Art Studio Confessions: Starting a Stationery Business

Art Studio Confessions: Starting a Stationery Business

When I was first starting my business, I had no idea what I was doing. Most days, I still don't feel like I entirely know what I'm doing...but I do feel like I've learned a lot since 2013!

I first started making greeting cards in 2011 after I came home to California from Italy. This was the early days of Pinterest being such a reliable resource for information. This was also pre-Instagram being the end all, be all for advertising and networking. Blogging was at its peak and it was wonderful! But it was still hard to find resources and other stationery artists willing to divulge their secrets so a lot of things I learned were by trial and error, and also working with a tight budget.

And so! I wanted to share some of my favorite tools and suppliers I've discovered over the last 9 years of working and growing Sketchy Notions from my first failed market to being carried in over 100 stores between the US and Canada!
**Please note: This is NOT the end all, be all bible list of how to start/run your business! These are just some things I've learned and products and resources that I've grown to love and wish I had known about back in the early days to building Sketchy. A lot of these links are affiliate links too, which means I get a teeny bit of money for sharing. But I only share products and services that I personally love and use :) 
Creating a Stationery Business at home

At the moment, I personally print the majority of my products. (Update March 2023: I now outsource most of my printing! But I understand outsourcing printing is a big expense and some folks aren't ready to scale up. I still stand by these printer recommendations if you're just getting started and working towards scaling and outsourcing).
Prints, calendars, postcards and greeting cards are all printed in my tiny studio. I'm now at the point where I need to outsource most of my printing (yay!) but in the beginning, printing at home was the most cost effective way to test out designs without being left with a stockpile of product that wasn't selling. That being said, printing at home can also be more time consuming, and may cause you to lose money (via lost hours that could/should be spent on designing new products) but in the very beginning I think it was a good move for me personally. 
I have TWO printers that I use! My first is a printer/scanner that I've upgraded to the newest model 3 times over the years, the Epson XP-960. This was my first printer and it's a work horse. While you have to feed the thick paper through the rear slot one sheet at a time, it has great results.

My second printer (and now main printer) is the Canon Pixma Pro-100. A lot of other stationery folks use this printer too and it's a solid choice. The ink can get expensive but it does last for quite a few print runs. It also feeds itself which is nice when I have giant orders. At first I didn't like it's printed results until I started researching better paper options...

Full disclosure...I was buying my card stock from Michaels...for years. It was the most affordable option (and still is) and just a great THICK card stock option. But the combination of this card stock with my Canon printer wasn't giving me the best results. Especially with how much money I invested in that printer, I knew something needed to change.

After researching different forums, I realized I needed to upgrade to card stock made specifically to go through an ink jet printer. I felt SO stupid I didn't realize this sooner but I'm in love with the results now that I've switched. I'm still looking at other suppliers but I currently use Red River Paper. Their paper is great, I now order about 3 different kinds for various products. 

Have I mentioned how much I love Michaels? I also used to buy my kraft envelopes from Michaels! Anytime I had a killer coupon, I'd clear the shelves of their 50 packs of envelopes and giant packs of card stock! I still keep a few packs on hand for emergencies but have since upgraded to a bulk supplier that I love.

I first met Announcement Converters at the National Stationery Show in 2018. They have a great selection, great bulk prices and are just overall wonderful to work with. I'm still researching their paper selection (there's a LOT to choose from) for cards as well. Heinrich Envelope is another company I met at NSS that I've considered buying from as well.

Shipping Supplies:
As a stationer, I have to pack all my cards in individual clear sleeves so they can be sold by me and my wholesalers and still be clean and pretty! I buy my A2 compostable cellophane sleeves from Clear Bags! Another contact I met through NSS that I've continued to use and love.

For my shipping boxes, squishy envelopes and stiff shipping envelopes, I order in bulk from Clear Bags. While Uline has competitive prices, they're an awful business that spends a lot of money funding fringe extremist political campaigns. If you currently shop from them, I'd encourage you to research their terrible practices (Refuse Uline has a great breakdown) and find a different supplier. 

In 2019, I also upgraded to the Label Writer 4XL for printing my postage at home with a basic kitchen scale for weighing. I print my postage (at wholesale prices) through Pirate Ship, they're the best! I was recommended to these guys by my Post Office guy in Pasadena after I showed up to mail 30 Mother's Day orders...on the last day to mail taxes. I haven't paid for regular postage or stood in a line since!

For everything else...tape, bubble wrap, assorted boxes...I usually just order through Amazon (click here to see my go-to shopping list of supplies).
I'm still working on finding a local printer here in Berkeley for my cards but here are some other companies I've used for other products. I outsource my enamel pins to The Studio and stickers to Sticker Mule. My notepads are made through local print shops in California. 
I also used Zazzle for LOTS of things! Packaging stickers, pins, business cards, stamps...they're a really great tool (and you get good discounts!)
Society 6 is another great site for getting things printed/produced! I've had friends wait for a killer sale to order notebooks, totes, mugs or pouches to then try and sell to test if there's any interest within their audience before investing in a giant order with a manufacturer. I'm also just personally addicted to getting phone cases or facemasks with my own artwork on it! It's a great case, but also doubles as advertising. 

Other Business Tools:
These are all just good resources for folks getting started or looking for a suggestion on platforms to help run their businesses. I have a post about tips for doing craft markets but I'll work on a bigger break down of tools specifically for doing craft shows too! 
  • Etsy: I have MANY issues with Etsy but it's hard to deny that it's an affordable and well known platform for new businesses to sell their goods (and hopefully phase out as their business grows)
  • Shopify: When you're ready to phase out Etsy, I recommend Shopify. It's a great platform to sell on but you definitely have to work to drive traffic to your shop still. Squarespace is also good but has a steeper learning curve. 
  •  Faire, Bulletin and Handshake: These are wholesale platforms. If you're already humming along as a business and want to branch into wholesale, research these platforms and give Proof to Product a listen too! Katie Hunt is such a killer resource! 
  • Weebly: My personal website is built on Weebly and I LOVE IT. Great templates, drag and drop building and decently priced. 
  • Hover: Before you build the website, you need to buy the domain. I've bought all my domains through Hover and have their email for Sketchy. It's good to have your domain separate from your website host in case you ever want to switch platforms! 
  • Square: When you're ready for markets, I recommend the Square swiper! Paypal has their own too but I really like the Square interface. Shopify has their own POS which I now prefer instead. 
  • Quickbooks: You're going to have to keep track of income and expenses with your business, and Quickbooks is a great tool for that. They're helpful when it comes time to file taxes straight through Turbotax too. 
What other business tools and resources have been your favorites, friends?
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