How to Make Watercolor Wedding Place Cards

by Meg Keene, CEO & Editor-In-Chief

So, hilariously, until last week, I’d forgotten that place cards were such a hot topic of debate in wedding land. So, before we dive into our crafty watercolor place cards (a super easy technique you could totally use on anything from save the dates to invites to programs), let me give you my thoughts on place cards. Basically, If you’re having a seated meal reception, I’m pro assigning seats (or at least tables). Yes, yes, it seems all fussy and impractical, but that’s till you imagine yourself as a guest who knows four people at the wedding, walking into a reception and realizing you have to pick your own seat. Social Anxiety, welcome. So, for sit down meals, I think place cards are an only-slightly-pain-in-the-ass way to take care of your guests. But only you know for sure if you need them. Mix and mingle receptions? Bar receptions? Receptions where everyone knows each other really well? Probably not needed. But it hardly matters, because you can watercolor it up on just about any kind of paper good.

And with that, let’s get crafty.

To get this going, tape a piece of watercolor paper to a hard flat surface. Seriously. You’re going to want to buy regular paper to save money. This will seem like a good idea till you realize that the non-watercolor paper warps, and then you have to iron it. This is only entertaining when it’s not happening to you. So buy water color paper.

Then, draw a grid on paper for place cards (or whatever size stationery you’re creating). Wet paper all over with plain water, using a brush. Then, starting with watercolor on one edge of each place card, fade outwards. Feel free to use plain water from the other edge, to really feather out the color.

Let the cards dry. If you were idiots like us and didn’t buy watercolor paper, iron your paper. (I know.) Then write names on each card and sit back and accept compliments. This is one of those brilliant craft projects that looks way way harder than it is. Which is basically the APW specialty. Lazy girl crafting, that’s us.

Photos by Emily Takes Photos, Crafting by Elizabeth of Lowe House Events, Graphic Design by Michelle Edgemont (all APW advertisers). Chairs, linens, glassware, dishes, silverware, all provided by Encore Event Rentals in Petaluma, CA, who were awesome.

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. She has written two best selling wedding books: A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two children. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit #NASTY

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  • Beautiful work, ladies! I totally agree re place cards if you’re having a sit-down meal – it might be a pain in the a*s working out a seating plan, but that’s nothing compared to the trauma for a guest of having to pick your own seat if you don’t know anyone or your group is an awkward number. Plus if you don’t even allocate tables, you could end up with the pushiest/fastest people up front and your nearest and dearest somewhere near the fire escape. Not ideal.

    In the spirit of lazy DIY, if you don’t have beautiful handwriting like Elizabeth, I saw this DIY calligraphy cheat recently which looks easy peasy and would work beautifully with the watercolour background:

    • meg

      Cough. That’s MY normal handwriting, thank you very much. I know, I know. I’m not crafty, so you wouldn’t think. But I do have nice writing.

      • Ha! Well, since you said in the credits that she did the crafting, she was my best guess – but I apologise, Meg. YOU have beautiful handwriting.

  • Contessa

    Making seating cards/assigning tables is a VERY kind thing to do even if it gives you a headache. No one likes to wonder who wants to sit with them!

  • what would you do for a casual, bbq-themed, buffet wedding meal? Place cards or no? I’m on the “no” bench, but we’ve realized that not everyone we know knows each other, but enough of them know each other that it shouldn’t be an issue..

    • Alison

      My question exactly…we are BBQ in a park shelter, with picnic tables, do we leave it up to chance?

      • Umpteenth Sarah

        I did similar to a BBQ with picnic tables (there were picnic tables) and we did not do assigned tables, seats, etc. It was fine — although we had a pretty perfect 6/way split (my family, his close family, his extended family, his high school friends, my home friends, my away friends) so the tables separated naturally.

      • blimunda

        At a friend’s wedding they had BBQ/buffet and picnic tables and benches. They only assigned tables with signs like “bride’s coworkers”, “friends from school”, “groom’s family” etc. It was useful because there were about 350 people (!) and still left space for changing seats and mingling.

    • meg

      It depends. I think if you have people (anyone, really) that knows less than four people, it might be worth it. But if you don’t do it, you need to have someone ASSIGNED to those people to make them feel ok. At our welcome BBQ, people definitely ended up feeling left out. What happened is that there were CORE groups of people, particularly a bunch of us who had known each other since time immemorial (David and I grew up together, after all), and that crew naturally broke off and started having a GRAND old time. That was the bulk of people our age, and it made it profoundly hard for everyone else to break in. If we’d had seating, we would have interspersed that group with other people, and it would have been far more cohesive.

    • lmba

      We did something much like this (but family-style rather than buffet) with everyone sitting at picnic tables. We went with assigned seats because we wanted to make sure that people ended up somewhere they would be comfortable with (and that “difficult” guests would end up with someone who could deal). We didn’t do anything paper though, since it was all outdoors and a potentially windy location. My BFF and I just went down to a wilderness-y part of town that had a lot of smooth-ish stones and collected a few buckets full the week before the wedding (in the rain, no less). We washed them off in the kitchen sink, let them dry, then Sharpie’d everyone’s names onto them. They were perfect because they conveniently held down everyone’s napkins and looked nice with pretty much no fuss (and no waste, since they could just be returned to the great outdoors afterward). We also used these to mark “reserved” seats for certain guests in the ceremony.

      • meg

        Ha. “Difficult” guests. That’s a whole other thing I didn’t think of. YES. Seating them wisely is… time well spent. Also, I didn’t bring it up since it’s not an issue for us. But, in families where there have been painful divorces, or are fights going on, seating people can TOTALLY be a drama eliminator. Don’t get along? Great, you’re on opposite sides of the room.

        • This? Totally why I’m considering place cards

          • KateM

            Ha! I have a close large group of friends that have ex’s among them. We joke that one of my girlfriends is going to have a whole table of ex’s at the wedding. It is just easier on all the guest to know where you are going. We are having a BBQ buffet with assigned tables.

  • melissa

    I loved making the seating arrangement. I felt like a matchmaker for friendships. The drunkies over here. The uptight ones over here. The goodie-goodies over here. More drunkies over here, by me.

    • Liz

      We could be great friends.

  • Cass

    Somewhere along the line I was told that if your meal will be served buffet-style, there is no need for assigned seats because the meal is so informal. And when everyone gets up for food and drinks, they will have a chance to change seats or mingle.
    My family also liked to inform me that “People will just get up and sit where they want anyway, so why fuss?”
    Words to live by. Why fuss?

    • meg

      Well, fuss to take care of people. It might be the one thing worth fussing over. I get SUPER stressed if I buffet for my food and then realize groups are all sitting and talking, and I don’t know people and can’t break in. David and I have ended up sitting *alone* at weddings like that, and leaving early. Yes, people will totally move, but if you take care of them first, you won’t end up with people isolated and leaving early.

      • Adrienne

        Thank you for clarifying this, everyone! We’ve been going back and forth on placecards at our brunch buffet, but everybody’s comments on the issue have made up my mind to have them.

        • meg

          Someone pointed out on Twitter that the brillant Miss Manners is in favor of place cards, as it’s nice for people to feel that you’ve made a place just for them. I’ll add that she *also* points out that it’s traditional for guests to sneak in to the party early, and do a tiny bit of re-arranging… to maybe position themselves nearer to a romantic interest, for example. So, I think they are wise, but not to be taken too seriously. People will re-shuffle themselves a bit, but that so much better then them feeling like they have no place.

      • Cass

        For my wedding reception (145 people) we ended up not having a seating arrangement. I had one completely planned out ahead of time, but never used it. When the day came, people basically sat where I had thought to arrange them on the seating chart. Everyone seemed to find some place to sit, and I didn’t notice anyone sitting alone.
        There also wasn’t the awkward “Oh, you brought a date you didn’t tell me about? What table should we move you to?…” conversation.
        About 4 people brought dates that I didn’t anticipate on, so if there had been a strict seating chart, it could have been hard to find seats for 8 people, so my guests could sit with their dates.

        • meg

          Well, I will say seating charts are living breathing things. We had people who didn’t show, and other people just moved to fill in those slots. These things work themselves out.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Unless, of course, lack of experience with weddings or unusual circumstances trap a guest at a table, so as not to abandon the one other guest at that table, even once the meal’s over, even once dancing starts, even after the cake cutting. But I won’t re-hash that.

      • Jennifer Lyn

        This happened at a wedding my husband and I were invited to… There were place cards and our whole table got up and left us. Needless to say, we left early. (and I felt guilty because it was my roommates wedding… Yeah. )

    • “And when everyone gets up for food and drinks, they will have a chance to change seats or mingle.”

      I would be so sad if I went up to get food and someone else was sitting in my seat when I came back. :-( Does this really happen?

      • meg

        Yes. But you can totally push them back out of your seat ;)

      • Basically every wedding I’ve ever been to was buffet style, and I have never seen this happen during the meal. After, when the party starts? Sure, of course. But during the meal? That would be so rude. Are planning on drinking my wine, too? Weird.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Also, you can tell your tablemates, “I’ll be right back. Please save my seat.”

  • I would also note that watercolor paper has a pretty heavy texture and the more pronounced that texture (I would recommend arches cold press watercolor paper) the better it will highlight the watercolor.

  • Amanda

    You can also use watercolor paper for invites! I bought a few pads of watercolor paper with a beautiful texture to it (140 lb. to boot), cut it up into invitation and reply card size and printed on it with my color printer. The paper ended up being WAY cheaper than if I had gotten lovely texturized 140 lb. stuff at a fancy paper shop. And if you buy one pad at a time and use Michael’s 50% off coupons…. well, its crazy cheap.

  • Ok, I was already excited to do some DIY stationary stuff for my wedding. But now? I’m about a million times more excited because clearly that is amazing results and looks surprisingly easy. WIN!

    • meg

      SHOCKINGLY easy. Particularly if you buy the right paper, achem.

      • Elizabeth @ Lowe House

        Ok- that actually WAS watercolor paper, just SUPER CHEAP watercolor paper, because Emily and I were being overly thrifty at the craft store, and I’ve been out of art school for too long. Sigh.

    • yes. Am tempted to make placecards next time our friends come over when its our turn for our weekly “You cook dinner so we don’t have to” night. Since there’s only 6 people tops, I will be looked at veerrry strangely.

      Still tempted.

  • What a beautiful DIY wedding idea! Watercolors are so light and pretty. They would be the perfect complement to a spring/summer wedding!

  • Angie B.

    Oh, woe is the wanna-be-DIYer with terrible handwriting. Such a beautiful idea I would like to use, but my chicken scratch would cancel out the pretty paper!

    • I can imagine that people with less than presentable handwriting have long since discovered ways around hand lettering: Maybe using a laser printer and then applying watercolors? Maybe painting the paper, waiting for it to dry and then passing it through a normal inkjet printer (so the ink doesn’t run)…Or recruiting a friend with nicer handwriting… or pulling out an old fashioned typewriter… or using transfer letters or letter stamps?

      maybe even using the watercolor paper as the background to a picture of the person, and do without the handwriting!

      • meg

        Hint, I’d print FIRST, water color after (and use waterproof inks). A typewriter might be brillant for this. Also, there is something nice about handwriting that is yours, chicken scratch or no.

  • I just realized that I totally didn’t think about place cards or seating charts in any sort of fashion before our wedding. So now I know why my extended family sat in one table, his extended family sat in another table, our friends in a 3rd and his high school friends in another. It worked out in the end, no-one feeling left out (I hope) but I can imagine that in a wedding with more than 30 people and if we’ve had people who didn’t fit into any of those categories (or who didn’t get a seat in the table where they would’ve fit in), they would’ve felt left out and awkward… Thank goodness things worked out, if I had known, this type of EASY place card would’ve been just the right thing to make!

  • These are so pretty I would even do them for a regular breakfast at home! Seriously amazing, ladies!

    • Maddie

      I want to have breakfast at your house.

  • Daynya

    Another FUN and easy alternative tip for the above tutorial: You can write the names ahead of time in white crayon, then when you watercolor over them, they show up in white because the paint doesn’t adhere to the wax. It looks awesome!

    • oooooooooh

    • meg


  • So, placecards make me feel all squishy and nice inside. This is because the couples that have done it have stories like “well we just thought you guys should Totally be friends with this person but you never would have spoken to them otherwise” or “well, you guys are the Hilarious Troublemakers from all parts of our lives, so we put you together”. Usually whoever I’m seated with immediately claims that we are Best Table, and we start making cheers like at summer camp. In fact, I still remember that I was Table 8 at a wedding two years ago, because we are still friends now and we high-fived A Lot about Table 8. So I’m pro-placecards :).

  • I’ve been loving all the watercolor stationery I’ve been seeing lately & I’m going to give this a whirl for a party :-)

  • Caroline

    Most watercolor paper will also curl slightly. The key is to tape your paper down, wet it thoroughly, let it dry, then procede with wetting it and painting. That said, still do buy watercolor paper, it will look so much nicer than regular paper, and absorb the paint well.

  • Leah

    Another great crafty idea! Makes me kinda bummed we’re NOT using place cards at our wedding. Which leads me to my thoughts on assigned seating:

    We are going to have an all finger-foods/appetizers mix-and-mingle type reception, partly because we’re so anti-seating chart and I just didn’t want to deal with the drama. I have had some *awful* experiences at weddings due to seating fiascos. Usually it’s meeting a great person/couple/group at the cocktail hour and then not being able to spend more time with them over dinner, which kinda sucks but oh well. But one particularly bad evening, me and my FH went to a wedding where we knew a grand total of 2 people (besides the ones getting married). But we weren’t seated with them- we got placed with half of a large group of friends who promptly drug their chairs over to their other friends and left us at a 10-top completely alone. And there weren’t even any chairs left for our two friends to sit and chat! It was completely embarassing to be so obviously dismissed by our table-mates, and we ended up leaving early. NOT the memory I want to have of a dear friend’s happy day.

  • Joanna

    These look super pretty! I’m a bit confused about place cards in general though. This is going to sound like a very silly question, but do people get to the reception, and walk around to every place card at every table, looking for their own name? Is there a simpler way to navigate this?

    • KateM

      There is normally a master chart at the entry to tell you where your seat is, or if you are assigning a table vs a seat, the place cards are all at the entry alphabetically and have your table number on them.

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  • So I have some tips about paper curling. As the above commenter says all paper warps and curls, including watercolour paper – just not quite as much, mostly because it is thicker I think. In actual fact ironing won’t remove the warping, just smooth it slightly. Water stretches paper so that it is no longer a flat plane.

    The solution: Use gummed tape to stick it down – not just any tape. Gummed tape has glue that activates when wet – like old stamps. Looks like this:

    How to:
    1. find a board big enough, damp it down with a cloth.
    2. Wet paper all over under a tap (in the bath is easiest) – make sure front and back are completely wet.
    3. Carefully lay paper on board, lift edges to remove trapped air bubbles, avoid over touching paper at this stage as it damages easily.
    4. Tear off strips of gummed paper, wet with cloth or under tap and stick down edges of paper – make sure every inch is taped down.
    5. Leave to dry overnight, not near a heat source – it needs to dry evenly.

    6. Paint! The paper has now been stretched to it’s full capacity and left to dry flat so it will stay flat.
    7. Let paint dry completely – do not remove until bone dry
    8. Remove paper with a scalpel, cutting it out from the tape frame

    Gummed tape happens to be one of my favourite art supplies – you can make masks using it and it’s so much fun, plus it’s cheap. I <3 gummed tape!

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  • Kira

    I did this, but I used that fancy print-at-home business card paper that just snaps apart into rectangles–no cutting required! Lazy win. It did need ironing, though.

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