30 April 2012

Fictional Correspondence: Making Your Own Letterhead - Part 1: Design

[UPDATE:  6 June 2012 -- This page posted in 2008 has a bunch of old letterhead designs that you might find useful: http://www.creativepro.com/blog/scanning-around-gene-dead-letterhead-department.]

A fictional correspondence can be greatly enhanced by the use of real-looking stationery.  One characteristic type of stationery is referred to as letterhead.  The good folks at Wikipedia define letterhead as "... the heading at the top of a sheet of letter paper (stationery). That heading usually consists of a name and an address, and a logo or corporate design, and sometimes a background pattern. The term "letterhead" is often used to refer to the whole sheet imprinted with such a heading."

As an owner of a small collection of old typewriters, I thought it would be fun to create a letterhead design that I could use when I send fictional letters to my friends (or their characters) from the 2011 summer wizarding event.

Here is what I created.

 And here is how I made it. 

Part 1: Design (this post) will show you the steps I took to decide what I wanted my letterhead to look like.  The next post (Part 2: Implementation) will show, step-by-step with screenshots, how I created my letterhead using Microsoft Word.

To begin then: the first step is design. I wanted my  letterhead to look old fashioned, so I went online to find examples to inspire my own design. I began by looking for historical models which I found by searching on Google Images.  As a sometime librarian, let me give you a hint about searching for stuff.  Search on too broad or general a word/phrase and you'll get hits/results that are similarly too broad or general. Going too detailed or specific often means fewer, less applicable results. Doing a good search is a matter of term/phrase balance and accuracy.

Figure 1 here shows what happens. Searching using the very general term letterhead got me lots (and lots!) images that looked like this: moderny, corporate stuff.

Figure 1:  Results of 1st search on Google Images

So I tried a slightly more specific search phrase: Vintage Letterhead.  Definitely better. I found some images that were closer to what I had in mind.  

Figure 2: Results of 2nd search on Google Images.

I could have stopped right here as there were lovely samples for me to work from.  The two closeups below show lovely, messy collections of images and fonts that call to mind an entirely different times and places.  Just the sort of thing I wanted for my wizardy-looking letters!


Out of curiosity, since I wanted to see some letterhead with typewriters in them, I searched on the most specific phrase typewriter letterhead.  The results were less successful in that I got a mix of actual letterhead and miscellaneous images of typewriters from, on, or near stationery.

Figure 3: Results of 3rd search on Google Images.

But that one image in the lower left caught my eye.  Here it is close up.

Version of same letterhead with the aged paper background removed.  

Looking at this one, along with some of the images from my second search, I began to get an idea of what I wanted.  Here are some of the characteristics I borrowed from the vintage-era letterhead models.

For me, design works in stages.  First I see something, then I think about it for awhile, and then I try putting in and taking out different things.  For that to work I need the "different things."  In this case, that meant a bunch of different fonts and some graphics/images.

The fonts were pretty easy.  Microsoft Word has a bunch built in.  Plus there are sites online that provide a wide variety for free or very inexpensively. 

One site is called DaFont.Com

I took the time to look at the numerous font choices.  Each category has quite an array.  Here, for instance, are 3 from the Decorative category that might work well on a vintage-look letterhead.

Under Dingbats - Ancient I found these fonts which could be used to provide background images in a letterhead design.

Since I wanted my letterhead to be for a fictional/wizardy typewriter company, my next step was to find an image of a typewriter, preferably an old machine.  Plus I wanted the image itself to look vintage in design.  Finally, I wanted to find an image that was either in the public domain or freely offered by its maker.

This last point in an important one if you plan on selling your work.  Respect for the work of another is ethical and, in some instances, legally necessary.*  Most of my letter art is private and of the fictional, one-off variety sent to a pen friend or fellow letter gamer.  Should I expand my work to sell, I will be sure I have permission for the images I use.

There are endless images and image sites out there.  Doing a search on Google Images using the search phrase typewriter clip art helped me locate what I wanted.

Figure 4: Some results from Google Images.

These two from the search come from sites I like to use: Clkr.com and ClipArt ETC.

Image from Clkr.com

[from their Terms of Use page] "Clker.com is an online sharing service where users share free public domain vector cliparts, or share public domain photos and derive vector cliparts from those photos using clker's online tracer."

 Image from Clipart ETC

[from their home page] "Welcome to quality educational clipart. Every item comes with a choice of image size and format as well as complete source information for proper citations in school projects. No advertisement-filled pages with pop-up windows or inappropriate links here. A friendly license allows teachers and students to use up to 50 educational clipart items in a single, non-commercial project without further permission."

The target audience of Clipart ETC are educators.  Right now I use only the occasional image for personal use. When I expand my work as I hope to, I will be contacting them to license images I want to use.

So, now I have a design concept worked out and have located some fonts and images that I think will work.  In the next post I'll show you how I put them all together to create the letterhead for my wizardy correspondents!

Next up in this series: Making Your Own Letterhead - Part 2: Implementation (to be posted on 4 May 2012).   

* The folks at Clipart ETC do a nice job of explaining what goes into providing their images.  I like it because it reminds us that someone did a heck of a lot of work to provide this material.  
[from their FAQ]  "Why do you have a copyright notice on really old illustrations?  It is true that the original drawings that many items in this collection are based on have long passed into the public domain. However, by the time we have scanned, cropped, cut out backgrounds, fixed broken lines, simplified, sharpened, and otherwise cleaned up the original drawing, the result is a new artwork derived from the earlier drawing. The derivative work is protected by copyright even though the original is in the public domain."

Follow the series.
4. Fictional Correspondence: Making Your Own Letterhead - Part 1: Design (this post)


  1. Great job. Now if only I had the patience to do this. ( :

    1. Thanks, Ton. It is time consuming to a degree. Less so for me know, since I do a lot of this kind of thing so I am familiar with the resources and the method.

      There's nothing that says a fictional correspondence has to be jazzed up this way. One can just write or type on plain paper. For me there is added fun in doing up the theater-y aspect of things, but I have friends who view it more as a shared creative writing exercise - and they focus on the writing alone.

    2. that' NOW -- not KNOW -- typo!

  2. Very nice work. It is one of those --- Now why didn't I think of this (or that) moments. I have been kind of looking for old letterhead to scan and use for private correspondence, but I think this will be more fun. All I need is time.


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