Why is calligraphy and hand-lettering so expensive?

For two years prior to starting Charley Paper Company, I created custom calligraphy and hand-lettered invitations, often for wedding invitations and wedding decor. I completely understand brides’ shock at the high prices for a custom calligraphy invitation (often into the thousands of dollars), but having worked on the other side as well, I have a unique perspective into the reasons the price can be so high.

1)      It takes a long time to write something in calligraphy.

Doing calligraphy is completely different from writing in your everyday life. The finished piece may look flowy and effortless, but creating it is takes as much effort and time as creating a piece of artwork. You have to write much more slowly, and you usually have to make a lot of copies until you get one that looks good. A standard wedding invitation, which would take 1-2 minutes to write on paper with a normal pen, easily takes hours to create in calligraphy. Then, the calligrapher has to scan the finished piece, clean it up digitally (get rid of dust specks and ink splatters), fix any mistakes, re-size it, and make sure everything is centered and level before it is sent out to the client. The hours easily add up, and the responsibility falls on the to compensate the calligrapher for all that time. 

2)      You can only do calligraphy a few hours a day.

The only way to make calligraphy look good is to set up your workspace, paper, ink, and pen and nib perfectly, have a “fresh” hand, be alert, awake, and focused, without any muscle fatigue or jitters, and to hold your pen at the perfect balance between firm and loose. If you try to write too early in the morning, or too late at night, or for more than 4-6 hours a day, you might as well not even try. The pen, paper, and letterforms are extremely sensitive to a calligrapher’s hand and state of mind and will reflect everything back. This means that a single project can often use the calligrapher’s entire writing day, and you have to pay accordingly.   

3)      It is a highly-skilled trade that takes years to develop.

A calligrapher has to work for years to learn letterforms, spacing, and extremely detailed muscle control to effect the thickness of lines. Many calligraphers work many more years to develop and refine their own style of lettering. Even when the basics are mastered, it can take literally a decade or more to become confident enough in your tools and style to create effortless-looking words on the page. Adding flourishes to capital letters and at the beginning and ends of words and lines is a whole other skill in and of itself, one that takes a lot of trial and error and studying master calligraphers’ works. Although the training to become a calligrapher is often informal or self-directed, the price does reflect the fact that the person has invested years or decades of his or her life into developing the skill. 

The good news is that today there are many calligraphy fonts that look very similar to hand-written calligraphy: it's indistinguishable to most people. The best fonts are expensive to buy ($100 range), and require a skilled graphic designer to typset them with the appropriate spacing and use the glyphs palette to select which letterform to use for each letter. 

See all of our calligraphy-inspired wedding invitations here