If you’re on the hunt for a new job or simply trying to build up your network of clients or collaborators, a printed letter is still the best way to catch and hold someone’s attention. Compared to an email, a letter has serious weight—it shows you made the effort to design, print and post it, which speaks volumes about how much respect you have for the recipient.
Contacting a design agency or a potential new client? A well-designed letterhead will frame your message beautifully and demonstrate your creative prowess. Spend as much time refining your letterhead as you would a portfolio or résumé, and you’ll be sure to reap the professional rewards.
Want to design your own letterhead, but not sure where to begin? Don’t sweat it! A great letterhead is easier to achieve than you think. Here you’ll find 11 pro tips for nailing an awesome letterhead design…
Looking for recommended letterhead resources? Check out the following article:
Every designer knows that a blank page can at times be incredibly daunting. But before you start simply throwing everything you have at the page, take a moment to set up the basics of your letterhead to a high standard.
First, make sure you’re using the best software for the job. Word or Pages are fine for an ultra-simple layout, but these will impose limitations when it comes to using graphics or an unusual text layout.
A program that’s tailored to creating more flexible publishing layouts is a much better choice and will help you to develop your design more professionally as you go. Adobe InDesign is probably the most suitable program for creating letterhead layouts (or try Quark xPress as a cheaper alternative), but Illustrator is also a great choice for creating a single-page layout.
If you’re determined to use Photoshop, remember to set up your canvas to 300 DPI to avoid any blurring or pixelation when you go to print. Still confused about which software to use? Choose the software you feel the most comfortable with using—you’ll feel more confident with crafting the layout, and the final result will be better.
Secondly, you need to consider the sizing of your letterhead. There are standard sizes for letterheads according to region. Sending a letter within the USA or Canada? Set up your page to US Letter size (215.9 by 279.4 mm, or 8.5 by 11 in). Within most other countries the standard letter size is A4 (210 by 297 mm, or 8.27 by 11.7 in). If you want to fit your letter in a standard sized envelope (which is advisable—these are more economical to print or buy), you’ll have to use one of these standard sizes.
Finally, think about the grid of your layout. Sure, a letterhead isn’t as complex as perhaps a poster or magazine cover, but it still needs a simple grid structure (breaking up the page into square or rectangular sections). Look at other well-designed letterheads and observe the grids they employ.
This letterhead may appear very simple, but you can see how the grid has been carefully considered. It’s split horizontally into thirds, and the top third has been devoted entirely to a logo and a balancing area of white space, while the central third is dominated by the bulk of the letter text.
Tip: In InDesign you can easily create a quick grid layout on your page by going to View > Grids & Guides > Show Document Grid.
2. Bring in a Beautiful Border
Printing technology has evolved at a phenomenal rate over the last couple of decades, and now you’ll find that high-quality, full-color printing is great value whether you opt for professional printing or print from home on a state-of-the-art home printer.
Don’t feel that you have to restrict yourself to a minimal, monochromatic layout for your letterhead—creative use of color can really add a stand-out element to your design and catch the reader’s attention.
That being said, you want to introduce color to your layout in a restricted, elegant way, without distracting from the content of your letter, which is after all the most important element on the page. A border is a great way of doing this, and with more modern home printers able to print up to the edge of the sheet, this is a great option for adding color to your design in a pared-back way.
Borders also help to frame the content of your layer, and in so doing draw attention to the text. A well-designed border acts in the same way as a picture frame would beautifully showcase a painting, helping to focus the viewer’s attention onto the content in the center of the layout.
To keep a border looking modern, consider dropping in graphics instead of block color, as in this calming, forest-inspired design.
Or opt for a graduated, ombré effect for an on-trend look, as in this stylish example.
3. Go Geometric With Background Graphics
Geometric vectors are an eye-catching way to up the style-factor of your letterhead. This is a bold trend that takes inspiration from digital and app design, so it’s a great pick if you’re applying to a tech start-up or web design agency.
You can achieve the low-poly look by creating simple, repetitive shapes in Illustrator or Inkscape, and applying a gradient color effect to create a 3D look.
Or take inspiration from this design, and build up repetitive triangle shapes in a punchy color palette to create a logo-like design which you can repeat on corners and the reverse of your page.
If you’re intending to extend your letterhead design to other stationery, like business cards and envelopes, this geometric style is easy to apply across other media. Simply copy and paste the design onto your other templates to create a uniform stationery set. It can’t fail to blow the socks off any interviewer.
4. Add a Creative Touch With a Header…
A top-heavy header might be one of the more traditional layout styles you could choose for your letterhead, but you can bring it bang up to date by using zesty color or pattern as the backdrop.
This lemon-inspired letterhead template is a great example of how a simple flagpost header can actually look incredibly contemporary and stylish. It’s also a great way of introducing a touch of style to an otherwise conservative design, making it an adaptable template for sending to both corporate and informal employers.
If you have a logo or signature, a header across the top of your layout is the perfect place to showcase it. So if you’re looking to create a memorable brand look for your application, a simple, eye-catching header is a good style to go for.
5. …or an Elegant Edge With a Spine Column
Once you’ve established a basic grid, you have the freedom to divide up your layout to suit your purposes. Pulling out a single column on the left-hand side of your layout can be a really effective technique for breaking up the width of the page, allowing you to maximize the space available to you on the page.
This is a common layout style to use on a résumé, where you might want to place more important details, like a profile photo, contact details, and key skills. However, the same layout style works just as well for letterheads and, as with résumés, is a clever way of drawing attention to key elements on your letter. Placing a logo, your website and your phone number in a colored column ensures that these details will be seen by the reader.
In addition, dividing your letter into a columned structure is incredibly elegant, and looks particularly nice on US Letter-sized layouts where the page is wider and shorter. The column visually stretches the page vertically, creating a more elegant, visually pleasing aesthetic.
6. Adapt to Your Audience
While you’re completely absorbed with perfecting your grid and creating cool graphics to use on your letterhead, you should take a moment to pause and consider who you’re actually sending the letter to.
There’s nothing more inappropriate than sending a multicolored, hip letterhead to a formal, corporate company. Likewise, an ultra-minimal design might not communicate to that young start-up that you’re a fun team member to have around.
Consider who you’re sending your letter to and adapt the style appropriately. This minimal, monochrome design is a perfect fit for a legal firm, for example. You will come across as professional and measured, even before the reader has skimmed the text.
A style like this would also suit a company that’s more traditional at its core. No borders and no color is a convenient choice for a business that might not be super design-savvy—it will be easy for colleagues to photocopy and share your letter amongst themselves.
This minimal yet more design-forward style would be sure to impress an art gallery team or a smart retailer. This again communicates professionalism, but the on-trend logo and elegant layout speak volumes about your understanding of design and style.
Applying to a more informal company but not really sure how to pitch your letter? A letterhead design with a bit of personality, is a good halfway house. Corporate styling and a traditional grid make this an excellent suits-all style.
7. Brand Your Letterhead With a Logo
A bit of self-promotion never hurt anybody, but have you considered creating a complete brand design for yourself? If you’re applying for creative roles, trying to attract more clients, or simply wanting to get a leg-up on the career ladder, creating a brand is a way of telling readers you are serious about your work.
A logo is the best way to get started with creating your brand, and it can be a quick and simple process. Explore simple concepts, using the letters of your initials or your own signature, to create a logo that memorably expresses who you are in a single graphic. This letterhead is a lovely example of a simple brand design.
Mimic the style by setting the first letter of your name in a sans serif typeface and teaming it with a simple color palette. Yellow and gray have a corporate feel, but try other combinations to suit your role. Blues are calming, while green has an eco-friendly feel which suits charities and start-ups.
Are you designing a letterhead for a client or a company of your own? Establishing a consistent brand look across your stationery is vital for communicating the authenticity and solidity of your business. This monochrome panda-inspired brand design is a strong yet simple way of giving your communications a unique and memorable look.
8. Don’t Be Color-Shy
Color is hands down the most effective way of manipulating the psychological impact of your letterhead. When a potential employer opens up your envelope, a shot of color can really set the tone for how they view your letter.
Bright primary tones like yellows, blues and reds are instant mood-lifters and feel assertive and positive.
Going one step further, a spectrum of rainbow hues could put off a more formal readership, but it can set the perfect tone for an employer who’s looking for a candidate who’s going to be a fun, outgoing addition to their workforce.
Rainbow tones can’t fail to raise a smile, so if you want to come across as the sort of person that people want to gravitate towards in the office, being liberal with your use of color can really play to your favor.
9. Pick a Theme and Run With It
A great tip for designing any letterhead or stationery item is to start small. Focus on refining a small element of your design, whether that’s a graphic element, a logo, or a simple colored header or column. Once you’re happy with that single feature, use it to develop a whole theme for the letterhead and for other print media.
Here a color palette of purples, oranges, grays and blues has been applied to a very simple set of shapes. The designer uses these as building blocks for creating a more interesting geometric design, which they use to embellish the letterhead, business cards and other items in their stationery set.
Similarly with this stationery set, a very basic triangle shape has been repeated and scaled up and down to create a beautiful terrazzo-style design.
You can use a single element, whether it’s a color, a shape or a photo (see Tip 10, below) to build a thematic style for your stationery. It’s a surprisingly simple technique for establishing a holistic design quickly.
10. Integrate Photos Into Your Design
A letterhead might not seem the obvious place to showcase your photography skills, but subtly integrating a photo into your design can look incredibly modern and effective.
It goes without saying that if you’re applying for a photography role, it’s certainly not a bad idea to use a photo in the header of your layout, as in this stylish cityscape design.
But any letterhead might benefit from an image. This geometric design is a wonderful example of pulling together shape and color and teaming it with a dramatic photo, creating a futuristic, tech-forward look.
While a portrait shot might seem a bit intimidating or pretentious, a landscape shot or a patterned image can add an extra dimension of interest to your design.
Tip:When using photos in your letterhead layouts, experiment with gradients and transparencies to push images into the background, keeping the overall look subtle and letter-appropriate. In InDesign you can edit the opacity and gradient settings of an image by going to Object > Effects.
11. Build a Uniform Stationery Set
Many of the examples used in this article have demonstrated whole stationery sets, and not simply letterheads alone.
While it may sound like a lot of effort, taking the time to design a whole stationery set can really help to set you apart from other candidates when applying for competitive creative roles. Opening up a branded envelope to find a letter, portfolio and business card in a matching style is an utter delight for an employer reviewing hundreds of indistinct applications, and it will certainly make your letter more memorable.
Creating a whole stationery set needn’t be a daunting task. InDesign is ideally suited for creating different stationery items, and you can find blank templates for envelopes, business cards and more on InDesignSecrets.
In this article we’ve looked at 11 tips and tricks for designing awesome letterheads. This humble stationery item is your key to landing the job or client of your dreams, so design with confidence and you’ll be sure to catch someone’s eye.