Before you order your stationery, it's always a smart idea to put together a list of all the things you'll need to print for your wedding. This will help you and your spouse-to-be stay on budget and figure out which pieces are essential and which ones you may not need.
For some guidance, we consulted with stationery expert Katie Fischer Cohen to assist in putting together a checklist—a guide to all the various paper elements you might need for your big day. Keep in mind, though, that this list is not meant to be exhaustive. The vast majority of these elements are optional, can be done as a DIY project and personalized, or can be sent electronically (besides the wedding invitation itself—we still think it's important to send guests a printed invitation).
Meet the Expert
Katie Fischer Cohen is the founder of Katie Fischer Design, which specializes in high-end custom wedding invitations and day-of stationery.
If you're having trouble finding inspiration for the invitations once you've sorted through the list, Cohen has this advice: "It's okay to browse Instagram and Pinterest for ideas, but at a certain point, you have to get off of all that stuff. Ask yourself: Who are we and what's important to us? Don't let the of-the-moment trends lead you away from your true aesthetic."
Ahead, see our checklist of the different stationery pieces you'll need for your big day.
Before the Wedding
Engagement Party Invitation
For a formal engagement party, invites should be sent two to three months in advance, and for a more casual affair, six to eight weeks is fine. They should include the location, date, time, and any required dress code.
Save-the-dates aren't mandatory but, if you do choose to send one, it should be sent six to eight months in advance and mention the city and state of your wedding, your wedding website, and that a formal invitation will follow. Destination wedding save-the-dates can be sent up to a year in advance. "This will result in a higher acceptance rate, and it's a courtesy that allows your guests enough time to plan and book their travel," Cohen says.
Formal save-the-dates should have full names, but casual ones can just have your first names—provided everyone knows you both well enough.
Bridal Shower Invitation
Traditionally, the bridal party hosts the bridal shower; therefore, its members should send the invites. Timing is typically two to three months in advance, and the invite should include location, time, date, and whether or not there's a theme. Where the couple is registered is also helpful.
Bridal Shower Thank-You Cards
Cohen suggests writing thank-you notes right away and sending them two weeks—at the latest—after receiving your gift. "Ask a bridesmaid to take notes as you open your gifts so your thank-you notes aren’t relegated to a generalized 'Thank you for the gift,'" Cohen says. Keep in mind, a handwritten note is always more thoughtful and appreciated than an email.
Bachelor/Bachelorette Party Invitation
If it's a small-ish gathering, you can organize everything over email and text message. If it's a larger group, invitations should be sent out two to three months in advance. "Be sure to include all details and what's expected of the guests," Cohen says.
Rehearsal Dinner Invitation
The family hosting the rehearsal dinner may want to handle the invitations themselves. Otherwise, the couple may choose invites to match and be included in the main wedding invitation suite. In this case, it should include the name of the family that's hosting, location information, and RSVP cards or an RSVP line.
Welcome Dinner Invitation
"If it's a more formal event that someone else is hosting, you can create a separate invitation card for this event," Cohen suggests. It can also be sent out with the invitation suite, included in the "weekend events" card. Be sure to properly credit the host and mention any attire expectations.
The Wedding Invitation
If you're going for a traditional invitation suite, it should always include an inner and outer envelope. The outer should include the recipient's address on the front and postage stamps on the upper right-hand corner. "Be sure to double-check postage amounts before you mail them and request hand-canceling at the post office," Cohen recommends.
The inner envelope should include the title and last name of the invitees. "While the inner envelope is not mandatory for less traditional suites, you may want to consider it if you want your guests to receive a pristine envelope (expect wear and tear to the outer envelope) or if you have a special envelope liner (the liner goes on the inner unsealed envelope, so there's no tearing it open)," Cohen says.
This is an optional add-on and can be made of paper, fabric, or ribbon. It wraps around the invitation suite to hold it all together.
The invitation card should be the largest and most substantial card in the invitation suite, Cohen suggests. The first line should include who's hosting the wedding, who's getting married, the date, the time, the name of the venue, and the city and state. "If your reception is happening at the same place, include something like 'dinner and dancing to follow' and also include the attire," Cohen says.
If your reception will be at a different venue than the ceremony, the invitation should include a reception card. It should state the name and address of the venue and can also include the time if it's not being held immediately after the ceremony.
Cohen notes that modern-day wedding websites (and Google Maps) have largely replaced directions and map cards. But they haven't become completely obsolete and can act as a fun and functional add-on, especially if an event is at a venue that's hard to find.
Response Card and Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope
Response cards are a way to collect your RSVPs, and each should include a sentence with a "reply by" date at the top or bottom of the card and checkboxes for "accepts with pleasure" and "declines with regret." Traditional reply cards typically leave the rest blank while modern ones include a fill-in-the-blank for guests to write in their names. Collecting RSVPs online is becoming a popular option; if that method speaks to you, Cohen suggests still sending a response card telling guests to RSVP online.
"RSVP are the initials for the French words 'répondez s'il vous plaît,' which translates to 'please respond,'" Cohen says. "So, if using 'RSVP' on your reply card, it should not be preceded by the word please."
Hotel Accommodations Card
"If you do not have a wedding website and people will be traveling to your wedding, you should include an accommodations card with recommended hotels in the area," Cohen advises. Make sure to include all relevant booking info and codes.
At the Wedding
Welcome Basket Tag
For guests coming from out of town, it's nice to include a welcome basket with an optional accompanying tag. The tag can include the items in the basket and a little note thanking them for coming. Or, it can simply read "welcome!"
These are optional, especially if the ceremony is on the shorter side. If you choose to create one, it typically includes the couple's name, date, location of the ceremony, a brief welcome, an overview of the proceedings, and the names of everyone involved in the ceremony.
Escort cards help direct guests to their assigned tables. Individual cards or a sign listing the names of guests and their designated tables are usually placed at the entrance of the reception.
Place cards are more formal than escort cards and are, therefore, optional. They designate what table a guest will be sitting at along with the seat. They're typically used for sit-down dinner receptions and help the venue determine which guest is getting what meal.
Table Number Cards
This is important to include, especially if you're having a big wedding. It helps guests find their seats and provides some organization. Make sure the numbers printed on the cards are big enough for people to see.
Menu cards give an overview of what will be served for the meal. Some will include options to choose from (entreé, sides, and dessert) while others (buffet or family-style) will simply include the food on offer.
These usually include the names of the couple and/or the date of the wedding. Including a tag is optional (a lot of the information these days is engraved on the gift itself), but it's also a nice touch.
After the Wedding
Generally, thank-you cards should include the gift giver's name, what they bought, and a note of appreciation. They should be sent out within three weeks of receiving the gift. If you want to include photos from your wedding on or within your thank-you cards, they can be sent out a little later.