Wedding Invitation Etiquette 101

engraved wedding invitationFirst impressions are everything, and the introduction to your big day is no exception. That’s why your wedding invitation sets are oh so important (besides giving guests the Who/What/Where, of course): they set the tone. For example, you wouldn’t send an invitation with ornate gold edging and intricate engraving for a backyard barbeque, and you wouldn’t send out an invitation playful polka dots for a black tie affair.

Let’s get started, shall we?


When should I order my wedding invitations?
When should my wedding invitations be mailed?
Where should I purchase my wedding invitations?
What kind of paper should I use?
What color should my invitations be?
What size should my invitation be?
How do I go about choosing a lettering style?
What color ink should I use?
What printing process should I use?
How much postage will my wedding invitations require?
How much money should I expect to spend?

When should I order my wedding invitations?
At least three months before your wedding. This should leave you enough time for printing, addressing and mailing.

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When should my wedding invitations be mailed?

Four to six weeks before the wedding. For summer and holiday weddings, mail your invitations eight weeks before the wedding, as people are more likely to be traveling at those times.

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Where should I purchase my wedding invitations?

There are many places that sell wedding invitations, including stationery stores, department stores, specialty stores, independent design boutiques and websites. When selecting a stationer, look for one who has expertise in selling wedding invitations and whom you feel comfortable working with.

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What kind of paper should I use?
Wedding papers are made from either cotton or wood. The first true papers were made from cotton almost 2,000 years ago. Wood-pulp papers emerged in the 1800s during the Industrial Revolution. They supplanted cotton-fiber papers for many uses because of their lower cost and the seemingly endless supply of trees. The finest paper, though, is made from cotton.

Before you order your invitations, run your fingers across the paper. Invitations made from cotton will have a soft, rich feel. Papers made from 100% cotton are also environmentally friendly, as cotton is a renewable resource. A new cotton crop is harvested every year, whereas it takes many years to replace the trees used to make wood-pulp papers.

And unlike papers made from ordinary wood pulp, papers made from cotton don’t decompose. Your wedding invitations will look as beautiful on your golden wedding anniversary as they did on the day you sent them.

Gold Beveled Wedding Invitation Response Card

What color should my invitations be?
Formal wedding invitations can be printed on either ecru or white stationery. Ecru is the color you may know as buff, cream, ivory or eggshell. Ecru is the more popular of the two in the Americas, while white is the color of choice in Europe. That all said, the color you choose is a matter of personal preference. If bright orange has special meaning to you and your future spouse, then by all means, make them orange.

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What size should my invitation be?
Wedding invitations are available in three sizes: 6 3/8 by 8 7/8 inches, 5 1/2 by 7 1/2 inches and 4 1/2 by 6 1/4 inches. Each of these letter sheets fits in a set of matching envelopes.

The two larger sizes are also available with a second fold across the middle of the sheet. The sheets fold a second time from top to bottom. The fold runs beneath the “to” line and does not cut across any of the engraving. These invitations are the most traditional. If you look at your parents’ or grandparents’ wedding invitations, you’ll likely find they were done with a second fold.

Historical tidbit: These traditional invitations date back to earlier times when most formal social events were held in cities and towns. The residents had relatively small mailboxes so instead of having the postman stuff large invitations into small mailboxes, engravers folded the invitations neatly into smaller envelopes.

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How do I go about choosing a lettering style?
Look at sample invitations. Since traditional invitations all follow the same format, your invitations will look pretty much like the sample. The lettering style you choose should reflect the formality of your wedding and your personal taste. Classic lettering styles, such as Royal Script or Shaded Antique Roman, are the most popular and always in good taste.

Black Ink Calligraphy Wedding Invitation

What color ink should I use?
Formal wedding invitations are engraved in black ink. However, exceptionally bold lettering styles on white paper can look too heavy and busy when engraved in black ink. In such cases, dark grey ink is suggested. Less formal invitations might incorporate other colors, such as navy, burgundy or dark green. The color selection is often made to reflect the season or tone of the event, or to coordinate with the wedding’s color palette.

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What printing process should I use?

There are several printing processes you can choose from, depending on your aesthetic and budget.

gold engraved wedding rsvp cardThe grande dame of printing processes is engraving. Engraving is one of the oldest and most beautiful processes for reproducing images on paper. Developed during the 1700s, it was initially used to reproduce the documents and announcements that were copied by hand at that time.

The appeal of engraving was in the exquisite detail created by its three-dimensional impression. Engravers were talented craftsmen who carried their trade from the Old World to the Americas. Their craft was not only used to produce stationery and announcements but also currency papers, such as stocks, bonds and dollar bills. Two of the United States’ most famous engravers were Paul Revere and Benjamin Franklin.

The most elegant invitations are still engraved. The invitation copy is etched in reverse into a copper plate, and ink is deposited into the resulting cavity. The engraving press then forces the paper into the cavity, creating a raised impression.

The easiest way to tell if an invitation is engraved is to turn it over. If there’s an indentation, it’s engraved. The indentation is caused by the pressure the engraving press exerts on the paper when it forces the paper into the cavity of the die. None of the other processes produce an indentation.

When you look at the front of the indentation, you’ll notice its “bruise.” The invitation will have a gentle wave or ripple to it, giving it a look of distinction. Run your fingers across it. You’ll feel the softness of the cotton paper interrupted by the sharp, crisp lines that can only be created by engraving, as the paper is literally raised, with the ink adhering to its raised surface. The fact that the paper itself is raised is what distinguishes engraving from printing and thermography.

Bride to Be Bridal Shower InvitationWhich leads us to our next printing process, thermography. Thermography is sometimes called “raised printing,” although the printing is not raised at all. Unlike engraving, where the paper is actually raised, the raise in thermography is created by a resinous powder that is melted over the flat-printed ink. Thermography is less expensive than engraving and can give your invitations a look similar to, but not quite as nice as, engraving.

blind embossed wedding invitationAnother choice is blind embossing (or just “embossing”). It’s a process similar to engraving. As with engraving, a raised impression is created from a copper plate. Unlike engraving, no ink is used. Blind embossing is commonly used for a family coat of arms, the return address on the outside envelopes, and monogrammed thank-you notes.

letterpress wedding invitationLetterpress is also an option. It’s a more casual style and has seen a recent resurgence, with independent letterpress printers popping up all over the world. Developed in the 14th century, letterpress printing involves setting type and motifs in reverse on a letterpress plate. The plate is then inked and pressed onto the surface of a paper. You can tell if an invitation has undergone this printing process by running your fingers across the paper and feeling for depressions where the letters have been — you got it — pressed.

Finally, there’s foil stamping. What makes this process different from all the others is that it doesn’t use ink. It uses — yep — foil. Like engraving and letterpress, a plate is made. Then, the foil is pressed between the paper and the plate. Because of the metallic quality of most foils, this printing process offers allows your invitations to shine. Literally.

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How much postage will my wedding invitations require?

The invitation’s size, the number of enclosure cards and even the humidity affect the postage. To determine the correct postage, have your invitations (including the stamp on the reply envelopes) weighed at the post office from which they will be sent.

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How much money should I expect to spend?

Cost will depend on the quality of the invitation, the number of enclosures and the quantity ordered. When selecting your invitations, it’s important to remember that even though the invitations set the tone for the entire wedding, they comprise, on average, only about 2% of the wedding’s total cost. No matter how much money you save by purchasing inexpensive invitations, it will be a tiny amount in relation to the overall cost of your wedding.

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4 thoughts on “Wedding Invitation Etiquette 101

  1. Pingback: Winter Wedding Inspiration « Julianne Beauté

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