They say not to judge a book by its cover. However, it’s expected to judge an event by its invitation—especially when it comes to weddings. The big day starts with the invitation and signifies what guests can expect when it finally arrives in the mail. Will the décor be traditional, rustic, contemporary, botanical, modern, retro, or something else entirely? After all, couples typically issue the invitations at a point when they have a rough idea of what “dream wedding” means to them.
The first (and arguably most important) decision is what type of wedding invitation paper and printing style to choose. To help couples with the task, we spoke with graphic designer and stationer Joy Scott Montgomery.
Meet the Expert
Graphic designer and stationer Joy Scott Montgomery is principal and lead artist for The Stationery Bar, a custom studio based in Bay Shore on Long Island, New York.
Where to Begin
The chicken or the egg question is whether you should fall in love with a printing style or a print medium first. One can inform the other; certain surfaces are better suited for certain types of printing, and vice versa. But even before that, having a budget in mind will help you make your decision and also avoid disappointment for both you and your guests. You don’t want to blow your bucks on high-end invitations that don’t sync up with the wedding itself.
At The Stationery Bar, the typical entry-level budget for custom invitations with only the essential pieces starts at $700 for flat digital printing on nice card stock and increases to $1,000 and up for special printing effects as typical as raised thermography. “My average Long Island bride spends about $1,800 for a set of 100 invitations with RSVPs and corresponding envelopes, plus a detail card, such as reception or accommodation information,” Montgomery shares. “However, there is no standard price point because every invitation set has so many variables, from how many pieces they want to include in the invitation package to embellishments, glitter, layers, and pocket folds; to services, such as addressing and mailing … and that’s all in addition to design and printing costs.”
To keep your printed wedding invitation costs low, opt for a smaller invitation suite with limited embellishments and materials.
That said, the most popular printing styles at her studio today include flat printing and thermography on 5” x 7” card or cover stock—that is to say, premium, heavyweight paper listed at over 100 pounds per 500 sheets—paper with metallic or pearlized finishes. However, if you’ve started your search, you already know that’s only the tip of the iceberg!
Types of Invitation Paper
When it comes to choosing invitation paper, couples have plenty of options that range from high-end to cost-effective.
Card and Cover Stock
“All wedding invitations should be printed on card stock,” advises Montgomery, which is a given when you work with a stationer but not so much when you opt for a budget online vendor. “When you go with thick, heavy paper, you get much more of a luxurious feeling; it immediately feels expensive and couture, no matter the style of design.”
She adds, “The typical weight for the most commonly used cover stock by Mohawk is 120 pounds and can come in a variety of treatments,” which includes unfinished, satin, silk, and glossy. “Smooth matte paper is typically where brides start, adding textures like linen”—which encompasses patterns engraved into paper, from standard cross-hatch to diamond patterns, for a feeling that imitates the fabric—“and ranges of eggshell, which has a nice faint toothiness to it, to metallic."
The trade-off between weight and finish is one many couples consider worth it. This paper exudes fun and personality while remaining tasteful, with a pearlescent sheen that lends sparkle, shine, and dimension, for only a little more than standard finishes.
Next up for primary printing surfaces is cotton fiber, which is the costliest option. “This paper is typically made with 100% cotton, which carries a premium cost,” Montgomery cautions. “But it feels super soft and there are no imperfections in the paper—no particles or fiber.” Cotton paper is also incredibly durable while responding very well to the reception of inks for techniques like letterpress, absorbing every drop for the ultimate richness of color. These tend to age well with timelessness.
Kraft and Wood-Grain Paper
In direct contrast to the formal document look and feel of parchment or vellum (think diploma paper), more on-trend are rustic selections like kraft and wood-grain paper. Both convey an outdoorsy or scrappy DIY touch to lend a touch of personalized intimacy. Invitations with live edges, which are available with cotton paper, is another way to add that handmade-with-love feeling.
Glassine and Clear Vellum Paper
But sometimes, a negative space speaks spades, and if that’s your sensibility, there are options there, too. Glassine and clear vellum paper are the most classic non-opaque forms and are commonly used in layered invitations to provide depth and interest. Both are “flexible, translucent, cloudy white materials that are very smooth and very thin,” Montgomery explains.
“You can use different levels and sizes to create a border,” Montgomery says, in addition to muting underlying stock or graphics. She advises, “However, you can also see glue, so the layers would need to adhere to a grommet or ribbon, which adds assembly, bulk, and postage.” Other applications include using this type of paper as accents, such as for belly bands, which hold all of the elements of the invitation package together.
However, if crystal clarity is most called for, acrylic invitations are the answer. Rigid, thin sheets of clear material, these dramatic invitations are sure to draw notice, especially with advanced printing methods—but they do come at a cost and their own limitations. “The process for printing on acrylic is different; you can’t do certain things, like standard foil stamping or thermography,” which could warp the material. “You can still digitally print the design, but it’s more of a screen-printing technique. You can also have them etched or engraved. Or both!”
Depending on the paper or medium you choose, couples also have several options when it comes to printing the design on their wedding invitation.
Engraving and Embossing
High-end techniques of engraving and embossing are perfect for adding a hint of luxury to your wedding invitations. For both, letters and images appear raised on the front and indented on the back, thanks to the use of a custom-made metal plate. The difference is that with engraving, this die is filled with ink and pressed onto the paper—each color requiring its own plate—while embossing creates an inkless imprint best suited for monograms, borders, and other design effects. Both engraving and embossing require customized plates, which raises the cost of your wedding invitations.
Foil stamping is the next-most expensive method, requiring made-to-order metal dies that can stand the heat required to impress the image onto paper. However, the results are stunning, with very clean, sharp edges and crisp colors in a high-polish, metallic effect. Montogomery opines, “It gives a certain glamorous effect that you just can’t duplicate,” even while being uniquely suited for any kind of paper, adaptable to any design aesthetic, and easily combined as an accent with other printing techniques.
Letterpress is another custom die format, but it’s slightly more affordable than foil stamping since the printer is able to use a plastic die instead of metal, which brings the cost of production down. Many couples love this style due to its soft, romantic feel—a direct contrast to the clarity of the other styles. “With letterpress, you’re stamping ink into a nice, soft cotton stock, so the ink is absorbed,” Montgomery says. This results in a bit of bleed and blur around indented edges that gives it its distinctive old-world vibe.
Couples that go this route should be warned that although the printing itself may be a little less costly, the paper (like with embossing and engraving) must be premium since cotton is recommended to show the ink and texture off best.
UV and Thermographic Printing
Next up is UV, a newer technology well suited for acrylic, and thermographic printing. The effects of these heat-based methods are the same: a slight plasticine shine to raised lettering for plays on light. Montgomery’s couples love the flexibility of thermography as it’s great for all types of paper and is available in a tremendous range of colors, including metallic hues. “If you want a metallic aesthetic but don’t want to pay for foil, this is an excellent alternative,” she suggests. “Lettering comes out crisp, but I would recommend combining this with flat printing if you want to incorporate line drawings, like an outline of the church, since fine details may become lost with the thickness of the ink.”
To that point, for image-driven invitations, budget-friendly flat digital printing shines. Although this style of production doesn’t add tactile dimension, what it can offer is freedom, flexibility, and affordability. After all, the illusion of dimension can be added with visual effects by a skilled designer, or with embellishments like rhinestones, layered paper, wax seals, and more. This printing style can also let you play more with paper textures and finishes, as well.
And don’t confuse professional flat printing with inkjet or even laser printing with non-commercial equipment. “Custom stationers print using high-quality digital presses, so as long as the image is high resolution, sharp, and clean, it will come out that way,” Montgomery assures.