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The Essential Guide to Wedding Stationery
The Right Wedding Stationery Makes an Impression
Few people give much thought to stationery these days. Between email, text messaging, and cell phones, the art of the written word has largely gone by the wayside. Until, that is, the time when a couple becomes engaged. At that time, becoming familiar with the ins and outs of fine stationery becomes imperative. One cannot issue a formal invitation by email, after all (you all know that, right?). This is the essential guide to wedding stationery that every bride needs to read.
There are numerous things to know about quality stationery. There are the various types of paper, formats, and the appropriate usage to learn about before making your wedding stationery selection. Paper goods can be formal, informal, modern, or traditional, and all of those things will play a role in making the best possible choice. Cost may be a factor, as well; there can be a tremendous variation in the price of different types of paper and printing processes. A handy guide like Crane's Wedding Blue Book will provide the help needed to navigate the etiquette and stylistic details involved in wedding stationery.
A good place to begin is by taking a look at the different forms of stationery that may be included in a wedding suite. This is not to say that every bride will need every one of these items, but many will need quite a few of them. It is important to get a sense of which pieces you will want before placing your wedding stationery order, because it is best if all of the elements are coordinated, with the possible exception of the save-the-date cards. This is the overview of all of the elements of a complete suite of wedding stationery:
Save the Date Cards
These are cards sent out well in advance of the wedding invitation to inform guests that the bride and groom are getting married on a particular date. Save-the-date cards are not a substitute for a proper wedding invitation, and in fact, they generally include the notation, “Invitation to follow”. The purpose of the save-the-date card is to ensure that as many of your guests as possible will be able to attend. They are particularly useful if you are planning your wedding on a popular date, such as the third Saturday in June, over a holiday weekend like Labor Day, or in a far flung destination which requires advance travel plans. The save-the-date notice is the one part of the suite of wedding stationery that need not coordinate with the rest of the set. Many couples even opt for non-paper save-the-dates, such as custom photo magnets printed with their wedding date and location.
Wedding Invitations and Announcements
The wedding invitation is the one absolute essential for any bride and groom. The purpose of the invitation is to request that your chosen guests join you for your wedding (obviously), as well as to convey basic details about the affair. The invitation should cover the who, what, when, and where of the wedding. The “why” should be self-explanatory. The wedding invitation will consist of the paper with the invitation itself, as well as an outer envelope for mailing. Most wedding invitations also include an inner envelope, which is an old custom dating back to when people had servants open their correspondence. The outer envelope is addressed with complete postal information, whereas the inner envelope has only the names of the invitees. If the invitations come with pieces of tissue, that may be discarded, as the inks used today will not smudge.
Wedding announcements are a completely different item than the invitations. Announcements are issued after the wedding to those who were not invited, with a slightly different wording than the wedding invitations. They serve as formal notice of a marriage to distant friends and relations. The customary time to mail them is the day following the wedding, so they should be addressed and ready to send out before the wedding, so that they can be dropped in the mail the next day.
Reception and Response Cards
When the reception will be held at a separate venue from the wedding ceremony, the details can either be included on the bottom of the wedding invitation or on a separate small reception card. The reception card is an elegant option when the invitation is relatively small. In cases where including the reception details on the invitation would cause it to look very crowded or busy, the reception card is the perfect solution. It is laid on top of the wedding invitation before being placed into the envelope. Please note that it is no longer considered proper etiquette to issue an invitation to the ceremony to all guests and the reception card to a select group; all should be invited to both.
Another small card which can be enclosed with the wedding invitation, the response card is what the guests mail back to the bride to indicate whether or not they will attend the wedding. It can take the form of a small notecard with a stamped envelope or a postcard. Response cards will generally request that guests indicate how many in their party will be able to attend, and sometimes will also present guests with meal selections from which to choose. Brides should be aware that while response cards are commonplace, they are by no means mandatory. The traditional notation, “R.s.v.p.” or “The favour of a reply is requested” can be printed on the lower left hand of the wedding invitation (or the reception card, if being used) rather than including a separate reply card. This is, in fact, the more gracious form, for those interested in traditional etiquette.
Additional Wedding Invitation Enclosures
There are several additional enclosures which a bride may wish to mail with her wedding invitation. “Within the ribbon” cards are traditional tiny cards sent only to immediate family. The guests who receive them with their invitations are supposed to present them to the ushers at the ceremony, who will then know to guide them to reserved seats in the front. Maps or directions are another enclosure which some couples will include with the wedding invitation. Keep in mind that the wedding invitation should not be lost in a bulky packet of information, so at times it is better to provide information such as driving directions at a later date to guests who accept the invitation. If mailed as an enclosure, the map should be printed in a style which complements the invitation.
There is a very traditional piece of wedding stationery which is no longer used by the majority of brides. The at home card essentially states the newlyweds' names and address, as well as the notation “at home” followed by the date after which they will be home from their honeymoon. The at home card was highly useful in the days of formal “calling”, as it informed guests when the couple would be home to receive visitors. These days, the at home card is mostly useful when the couple will be moving to a new home immediately following the wedding and wishes to have a convenient way to notify their guests. In addition, the at home card is a helpful tool to indicate name changes. It can be a graceful way for the bride to let people know that she is not taking her husband's name, or for the bride and groom to announce that they have taken on a new hyphenated surname.
The wedding program is a guide to the marriage ceremony which is distributed before the start of the service. Strictly optional, programs are most useful when the couple has special information to share with their guests. For instance, the wedding programs could be used to explain cultural or religious customs in the ceremony to those who are unfamiliar with them. A program would be very beneficial in the case of a bilingual wedding, as well. Most wedding programs will also contain details about the ceremony music, the wedding party, and perhaps a favorite poem or prayer of the bride and groom's.
Reception Stationery: Escort, Place, and Menu Cards
The escort cards are placed in the entrance of the wedding reception to direct guests to their tables. The most basic format would simply say, “Mr. and Mrs. Allen Smith / Table Number 5”. Traditional escort cards are small white or ivory tent cards, often with the words “Table number” pre-printed. The bride or calligrapher simply fills in the names of the guests and the numeral. More expressive formats are also very popular these days. When guests arrive at their assigned tables, they will then find the place card with their name on it at their seat at the dinner table. A thoughtful host puts a considerable amount of time into seating compatible guests together, so the escort cards and place cards are indispensable.
Menu cards are simply cards set at each place detailing the courses to be served at the wedding dinner. They are usually about the size of a wedding invitation. If a flight of special wines is to accompany the meal, each wine would be listed with its course. Menu cards are a nice touch, especially when much care has been given to the food selection, but are entirely optional.
Thank You Notecards
No set of wedding stationery is complete without notecards for writing thank you notes. The fold over notecards which are most commonly used are called “informal notes”, though they may in fact be quite elegant in style. Folded notecards are for ladies, and flat notes are for gentlemen, so if you think you can get your groom to write his share of the thank you notes, get him his own masculine stationery. The style of the notecards generally matches that of the wedding invitations. If the bride wishes to have monogrammed stationery, she should have one set made with her maiden name for writing thank you notes before the wedding, and a second set featuring her new initials for notes to be mailed post-wedding (this can also be a good way to indicate a name change, if you omit the at home cards).
Fine Paper for Weddings
Once the couple has determined which articles of stationery their wedding will require, they may begin their selection process. The main considerations will be the paper, the printing method, font, and embellishments. Cotton rag paper is the most luxurious and traditional. It is an excellent choice for a formal wedding, as well as any wedding where the bride wishes to make a great first impression. Cotton paper feels heavy and soft in the hand, in other words, like pure luxury. It is commonly used for engraved and letterpress invitations, and can also be used for imprintables. Your guests will notice the quality when they slide the invitation from the envelope.
Standard paper made from wood pulp is used on many less expensive wedding invitations. Price is the primary advantage of this paper. An up and coming category of wedding paper is eco-friendly stationery. This specialty stationery is ideal for couples planning “green” weddings. Paper is created either from recycled wood pulp paper or tree-free materials such as mulberry, cotton (sometimes even organic), or abaca. Eco-invitations will often be made from handcrafted paper which has natural items such as dried leaves, flowers, or seeds embedded within it. When the texture becomes too rough for even printing, a vellum overlay can be employed. Many eco-friendly invitations will be printed with less toxic inks, such as soy or vegetable.
Engraving, Letterpress, and Thermography
There are several methods by which wedding invitations can be printed. The most traditional, elegant, and expensive is engraving. When stationery is engraved, the wedding invitation wording is etched into a copper plate, and the paper is run through a press with the inked plate. The result is engraving, which results in slightly raised text. A surefire way to detect whether an invitation has been engraved is to take a peek at the back; genuine engraving will leave slight indentations on the reverse side of the paper. Engraving is the most appropriate form of printing for formal wedding invitations, and it always looks impressive. The original copper plate will be given to the bride as a keepsake.
Letterpress is a very old technique which has found new popularity in the last decade or so. Movable pieces of type are set into a press, inked, and then the paper is laid on top. A press rolls across the paper, pressing the lettering into the invitation. The end result is the opposite of engraving; the letters are pressed into the front of the paper, leaving indentations in the front, and a slightly raised back. Letterpress is a favorite process for many of the small custom paper houses. The technique lends itself to creating unique and beautiful stationery with a slightly vintage flair. The time involved in hand setting every letter and character in place is substantial, therefore so is the cost. Letterpress wedding invitations will not be less expensive than engraved invitations, they just convey a different feeling. Both are stunning.
Thermography, also called “fake engraving” is a machine made type of printing in which a powdered substance is applied to the paper with the ink to give it a raised texture. The idea is to mimic the raised lettering found on engraved invitations, although anyone familiar with genuine engraving will instantly spot the difference. Thermography cannot replicate the indentations in the reverse side of paper that are a hallmark of engraving. In addition, colors do not print the same with thermographed and engraved techniques. The thermography process adds a shine to the lettering not seen with engraving. Because it is considerably less labor intensive, thermography is a less expensive printing option for wedding invitations, though not quite as luxurious.
Flat Printing and Hand Calligraphy
Another option exists for printing wedding invitations, and its popularity is on the rise. That technique is flat printing, in which the words are printed on the page without any raised areas or impressions of the letters. Flat printing is what computer printers use, and this is a huge reason for its increase in popularity. Many people now own home printers of such a fine quality that they can achieve professional results printing their own wedding invitations. There is obviously a huge cost advantage to this choice.
The key to making a flat printed wedding invitation look elegant and special is to use a top quality cotton paper. There are now many “imprintable” blank invitations available, from top stationers such as the venerable firm Crane & Co. and letterpress specialists Snow and Graham. The best imprintable suites of wedding stationery have just as much style and elegance as the paper used for fine engraving. Look for stationery with special details such as an engraved or letterpressed motif to make it appear as gracious as possible. Flat printing can actually be more appealing than thermography, as it does not pretend to be anything that it is not. It is also the least costly printing options, making it an excellent choice for brides on a budget who still want an invitation that is special.
One final method for lettering wedding stationery is calligraphy. In many cases, the bride will hire a calligrapher only to address the envelopes and fill in names on place cards and escort cards; however, one can have the wedding invitations themselves entirely handlettered by a professional calligrapher. In fact, engraving was initially conceived as a more affordable alternative to calligraphy, which is why many fonts are designed to look like the most fanciful styles of handlettered scripts. This would be by far the most opulent and extravagant way in which to have invitations created. The cost of having an entire suite of wedding stationery handwritten in elegant script by a calligrapher is
The Finishing Touches Make Wedding Stationery Perfect
The final finishing details for wedding invitations are the little extras that give them distinctive flair. These include envelope linings to coordinate with the wedding colors or themes, ribbons, wax seals, and custom ink colors. Black ink is the most formal, with charcoal and navy close seconds. Colorful ink can be a wonderful way to personalize less formal wedding invitations. The font selection will also convey a tone. The more ornate the script, the more formal the stationery appears to be. The appearance of the invitation will vary considerably, depending on the font selected. A script laden with flourishes will be far more traditional than a modern sans-serif font.
Once the invitations have been ordered, it is customary to first receive a proof to review. This allows the bride and groom to check their invitations for any errors in spelling or punctuation. In addition, it gives them a chance to see all of their design choices together before it is too late to make changes. After the proof has been approved, the suite of wedding stationery will go into production. The completed wedding invitations should be posted no later than six weeks before the event. (Save-the-date cards can go out as much as six months to a year in advance.) A beautifully crafted wedding invitation will make an excellent first impression on the guests, and will help to build excitement and anticipation for the wedding. Once the invitations have gone out, the bride and groom can simply sit back and wait for the responses to their elegant invitations.