Wedding Invitations: A Step-by-Step Guide
— By Lorna Urwin
13 September 2016
A wedding invitation is a little like a window into your big day. It’s informational, of course, but it’s not just about the hard facts. Between decisions about typefaces, colours and pretty envelope liners you are also setting the tone, indicating how formal the event will be and reflecting the look or style of the wedding day.
Depending on your decisions about the design and printing, they can also take a lot of time and energy. No need to be overwhelmed though! This step-by-step guide breaks down the process into simple steps and provides helpful tips to keep the experience as stress-free (and fun!) as possible.
1/ Give yourself plenty of time
Images by Julie Cate Photography and Weddings by Christopher and Nancy
Etiquette suggests that 6 to 8 weeks in advance of your wedding date is an optimal time frame for posting invitations. As soon as you’ve pinned down your wedding date (congratulations!), it’s worth opening up your calendar and counting back to that milestone. Mark it off, perhaps in a nice shade of post-office red! Of course, before invitations are ready to send there will be research, printing and many other little tasks. Be generous - allow yourself ample time to complete these tasks relative to your own schedule. Ordering your invitations 3 to 4 months in advance of the wedding date is a useful rule of thumb. You’ll also want to factor in completing your budget, guest list and big decisions about your palette, theme or style before you get too far along with your invitation planning.
Of course, timescales are never ‘one size fits all,’ so always consider the circumstances unique to your wedding. For example, more advance notice may be necessary if your wedding date coincides with a public holiday, you’re organising a destination wedding or you have guests from overseas. “Save the date” cards – sent between 4 and 6 months in advance - are optional, but a very useful way to give notice ahead of your invitations.
2/ Design – big picture
Image by Justine Milton
This is the fun part: start dreaming! Call to mind any decisions you’ve already made about the style of your wedding (theme, palette, location, degree of formality). Start jotting down rough notes or collecting images relevant to any inspiration that strikes you. Use these to gradually refine an image of what your invitations will be like. If you need a catalyst for ideas, there’s little quicker or easier than setting up an inspiration board on Pinterest. Put “wedding invitations” into the search bar and pin to your heart’s content! Alternatively, you could browse magazines or wedding blogs, or visit bridal shows to consider your options in person.
A checklist of ‘big picture’ concerns:
- Budget: What is the budget for invitations? Don’t forget to factor in an estimate for postage.
- Formality: How formal will your invitations be? This applies to both wording (see section 4, below) and design.
- Production: How will they be produced? Options include: a bespoke order to a stationer or printer, a readymade design (whether printed professionally or at home), having a calligrapher write the invitation or addresses, and DIY.
3/ Design – visuals
Images by Venamour
Once you have settled on your ‘big picture’ decisions, it’s time to start getting specific. If you decided to use a designer, printer or calligrapher, begin by comparing their services, styles, timescales, and prices and select the best one for you. You can have proofs and invitations delivered from around the world, so in theory you are not restricted to local suppliers for your invitations. In practice, though, you may prefer the reassurance of knowing that you won’t have to wait for international delivery or deal with spelling differences across different countries.
If you’re going down the DIY route, or if you are able to collaborate on a design with a designer or printer, you will also have to start thinking about the discrete elements of the design you’re creating. Your supplier will no doubt guide your decision-making according to your ‘big picture’ notes and images, but here is a brief checklist of things to consider:
- Size (remember that choosing a non-standard paper size could make envelopes more expensive.)
- Format (single sheet, folded card)
- Weight (measured in grams per square metre or ‘gsm’ – the higher the number the heavier and better quality the paper.)
- Style (textured paper, vellum)
- Envelope liners (these work well to provide a luxe personal touch to an otherwise plain envelope.)
- Belly bands (often made of decorated paper, these add an extra embellishment to your design and serve the practical purpose of holding multiple sheets together.)
Typefaces / fonts
- Style (Antique Roman and copperplate typefaces are both classic, but many favour script- or calligraphy-style fonts to add more flourish to their look.)
- Ink colour
- The costs and effects for various printing methods vary widely. Be sure to research a variety of options (engraving, foil stamping, letterpress, lithography and thermography).
- Additional materials (ribbon, twine, sealing wax for the envelopes)
Imagery or other Graphic Features
- Sealing wax for the envelope
4/ Design – content and extras
Image by Patina Photography
The content of the invitation itself is where a lot of etiquette and tradition comes into play, particularly with regard to wording. Some find formal wording elegant, while others find it stuffy. The best policy is to use traditional ‘rules’ only as it suits your own tastes and wedding. Otherwise, bend or break them to better reflect your style.
Typically, the content of the invitation itself is limited to only the key information: the hosts’ names, a statement of invitation to the event, the date, time and location and a request for an RSVP. Often you will have further details to share with your guests. Since this information is optional, traditionally it should be included on a separate card or cards.
A particularly useful extra is the reply card, which encourages a speedy reply by making the process as easy as possible for recipients. Often the card will come with its own stamped envelope addressed to the wedding hosts. (Remember - stamps cannot be included for overseas guests.) The card can be ‘fill in the blank’ or ‘tick the box’ style or more open, requesting a reply and leaving space for a handwritten note.
Beyond this, it’s advisable to keep other information concise - to one sheet if possible - to avoid overloading your envelopes. Consider whether the following extra information would be useful to for those on your list:
- Contact details: this is usually the hosts, but could include a wedding website.
- Maps, directions and travel information: these are especially useful for non-local guests or destination weddings.
- Accommodation suggestions: include local hotels to fit all price ranges. If your reception takes place in a hotel, consider negotiating reduced rates for your guests.
- Dress code: strive to be very clear about this and avoid words like ‘preferred’ or ‘optional’ to prevent confusion.
- Policy on children’s attendance
- Request for dietary requirements: it might be useful to leave space on the reply card for these to be stated.
- Registry information: this might be the most controversial part of wedding invitation etiquette. Traditionally registry location was only shared if a guest enquired and many still insist it’s best omitted from the invitation. If you think your guests will be sensitive to mention of gifts, perhaps better to play it safe and put the details on a wedding website instead.
- Destination wedding information: for destination weddings, giving guests lots of detail can help them feel at ease in a new environment. You may want to include expected weather information, packing suggestions and itineraries for any other planned activities
5/ Ordering and printing
Image by Jessica Gold Photography
With all your decisions made for look and content, it’s nearly time to commit to that beautiful wedding stationery! If you’re ordering from a supplier, you’ll likely receive a proof of the invitation to approve before going ahead with the order. If you’re printing them yourself, print a sample to examine up close. If there are any errors, it’s vital that you spot them at this stage, before the print run has begun in earnest. It doesn’t hurt to pass it to someone who hasn’t previously seen the design for a second opinion.
Once the proof has the green light, make sure your guest list is checked and double-checked (by everyone with a say) before finalising the number of invitations. Count carefully and ensure you’re counting households rather than people - couples or families living under the same roof will only require one invitation. Once you have your figure, it’s recommended to order around 15-25% extra on top to account for any errors, with the guest list or handwritten mistakes. Ordering these later will be more expensive than adding them on at this stage.
If you are well organised and confident in your design choices, it may also be frugal to buy other stationery items (thank you notes, place cards, order of service cards) together with your invitations at this stage.
6/ Assemble, address, post
Image by Fineline Photography
It’s the final stretch! The waiting period between placing an order and receiving a delivery is a great time to get ahead of the game. If you haven’t already, create a database of guest information - use a spreadsheet, app or old-fashioned planner/organiser, whichever is most natural to you. This not only makes the addressing process a cinch, but comes in very handy when you’re keeping track of responses (or even gifts) down the line. Include full names and titles for all guests, and don’t forget to double check the spelling if you’re unsure.
If you can, have your envelopes delivered earlier so that you can start the process of addressing them. Tradition prefers the personal touch of handwritten addresses (either by you or a calligrapher). If that sounds too time consuming, however, a modern alternative is to print the address using a calligraphy-style font.
Once your envelopes are addressed and your invitations (and extras) are safe inside, take a trip to the post office to weigh a sample. You want to make sure you don’t underestimate the postage required. All that’s left to do now is stick those stamps (place them on a damp sponge to save licking so many) and post away! Make sure to send them all in one go if you can, so that no one feels like an afterthought. Once they’re gone, why not give yourself a treat to celebrate or take a day off wedding planning? Relish the feeling that you’re one giant step closer to the reality of the big day. Now, to keep on top of all those RSVP's…