creating a professional and optimal experience for myself and my clients. I manage multiple roles from the account manager to designer, bookkeeper, contract writer, social media manager, photographer, customer service rep, product sourcing and more. Because I devote 12 weeks to each full-service client, I take on a very limited amount of weddings a year.
Pricing makes me uncomfortable. As a woman, I empathize with people and feel the need to cut myself down if I can help another. I give back 3-5 times a year through donated work. When people question my pricing, I try to explain this in fewer words, but they typically don’t understand. They see the end product and think I can print of 1-12,000 copies at nothing but profit. For the record, I do have minimum print quantities from my professional printers just like you do as a consumer.
So what goes into a design project?
- Client consultation (30 min-1 hour)
- Research and material sourcing for project (2-3 hours)
- Pricing calculations for time and materials estimates (1 hour)
- Building a custom proposal (1 hour)
- Brainstorming layout ideas and sketches (2-6 hours)
- Initial design proofs (2 hours)
- Client consultation (1-2 hours)
- Design edits (1-4 hours)
- Client consultation (1-2 hours)
- Final edits (1 hour)
- Client consultation (1-2 hours)
- Pre-press (Packaging design for print and production) (1 hour) + print cost
- Quality testing (30 min)
- Quality correction (if necessary) (2-6 hours)
- Packaging (1 hour) + materials
- Shipping (1 hour) + ship cost
- Bookkeeping (1 hour) + tax payment
Total time: 20-35.5 hours/project
There is much more involved in a custom design project than simply plugging a name into a template or downloading a nice font from a website. The print cost is a fraction of the equation. These hours do not include the time between consultations for client communication, communication with my printers, or any of my cost of business items. My pricing is based on my ideas combined with your inspiration and creating something out of nothing.
I’ve been approached many times to create templated designs. But my process is not conducive to “create a design and sell it for a profit later.” There is no way for me to create personalized designs for specific people before I know them. That is why you get the generic feeling from the designs that the online retailers provide. They aren’t made to suit anyone too specific and can be adapted to many couples who buy in at a lower price point. Just like stock photography doesn’t evoke the same response as a photo of your family, a stock design versus a custom one lands the same.
Working with creatives is different than many other service-based businesses because it’s truly a relationship between product and experience. Any plumber can fix a leak the proper skills. You’re hiring them based on skills and experience alone.
But creatives, they are not button pushers. We don’t get by on just training and years of experience. You’re likely hiring me for a reason. You’ve seen my portfolio and related to my style, like my personality, or just love the way I come up with ideas and make them work.
How do you put a price on that?
You are hiring me because I am the only me.
You may be able to get a similar product out of someone else, but you may not. You are working with an artist for their brain, their ideas, and their experience. If these aspects don’t matter to you, it’s probably best you go with a generic/mass produced piece or someone who is learning on establishing their style and willing to try different approaches.
Are you focused more on the end product or challenging a creative mind to come up with something different and trusting that experience?
So I guess, yeah, when you look at it, paying over a grand for a card seems ridiculous. But the card wouldn’t exist without the steps taken to get there. Each client gets this cycle to find their perfect fit.
You cannot assume the value of art based on the cost of a single print.
Photo credit: Danielle Riley Photography, Veronica Varos Photography