Acrylic and mirror seating charts have become increasingly popular with the rise of Pinterest. They are a perfect way to showcase your guests, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t like to see their name written out all pretty? Seating charts are truly a work of art and make a pretty bold statement too.
I’ve posted a few of these on my Instagram page and after receiving some messages, I figured I’d write my first ever blog post to answer some of your questions (honestly, I blog now? Who am I even?!). So whether you’re looking to DIY your acrylic seating chart or a mirror seating chart, or if you’re just a curious cat, this blog post is for you. I’ll be covering all your tools, process, and general questions but as always, don’t be shy to reach out if I missed anything!
Tools That I Use
Just like baking dessert, make sure you have everything you’ll need before you start so you don’t run into any surprises halfway through. Every calligrapher has different tools in their arsenal. Through trial and error, you’ll figure out what works best for you but for the purpose of this DIY, these are the ones that I personally use and recommend.
Stabillo Aquarellable pencil and sharpener: This pencil is honestly the holy grail of all my tools. It is a water soluble pencil, so it goes on like chalk and washes right off with water. It is perfect for drawing your guides and figuring out the spacing for your lettering. I like to dip my pencil in water so that it draws smooth, and be sure to have a sharpener nearby as you’ll want to keep the tip sharp. Note: because acrylic is a soft material, do not press too hard with the pencil as it will leave a slight trace.
Sharpie oil based marker: Oil based. I cannot stress this enough that it must be oil based. Water based? No. Oil based. Why? Water based markers will scratch off easily, whereas oil based markers stay put. But don’t be nervous, oil based markers are semi permanent and will come off with acetone or Windex so they are very forgiving to work with if you do make a mistake (you probably will, I still do).
Ruler, tape measurer, right angle ruler, level: You’re going to need to do some math in order to space out your sections and lines. Tape measurers are best to get full measurements, and rulers are best for the finer details. I use a right angle ruler or a level to make sure some of my guidelines are straight and at a perfect 90 degree angle.
Acetone, paper towel, Q-tips: You’re bound to run into some mistakes, I definitely still do! Acetone is perfect for removing oil based markers – I use paper towel for larger areas and Q-tips for the finer details.
Calculator: Ok I don’t personally do the math myself and prefer to use Illustrator, but if you don’t have Illustrator or other similar programs, you’ll need a calculator (or your brain if you’re really really good at math).
Before you even touch a marker, you’re going to need to put in some prep work
The first thing you’re going to need to know is how are you formatting your seating chart - by table number or alphabetically? My general rule of thumb is if the guest count exceeds 130 people, go with alphabetical so that guests can find their names more easily. Other than that, it’s totally up to personal preference!
Make sure that you double and triple check spelling before you start. My policy is that I copy whatever is given to me, however it is spelled. With so many ways of spelling certain names, there’s no way for me to know if it’s correct or not. I do not want to be responsible for that so I always tell my clients to double check spelling before sending me their guest list (tip: ask for the list on an Excel of Google spreadsheet)!
Measure 5 Million Times, Write Once
That’s how the saying goes right? There is nothing worse than putting in all this work to write out each name, only to get to the very bottom and find out you still have 5 names to write and no room left to write them. Set yourself up for success and get acquainted with guides, because they’re going to quickly become your best friends. Negative space is equally important as the contents of the seating chart itself. There is no one size fits all when it comes to spacing out names for seating charts. Because each project is custom, the spacing may vary but here’s some key things to remember:
Grids: Count how many tables you are working with and do the math to figure out what kind of grid you want (keep in mind the number of surfaces and total dimensions you’re working with). If you have 12 tables for example, you can do 2 columns of 6 or 3 columns of 4 on a single surface. For uneven table numbers that don’t divide evenly, you can spread it across multiple surfaces or have the remaining table centred above or below the two columns (this is a perfect spot for a head table as well!)
Borders: I typically leave 1” - 3” of space along the border, depending on the size of the surface and the number of guests. But again, this comes down to personal style.
Names: This really depends on the guest count but in general I write the names anywhere from 0.25” - 0.5” in height (I wouldn’t write it any smaller than 0.25” as it will be way too small for Grandma to read!)
Spacing between names: Again, totally dependent on the guest count. I typically leave 0.25” between each name, and 0.75” - 1” for the space left between tables.
Titles: I like to write table number headers at 1” - 1.5” in height, and anywhere from 3” - 5” in height for the main header. Usually I leave the size of the main header as the last component to calculate, as its size is of least importance for readability (in my opinion).
Changed your mind about DIY-ing it? I’ll make one for you!
How to Make a Seating Chart
I use Adobe Illustrator to do my layout because I’m really bad at math. Some people think it’s cheating, but I disagree. I’m still doing the physical work myself (totally freehand and not traced, by the way…), I’m just using a tool that does part of it faster for me. That’s like saying using a calculator is cheating because you’re not doing the math in your head. I know my weaknesses and math is definitely one of them. I found a calligraphy font and a sans serif font that are similar to my handwriting in terms of style and sizing, so I use those to layout my boards.
The same principles apply for both Illustrator and pen and paper - with both methods, you are using the process of elimination. The advantage of Illustrator however, is there is more flexibility in moving your blocks of content around rather than having to erase your calculations and start again. Let’s dive in:
Measure Your Space
I start by creating an artboard the exact size of the acrylic or mirror. For this example, I’m using a 24” x 48” piece of acrylic. I start eliminating blocks of space, starting with placing guides for my borders. I usually start with a 2” border so that I can scale it back to 1” should I run out of room down the road. So with a 2” border, that leaves me with 20” x 44” of space left.
I have 10 tables in total and 1 head table, with 8 guests at each table. Given the size of the surface and the number of names to write, I will have to go with 0.25” for each name, 0.25” space in between the names, and 1” between each table number. Once you’ve made a few seating charts you’ll be able to roughly estimate what your sizes need to be and adjust from there. I put in my essential guides and working from the bottom up, I start filling it in, leaving the main title to the very end. If you need to tweak anything, now’s the time to do it.
Mark Your Guides
I then use the rulers in Illustrator to transfer the measurement markings (the million aqua lines in the photo below) onto my real life surface. I use my Stabilo Aquarellable pencil and painters tape to mark my guides. Some prefer using a chalk marker such as the Bistro chalk marker for guides, but I prefer using the Aquarellable pencil since it can create thinner lines. That being said, I will usually use a chalk marker for acrylic since the pencil can sometimes leave a faint ghost line if you press too hard.
Time for the Permanent Stuff!
Now’s the time to grab those Sharpie oil based markers and get to the good stuff! Make sure you’re pumping the marker every few words in order to maintain a consistent and even paint flow. I don’t find the Sharpie markers to be opaque enough, so I have to do 2 (sometimes even 3) coats of paint.
Sharpie markers are amazing because they only take a few minutes to fully dry. Once your piece is completely dry, you can cleanup your remaining guidelines with a dry or slightly damp microfibre or paper towel. Don’t use any glass or window cleaning sprays when removing guides, smudges, or fingerprints as it will start to wipe away all your hard work. After your event, or whenever you’re ready to fully erase your writing, spray with a glass cleaner and scrape off all the paint using a flat blade. Note: this only works for mirror seating charts, as scraping the paint off with a blade will damage acrylic. If you want to remove your paint from an acrylic seating chart, use acetone. However, some brands of acrylic do not like acetone and it will in fact permanently fog up the plastic - I learned this the hard way. I always use Optix acrylic as it is amazing quality and takes acetone well.