Not Just A Piece Of Paper: Invitation Basics Part 1

Invitations are one of the aspects of a wedding that vary WILDLY from couple to couple.  There are definitely wrong ways to go about it, but there’s no one right way either.  The first thing you need to consider is how high up on your priority list killer invitations are, because that very much dictates how much you can spend on them.  The second thing to consider is how formal you want them to look (the formality of the invitations tells your guests how formal your event is and gives them an idea of what kind of dress code is expected).  Once you decide on an approximate cost you want to stick to (either as a total or on a “per invitation” basis) and a level of formality, you’re ready to dive in.


I figure before I address how cost can be affected, I should tell you about all the pieces that could end up in your invitation!  The typical pieces included in invitations are:

  • Base invitation
  • Reception card
  • RSVP card
  • RSVP envelope

The base invitation is the invitation to the ceremony.  This lists your names, the date, time, and location of the ceremony.  There can be more info, but I’ll talk about that when I talk about invitation wording (which is an adventure all its own).  The reception card is sort of like a mini invitation and gives the time and location of the reception.  This doesn’t need to be elaborate or large, just be enough to display the basic info.  If you’re going informal this information can be on the base invitation card, however if you’re having a formal event it should be separate.  The RSVP card is the card on which the invitation recipients mark whether or not they will be in attendance and what their entrée choice is if you’re having a dinner with meal choices (so be sure you leave a spot or check box for them to mark it!).  You should also provide an envelope of the appropriate size with the invitation that the guest can use to mail back their RSVP card (etiquette says the envelope should already have a stamp and your address on it as well; they should literally just be able to put the card in it and put it in the mail).

You also have the option of including an accommodation card, which tells your guests what hotels are in the area, or a map/direction card, which provides more details about where the ceremony/reception are located and how guests may get between the two.  With the prevalence of the internet these have fallen by the wayside and aren’t considered a need anymore, but you can still do them if you’d like.  I would recommend still doing an accommodation card if you’re doing a destination wedding.

If you’re going for a formal event, your invitations should be formal as well, meaning you have another piece to your invitation puzzle.  Formal invitations have inner and outer envelopes.  The outer envelope has the formal addressing of the recipient, and its main purpose is to protect the invitation from the USPS machinery.  Inside is another envelope that actually contains the invitation.  The inner envelope is marked with a less formal version of the names (so while the outer might say to Dr. and Mrs. Johnathan Smith, the inner could say Ann and John Smith), has no address on it, and is left unsealed.  This is considered the “traditional” and “formal” way to send invitations, but you can also use an inner envelope if you have something like a rhinestone or other feature that sticks up off the card and runs the risk of poking through a single envelope.

Print Types

There are 3 main types of printing available to you depending on what your budget will allow and what kind of look you’re going for.

  • Offset Printing – The cheapest option, also known as lithography, this is what most modern printing is.  This is the flat style of printing used in magazines and postcards, and is great for informal invitations that are just trying to get the message across.
  • Letterpress – An old-fashioned style of printing, inked letters are pressed into the paper.  This leaves inked, indented letters.  It has a vintage, whimsical feel to it, and is the least crisp style of printing.
  • Engraving/Thermography – Engraving is the most expensive type of printing and is actually used by the Queen on Royal invitations.  The text is etched onto a copper plate, which is then covered with ink and wiped off, leaving ink in the etched indents.  A soft paper is pressed hard against the plate so that it deforms into the indents and picks up the ink.  This results in raised letters.  Thermography is a cheaper way to achieve the same effect, utilizing ink that has been combined with a powder resin that will raise the lettering when heat is applied.  There is no paper indentation in this form.

The Next Step

Even if you’re clueless on what you want your invitations to look like in the end, you should have an idea of what kind of details you’d like to see.  Maybe you know you want specific colors, or you want to display your monogram.  Maybe you have a symbol that represents the two of you that you want to use.  Maybe you want something shiny or metallic.  Maybe you’re a sucker for scrollwork.  Think about the vibe you want your day to have and what that means to you as a couple.  Try in incorporate those elements into your invitation.  This is, after all, an early glimpse of what the day holds for your guests.  It’s a teaser for them, so use the opportunity wisely!

Once you’ve decided what details you want, you’re ready to start looking for invitations.  In the next post I’ll discuss the different ways cost is affected and the different ways you can go about getting your invitations printed.


Posted on February 9, 2012, in Budget, Guest List, Media, Wedding Planning Isn't For Sissies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Nice… we really need to get started on designing our invitations so this post is perfectly on time…

    • Awesome! Glad my timing worked out for you 🙂 I’ve got more on invites coming on Monday, so hopefully something between these two posts will be helpful!

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