Wednesday, January 26, 2011

DIY Demystified: Using "dingbats" to bring decorative accents into your invitations

I remember the first time I came upon the concept of dingbats. I was in middle school perhaps, and my family had purchased it's first home computer (yes, young ones, I am THAT OLD). Not having any ability to actually DO anything on the computer, I set about admiring the 12 fonts and typing things like "Hi! Mike Weidner is cute" because I was in middle school and had nothing else better to say. Anyway, I located the Zapf Dingbats and was intrigued to say the least. I could only imagine that these were used for creating some kind of code. Being in middle school also meant that I was an avid notewriter (we didn't text back then, obviously) and often had the need to speak in code, especially regarding Mike Weidner and other crushes, so this seemed quite a plausible purpose. It wasn't until well into my college years when I realized that you actually used them within your text, such as needing a check box or a pair of scissors to illustrate an action.

I'm pleased to say that I've moved beyond that moment of 6th grade creative genius, and the world of dingbats has advanced significantly too. Since "Dingbat" is such an unsophisticated word, and does not express the bounty of design options available, I am heretofore calling Dingbats "Ornaments. Have you ever used the ornaments available to you on your computer? Sure, you can use the open square as a "check box" on your reply card, and you can use the scissors to indicate "remove at the perforation" but there are some clever illustrations and lovely designs that you can use within your invitation designs.

Of course there is the dependable Zapf Dingbats and just because it's been around since the start of computers, doesn't mean it should be disregarded! It's got simple religious symbols like crosses to put at the top of Christening invitations, it's got hearts and check marks and some great stars too. There is even an airplane, which might look cute in your accommodations insert, next to the suggested airports. Or use the symbols on your map, if you are printing one, to indicate where the church is and then the reception area.

Here's a killer design secret: We do not always feel like drawing. Yes, we can do it but often, there is a digital design that works perfectly and there is not a designer in the world who would create their own if a simple click will give them the same effect. It's about overall design, not how much original work you've made for yourself. Sometimes. But we'll debate about that another day.

Try enlarging a single ornament and placing your monogram around it like this save the date. I also used the same ornament to create a pattern for the back of the postcard. The design is elegantly understated, but it has some flair and texture in the details and that's what makes it rich.

You can divide the body of text with a nice calligraphic ornament like these two examples. I used a girly heart for the Valentine luncheon invitation and a sophisticated calligraphy swirl on this formal wedding invitation. Again, a small detail, but it enhances the overall sense of the event.

If you are working with more professional design software like Adobe Illustrator, you can use the dingbats to create borders, or turn them into vector art that you can manipulate into a more complicated design. Here is an example where I was using a border on the blue invitation, and I used a series of calligraphic swirls and ornaments to create this save the date design.

There are standard ornaments that likely came with your computer like Zapf Dingbats, but ornaments are found anywhere fonts are. I use dafont a lot, which has free ornaments including hearts, planes, birds, calligraphic ornaments and borders...the list is surprising and seemingly endless. Some ornament fonts I like are Adobe Woodtype Ornaments, Nymphette, Borderfont Classicals, Borderfont Florals and Type Embellishments One and Two. To find more ornaments, check out font websites like fontsquirrel, and Fontspace. Take a peek around and see what you can find for your invitation. I know you'll be surprised and I hope this adds some fun into your design project.


  1. Gee, I'm feeling so dumb, okay like a DINGBAT. I never thought of all those symbols beyond a typed line...mind is opening up to some fun possibilities. Thanks for taking it to a whole 'nother super inspiring level. Love all the amazing things you've done with standard ornaments!

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