While letterpress wedding invitations and hand-lettered save the dates are undeniably elegant, invitation suites can get expensive—fast. Who knew paper and printing could be so pricey? If you’re on the hunt for a budget-friendly alternative (and aren’t afraid of a little DIY work), there is another option: printing your invitations at home. Far from a test of your ClipArt skills, these invitations are designed by stationers and graphic designers, then delivered to you as downloadable .JPG or .PDF files that you can either print in the comfort of your home or hand off to the local print shop. For a fraction of the cost of a custom invitation suite and printing services, you can get a semi-custom invitation that fits your wedding to a T. We’ve talked to a few of our fave online stationers to get their tips for making this process pain free.
Here are 14 steps you must follow for an enjoyable print-at-home experience.
Get an Early Start
It’s more affordable than having your invitations printed by a pro, but that doesn’t mean printing your wedding invitations at home will be faster. “Give yourselves plenty of time,” says Lea Poppy of Lady Poppy Designs. "Be patient when printing at home, because sometimes the process can be complicated.” Count back from your wedding date to see when you’ll need to start printing and assembling. “Invitations should be mailed eight weeks before your wedding date, and you’ll need at least a month to print and assemble each invite, which means you’ll need all of the pieces in hand at least three months before your wedding,” says Amy Gonzales, a designer at Smitten on Paper. “Make sure you have about 10 percent more supplies than you actually need (like ribbon, paper, ink, and envelopes) in case of mistakes or the need to reprint something.”
Consider the Cost
Even if you are printing at home, the cost of ink and paper will still set you back a bit, especially if you spring for high-quality paper stock or heavily saturated inks. Lindsey Winkelman, owner of Splash of Silver, recommends keeping these questions in mind: What size will your invitations be? What kind of paper or card stock will you be printing on? Will your invitations be flat or folded? Are you adding embellishments, like a belly band or wrap? “These answers will help you determine the cost per invitation, which leads to your total spend on invitations,” she says. And don’t forget postage and envelopes.
Pick a Suitable Style
Sure, you can print just about any design at home, but some are better suited to home printing than others. “Designs with more white space and lighter color backgrounds will look better on home printers—and save on your printer ink bill.” says Lia Griffith, designer, maker, and DIY lifestyle guru. “If you want a pop of color, we suggest printing on colored paper instead. We personally love the look of frosted card stock.”
Make Sure Your Design Looks Professional
Even though you’re skipping the traditional stationer, you still want your invitations to look hot off the professional press. Susy Fontaine, co-owner of online wedding shop Invys, has a trick for every DIY bride and groom: Use a design that “bleeds.” “The trick to getting the most professional look is having a design that reaches the edge of paper, with no white margins,” Fontaine says. “This effect, called a full-bleed in the printing industry, is achieved by creating a design slightly larger than the final cut size. The extra will be trimmed off and discarded. For example, a 5x7-inch standard invitation design would actually be 5.25x7.25 inches, and an eighth of an inch will be trimmed from each side to ensure it goes right to the edge.” This means your best bet is to center the design on even larger stock, giving you plenty of space for margins and lots of room to trim neatly. Adds Fontaine, “If you are using pre-cut invitation panels, it is best to avoid the edge areas entirely and only put text and artwork in the center. Most home printers can’t print all the way to the edge, which can make it look like your design was cut off.”
Check Your Computer and Printer
If you’re printing at home, it’s important to make sure all of your equipment is working properly. “Every printer and monitor are calibrated differently, meaning the color may vary slightly from what’s on your screen,” says Poppy. Katie Weber of West + Pine concurs. “Your computer screen may not give you a great depiction of how the design will actually print. Home printers tend to be a shade or two darker, while cost-effective web or local printers are usually a bit lighter.” Spend time printing tests and adjusting the settings on your printer to get the colors you want, and invest in a sample or two if you’re having your print shop do the heavy lifting so you can get the color balance just so.
Make Sure Your Printer and Paper Work Together
Finding the right combination of printer and paper is key. The way your printer loads paper, as well as the type of ink you use, will play a big role in the paper you choose. “If you’re planning on using cover stock, especially stock that is heavier than 80 lb., you’ll have much better luck with a rear-feed printer,” says Julie Green, designer of Up Up Creative. “Printers with front feeds have a harder time with thick paper because, instead of loading the paper down and through, they have to turn and flip the paper inside the printer.” This can lead to jams, which will not make the process easier. You will also have better luck with an inkjet printer than a laser printer, which can give ink a strange, shiny finish. If your home printer is a whiz with photos, you’re in luck. “Choose the highest quality settings, often labeled ‘high quality’ or ‘photo quality’ in the print dialogue box,” says Green. “And make sure it’s set to print ‘actual size’ and not scaled to fit the page.”
Pick Heavy Paper
The thickness (or weight) of the paper is what will give your invitations that formal, professional feel. Look for paper that is at least 80 lb. or 12 pt. stock. Linen and felt weave papers can also give the design more visual interest and texture. Head to specialty stationery stores to find a range of options that you can touch in person, or order samples if you’re buying online. “Before you commit to buying all of the paper you need, you should get some samples and do a few tests to see what size and type of paper is going to give you the best results on the printer that you’re using,” says Natasha Lawler, a PR expert and event planner at Natasha M. Lawler. “Some papers may be too thick for your home printer. Your design might look better on one paper over another. Review your printer’s settings to look for options related to print quality. Experiment to see what looks best.”
Plan Your Ink Usage
You’ve thought about how much the paper will cost, but ink costs money, too. “If you have a colored background, you’ll use a lot of ink, which can really affect the cost of your invitations," Fontaine says. "Also, a less-than-brand-new printer can show imperfections in large fields of color. Letting the paper show through, while including the colorful touches in the design, may be the way to go when printing at home. Adds Lawler, “If you’re using an inkjet printer, don’t forget to include drying time before you handle the printed cards.”
Don’t Print With White Ink
As appealing as the idea sounds, Weber says it almost never works. “We get asked all the time to create DIY designs that print white text,” she states. “The bottom line is, there are very few printers that actually print white ink. And we can almost guarantee you don’t have one sitting at home.” If you love the look of white lettering, that means you’ll be printing colored ink onto white paper, allowing the white to show through—which can mean using a lot of ink. Elisa Hardy of Designed with Amore echoes Weber’s sentiment. “We have had a lot of requests about printing white artwork on dark card stock. White ink cartridges do indeed exist, but they are not included in the default ink cartridges of home printers.” If you look at a design on your monitor, any “white” parts are actually “unprinted” when using a home printer. “So if you print it on a card stock that is a color other than white, the ‘white’ parts will be the color of the paper you’re printing on,” Hardy concludes. Set on having a design with a colored background and white lettering? You’re best off bringing the design to a print shop, where the cost of using all that ink won’t blow up your wedding budget.
Whether you’re purchasing the final design or will be editing the wording of the invite yourself, run it past multiple sets of eyes before you print. “Have several different friends or family members proofread the files, just in case.” says Winkelman.
Don’t Forget Your Envelopes
“There are so many fabulous options out there. Choose white for a classic look, or choose a color to match your invitations for that extra little ‘pop,’” advises Jennifer Owens of Blackberry Graphics. Looking at colored envelopes? Purchase them in a complementary shade to enhance your invitation’s design, as well as a light enough color so the address will still show.
Envelope liners are also a great way to dress up your invitations, whether you use metallic paper or a patterned option.
Consider a Print Shop
Not the DIY type? Take the work out of the process (but still save a little cash) by purchasing a digital invitation design file, then having your local print shop do the hard part. “A print shop will be able to help select the best paper for your design, trim the cards to the perfect size, and provide that professional touch your wedding invitations deserve,” says Griffith.
Make Assembly Easy
The quickest way to get clean cuts for your invitations is to use a paper cutter with a new, sharp blade. “This is a great job to delegate to a bridesmaid who is offering to help,” says Griffith. Assembling layers or adding envelope liners? She suggests glue dots or double-stick tape instead of glue—and she uses the same to seal envelopes, too.
Head to the Post Office
Once you have an invitation completed (with all the embellishments and inserts, too), put it together, stick it in an envelope, and go to the post office to have your post master weigh it. Remember that the shape of the envelope will also impact the cost. Hoping for hand canceling? Mention that to your postal worker while you’re calculating postage in case there are extra accommodations that need to be made (such as printing “Hand Cancel, Please” on each envelope).