While calligraphy has been a staple in weddings for decades, most DIY brides shy away from it due to the expense of hiring a calligrapher. However, budget brides with time on their hands can easily learn enough calligraphy to DIY inner envelopes, signs, place cards, and a variety of other projects.
Learning calligraphy is a lot like learning handwriting. Once you get the basics down, the rest is merely copy-cat techniques and embellishments.
Below I'll outline how to set up the calligraphy for place cards. The same tools and techniques can be applied to any written wedding project/component.
Place cards (I purchased mine on Craigslist, but any cards will work, including ones you make yourself)
A ruler with at least 1/16" measurements marked on it
A fine point pencil, sharpened
A clean kneaded rubber eraser (generally found at craft/art stores and commonly used for erasing in charcoal drawings)
A fine point calligraphy pen/marker (generally found at craft/art stores; you can use a wider pen, but fine point gives more flexibility so you don't have to be as exact in your strokes; note also, a marker is generally easy for new calligraphers and will be more than enough if you are only planning to do this once or twice in your life)
A calligraphy alphabet to work from
Practice paper (a small notepad or even printer paper will work, nothing special is needed)
1) Print out a copy of the alphabet you choose in order from A-Z, both capital and lowercase letters; include numbers if needed. Ensure your printed alphabet has ample space between the letters (usually add 1-2 spaces between each letter) and the rows (at least 1.5" between lines). Also be sure to increase the font size large enough so you can see the details on the letters (at least 36 point font will probably be needed).
2) Using your pencil for drawing and ruler for measuring, measure and lightly draw in three straight lines below each row of letters, spanning approx 0.75" total (so 0.25" between each of the three lines). This is your work space for learning to write the alphabet. Much like in kindergarten, you will likely need lined paper to see the right strokes to make.
3) Review the following calligraphy basics before beginning: The marker/pen should always be at a 45 degree angle, regardless of the stroke being made. Thick strokes that appear to curve wider on one side are "down" strokes. Thin strokes are generally "up" strokes. Unlike cursive/formal handwriting, one should pick up the marker/pen after each stroke, and the individual letters generally do not connect to each other (more like printing). Very thin curves, arcs, and other flourishes on letters are generally added after the letter is written and are called embellishments.
Practice a few down and up strokes to get a feel for how to write before starting the next steps. (See image attached to this article for an example of how to make each stroke work.)
4) Prepare your calligraphy pen. For markers, this just involves removing the cap. For pen sets, you will need to add ink to the nib, then insert into the body of the pen.
5) Holding the marker/pen at a 45 degree angle, place the tip flat onto the paper below the first letter you printed (probably capital A). Working left to right, starting with a down stroke, draw the letter as you see it in the printed alphabet you selected. The letter doesn't have to be perfect, so a little too much arching, angling, or other quirk adds character rather than detracting from your project's beauty. Calligraphy is more art than science.
6) Repeat step 5 for all of the letters. If you find one particularly difficult, especially if you have a lot of names using that letter, continue practicing it on the scrap/practice paper until you are comfortable with your writing. Note: if you are having difficulties using the marker/pen, you can also write the letters with the pencil, leaving some extra space between them and then copy over the pencil with the marker/pen after you are finished.
7) When you are comfortable with your alphabet, choose a name from your guest list and attempt to write that name on your practice paper. Repeat until you are comfortable writing that name.
8) Measure the same pencil lines from step 2 above onto one of the place cards. The lines should be roughly centered on the card, so you have space both above and below the lines to add flourishes/embellishments, as well as space for low hanging letters such as gs and ys. Generally, the three lines will be at 6/16", 10/16", and 14/16" respectively. Note: If you plan to use both first and last name for each guest, you may need two lines on the card. If you need two lines, you will likely need to adjust to smaller line spacing (0.5" rather than 0.75").
9) Write the guest's name on the lines from step 8, using the techniques you applied in steps 5-6. Again, you can do this in pencil and then go over it with marker/pen if that helps.
10) After ink dries (about 10 min), erase the pencil lines with the kneaded rubber eraser.
11) Repeat steps 9-10 for each guest.
When completed, you'll have beautiful, unique place cards without having spent an arm and a leg. No one will know whether it was done by a professional or not. I won't tell. :)