Snail Mail: The Art of Letter Writing
The art of handwritten letters, colloquially referred to as “snail mail” due to its leisurely pace, is a delightful custom that was around long before phone calls, emails, or instant messages. Though less common in use today, snail mail is still relevant to stationery lovers — not only is it a fun and creative way to keep in touch, it’s also an opportunity to use your pen and ink collection.
Read on to learn more and discover some of our favorite tools for letter writing!
Snail Mail Supplies
Letter paper comes in many sizes, weights, and styles.
There are various factors to consider when choosing the perfect paper for your handwritten letter, such as paper size, weight, and sheet style. For example, if you write with fountain pens, it’s best to use smooth paper that can handle ink. If you’re a long-winded writer, you’ll want lightweight paper since postage is determined by the ounce. For more information, check out our Fountain Pen Paper and Paper Sizes Explained articles.
Choose from two main styles of envelopes, or use a template.
Envelopes come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, but the two most common are the commercial style envelope and the announcement/invitation style envelope. Choose envelopes to match your pen and paper– for example, fountain pen writers should use envelopes made of fountain pen friendly paper. For creative folks, another option is to make your own DIY envelopes out of scrapbook paper using an envelope template.
Stationery sets contain pre-paired paper and envelopes.
Specially paired letter sets take the guesswork out of matching papers with envelopes. Because the paper is blank with no pre-printed greetings, it’s easy and convenient to keep a set on hand for any occasion that warrants a handwritten note.
Postcards and Greeting Cards
Cards are great for brief messages.
Postcards and greeting cards are designed for brief correspondence. Great for sending a quick hello, they are thoughtful and personal without requiring an entire page of written text. Often, the imagery and design of the card communicates the greeting: postcards highlight a local attraction, while greeting cards feature charming designs and various printed messages.
Compose your letter with a fountain pen or ergonomic pen.
You can compose your letter with a cheap disposable pen, but where’s the fun in that? Fountain pens are an undeniably classy choice with many customization options for expressing your creativity. If you are writing for an extended period of time, however, an ergonomic pen might be better. For more information, check out our Guide to Choosing a Fountain Pen and our Guide to Ergonomic Pens.
Cute and practical add-ons make letter writing more fun.
Your snail mail arsenal can also include charming embellishments and practical supplies. Washi tapes, stickers, and special edition postage stamps add visual highlights to your letter, making it more personal. A glue pen or tape runner makes sealing envelopes easier, and it’s convenient to have a cute letter opener on hand once your pen pals write back!
Snail Mail Scenarios
When should we write? Many occasions call for the personal touch of a handwritten letter. In the scenarios below, we offer some writing topics and recommendations to get you started.
Write a quick, thoughtful note with a fast-drying EnerGel pen.
Instead of sending a quick text or email, take a moment to express your appreciation in writing. We like these whimsical Letterpressed Cards because of their bright, colorful prints. If you are writing many notes at a time, such as after a wedding or after the holidays, a fast-drying pen like the Pentel EnerGel will let you write quickly without smearing.
Topic Suggestion: Personalize your letter by describing how you intend to use the specific gift item
Recommendations: Chronicle Books Letterpressed Greeting Cards, Midori Seal Book Stickers, Pentel EnerGel X Gel Pens
Letters of condolence should be minimal and sincere.
Expressing sympathy can be challenging, but your thoughts will be comforting to read. For these situations, it is best to use simple, neutral-colored stationery. The Pilot Letter Pad has clean white pages with wide ruling for you to write a short, sincere note. In Japan, it is customary to use gray ink for written condolences — the idea being that the writer’s ink was diluted by tears of mourning.
Topic Suggestion: Express empathy while staying positive by writing about a fond memory
Recommendations: Pilot Letter Set, Pilot Iroshizuku Kiri-Same Ink, Pilot Cavalier Fountain Pen
Send a letter or postcard that captures your exciting travels.
While you’re off traveling the world, a thoughtful letter home is a great way to share your new experiences. The vintage style LIFE Airmail Letter Set contains lightweight paper that won’t add bulk to your carry-on. Another fun way to write home is to find local postcards of places you’ve visited, or carry along a mini sketchbook and marker pen to draw your own.
Topic Suggestion: Instead of writing about a major tourist attraction, describe a hidden gem
Recommendations: LIFE Airmail Letter Set, Maruman Zuan Postcard Size Sketchbook, Sakura Pigma Micron Drawing Pens
For longer letters, write neatly on lined paper.
Whether your pen pal is a long-time friend or a complete stranger, the best part is exchanging stories about your daily lives. For longer letters like these, we recommend the Strathmore 500 Paper. It has dotted lines to help you write neatly, but they are printed in light blue for easier reading. You can also add stickers, colored inks, and other embellishments to make your letter fun to read.
Topic Suggestion: Offer a recent book, movie, or recipe recommendation
Recommendations: Strathmore 500 Series Letter Set, Kurochiku Japanese Puffy Stickers, Marvy Le Pen Marker Pens
Romantic details like scented ink will make your letter special.
A romantic love letter is perfect for Valentine’s day, an anniversary, or whenever you feel inspired by your beau. To quote the famous poet William Wordsworth, “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart”! Elegant touches like subtly scented ink and silky smooth paper will make your love letter truly special. We love the beautiful floral scent of this J. Herbin Rose Red ink.
Topic Suggestion: Write a list of things you appreciate – especially things they may not notice.
Recommendations: Clairefontaine Triomphe Letter Set, Lamy Joy Calligraphy Fountain Pen, J. Herbin Scented Fountain Pen Ink
A fun and colorful collage will brighten up any mailbox.
Snail mail doesn’t even have to be handwritten! The mail art trend encourages creative folks to create whimsical art pieces made with all sorts of mixed media and found objects. You can also try your hand at the Japanese art of etegami – small, postcard-size paintings of everyday items combined with a brief, pensive sentiment.
Topic Suggestion: Create a mini collage out of stickers, magazine clippings, bookmarks, and doodles.
Recommendations: Kuretake Glue Pen, Mark’s Maste Washi Tapes, Pilot Envelope Address Gel Pen, Akashiya Etegami Postcard Paper
Have we sparked your interest in snail mail? If you love pens and paper as much as we do, take some time to write a letter by hand when the opportunity arises. It’s a great way to practice your penmanship while brightening someone’s mailbox, and we hope you’ll join in on the fun!
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JetPens Snail Mail Set
Ready to start writing letters but don’t have any cute stationery? Check out our Snail Mail Set and keep the art of handwritten correspondence alive! The set includes two cute fountain pens, airmail-themed stationery,