The Complete Guide to Wedding Invitations

The Perfect Wedding InvitationYour wedding invitation does much more than just announce the date, time, and venue—it also sets the stage of the most important event of your life. It's important to choose a style that sets the right tone and level of formality for your long-awaited ceremony and celebration.

Today's increasingly elaborate selection of wedding invitations—from whimsical to traditional to contemporary—is enough to send any bride-to-be's head spinning. The best way to narrow down your choices is by thinking about what impact you want to make on your guests during that all-important first impression.

No matter how far along you are in the wedding planning process, the virtually unlimited choices can quickly become overwhelming. Your invitations serve as the first impression of your event, and also serve as a lasting keepsake.

This free guide will simplify the process of shopping for, selecting, and sending your wedding invitations.

  • Style: An overview of the available styles for wedding invitations
  • Substance: Help with invitation wording and enclosures
  • Shopping: Tips on budgeting, money-saving coupons, and a before-you-buy checklist
  • Sending: What you need to know before mailing your invitations to friends and family
  • Schedule: A calendar of important dates and deadlines for buying and sending your invites

Choosing an Invitation Style

The style of your wedding invitations conveys much more than the who, what, where, and when. With just a glance, guests can get a feel for the tone and theme of your event, and whether it will be formal, casual, or somewhere in between.

A Mosaic made from Wedding Invitations
A Mosaic Made from Wedding Invitations—So Many Choices!
The classic, traditional wedding invitation is black ink engraved on white or cream stationery — a formal choice that telegraphs elegance and class, but doesn't leave much room for expressing the couple's personality. If you're planning an extremely formal affair, this type of very traditional invitation may be suitable. But if you'll be exchanging your vows in a semi-formal or casual environment, such as a destination wedding or theme wedding, you'll probably want to consider invitations of a more relaxed and individualized nature.

Today, a majority of couples choose a semi-formal or casual invitation design to match the colors, décor, and theme of the wedding. If you plan to use a seasonal color scheme, or if you've chosen a unique theme that reflects your interests, it's best to make that clear on the invitations. Even if you're not planning a distinctive theme, you can add a distinctive flair with visual details that represent your unique personalities or things that are important to both of you.

Whatever style you choose, you'll need to consider all the parts of the invitation: the message itself, the outer mailing envelope, the reception card, the response card and its envelope, and any additional pages you might need for directions and hotel information. If you fall in love with the invitation itself, but don't like the style of the other essential components, you may want to consider a different design.

Still unsure about what style of invitation best supports the tone of your event? Below are some of the most popular invitation styles to use as a starting point:

Traditional or Classic invitations are a common choice for formal weddings. These invitations usually combine simplicity in design with timeless elegance.

Traditional Wedding Invitations

Modern or Contemporary invitations pair vivid colors and bold designs with an elegant, modern look and feel. These are a popular choice among brides and grooms who want their invitations to express their individual personalities.

Modern Wedding Invitations

Destination, Seasonal and Theme invitations are a great way to announce a fun theme to your guests. Whether you're having a golf wedding, a springtime floral affair, or a Las Vegas soiree, a complementary invitation helps to tie it all together.

Destination Wedding Invitations

Minimalist invitations can be either modern or classic, combining a simple layout and design in one or two colors. When done well, these styles can be extraordinarily elegant and romantic.

Minimalist Wedding Invitations

Vintage invitations reach back in history using typography styles, and icons of the past. They are often a mix of both historical and contemporary styles—a popular choice for those who love all things vintage.

Vintage Wedding Invitations

Wedding Invitation Typeface & Font

What you say is important, but sometimes how you say it makes all the difference. The typeface or font is one of the invitation elements that will have the most immediate impact on your guests. Most styles feature an elegant, flowing script, but there are dozens of variations on even the simplest fonts. A more formal invitation might use a fancier, more upright script, while a casual wedding calls for a jauntier, lighter typeface. The invitation font can highlight the style of the wedding, so choose one that matches the formality of your event.

As you wade through dozens of fonts looking for the perfect lettering style for your invitations, there are a few things to keep in mind"¦

Most importantly, you should choose a font that you like — not only on its own, in the sample text you're shown, but on your invitation. High-end printers and stationery stores will always provide a proof copy to ensure that all the details are correct and that you're happy with the overall presentation. As you review your proof for typos, closely examine the typeface as well and make sure it's a perfect fit.

When you find a font you like, check the bride and groom's initials — closely followed by the capital letters that make up the names of the church, the reception venue, and any other names or titles that may appear on the invitation. After all, this is the marquee of your big day, and your name should look exactly the way you want it to. If you're not crazy about how one of your initials looks, move on to a different font.

Finally, for the sake of older relatives or anyone with impaired vision, make sure the script you select is highly readable. Some of the fancier wedding fonts are beautiful, but can be challenging to decipher. By choosing clearly legible lettering, you'll know guests can make out the event details and directions with ease.

Wedding Invitation Printing Methods

When it comes to the actual printing of your invitations, there are virtually limitless options. Which one you select will depend on matching the style of your invitations, your personal preference, and your budget. Some of the most popular choices include:

Engraving: These are typically the most formal, traditional, and elegant style of printing. The lettering is etched onto a copper plate that is coated with ink and used to imprint the writing onto each paper invitation. True engraving creates raised letters on the front of the invitations and a "bruise" or dent on the back.

Thermography: An economical alternative that creates a look that's similar to engraving, thermography is the most widely chosen printing method for wedding invitations today. The process involves heating ink and a resin powder to create raised letters on the front of the invitation. The main difference from engraving is that thermography leaves no dent in the back of the paper.

Letterpress: Letterpress is an old-fashioned and expensive technique that has recently become popular again. Because it uses a moveable type machine similar to a typewriter, the method offers limited options in fonts and character styles. Letterpress creates an elegant, whimsical feel especially suited to handcrafted papers.

Foil stamping: Similar to letterpress, but offering more variety in fonts and styles, foil stamping uses an etched copper plate (similar to engraving), but applies a thin foil or mylar layer to the invitations instead of ink. This is a pricier option, best suited to formal invitations on heavy paper stationery.

Embossing or blind embossing: This technique creates a raised, three-dimensional insignia. It is most commonly used to add a monogram or other decorative details to invitations, often without ink.

Lithography or offset printing: The most common type of commercial printing, lithography uses an inked impression on a molded rubber plate, "blanket," or cylinder. Applications of this technique can vary widely in quality, so be sure to choose a printer known for delivering crisp, clean work.

Digital printing: Modern digital printing is slowly but surely beginning to replace lithography. This method does a beautiful—and efficient—job of recreating colors, flat text, and decorative details.

Hand calligraphy: For those who can afford it — or who have the skills themselves — hand written,-calligraphed invitations are a stylish and elegant choice. Many computer fonts mimic calligraphy as an inexpensive option, but it's simply not the same as the real pen and ink, handcrafted work of art that is fine calligraphy.

Do-it-yourself: This is always a possibility for budget-minded brides, but homemade or computer-printed invitations look and feel very different from professionally printed ones. Most recipients will be able to tell at a glance that the invitations were printed at home and not professionally designed because these invitations just don't convey the same level of polish and class. While do-it-yourself invitation packages may look simple and inexpensive, they can easily turn into a headache that no bride wants to deal with. Instead, the invitations offered by Zazzle are essentially DIY while letting them use their professional printers to create beautiful invitations an an affordable price.

Wedding Invitation Paper Types

As with fonts and printing, there is a wide variety of paper types. Some are better suited to formal invitations, while others are appropriate for a more casual event.

Cotton: Smooth and elegant, 100% cotton is a timeless favorite for wedding invitations, but it doesn't come cheap.

Linen: Another very popular choice for wedding invitations, linen has a textured weave in comparison to cotton's smooth, even feel.

Vellum: This creamy cotton blend is less expensive than 100% cotton, but offers a similar look and feel.

Translucent Vellum: A transparent paper, this is often used as an elegant overlay in layered invitations. Confusingly, it is often called "vellum" as well.

Parchment: This cloudy paper has a slight translucent effect.

Cardstock: An ideal choice for contemporary, budget-minded couples, cardstock is non-traditional, inexpensive, sturdy, and comes in a variety of weights, textures, and thicknesses. Combine it with more traditional papers for an elegant effect.

Mylar: A synthetic material with a shiny, reflective surface, mylar is usually seen only in the small embellishing details of wedding invitations.

Recycled: A great choice for eco-minded couples, recycled paper uses up to 100% post-consumer recycled content.

Metallic: Metallic paper includes tiny specks of metal material to provide a shimmer to the surface of the paper.

Substance: Inside the Invitation

An invitation may be judged by its cover, but it's what's inside that makes the difference between a confused guest and a prepared one. There are two important elements found the inside of every wedding invitation: wording and enclosures.

Wedding Invitation Wording

Like the style and design of the card itself, the wording you choose communicates a great deal about your event. The textual content communicates the formality of the wedding, the type of reception, and even more specific details, like whether to bring a gift or where to book a hotel room.

All wedding invitations inform guests of basic information, such as who will be hosting the wedding, the date and time, and the location of the ceremony and reception, but they can do so in very different tones.

Formal invitations convey a certain decorum in tone and spirit. The text is usually written in the third person, with all middle names included. Dates, times, and addresses are spelled out in full (i.e. "the second of May, two thousand and ten") or using Roman numerals, with no contractions (i.e. "they will" rather than "they'll"). No periods are used, except after abbreviations of titles like "Dr." and "Mrs."

Contemporary invitations may omit most or all of these conventions, and offer more flexibility in wording choice. Couples may choose to include a few lines of a favorite romantic poem or compose the entire invitation in rhyming couplets. Other modern invitations take a completely casual tone, throwing all of the usual etiquette rules to the wind.

The location and wedding theme (if there is one) should be clearly expressed in the wording of the invitation, as well as any other instructions your guests might need in order to arrive on time and appropriately prepared for the event. Little details, such as the phrase "together with our parents" (to avoid the complication of remarried or divorced families) are a nice touch on contemporary invitations, while a brief line about the formality of dress ("black tie" or "dressy casual") ensures that there will be no surprises for your guests on the big day.

Try this Wording Wizard to help you find the prefect phrasing for your invitations.

Wedding Invitation Enclosures

Most packages come with an assortment of additional cards, envelopes, and related stationery to include along with the main invitation. Below are some of the typical enclosures sent by most brides and grooms: The outer mailing envelope will hold your invitation and any enclosures you send to your guests.

The invitation itself should take center stage as the largest and most eye-catching element of the invitation package. This is where all of the essential details of the event should be included.

The reception card describes the timing, location, and any details of the reception that do not appear on the main invitation. This piece of stationery may use the same tone as the ceremony invitation, or it can be very different to indicate a more casual tone or themed reception party.

The response card is the small notecard that guests send back to RSVP. It will usually request a date by which the card must be sent. Traditional response cards provide an area for guests to fill in their name and to indicate how many people will be attending.

The response card envelope is included for your guests' convenience, usually pre-addressed and pre-stamped. It may be sent back to the bride and groom, but is usually addressed to whoever is hosting the wedding, such as the bride's parents, groom's parents, or the couple themselves.

Additional pages and cards are often included to provide directions, hotel information, and other details to out-of-town guests.

Shopping for Wedding Invitations

Shopping for wedding invitations is fun, but if you're not careful your order can be filled with mistakes or cost more than you expect. It's important to know what to expect and to have a plan for what and when to order. This guide outlines several key steps to keep in mind when you shop for wedding invitations.

Counting the Costs of Wedding Invitations

There are wedding invitations to fit every budget. If you already have a budget in mind, this guide should help you make sure it's realistic. If you're not sure how much invitations are going to cost, here are some general factors that determine the cost:

Number of invitations: This number is not the same as the number of guests at your wedding. Married couples and families receive one invitation. Children living at home don't receive individual invitations unless they are over eighteen years of age. Knowing the number of invitations you require will help you determine the quantity of thank you cards, RSVP cards, and all other wedding stationery needed.

You'll want to add at least an additional 10% to this quantity to account for mistakes while addressing the envelopes or miscalculations about how many people you're inviting. Because you'll save on quantity and shipping, it's significantly cheaper to order a few extra invites now than it will be to order more at a later date.

Type of invitations: Invitations can range from $1 per invite (usually at least 100 must be ordered) up to $10 per invite for costly materials or processes (such as rare papers or calligraphy). Costs per invitation will vary greatly depending upon the quantity and quality.

Enclosures: Most invitations include the invitation, two envelopes,(an inner and outer envelope) and a response card with an envelope (Response cards can also be postcards.). Additional enclosures such as place cards and directions vary greatly in price but usually cost less than the invitations themselves.

Addressing: Most wedding invitations are hand addressed by you (or whoever you can convince to help you) at no cost. Some stationers provide addressing services for additional costs if you want to avoid the process of hand addressing. You can also have your envelopes hand addressed by a calligrapher, but this can add significant costs. For more information, see the addressing section.

Postage: Remember, every invitation and response card that is included must have postage. Theses costs are directly related to the quantity and weight/size of your mailings. For more information, see the postage section.

Hidden costs: There will always be some costs that can arise seemingly out of nowhere. Knowing about their possibility will help you be prepared for it. Here are some of the most common "hidden costs" that might arise during the process of ordering invitations:

  • Ink (DIY Invites). If you are printing your own invitations, don't forget to factor in the cost of ink. Some printers will run out if you're printing several hundred pieces. Be sure to also increase the number of extras you order because paper jams are bound to occur.
  • Proofs. Most online stationers will send you free electronic proofs, but some can include a small charge for that service. Don't skimp here; a proof can save you hundreds of dollars if there was a mistake in your order.
  • Custom colors, font, etc. Often you can request custom paper or ink colors, but know that these changes usually require a fee.
  • Odd-shaped envelopes & unique fasteners. The USPS charges extra for nonmachineable and odd-shaped mail (including square envelopes). If your invitations are square or have unique clasps, be prepared to pay a small increase in postage. For more information, see our postage section.

Ordering Sample Wedding Invitations

As you begin to narrow down your list of potential invitations, you should request samples from the stationers so you can have a closer look at the invitations. This is especially important if you're ordering invitations from an online printer because images and descriptions don't always accurately reflect the actual product.

Most stationers will send you samples of the products for little or no cost but they often limit of the number of invites they will send if the samples are complimentary.

Bear in mind that samples are not proofs; they will not use your specific invitation wording. They are intended to give you a preview of the size, feel, and quality of an invitation and corresponding enclosures.

Using Coupons

Most online stationers provide coupons and time-sensitive promotions to encourage orders. If you're ordering your invitations online there's probably a coupon that you can use to when you order. Coupons can help you receive:

  • A percentage discount off of your entire order (ex. 10% off your entire order)
  • A dollar amount off of your entire order (ex. $15 off orders of $100 or more)
  • Free shipping
  • A free gift with your purchase (such as free thank-you cards)

Some coupons require a "coupon code" while others are simply automatically applied to your order. Remember that most of these coupons expire quickly.

Other Stationery

The following stationery items are often ordered at the same time in order to continue the style and theme of the invitation and enclosures:

Save the date cards are used to notify out-of-town guests about the wedding in advance, or to inform all of your guests if the wedding falls on a holiday weekend or will be held at a remote destination that requires them to plan ahead in order to attend.

Place cards may be ordered to match your wedding stationery. These are used to guide guests to their seats - especially useful at larger receptions.

Thank-you cards are a customary way to express gratitude to guests for their gifts after the wedding. These are often purchased at the same time as, and usually match the style of the invitations.

Before-You-Buy Checklist

Review this checklist to make sure it's time to order:

_______ I've chosen my invitation
_______ I've ordered a sample to see & touch it
_______ I've determined my invitation wording
_______ I know what enclosures I need
_______ My guest list is finalized
_______ I'm ordering 10% more invites than I need for errors
_______ I'm ready to order!

Sending Your Wedding Invitations

Now that you have your invitations picked out it's time to get down to the nittygritty: sending the invitations. You'll need to pay careful attention to compiling your guest list, ordering an adequate number of invitations, properly addressing guests on the envelopes, and ensuring that your invitations have adequate postage.

Compiling the Guest List

It's usually one of the first things brides-to-be start on after getting engaged, and with good reason—compiling the guest list is one of the most important and time-consuming tasks on the bridal to-do list.

Before you can start building the list, you'll need to decide on the size of the wedding. Does the groom want a small, intimate gathering, while the bride dreams of a big, grand-scaled affair? Either way, communication is key. It's important to go into this part of planning the wedding with everyone — including the parents of the bride and groom — on the same page.

Once you've decided on the general size of the event, you can begin to think about ground rules for who you want to invite. Below are a few of the most important considerations:

Who are the "must-invites"? If you're buddies with your third cousin and would like to include him on your special day, your guest list will probably have to be expanded to include other extended family members — or must be small enough to justify excluding some relatives but not others.

Who will absolutely not be included? If there are certain family members or former friends with whom you don't get along or who could possibly make a scene at the wedding, don't hesitate to exclude them from the guest list.

Who is paying for the wedding? If the parents of the bride are funding the event, they may legitimately have more input about the guest list than if the couple themselves were paying. If Mom and Dad are being generous with cutting the vendor checks, you should probably bite your tongue about those few extra people they'd like to include.

Your wedding is ultimately your day and your guest list your decision, but it's important to consider the wishes of your parents and other close friends and family. A small, intimate affair is one way to avoid conflicts, but there are things you can do to keep everyone happy at a big wedding.

Keep in mind that if your extended family is very large, it's customary to invite everyone within the same generation level of the family — third or fourth cousins may be excluded, but if you invite one, you should probably invite them all.

If you wish to exclude children from the wedding ceremony or reception, it's important to make this clear on the invitations. Never handwrite anything on particular guests' invitations. It's also in poor taste to say "No Kids" or "No Children" directly. Instead, the invitation wording should mention that it is an "Adults Only Reception" or "Adult Reception".

The finalized guest list will help you know the number of invitations to order. You'll need one invitation for each household (be it a family or married couple) and separate invitations for children over the age of 18 who are living in a house with parents or other relatives. If several adults live in the same house, individual invitations should be sent to each person.

Addressing Envelopes

A well-designed invitation is all about meticulous attention to detail—right down to the address on the outer envelope. There is a customary etiquette for addressing wedding invitations, though how closely you choose to follow it will depend on how formal of an event you're planning.

For formal wedding invitations, it's customary to have the outer mailing envelope individually printed with each guest's address. Another elegant option is to have the envelopes hand-written in calligraphy. Either of these choices is expensive, however, so many couples choose to hand-address the envelopes themselves.

Formal invitations are addressed with titles and using the husband's name, where appropriate, as in "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith". The husband's title traditionally goes first, except in cases where the wife has a professional title and her husband doesn't. If children are invited, their first names should be included on the line below their parents' names (and above the address).

If a single friend or family member is welcome to bring a guest, the words "and Guest" should be included after his or her name on the address envelope. If "and Guest" does not appear, etiquette says people should know that they are not invited to bring someone.

Addresses should never be abbreviated, and should be written in number form except for "one," which is written out in letters. Cities, states, and words like "Street," "Avenue," and "Crescent" should be spelled out in full. Of course, if you're planning a more casual wedding, it's up to you to decide which of these etiquette conventions you'd like to follow. After all, it's your wedding, and you can have full control over how it's announced.

Postage for Wedding Invitations

The United States Post Office is the final authority on how postage much each mail piece requires. While most wedding invitations are a fairly standard shape and size, some invitations (such as square ones) are considered "nonmachineable" by the USPS and require additional fees in order to be mailed.

The post office charges a nonmachineable surcharge (in addition to the necessary postage) of 20 cents per item for:

  • square envelopes
  • items that are too rigid
  • items that don't bend easily
  • items that have clasps, strings, or other non-standard closures

While many stationers can give you an idea of how much postage your particular invitations will require, it's always best to take a completed (sealed & addressed) invitation to your local post office and have them weigh the item to be sure of the exact amount of postage needed.

Some local post offices will "hand cancel" your invitations. This prevents the USPS from adding a unsightly postmark across the postage or a barcode along the bottom of the envelope. People have reported different levels of cooperation from their local post office for this service, but if you want the invitations you've meticulously chosen to arrive unblemished, ask your post office personnel about hand canceling.

USPS Wedding Stamps

Each year the USPS chooses a couple of wedding-themed designs for use on wedding-related mail. Such stamps offer an alternative to whatever general first-class stamps the USPS is currently printing. These stamps do not have any extra cost associated with them, but are only available in select styles and face-values. Here are the stamps that are currently available at all United States Postal Offices:

USPS Wedding Stamps

Custom Postage Stamps

A growing trend among wedding mail is the use of custom postage stamps. A company called Zazzle offers over 100,000 different wedding-themed stamps or you can create your own. You'll pay a small premium above the face value of the stamp, but you'll have complete control over the look of your postage stamp.

Custom Postage Stamps

All stamps are valid USPS postage, feature a self-adhesive backing, come in all first-class denominations, and a have a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Plus, the stamps use a special technology so "hand canceling" is not required, and your invitations should arrive unblemished by a postmark. For more information on wedding postage, visit http://weddingstamps.us.

When to Mail Your Wedding Invitations

Etiquette and common sense dictate that wedding invitations should be sent out far enough in advance for guests to make plans to attend, but not so early that people forget about it or lose it. A general rule of thumb is about six weeks in advance, although some claim that anywhere from four to eight weeks is acceptable.

For destination weddings, of course, you'll need to give more notice. Out-of-town guests also deserve this same courtesy. In these cases, four to six months is usually an appropriate amount of notice to allow your guests to make the necessary preparations to attend your special event.

See the schedule section of this guide (below) for more information on timelines and scheduling.

Schedule of Wedding Invitation Tasks

The specific etiquette rules about some parts of the timeline—such as when to send out "save the date" cards and when to send the actual invitations—aren't in place just to irritate guests. This scheduling protocol helps brides and grooms maintain sanity and peace of mind as the big day approaches.

Your invitations are intended to make it easier for your guests to attend, so it's important to give them enough notice to make sure they can be there. Response cards must be received in enough time to ensure that your caterer and other wedding staff are adequately prepared. All of this can be handled by sticking to a smart, practical timeline.

Compiling the guest list: Although it's expected that the guest list will be tweaked repeatedly over the course of the planning process, it's a good idea to start as soon as possible so you'll know how many invitations to order. Early planning also helps ensure that no one is missed when you send out your save the date cards or other mailings. Many brides order extra invitations, just in case they decide to add someone later or an envelope gets lost in the mail. A good rule of thumb is to order about 25 extra invitations and 50-100 extra mailing envelopes.

Sending save the date cards: These notices are meant to announce the upcoming wedding to out-of-town guests who will need to make travel arrangements, or to all of your guests if the wedding falls on a holiday weekend when people are likely to make plans. They should be sent out at least four months before the wedding, although anywhere from five months up to a year ahead is common when you're planning a destination wedding or inviting international guests.

Choosing and ordering invitations: On average, it takes about eight weeks for professional invitations to be printed after ordering them. In an ideal world (or if you work with a quick printer), it's often less — but why take the risk? It's wise to plan ahead and order your invitations about twelve weeks before you intend to send them out, or about five months before the wedding.

Ordering proofs or samples: If you intend to order proofs of your invitations and enclosures (always a smart move), plan on adding an extra week or two to the invitation turnaround process.

Addressing envelopes: If you're having each envelope professionally addressed, this is done while ordering your invitations. However, if you or a family member will be addressing them by hand, it's best to do it gradually (to avoid hand fatigue or the possibility of running out of time) between the day your invitations arrive and the date you'll be sending them.

Sending invitations: The regular invitations to your friends and family who live nearby should be mailed six to eight weeks before the wedding.

"RSVP by" date: This date is placed on the response card to help ensure that whoever will be hosting the wedding has enough time to inform the caterer, reception hall, and other vendors of the exact number of guests. This date is usually two to four weeks before the wedding itself, but expect most cards to arrive much sooner. Of course, there are always those few that are not returned at all, requiring follow-up phone calls.


The Last Word

Hopefully this guide has helped you learn all you need to know about shopping for, selecting and sending invitations for your wedding. If it has, will you take a moment to share it with others you know who are getting married? Thank you!


© 2012-2014, Infinite Publishing, LLC. For questions about this guide, email invitopia@infinitepublishing.com.