Design, Paper, Print: The Ins and Outs of Custom Wedding Stationery

Decoding the custom stationery process to add personal style to your big day (and send the stress far away).
From: Fall/Winter 2015 edition

The first written proof that you’re tying the knot. The first taste of the wedding colors and theme. The first time you realize just how many different types of paper exist, and that that fancy embossed lettering isn’t a product of a standard printer. Ah, wedding invitations.

“Since the invitations are the first introduction of your wedding to your guests, it’s important that they really speak to who you are and what the event will be like,” says Catherine Polacek, founder of Printerette Press. While there are many great pre-designed stationery collections to choose from, using a custom stationer for your wedding invitations is a simple, stress-free and entirely personalized way to accomplish this goal. Here, we decode what can be a daunting process, with the help of the pros who make it happen.

Where to Start

Maybe you’ve had your wedding planned down to the linens since you were 8 years old, or maybe you’ve just recently decided on your wedding colors (and that was daunting enough). One of the best parts of customizing your wedding stationery is that someone is there to serve as a guide, no matter where you are in the journey.

“Customizing wedding stationery allows couples to truly express their personal style and set the tone for their big day from start to finish,” says Valerie Carlson, owner of Spark Letterpress. “This isn’t something you can easily do with set stationery designs that can’t be altered. We love to create unique wedding stationery, incorporating elements such as hand-drawn artwork, interesting patterns, timeless monograms and custom-illustrated directional maps.”

The design process starts with a consultation with the custom stationer, preferably an in-person meeting. Any themes or colors you have decided on at this point will serve as a springboard for the stationer.

“As designers, our brains are usually bursting with neat ideas,” says Polacek. “Meeting with us early in the process may shed some welcome light and inspiration on the whole event’s planning.”

Looking at designed collections or stationery samples can also help you determine what you’re looking for, as well as what you want to avoid. The stationer will then work with you to refine the design, and create one to three invitation proofs before the final decision.

“It’s the stationery industry’s fault for making the process feel like ordering off of a menu,” says Megan Gonzalez, owner of MaeMae & Co. “To us, custom really means thinking outside of the box and setting the stage for our client’s wedding, so they can enjoy this process instead of stress about it.”

Design Details

Paper, printing, lettering—oh my! The options are endless, which creates one more reason to enlist the help of a stationer. After a wedding theme and style have been decided, your stationer can advise a paper type and printing method to best complement your wedding elements, as well as your budget.

Many stationers specialize in one print method, but can still offer other print options. Digital or flat printing is the method couples are most familiar with, as well as the most cost-effective choice. This simply means the printing is done on a digital printer.

Other options such as letterpress or foil stamping create a textured invitation with a more luxurious feel. This method incorporates the use of heavy pressure, which creates an impression in the paper. This style of printing also requires a pre-designed plate for each color used in the invitation.

“The colors are mixed by hand, and the sheets of paper are often hand-fed. So letterpress is a largely hand-done process where each individual piece is a small work of art,” says Polacek. While this method is more costly due to the process it requires, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a possibility for those on a budget. “We have created a collection of designs that combine digital printing with one-color letterpress printing as a way to include more colors in a design for a lower price, and they’ve become very popular.”

Other stationery elements your designer may introduce include various ways to hold your invitation together, such as a band or a tri-fold. “I always say there is nothing wrong with being picky,” says Gina Peterson, owner and founder of Ginger P Designs. “If you want an invite, info card with a map and an RSVP card, we can do that. If you want just a tri-fold invite with an online RSVP section, we can do that. Options are endless.”

Custom on a Budget

One big element to discuss during your initial consultation is the budget. This will determine the level of customization that can take place, as well as allow the designers to offer some cost-saving alternatives that still fit your wedding style.

“There are a few ways of keeping customized paper in-budget,” says Polacek. “Starting with at least the ‘bones’ of an existing design helps cut down on design time and on your bottom line. I also suggest exploring different print methods to fit within a budget.”

There can also be financial benefits to carrying the same design theme throughout all of the stationery items you use for your big day. “Not only does it look fabulous, but it creates a common feel and look to the entire day; guests recognize that continuity throughout,” Peterson says. “And yes, there are cost benefits to using the same design throughout your other stationery items since the one-time design fee covers all those items as well.”

With the expenses that are associated with planning a wedding, some brides have a hard time placing importance on the invitations. But it’s worth noting that the invitation holds a lot more value than the who, what and where of your big day.

“Your invites are truly a gift to your guests,” Gonzalez says. “It’s also the only wedding keepsake for those who are unable to attend. Invites used to be hand-delivered. I think people forget these origins and how personal this element really is to a wedding.” *

A print type for every invite
Printerette Press leads us through the most popular printing methods.

Letterpress printing
This was the primary way text was printed until the late 20th century. By inking a form and applying it to paper using pressure, an impression of the text is created on the paper. This style of printing creates a textural, timelessly chic look to any wedding invitation.

Foil stamping
This print method is similar to letterpress. In lieu of ink, a sheet of metallic foil is sandwiched between a heated form and a sheet of paper, creating a metallic print. This printing style adds a luxurious, high-end edge to the invitation.

Engraving
Here, a piece of paper is pressed between two engraved metal plates, resulting in a raised design. If you’re looking for a traditional, formal feel to your invites, this is the perfect print method.

Thermography
This modern method creates a similar look to engraving, without the same price tag. Ink is combined with resinous powder and, when heat is applied, it is raised off the surface of the paper. Unlike engraving, this form of printing will leave the back of the invitation smooth.

Digital/flat printing
This is the most familiar form of printing with today’s technology. It is the most cost-effective, as everything is done digitally. This method is very versatile, and pairs well with a modern wedding invitation.