What to Know About Wedding Postage

It's not as simple as mailing a birthday card.

how to buy postage stamps for wedding invitations

Photo: Jen Fariello: Stationery: Emily Baird; Calligraphy: Laura Hooper Calligraphy

Between the never-ending bills, junky home service flyers, and catalogs seemingly no one ever actually signs up for, your mailbox can be a less than exciting place. The paper correspondence we receive almost never feels special, with one notable exception: a wedding invitation. This pretty piece of snail mail lets the recipient know a celebration is on the horizon and that they have something wonderful to look forward to in the coming months. 

While an invitation is the first impression of a wedding, the invitation envelope—along with the postage that brought it to its destination—is the precursor that sets the stage. "A printed invitation elevates the experience for the guest and makes them feel special," says stationery designer Emily Baird. "Postage adds a special design touch, and also makes mail fun for people to open."

Meet the Expert

Emily Baird is a luxury custom stationery designer based in the Washington, D.C. area. She serves clients globally.

So, if you’ve invested time, effort, and money to create a gorgeous wedding stationery suite, it’d be a shame for the method of delivery to be an afterthought. Thankfully, with a bit of pre-planning, you can send off your invitations with style and flair and still ensure they arrive safely to guests’ mailboxes. Read on for everything you need to know about postage stamps for your wedding invitations, including how to determine the cost of mailing (it may be higher than you think!) and where to purchase stamps that will match your stationery’s color and design schemes. 

How to Determine Required Postage 

In this age of electronic communication, a refresh might be necessary on what goes into sending off a piece of paper mail. While you might assume that you can stuff a few pieces of paper into an envelope, slap on a stamp, and drop it into a letterbox, the process for your wedding invitations will likely be a bit more involved—and cost more than you might think. 

Per USPS, one standard 58-cent stamp is sufficient coverage for a letter weighing up to one ounce—roughly the equivalent of four sheets of regular 8.5-by-11-inch paper—that is being sent in a rectangular paper envelope. That envelope must be a minimum of 5 inches long and 3 .5 inches wide and can be no larger than 11.5 inches long by 6 ⅛ inches high. When sealed, the envelope can be no more than 0.25 inches thick. 

These pretty limiting parameters don’t always work for wedding invitations because invitations are often printed on thicker cardstock, occasionally include three-dimensional details such as wax seals, and are sometimes designed in non-rectangular shapes such as circles and squares. To avoid a dreaded "return to sender" moment, it’s best to consult a post office professional directly on what is required to successfully send out your invite. 

"You should never try to calculate your postage without having a hard copy of the invitation," says Baird. "We take one fully finished envelope to the post office and we have them tell us how much it’s going to weigh and what it will cost to mail." If possible, Baird recommends heading to a USPS processing center to determine these numbers, as this facility will be the one actually sending your invitations out to their destinations.

From there, the number of stamps required to send an invitation will be determined by the value of each of the stamps used. (While most stamps sold by USPS today are that standard 58-cent value, USPS does also offer stamps in denominations under and over that amount.) You’ll want to keep adding on stamps until their total value reaches at least the cost provided to you by USPS. 

Because weight readings can deviate between post offices and the distance between the origin and destination zip codes of a piece of mail can also impact the cost to mail it, it’s best to err on the side of caution and overstamp whenever possible. That extra padding will help ensure your invitations successfully arrive at further-flung locales.

What to Know About Hand-Canceling 

Once a piece of mail is ready to be sent out, it will go through a "canceling" process. Typically conducted by running the piece of mail through a machine, this process places black lines and symbols over the letter’s postage stamps in order to prevent their reuse. 

Unfortunately, the machine-automated process can damage bulkier envelopes, which leads many stationers to request that their envelopes be hand-canceled. In hand-canceling, either the sender or a USPS employee will use a rubber stamp to individually hand stamp each envelope with the cancellation markings. In addition to better protecting the piece of mail, hand-canceling can also add to the overall aesthetics. "A hand-cancel stamp has the city and state the envelope was mailed from, which does give it a classic look," adds Baird. 

If you’ll be going the hand-cancel route, it’s important to note that this service will likely cost extra per envelope. Be sure to inquire about hand-canceling when you bring your stuffed envelope in for weighing, and adjust the amount of postage added to each envelope as necessary. As hand-canceling is more time-intensive, it’s also best to head to the post office at an off-peak hour (i.e. don’t visit during lunch or the end of the day) to conduct the process. 

Using Vintage Stamps 

If you’re going after an Old World or more romantic look on your wedding invitation, you may find that the modern stylings of today’s stamps won’t fit your vibe. Or perhaps you have a specific color or motif in mind, but no current offerings fit the bill. This is where vintage stamps come in. 

"Whether it’s Walt Disney or florals, vintage stamps expand a client’s ability to pick on-theme stamps," says Baird. There are plenty of old-school stamp dealers ready to make these more specific visions a reality—just be prepared to spend more time and money in order to use their wares. 

Vintage stamps were most often created at lower values, which means you’ll need to use more of them in order to successfully mail your invitations. While stamps from the past 10 to 20 years should be fairly easy to find in vast quantities, postage from earlier eras are scarcer. And the scarcer a style is, the more it will cost to purchase. "Expect to pay at least $8 for the front of one envelope after all is said and done," says Baird, who has also seen suites of vintage stamps run as high as $16 to $20 per envelope. Multiply that across 100 guests and the spending adds up fast. 

There’s also the time factor to consider. Older stamps will need to be individually applied with a glue stick or tape runner, and it will also take longer for a post office employee to confirm that each envelope has been posted with the correct value.

How to Save Money on Postage

If your invitation envelope clocks in above a certain weight and thickness, it will be considered a parcel mailing. Per Baird, the cost of a parcel mailer can hover around $5 per envelope. If you want to lessen that fee, there are certain choices you can make with your stationery ahead of time. "Parcel class is really determined by what is considered unbendable," explains Baird. "If [a postal worker] feels something hard in your envelope, they may bump it up." To avoid this—and to subsequently lower costs—Baird recommends using single-ply paper, avoiding details like wax seals and knotted ribbons, and keeping inserts confined to an invitation, details card, and RSVP envelope if you’ll be using one. "This way, your invitation may cost as little as 90 cents to mail," she says. 

Where to Purchase Stamps 

USPS

The most obvious and economical resource for stamps is the United States Postal Service. Head to USPS to peruse what’s available in a variety of themes, colors, and up-to-date price denominations. (There’s even a "Love/Wedding" subcategory, though it’s not particularly robust.) If you are planning your wedding a year in advance, order a stamp catalog for the calendar year of your wedding to see what options will become available later on. Just be sure to double-check that your desired stamp style will be available with plenty of time—at least three months—between when you mail your invitations and the date of your celebration. 

Amazon 

Per Baird, Amazon is an excellent resource for stamps that have recently been retired. What you don’t want to do, however, is use the site to purchase stamps that are still available via USPS, as the prices may be marked up. 

Etsy

If there’s a specific stamp theme or color palette you’re after, Etsy will offer the most options. The site is also worth perusing for harder-to-find one-off state stamps, which are an easy way to add a personal touch to your postage. "There are also vendors who will curate a set for you in a certain color and at a certain value," says Baird. So if you know you need $4 worth of postage in a green color palette, you can pay a nominal fee to have a professional curate a selection for you. 

Ebay

This digital resale behemoth has an entire section devoted to stamps. It is an especially helpful resource if you know the identifying Scott number of the specific stamp style you want to purchase, as many more technical dealers will use the Scott number in their listings.

Look for "Mint Never Hinged" or "MVF" in product listings on resale sites to ensure that the stamp has not been previously used. 

Edelweiss Post

While there are plenty of independent, high-quality dealers to choose from, Baird’s go-to resource for vintage stamps and customized collections is Patrick Dea’s Minnesota-based business Edelweiss Post. Browse beautifully curated options by themes such as Love, Fruit & Food, Plants & Nature, and even Famous People, or just sort through according to your desired colored palette. All orders over $35 ship free. 

How to Elevate Invitations With Stamps 

Now that you’re caught up on the nitty-gritty of how to properly add stamps to your wedding invitations, it’s time for the fun part: designing with them! Here are Baird’s tips for choosing and placing stamps in ways that will maximize the beauty of your envelopes. 

Stick to a single color palette. 

For a cohesive look that’s easy and relatively affordable to pull off, Baird suggests focusing on a single hue. "It looks really polished and put-together even if the stamp designs are not quite wedding-related," she explains. This approach also allows you more flexibility in stamp choices and even provides the opportunity to mix new and vintage stamps without detracting from your stationery design scheme.   

Don’t worry about mixing new and vintage stamps. As long as the total value of all the stamps used adds up to the correct amount, you’ll be able to send the letter. 

Lay stamps across the envelope top. 

When affixing four or more stamps to a wedding invitation envelope, Baird prefers to line them across the top of the envelope instead of clustering them in a corner. Not only does this arrangement make it easier for postal workers to tabulate the total postage value, but it also leaves more room for calligraphed addresses on the front of the envelope. "If you’re passionate about stacking stamps, consider hiring a calligrapher ahead of time because they’re going to have to write lower or smaller," says Baird. "If you line the stamps across the top, though, there usually won’t be an issue."

Go shortest to tallest. 

Stamps come in a variety of sizes and orientations. If you’ll be using several and prefer a more artfully arranged cluster, it’s worth ordering a few sample stamps and spending time trying out several different configurations before settling on your favorite. Alternatively, try this easier approach: line the stamps along the top of your envelope from left to right in order of shortest to tallest. This arrangement will look the most intentional. 

Stack horizontal stamps. 

While horizontal stamps will be on the shorter side when considered all on their own, they often stack nicely in pairs of two to reach roughly the same height as a vertical stamp. This trick is an easy way to keep more of your stamp line at the same size.

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