Standing in her Menlo Park garage, Karla Ebrahimi bends her head over two seemingly identical pieces of paper. But to the owner of Sky of Blue Cards, the two prints in her hand have clear differences. One version has been run through her circa-1942 Chandler & Price letterpress only once, while the other made a second trip under the 2,000-pound machine’s metal plates. Eventually, Ebrahimi and Laura Wellington, the artist who is running the press, decide that the double-printed version’s deeper red color is a better fit for the holiday card they’re working on.
When Ebrahimi was working as a graphic designer for corporate clients, she didn’t make those kinds of decisions. She quit that business in 2008 out of a desire to do something more meaningful than “churning out the next recycling piece,” as she describes it. Ebrahimi had always loved cards and other printed materials, and as a kid she explored stationery stores with a wonder that other children reserved for a candy shop. She’s the kind of designer who is always working on the next project, jotting down ideas in a notebook or on her iPhone. So once she’d left the corporate world, it wasn’t long before she opened her own card design studio. Sky of Blue started out small, with just a dozen holiday cards and handmade gift tags. But once the ball was rolling, it never really stopped. In the first five years of business, Ebrahimi caught a few breaks, including a booth at the National Stationery Show, interest from national retailers like Barney’s New York and eventually even a mention on Oprah’s Favorite Things list.
The rapid expansion meant that Ebrahimi had to change some of her business practices. Instead of doing everything in a studio that used be her son’s bedroom, she expanded into her garage and bought her own letterpress. Printing on a letterpress means that her work looks unique, even to those who aren’t stationery experts. The old-fashioned technique presses the ink into 100% cotton paper with a custom-made plate in the shape of a message or design. This leaves a visable depression on the card, giving it depth in addition to rich color. And since the press can only print with one shade of ink at a time, Sky of Blue products generally have only a few colors, keeping the designs from looking too busy.
Today, you can find Sky of Blue cards online and in stores, including local shops like Village Stationers in Menlo Park and Letter Perfect in Palo Alto. Ebrahimi’s constantly adding new products to her line, and she’s particularly excited about her new project called Letterbox. It’s a subscription service the company sends out quarterly, with cards appropriate for the season, custom postage stamps, and other lifestyle items. Peninsula residents can also catch Sky of Blue cards at their occasional pop-up shops at retailers like Anthropologie, or at various holiday boutiques in the winter. Though most of her business happens online or through her wholesale clients, Ebrahimi makes a special effort to hold those kinds of events so she can interact with her customers. Sometimes this leads to new design ideas, like her line of “Dude! Thanks” cards—the result of a client who was looking for a message that wouldn’t be too stuffy to give to a teenage boy. Meeting people who’ve bought her cards also gives Ebrahimi the opportunity to hear what she says is the best compliment in her business—“I loved your card so much, I framed it!”