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What to Know *Before* You Look For Wedding Invitations

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"Wish I’d known..." are the three words Kristen Miglore told me best described her experience planning invitations for her upcoming wedding (yes, I limited her to three words, and yes, she could have probably gone on). I've never planned a wedding myself—and perhaps accordingly, all I'd know going into a meeting with a stationer is that the thicker the cardstock, the more expensive it's going to be.

Time frame required? What's important to bring to the meeting? No idea. And I'm sure I'm not alone in this, since meeting with a letterpress about a large order of custom invitations isn't something one does terribly often.

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Photo by Sugar Paper

But as it turns out, if you're planning on getting letterpress invitations, there are a few things that are helpful to know ahead of time that will make the whole process run more smoothly—and isn't getting things to run smoothly the whole (often impossible-feeling) goal of planning a wedding? I spoke with Chelsea Shukov, the owner of Sugar Paper, a letterpress in Los Angeles, about what a customer would want to know before their first meeting with a stationer.

1. The best inspiration will convey the look and feel of your event.

My mom keeps a drawer full of stationery she's loved from weddings she's been invited to, expressly for the purpose of inspiring my stationer should I ever get married. But as Chelsea pointed out, a good designer can play off inspiration that's much more emotional and esoteric—and in the best-case scenarios, a client will actually bring something that relates to the look and feel of the event.

“Inspiration is really helpful," she explained. "A photo of a bridesmaid’s dress, or a tear sheet of their floral inspiration, or a piece of lace—whatever is defining the decor and the color story!” An idea of what you're hoping the cake looks like, or even a brochure from the place you're getting married, can help them start moving in a stylistic direction (and of course any and all invitations you've loved are welcome).

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2. Have all your wedding-day details on hand at the first meeting.

Chelsea said that what most brides and grooms overlook is the fact that "when you send invitations, you're giving your guests the necessary information to get to your event"—meaning, your stationers can't get rolling on the design until all those details are hammered out!

Oft-forgotten tidbits you'll want to remember besides your bride's middle name:

  • Other printed material from the day of the ceremony: Besides the mail invitation (and corresponding reply cards!), you might also want a program for the wedding ceremony, signage for the food at the reception (whether that's little tented buffet cards or personal menus for a sit-down dinner), and place cards if you're having a seated dinner. It's common for the information that drives these these to roll in very last-minute, which puts your stationer in the tough situation of not having enough time to print it all. (As an added bonus, getting these details planned out as far in advance as possible means you'll be done thinking about them for a while.)
True letterpress requires—spoiler!—a press (here's Sugar Paper's). Photos by Sugar Paper
  • How you want things stated: For example, the "host line" is what leads an invitation—Mr. & Mrs. Enchilada invite you... or Together with their families...—and traditionally these are the names of whoever is paying for the wedding (though nobody's going to make you play by the rules, of course). That said, it's better to figure out what this line will say ahead of time than have an awkward game-time decision with your parents and your in-laws in the stationery office.

3. Know where the hidden costs are.

When you go searching for invitations you like on Pinterest (or if you collect invitations as my mom does), chances are good that you'll fall in love with something that seems very simple but is in fact very painstaking to create. Which is not to say you can't still opt for these embellishments—but it's good to know what might be costly before you have a breakdown in the stationery shop. Here are the hidden cost culprits Chelsea sees clients being surprised by:

Envelope lining, extra cards, and hand-lettering will add expense. Photos by Sugar Paper
  • Lined envelopes: Someone has to actually adhere each liner to each envelope!
  • Thick cardstock: Duplexing, the act of adhering two pieces of paper together to build up the card's thickness, is done by hand.
  • Lots of colors: If you're getting letterpressed invitations, every color is charged separately (so if you want tons of colors, you should probably go to a digital or offset printer instead).
  • Bordering: Having the edges of a card painted, or beveled (cut at an angle) and then painted, is also done by hand.
  • Hand-lettering: A high-end calligrapher can charge as much as $16 or $24 per envelope—while cursive scripts, which are just standard fonts, will cost much less (and sometimes they're hard to tell apart).
  • Extra cards: In the age of smartphones and Google, having a separate card printed with directions to the venue on it is not necessary—and the same goes for cards that indicate the details of the reception, which can generally be summed up in a line on the invitation.
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4. Allow enough time, and then some.

Six weeks is the average production time for a set of letterpress wedding invitations, Chelsea explains (though it could take more or less time depending on how busy your stationer is, and how many features you're requesting). And having each envelope addressed will tack another period of time onto the end of that.

So when's too early and when's too late to go to a stationer? Wait until you have all the necessary information for your invitations and programs, and inspiration swatches, before you go—but start the conversation no less than 4 months before your wedding if at all possible.

What have you learned in your stationery-ordering experiences? Share any tips you have in the comments.

Tags: weddings, stationery, letterpress, invitations, wedding invitations