How To Make Magnetic Paper Dolls and Not Lose Your Mind in the Process

Spoiler: you still might lose your mind anyway

by Erin

You know those inspirational posters your school guidance counselor had plastered to his or her walls? The little cat advising you to “Hang in there!” and the unicorn telling you that your dreams are important? Those posters are ridiculous. Everyone knows that cats can’t do chin ups; what was that kitten thinking?

But it’s true; your dreams are important and sometimes you do need to hang in there. So what happens when you envision something that seems so cool and then realize, half way through, that your dream is way more work than you thought? Do you hang in there, or do you know when to call it quits? And at what point do you realize that all of your hard work, cramping muscles and long, sleepless nights are in service of something that is likely to be forgotten by the person you are making it for?

Enter my Save the Date conundrum.

After I entered into an engaged state of being, I immediately knew four basic truths. One, that I was going to marry my best friend. Two, that I had to buy the APW book. Three, that I wanted Elissa R as our photographer. And four, that I had the best idea for Save the Dates ever.

“They’re like, magnetic paper dolls,” I explained to my fiancé over breakfast, using my hands in broad exaggeration to explain how cool this idea was. “People can dress us up for the wedding! Or put me in a suit and you in a dress! It’ll be so fun!”

“It sounds like a lot of work,” he said, dubiously. “Oh, no,” I replied. “It’ll be fine. Just leave it all to me!”

Famous last words, my friends. Famous. Last. Words.

My idea for magnetic paper dolls was inspired by my friend Lee’s fridge, on which she has a slightly-less-than-clothed Barack Obama, rocking blue boxers and his swoony grin. (She claims that she’s lost the clothes that went with him, though I suspect she just likes that the President is hanging out in his skivvies on her refrigerator door.) Having loved paper dolls since I was a child, I thought it’d be adorable to send out Save the Dates in that fashion—my intended and me, all dressed up for the wedding!

The first step was to find someone with actual artistic talent to commit my fiancé (heretofore known as The British Ambassador) and me to fridge stardom. My friend Alix, who apart from being a super talented artist, is just a super cool human, rose to the occasion! After a few rounds of back and forth and “can you make my hair shorter and my boobs smaller” requests, she had both of us in paper-doll-like format! After an amusing look through wedding websites for suit and dress inspiration, we had our templates!

(Yes, that big poofy dress is inspired by Princess Diana’s, as an inside joke between me and approximately no one. And the short dress is based on an actual number from David’s Bridal, should you be so inclined.)

Cute, right? I think so!

Upon receipt of the drawings, I took myself off to a printing place to have them printed. Enter Problem Number One.

Problem Number 1: What paper should these be printed on?

Should I print them directly to magnetic sheets? But they need a glossy finish! I know; I’ll pick super expensive glossy brochure paper, because throwing money away is fun!

Don’t be like me, kids. If you should decide to take a project like this on, do your research. I’m pretty sure there are better and cheaper options out there. (On the upside, the glossy brochure paper had a great quality and definitely worked well. It wasn’t a bad choice, just an expensive one.)

Once the drawings were printed out, I figured the best way to go about making the magnets was to rough-cut the people and clothes out, and then attach them to the magnetic sheets. This was no more or less time consuming than any other option, I think, though I did idly wonder if this could be done on a Cricut or Silhouette machine and have it mostly automated.

People and clothes having been cut out, it was time for the next step: attaching them to the magnet sheets.

Problem Number 2: Holy crap, the magnet sheets.

If I thought the fancy brochure paper was expensive, I was not at all prepared for the magnet sheets. Each one by two feet magnet sheet fit almost three full Save the Date sets on it, and each magnet sheet was about $9. That led to:

Problem Number 2A: how many freaking people are we inviting to this wedding?

Once we’d finally nailed down a guest list, I counted up the numbers and realized that I’d have to make about ninety Save the Date sets. Ninety. Nine zero. Go ahead and do the math on how many magnet sheets I had to buy and how much it cost; I’ll wait.


Okay, so, now that I’ve sunk lots of money into this project, it can’t get any worse from here, right? Ha ha ha, you sweet, summer child.

Problem Number 3: These things take forever to make.

Each Save the Date set took approximately an hour to cut-adhere-cut-assemble. An hour. Go ahead and do the math again; I’ll wait.

Yep! Ninety or so hours total, to make Save the Dates that cost at least $3.50 each in supplies (not to mention postage; let’s not even mention postage. Please, I don’t even want to think about postage ever again).

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking the exact same thing that I was thinking for six weeks during this long, arduous process: “Girl. Are you smoking crack?”

I wasn’t smoking crack, although I won’t say the thought didn’t cross my mind a time or two while I was hip deep in magnet scraps. And was this project possibly too much to handle? Almost definitely. But I would do them again in a heartbeat (well, perhaps a wine-fortified heartbeat), because in investing so much time and effort into a project, I learned some very simple truths:

Truth Number 1: Is this person worth it?

I’m not going to lie; there were a few people on the guest list that I grumbled about inviting, but put on anyway because I felt like I had to. But once I was in the Save the Date process, it really forced me to think about each recipient, because I felt like I was making the magnets specifically for those people. Was I happy about spending an hour or more of my precious free time on crafting something for this person? No? Then why the hell was I inviting them to my wedding? All of those people I’d waffled on before I was able to remove from the guest list without any doubts or guilt.

Truth Number 2: Friends are friends forever, if you have a lot of champagne.

People are always telling you to reach out to your friends and family when you need help with DIY efforts, and I always sort of eschewed that advice until I realized just what I was up against. I bribed my friends with champers and braised short rib tacos, and they helped knock out about twenty sets in a few hours!

Of course, this also led to this slightly awkward, dashed off reminder to self, since they took their Save the Date sets home with them:

Truth Number 3: My fiancé is Awesome.

The British Ambassador was not able to help out much with these, since we are currently biding our time in a very long-distance relationship. But he came down for a weekend and cranked out as many as he could, while complimenting me on my craftiness abilities the whole time. Doing such mundane but necessary(-ish) work together was such a reaffirmation of just why I’m marrying this guy: for all those wonderful quiet moments that are better with him by my side.

Truth Number 4: Sometimes it’s worth it, and sometimes it isn’t.

I’m so glad that I did such an overwhelmingly timely and (for me) costly project relatively early in the game. Why? Because it’s set the barometer for every wedding-related decision since. Time after time, my fiancé or I have found ourselves asking: “Is this actually worth the effort? Will we end up caring as much as we cared about the Save the Dates?” If the answer is no, then it just doesn’t get added into the wedding. Easy peasy!

Truth Number 5: I can take my passion and make it happen!

I’m not really a creative person and I typically lack the ability to take a concept and actually put it into something I can see and touch. Basically, I have ideas, but no follow though. But I totally rocked this project (well, except for the actual artistic part; I’m not Superwoman)! Which just goes to show that exercising kitten is right: sometimes you do have to hang in there.

(The completed set on my fridge. If nothing else, my niece and daughter love them.)

Photos from Erin’s personal collection

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  • Jessica B

    I love these! I’m very impressed with how much work you put into them–I probably would have stopped at buying the magnets and just sent paperdolls without those tags to attached them to one another. I can tell you if I were a guest invited to your wedding those things would travel with me the rest of my life (or until they fell apart).

    • Erin

      Jessica, that is the nicest thing to say! Thank you!

  • … I won’t lie. I snickered at your white board note: “Give STDs to:”

    Heh. Heh. Heh.

    Also, good advice about the wedding guest list A-HA moment.

    • Erin

      It took me a good long time to wipe my board clean (eventually I needed to make a shopping list), because every time I walked by, I chuckled. My friends and I are VERY close.

    • Rebekah

      As I finished reading the post, I thought to myself, “I am going to make a list like this for everyone, just so I can have something that says ‘Gave STDs to: Grandma’ on display at my house for a few months.” You know, for giggles.

  • Rachel

    I have nothing constructive to say except this post is awesome.

  • KM

    these are really really cool Save The Dates!! (and good for you that you learned so much in the process)

  • These are so cool!!!

  • I love those paper dolls!! Stunning. And the truths you gleaned are priceless. Yeah, an hour of crafting would definitely lead to some serious elimination! :) “It sounds like a lot of work” is practically a quote from my husband after every idea I tell him. Haha. Mostly because he ends up having to do the bulk of it. See Truth #3. Haha.

  • I love your STDs!! So fantastic! I made my own STDs, invitations and wedding dress. My favorite of all of these was our STD. And there is just something about weddings with a deadline that force us to finish the creative projects that we start. Now that I have no deadline and no reason, I don’t finish anything. It well done! I love them! And you and many of your friends and family members will have them on the fridge long after your wedding. Which I think makes it so worth it!

  • Liz

    Those are absolutely adorable. We had a similar project, stenciling 20 10′ table runners at 1.5 hours each…It was actually an awesome bonding experience and fun. And a productive way to watch a season of the Bachelorette :)

    • Erin

      I learned quickly that I couldn’t do this while watching certain shows on Netflix (ahem, Hemlock Grove), because I’d get so angry at the TV that I’d accidentally dismember cartoon Me or cartoon Fiance. Then I tried to watch, like, Louis CK standups during the crafting but the same thing happened when I’d laugh. I should have tried something like Toddlers and Tiaras!

  • Rachel

    Favorite project ever????

    I am now figuring out ways to make these for my sister’s bachelorette party. Skivs for her and her fiance might be fun and not too awkwardly inappropriate, right?

    • Erin

      Do it!! Our underthings were pretty appropriately modest – although I sent a hand-penned note to my great uncle, because I didn’t think he’d appreciate seeing cartoon me in any sort of fictional stage of undress.

  • Emilie

    I love how these turned out! I wonder if you could short cut the whole process by just finding wedding paper dolls and making naked cartoons of you and your partner that are the right size and shape to fit in something that already exists.

    • Erin

      I bet there are LOTS of ways to do this easier/cheaper. I really should have put more investigatory work into the whole situation earlier, but it was hard to explain the vision (yikes, that sounds so pompous) accurately to people, so no one could come up with an easier way.

  • Emily

    I love the idea and I’m incredibly impressed! And I very much sympathise with the pain (and revelations!) of going through the whole process.

    I wish, though, that I could have learned the “Is it worth it?” lesson better, since I haven’t dropped any of my crazy crafty ideas after the great invitation letterpressing nonsense of spring 2013. I’m telling myself that I continue to torture myself with folding flowers, wedding bingo, or stringing necklaces, because I’m admitting that they’re mostly for me, and I would be more unhappy with myself if I _didn’t_ do them. And I have no interest in spending 1-2 orders of magnitude more on fresh flowers vs. paper ones.

    Congrats on getting through them! I’d love to borrow the idea for a more scaled-down occasion, if you’re willing.

  • Celina

    I remember reading your comment (a week or two ago) that mentioned these paper dolls. I’m so glad they got you to write this post! Great job on finishing this time consuming project. I also have a time-consuming save-the-date that I want to do- a video, for which I have absolutely no experience doing. But it’s my wedding and I want to do it! lol. Your post pretty much let me know that I can get it done. I just need to bribe my friends with champagne. :-)

  • These turned out beautifully! You’ve given me hope, especially since I’m starting my own magnetic Save the Dates process. Hopefully cutting squares will be less time consuming than dolls- though I think your dolls steal the show. They would definitely have the place of honor on my fridge!

    Any suggestions for glue? Or did you find magnetic sheets with adhesive backing? What did you find most effective for cutting the magnetic sheets?

    • Erin

      I found the ones with adhesive backing, which were so much easier to use, I thought. And for cutting, I actually just used regular scissors! At one point I had a set of thicker magnet sheets and cutting them with regular scissors was very arduous and dulled the scissors, but the thinner sheets (which I found at Michaels) were very easy to cut through!

      • Thanks for the additional information! Adhesive backing sounds pretty easy. Did it gum up the scissors at all?

    • I haven’t tried to cut them, or estimated the cost, but you can actually buy inkjet printable magnet sheets now from Dick Blick Art Supplies or big office stores like Staples.

    • Megan

      I’d recommend going to a local sign shop to get a quote for custom magnets. They are able to print images on vinyl, and then cut them using machines.

      • I hadn’t thought of that! Hm… time to do some price comparisons…

  • Two things.

    First (and most importantly), I really hope your British Ambassador will be wearing a top hat at the wedding because he looks quite dapper.

    Second, I keep all the save the dates we get on our fridge, so this makes me wish we were friends, because these are the BEST.

  • Senorita

    Holy cow this was flippin’ hilarious. If I had a nickle for every time I said those favorite last words…

  • ElisabethJoanne

    For us it wasn’t a craft project, but choosing a venue, that was an early project, took a ton of time, and was really stressful. It had the same effects of teaching us teamwork and putting later decisions into perspective.

  • “Yes, that big poofy dress is inspired by Princess Diana’s, as an inside joke between me and approximately no one. ”

    You are hilarious and I kind of want to be your best friend. I hope you write more for APW! These save the dates are fantastic!

  • Oh honey child, I made magnetic paper dolls for my senior thesis (4 year BFA in illustration) and I spent a good 9 months perfecting my set. I only ended up making about 10 printed/magnetized dolls with outfits, but I plan on doing more in the future. (You can see some of them on my website)

    Pro-tip: They make gigantic rolls of magnetic adhesive sheets. Like… I have a 2′ x 30′ roll that weighs at least 40 lbs… and it was $30 on ebay. I can already hear the swearing under your breath.

  • “…you sweet, summer child.”

    Ahaha. HaHAHAHAHAHA. +1 for ASoIaF reference and +1000000 for the awesome end product!

  • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

    I like that the process of investing that much time in the save-the-dates helped you reflect on who you were inviting. When I actually send my Christmas cards (still haven’t gotten the 2011 batch out…..) I have similar time-intensive process. And every time it makes me question, “Am I still in contact with this person? Do I want to be?”

    • Exactly this. My Christmas cards really make me realize how I care about people. I usually sit down with a long list, but since I write each card by hand, I end up narrowing it down to the people I really care about/am close to/ or wish I was closer to. They end up being an act of love instead of an obligation. It’s a really cool process.

      • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

        Y’know. I’m home alone without social events for the next two weekends. There’s going to be a lot of going in to work, but maybe I’ll actually get my cards sent. I like this plan.

  • Manya

    So fun! Our invitations were a complete labor of handmade love like this. I only had 50 of them to do and they almost killed me, but they are still one of my favorite things about the wedding. I would LOVE getting an STD like this!

  • SarahT

    These are so great!! I had time-intensive invitations (that also ended up being way more expensive than if I had done almost anything else) and several people questioned my sanity in the process. But they are one of my favorite things from the whole wedding. This was actually one of the things I learned from APW-decide for yourself what is going to be worth it and go for it! I love paper dolls myself and think these are amazing!!

  • LOL!! this is awesome!!

  • Libby

    Ohhhh Lordy, I made 4 sets of these, one each for our bridesmaids, MC, and celebrant, and I LOST MY MIND! 90 sets??? I can’t even BEGIN….