I'm a published wedding and portrait photographer located in a small town outside of Charlottesville. In addition to capturing beautiful images, I love spending time with my family, am freakishly good at word games (Hey Wheelmobile!), love an ice cold can of Coke or Dr. Pepper, know every line to Hocus Pocus and can never pass up a Chick-fil-A waffle fry or a trip to HomeGoods.
You have your date, your colors and your overall theme—now it’s time to create your wedding invitations.
I’ll be honest, I was a DIY print at home girl. I purchased blank invitations featuring a pretty letterpress purple orchid from Target (they’ve since gotten out of the wedding invitation game). I also purchased the coordinating RSVP and thank you cards. My wedding was a dark purple, so they totally worked with the overall color scheme and I’m fairly computer savvy so printing them at home was super easy. What they didn’t work with was my save the date. It was a photo save the date that I designed myself and in addition to having a photo from our engagement session, it was purple and blue. Y’all, blue was nowhere to be found in my wedding color scheme. Nor did I have any orchids. My venue was on the riverfront. My invitations were pretty and purple, but they didn’t really fit my wedding theme. Plan yours out better than I did.
There are a ton of options available for wedding invitations, many that didn’t even exist when I created mine back in 2010. In addition to the DIY route, there’s a variety of companies that have a wide range of design options, plus there are stationers who can custom design the perfect suite for your wedding.
Over the past month, I ordered samples from some of the most popular invitation companies to see what each offers and also how they treat inquiring brides. I placed the orders as if I were a bride shopping for invitations to get insight on what they send to potential customers. I was impressed by some, not impressed by others.
My top choices:
Another super popular option and one I absolutely love is to hire a stationer to create your wedding invitations. You’ll have someone who can make sure your vision is perfectly executed and that everything is cohesive with your wedding theme. I had lots of questions about the process, so I asked a custom stationer all about it.
Teresa is not only a former #hgpbride, but she’s also a graphic designer who offers branding, website design and marketing through her business TeresaKatherine Designs and also owns Boutique by TeresaKatherine which offers heirloom stationery and fine art, including, you guessed it, wedding invitations.
Teresa said couples should really start the design process as soon as the venue and photographer are secured. She said the venue really sets the tone for the style of the wedding and illustrations or details about the venue can be incorporated into the invitation suite to get guests excited about the wedding.
She said knowing who the photographer is helps her understand their style and the style of past clients which shares more information about a couple’s wedding vibe. Later on, she can also coordinate directly with the photographer on the styling of the invitation suite and send them a package directly leaving one less thing to worry about on the wedding day. This is huge! The number one thing my brides forget to bring on their wedding day is their invitation suite. Having this sent in advance would ensure it’s available for detail photos on the wedding day.
Similar to every other aspect of wedding planning, having a budget set is also important.
“Once you have your overall wedding budget set, plan on dedicating 4-8% of the budget to stationery and signage, or all the ‘paper stuff,’” Teresa said.
She said it’s also important to figure out priorities for invitations. Is the stationery an important highlight or do you just want something nice to send out? Are you flower people? Teresa said once you have the budget amount and the total number of guests you plan to invite, you can see how different styles of printing invitation accents fit into that budget.
“There are many beautiful ways to embellish invitations and stay in your price range,” she said.
The overall design process begins with the save the date, wether you plan to send one or not. Teresa said designing the save the dates begins 10-12 months prior to the wedding date with the actual mailing occurred 7-8 months prior.
“Save the dates became popular as couples started setting wedding dates a year or more in advance,” she said. “As friends and family have become more spread out, save the dates are helpful for travel planning or saving for a destination wedding.”
Shortened timelines or smaller weddings may not require a save the date.
Teresa said designing invitations should occur 6-8 months prior to the wedding date, with mailing to occur 2-3 months prior. She said etiquette states invitations should be mailed at least six weeks prior to the wedding date and most vendors require a final headcount 1-2 weeks out.
Teresa said in the initial design phase, she creates an inspiration board for the paper goods and gathers feedback from the couple. The couple is also encouraged to share any images or Pinterest boards to ensure their unique style is captured. Once feedback is received, drafts begin.
She said invitation suites, which are the main piece, take about 4-6 weeks to design depending on the level of detail. Watercolor elements, such as a venue painting (which I love) or flowers extend the time to 6-8 weeks before they’re sent to the printer. The printing process can be 5-10 days, plus shipping. Teresa said often she receives the final prints and assembles the invitation which she then takes off to the post office to be weighed for a postage estimate.
“The price can vary from location to location so if you want to mail them out, always double check with your local post office before purchasing postage,” she said.
But it doesn’t end with the invite. The final pieces to complete the suite are the wedding day items—programs, menus, place cards and special signage. Design for these items should occur 1-2 months prior, Teresa said, with delivery the week of your wedding.
“Your invitations give a preview to your guests about what kind of wedding you’re hosting,” she said. “Carrying through with typography or materials in your wedding day details provides consistency, elegance and saves you from decision making later.”
A current trend in the wedding industry is to skip sending an RSVP card in favor for an online RSVP. Some couples are also skipping traditional invitations altogether and going the e-vite route instead. Teresa said, don’t.
“At minimum I advise couples to send the invitation and a RSVP card,” she said. “A physical RSVP card accomplishes two things. It connects with older generations who may not want or be able to go online to respond and it serves as a reminder for your tech-savvy guests to actually respond! How many times have you visited a link or read an email, seen the reply by date and totally forgotten about it? Most likely your recipients will display the invitation and RSVP somewhere prominent and that gives them the cue to respond.”
If you’re super against an RSVP card or want to offer more information, Teresa suggests considering a slightly larger details insert. It can contain a link to the RSVP or wedding website including lodging or detail schedules.
And I’m sure we’ve all heard that there are some things that should be included on the save the date and invitation and some that shouldn’t. What should the save the date include? Teresa said the date and location, especially if many out-of-town guests are expected. The invitation should include the hosts of the wedding, the couple’s names, the date, time and location of the ceremony and the location of the reception if it’s in a separate location.
“It’s really important to say who is hosting, even if it’s long and the couple plus both their parents are doing so,” Teresa said. “A wedding is no small expense and honoring those who are significantly financially contributing shows your respect and gratitude.
“My husband and I were primarily responsible for our wedding expenses, but we had significant help from various family members, not just limited to our parents,” she added. “We chose to say ‘together with our families’ on our invitations to show the group effort that was behind this event.”
Also, be sure to include a return address and postage on the RSVP.
What shouldn’t you include? Teresa said the biggest faux-pas is including any registry or gift information on invitations. She said the registry can be linked on the wedding website or online RSVP if you have one, but don’t call attention to it. Also, don’t invite anyone to your wedding show that you are not inviting to the actual wedding.
So is there such a thing as too many design elements on an invitation? Sort of. Teresa said she prefers generous amounts of white space and one to two accents, but it really depends on the couple’s style.
“Several elements like calligraphy, letterpress, foil stamping, lace, ribbon, etc. can be tastefully styled together,” she said. “You should have one primary focus in the design with other elements emphasizing that focus. Look at a high end brand like Tiffany’s. They have their signature hue and everything else is black or white in their marketing. By using space, elegant type, quality design elements (like embossing and luxury paper), they exude sophistication without going over the top.”
I asked Teresa what her ideal dream wedding stationery suite would be and she said her “Belle” semi-custom stationery suite is her own wedding stationery 2.0.
“We chose a wedding date three months after becoming engaged and I only have 2-3 weeks to design, print and mail our invitations. At the time, watercolor florals were extremely popular and being a watercolor artist, I had to have that. Being rushed, I wasn’t happy with the end result, though they were still lovely. Having something simple is very elegant and self-imposing the burden of doing all things usually leaves you tired and disappointed. Pick something you can manage, that fits in your budget and spruce it up with a little gold foil to create a beautiful wedding invitation.”
Overall, Teresa said the most important thing no matter what part of the wedding is being planned is to discuss and be aligned with your partner on the total budget and spending priorities.
“Priorities may change depending on the circumstances, and as we all know with this coronavirus pandemic, be flexible and work together,” she said. “You are laying the foundation for your life together right now in this moment; do what is right for you and the rest will follow.”