29 January, 2009

You're Invited!

For many couples, the invitation suite is just as important as any other design aspect of their wedding. Unfortunately, the world of stationery can be a bit mysterious and frustrating, especially if you don't know what you're getting into.

Today we'll look at the four most popular printing techniques for wedding invitations. I've outlined the process of each and given a few tips about design and cost. Quantity, design choice, paper selections and printing technique are the main factors when determining cost. Price can also vary greatly between designers, especially now that invitation trends have moved in the direction of combining beauty with functionality. Your invitation suite will be like a little work of art and will give your guests their first taste of the wonderful day to come.


Engraved invitations will give the most traditional look. It has also been a staple in wedding stationery for decades. Abby Jean and Louella Press are my favorites. So beautiful I can't stand it! Exquisite lines and decadent detailing, one look and it's love!

The process is fairly labor intensive. Engravers etch lettering into metal plates. Ink is sunk into the depressions in the plates and loaded into a specialized printing press. The paper is pressed into the plate and the ink sits on the surface, creating the raised lettering. Engraving's signature feature is the bruising that occurs, like a halo around the lettering on the paper. This is a desirable effect and speaks to the beauty of the overall look. The bruise is caused as the paper is pressed against the plate.

Inks used for engraving are opaque and unique to the process. An array of colors are available including metallic and white. For the bride looking for a twist on tradition, try printing bold, vibrant colors on darker stock.

Now for the bad news. Engraving, while beautiful is very costly (sad!). In nearly all cases, it is done completely by hand. Also, the pieces are put through the press once per color. So, the more colors you add, the more labor is required, and the pricier it gets. Budget conscious brides can make engraving more affordable by employing a few tricks. First, try to stick to one ink color, but make a statement. Use something like gold on red paper, white on green. Second, if you must have that incredible multi-color design, save it for the most important pieces (the invite card itself or the save the date). The reply card comes back to you anyway, so look for the savings.
Get ready for a long turnaround, typically 4 to 6 weeks. Some designers can get it back faster, but not by much.

Thermography achieves a look that is similar to engraving. The process used to create it is much less labor intensive. The card stock is run through a printing press. The ink is then sprinkled with a powdered polymer. The paper is then heated, causing the polymer to melt and raise, giving the appearance of raised ink. The only noticeable difference from engraving is the absence of the bruise. Also, Thermography dries with sheen whereas engraving dries matte. The ink has a tendency to be slightly more transparent than engraving inks. With the higher end thermographers the differences are virtually undetectable.

Because of its machine made beginnings, thermo is a much less expensive alternative to engraving. The difference in price is typically 10-20%. However the dark paper/light ink combo is out (boo). The extreme heat just doesn't allow it. Turnaround is shorter than engraving, clocking in at 2 to 4 weeks.

Lithography, or Offset Printing
This is a standard technique used for most printed material. Maps, books, music, the sky's the limit! This process allows for the most flexibility in color palette and design. A smart, modern design can make offset invites look even more beautiful. The Wiley Valentine design team uses a combination of offset printing and letterpress grade papers to achieve stunning design. Offset printing is best left to commercial printers and design professionals.

Lithography is the least expensive printing technique and has the fastest turnaround.

Oh, letterpress! Where to begin? Hands down, my all time favorite printing technique. Just unbelievably beautiful. Elum Designs, Hello, Lucky and Peculiar Pair Press are among my favorite design studios.

Letterpress involves raised lettering on metal plates. This is the opposite of engraving. Think, typewriter keys. Ink is applied to the plates and then the plates are pressed into the paper. This causes the ink to rest in the indentations on the paper's surface. The result is irresistible. Today's letterpress trends mix the sophisticated beauty of tradition with fresh design. Look for unusual color combinations and bold designs that make an unforgettable statement.

Sadly, all that beauty comes at a terrible price (sigh). Letterpress is just about as expensive as you can get. Again, the hand-made nature of the product contributes greatly to it's price tag. Turnaround is typically 4 to 8 weeks. It's totally worth the price. And the wait. The savvy bride can follow the same cost-saving tips as engraving and it should bring the price down a bit.

Well, that's it! A crash course in printing. I gave you a lot of info today, so what do you say tomorrow, we go through the pieces in an invitation suite? What's in a traditional wedding stationery suite? Find out tomorrow.

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