Have you ever heard the the terms “Pre-Designed” “Semi-Custom” and “Custom” when you were looking at stationery? Do they leave you feeling a little bit confused as to what exactly sets each of them apart from the other?
I have to include the caveat that this is my opinion about what sets each type apart and another stationer may have a slightly different opinion, but having been in this industry for over 6 years, I do think think that my opinion is an educated one.
We will look at four different factors in order to illustrate the difference between pre-designed, semi-custom, and custom in the world of wedding invitations.
Before we dive in, let's take a look at the four factors that we will discuss for each type of wedding suite:
The amount of customization that can be done to the suite for the price that is being charged
LEVEL OF SERVICE
This is referring to the amount of personalized service and attention that you should expect with each type and not the quality of the service. You can have excellent service in a transaction with little personalization to that transaction.
The amount of time you can expect the process to take from the time that you place your order/send your initial inquiry to the point of completion.
We will not discussing specific numbers, but rather how each options compares to the others.
When a suite is labeled as pre-designed, it is just that - it has already been designed. This means that the set that you see online or in a book will look the same as the set that you order and aside from being able to fill in your own wording and information and possibly change the font, there is little customization offered.
As mentioned, the design that you see is basically set and cannot be changed aside from perhaps a few different font and color options. What you see is what you will get.
Depending on with whom you are working, there may be a few more options such as paper color,paper thickness, or envelope color, but overall there are usually only a few elements that you can customize with this type of suite.
For an example, if you like a floral design but you wanted a full wreath instead of just a motif at the top, or you wanted to change the type of flowers that are used in the illustration, that would not be possible. Basically, it comes just like it is only with your information and a few small changes.
Level of Service: Low
This is not to say that the customer service is bad by any means, it is just that the individual attention that you can expect to receive will be very low. Because all of the design work has already been done, you will not be going through rounds of proofs to get things just right, nor will you be working one-on-one with a designer to create this suite just for you.
These types of suites are what you usually see with larger company such as Paper Source or Minted ( though I think both allow you to work with a designer - expect to pay more for that). Although there may be a few smaller designers that offer this type of a line, the level of intimate service will be limited.
Turnaround time: Short
Because the design is already set, there will not be multiple proofing rounds for a pre-designed suite. Usually you can expect to have one proof to approve before it is sent to print. It is mainly to make sure that all of the spelling, information, dates, and times are correct.
Also, especially if you are working with one of the larger companies who have the systems, team, and resources, you can expect your turnaround time to be fairly fast. It is not uncommon to have your pieces in hand two weeks from when you place your order, which you will not find with smaller, more custom designers.
Price: Relatively Low
Of course the final cost will depend on the type of paper and printing, the number of suites you are sending out, etc., but pre-designed sets will always be less expensive than their custom or semi-custom counterparts. This is simply due to the fact that you are not working one-on-one with a designer to create something just for you. Less time goes into these sets due to the designs being complete and not customized to each client.
A semi-custom line is usually a line of stationery suites, each having several pre-created options for each specific set that can be used in combination to create more unique sets. You are almost always working with the designer to create your combination and there are usually more high end papers, printing methods, and finishes available.
Because the basic elements of the design have already been created, the designer will not be producing new artwork for each client, rather creating a more unique design using those pre-made elements to design your set.
For example, if you choose their Jardin design with a floral motif, it may have several different types of flowers to choose from and several different arrangements of those florals such as a full wreath, a half wreath, corners, or a simple small motif. These can be used in any combination to build a set that is unique to you. When that is also paired with all of the options available for color, paper, printing, etc, you have a very large set of combinations that can be made even though the artwork is not being created exclusively for you.
Level of Service: Medium
Most designers who offer semi-custom lines have set shop policies in regards to what is included in the price of their suites. Of course, as always, this will be impacted by the number of sets needed, the paper, printing method, additional special details, etc. However, the designer has already priced all of these things and laid out the process as well as what is and is not included.
Each designer may vary a bit in terms of their process and the number of proofing rounds that are allowed, but usually they will not make changes to the artwork or add additional bespoke elements other than changing your names and wording with either their set of fonts or spot calligraphy.
Often a client will want to change something or add an additional custom elements to what they see in the semi-custom catalogue. Can the designs be changed or added to? Perhaps, but that would make it a custom suite, now wouldn't it? If your designer is willing to make those additional customizations, expect them to come with a customization fee of for your project to be process as a custom suite.
Turnaround time: Medium - Long
The semi-custom suites will take longer than a pre-designed set as you will almost always be working individually with the designer, working within the parameters of their semi-custom line to craft a design that will be personalized to you. Because there will usually at least one more proofing round with this type of suite than there would be with a pre-designed set, expect the turnaround to be longer.
Also, these are usually smaller, independent designer who either operate solo or with one or two others and not a large company with a huge team. Handling the printing and production will take longer - especially as these types of sets are usually done on higher end papers and with printing methods that take longer, such as letterpress or foil.
Of course the turnaround time will be determined by each individual designer per project, however it is normal to expect a turnaround time of between 4-7 weeks depending on your suite - add to that if you are having the designer calligraph your envelopes.
Again, the overall cost of any suite will depend on the specifics of the set, but expect semi-custom sets to fall in between the cost of a pre-designed and a custom invitation suite. You can choose digital printing on cotton cardstock and keep the budget relatively low for a higher end design, or you can choose foil stamping on hand made paper with two additional detail cards, silk ribbon, and a wax seal and your set will be more expensive.
Expect your semi-custom suite to still come in at a lower price point than would a fully custom set even if you chose the exact same elements just due to the fact that the artwork was already created and the entire process takes much less time than a fully bespoke set.
A custom wedding invitation suite is just that - custom. With this type of a set, you work one-on-one with a designer who will get to know you, listen to your story, find out what is important to you and to create from scratch a suite that is not only completely bespoke, but that speaks to you as a couple and evokes the feeling that you want to create for your guests.
When you work with a custom designer, they are fully focused on you and your wedding, your aesthetic, and telling your story. These designers are also usually experts in their field and have extensive knowledge of the best products and print methods to use. They know where to source unique paper and elements that set your custom suite apart from everyone else's.
A good custom designer will not draw inspiration from a pin board full of other stationery sets, rather from you as a couple, and from the mood and feeling of your event. They will be able to suggest new ideas and elements that you would not get from a pre-designed or even a semi-custom line.
Level of Service: High
A custom designer is not only working with you to design your suite, but to manage everything that is part of the stationary process including sourcing and ordering postage, researching how to print on a new surface, managing all of the vendors and subcontractors such as paper makers or printers, and handling all of the product curation and assembly of the suite.
When you choose to work with a custom designer for your stationery, it is sort of like hiring a wedding planner who is an expert in stationery to handle exclusively all of the paper goods for your wedding. Also, a good custom designer will be well versed in working with wedding planners and stylists and they make a wonderful team. You will not have to worry about anything but rather, everything will be taken care of seamlessly.m If any problems do arise, your designer will take care of them on the back end without you even ever knowing.
Turnaround time: Long
For most custom designers, although their process will be honed, their timelines will still be longer than a semi-custom design. The reason for this is that they are having a design consultation with you and then using the information gathered to develop a concept and create a unique design from scratch just for you. All of the art and layout will be done specifically for your event and they will not be reusing work that they had previously created.
The design phase and proofing phase will be longer with a custom design. Although most designers do limit the number of changes that you can make within the scope of the proposal, so you should not expect unlimited rounds of changes just because it is a custom suite.
Also, usually with a custom design, your paper will be sourced specially for your project. And often the printing methods will be the more intensive letterpress, foil stamping, or laser engraving all of which take more than does digital printing.
Overall, expect to spend 2-4 months with your stationery designer to design and craft your suite.
Price: High - Very high
For all of the reasons stated in the paragraphs above, custom work is the most expensive. Because of the level of service, the customization, and the high quality products and production methods used, custom wedding invitations are not cheap. That being said, it is an investment and a luxury and when you work with an experienced designer, you are getting not only the design and the final product, but the experience and time of your designer as they oversee your set from concept to completion.
Looking back at the three types of invitation suites, pre-designed sets can be a great budget-friendly way to get a well designed set in a shorter amount of time, semi-custom suites combine the look of a more custom set for a lower investment than a bespoke set, and custom stationery is the way to have something made exclusively for you, but is a luxury that may not fit in everyone's budget.
What is the best fit for you will depend on your budget, your timeline, and what is important to you. If you do not see the value in a fully custom set, then the investment will not be worthwhile to you. On the other hand if you would not be satisfied with an invitation that looks just like everyone else's, then you would be disappointed with a pre-designed option. It is a personal choice and there is no right or wrong.
I hope that this clarifies the differences between the different stationery options. What direction did you choose for your wedding?