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wedding stationary

A Glossary of Wedding Invitation Terms

From paper and printing options to design choices, here's what you need to know to pick the perfect stationery suite.

Photo: Antonis Achilleos

Printing Techniques and Terms:

Blind embossing: Embossing (see below) without the addition of ink or foil. Letters and images appear raised but colorless. Blind embossing is normally used for borders and monograms, but not for entire invitation wording because the letters can be hard to see.

Die: An etched metal plate used to create engraved or embossed images and type. Die-cutting is the process of cutting various paper shapes (like scalloped edges or lace-like patterns) and is typically used with envelopes. The process uses a die that looks like a giant hole puncher, only with more precise cutting.

Digital printing: A printing technique that uses tiny dots to form text and images -- it yields similar results to what you might achieve from your at-home printer (but with a bit higher quality). You're limited to thinner papers.

Embossing:printing process that uses two die to raise letters and images on the paper's surface. The paper is impressed with etched designs and words to produce beautifully subtle details.

Engraving: A process in which a plate is etched with your invitation wording and is then pressed into the paper, leaving only the letters slightly raised. An indentation or "bruise" forms on the back of the paper from the pressure. The engraving plate is an etched steel or copper die used to create engraved type or images.

Foil stamping: A technique in which a copper plate is used to push gold, silver or even colored metallic foils into the paper to make an impression; the foil also creates a shiny design.

Laser cutting: A process that uses a laser to cut out words and design details on invitations -- it leaves barely noticeable burn marks on the back of the paper.

Letterpress: A printing technique in which a metal plate is carved to leave behind only the lettering and images you want printed (the wording and design are raised on the plate) -- the letters are then inked. The design is transferred by placing paper against the plate and manually applying pressure, sinking the images and letters into the paper (rather than raising them like with engraving).

Offset printing: Also known as "flat" printing. A process that involves a stamp-like instrument that prints the words and images at once -- the ink is premixed, unlike with digital printing. You can use highly textured paper to add dimension to the otherwise flat appearance of the text.

Screen printing: A process that involves a mesh stencil (the "screen") being pressed against material -- generally fabric. Ink is then pressed through the porous mesh onto the material with a roller.

Thermography: A heat-based process that fuses ink and resinous powder to create raised lettering. The subtle difference between thermography and engraving is that with thermography, the text is slightly shiny and the back of the invitation remains smooth (engraving leaves an impression). Plus, thermography is cheaper.

Typeface Terms and Techniques:

Alignment: Used to describe the position of your invitation text in relation to the margins. Traditionally, the text is centered on the card; modern invitations often play around with the positioning of the text, sometimes aligning it all to one side.

Calligraphy: Artistic, stylized handwriting. Traditionally, a calligrapher would use ink and a quill or steel nib pen. Calligraphy can be used on invitations, envelopes, place cards and so on.

Flourishes: The ornate calligraphic details and scrollwork attached to calligraphy letters that frequent ultra-formal invitations.

Font: See "Typeface."

Hands: The various (calligraphic) script and lettering styles a talented calligrapher can create.

Initial cap: A term for the exaggerated, oversize first letter of a word you'll sometimes see used in lavish calligraphy or as a decorative typeface. Also known as a "drop cap."

Point size: Unit of measure indicating the size of an individual letter or character.

Typeface: The style and appearance of a letter or character. Often referred to as the "font."

Typography: Refers to the art of arranging typefaces, point size and line length into a cohesive and readable language.

Paper Terms:

Backer: A piece of paper that your invitation is displayed on top of -- it often matches the color scheme of your wedding invitation. It's a way to add a design element to a simpler invite.

Bamboo paper: An eco-friendly paper made from bamboo. It's very soft and thick, and ideal for letterpress printing.

Beveled edge: The slanted edge of heavier stocks that shows the thickness and dimension of the invitation; oftentimes, it's edge-painted (see Design Treatment Terms).

Corrugated: Thick wrinkles, ridges and grooves that give paper a cardboard look.

Cotton fiber: A type of paper most often made from 100 percent cotton; it's arguably the most traditional option for wedding invitations.

Deckled edge: The irregular, feathered or torn-looking edge associated with handmade paper.

Glassine: A very thin, waxy paper similar to vellum (see below), with a slick, shiny surface. It's best suited for envelopes or liners rather than actual invitations because of its delicate nature.

Handmade papers: Made from natural materials including cotton, rag, hemp and plant fibers. They generally have an uneven or rough texture.

Industrial papers: Often made from recycled fibers, industrial papers have a rugged, hip look. Corrugated cardboard and brown kraft paper are examples.

Jacquard: Screen-printed (see Printing Techniques and Terms) paper that creates an illusion of layering (think: paper that looks like it's overlaid with a swatch of lace).

Laid: Paper that's similar to vellum (see below), but has a ribbed texture, with fine lines running across the grain of the paper leaving a bumpy finish. It's generally used for decorative accents, not invitations.

Linen finish: A paper type with a surface that's grainier than pure cotton stocks and resembles the look and feel of cloth linens. Another classic choice for wedding invitations.

Liner: A decorative piece of paper used to line the inside of envelopes -- can be thin like parchment (see below) or thick like construction paper.

Marbled paper: Decorative paper (you can use it for your liner) marked with swirling patterns, similar to the surface of marble.

Matte: Paper with a non-reflective finish; depending on the thickness, it can be used for the invitation.

Mylar: Foil-like paper with a shiny, mirror-like finish. It's best for envelopes as opposed to invitations because ink doesn't print well on it -- it's almost like writing on a sheet of plastic.

Parchment: Cloudy, translucent paper, generally used as a decorative element rather than for the invitation itself.

Rice paper: A thin, soft paper that isn't actually made from rice but from other fibers, including mulberry and hemp. Stick to letterpress (see Printing Techniques and Terms) with this paper.

Stock: Used to describe the thickness and heaviness of paper. Formal invitations usually use a heavier stock paired with squares of delicate stock like parchment.

Tooth: Refers to the paper's feel -- the more tooth a paper has, the rougher and more textured it is.

Variegated: A term that describes the look of certain paper that has discreet hints of different colors (almost like a paper with watercolor swirls all over it).

Vellum: Paper made from a cotton blend, with a translucent, frosted appearance and a smooth finish (feels like plastic). Vellum is sturdy enough to be printed on and can be used for the actual invitation.

Watermark: A translucent emblem in fine paper that's visible only when the paper is held up to light. A watermark denotes superb quality, signifying the exclusivity of the paper company or boutique.

Presentation and Packaging Terms:

Bifold: An invitation that's folded in half so it resembles a greeting card. It's sometimes referred to as a "folder" because you can add a pocket on the left panel for response cards and other enclosures.

Boxed: A custom-made box created out of silk, velvet or even elegant, thick paper that holds the entire invitation suite inside for a luxe presentation.

Envelopes: The most traditional way of packaging invitations. Envelopes can be classic (white or off-white), or made more modern by personalizing them and infusing them with your wedding color palette. They can also be made of burlap, vellum or silk.

Gatefold: An invitation with two panels that meet in the center and open up like doors to reveal the wording. It may include folders on one or both panels as well.

Trifold: Card stock that's folded into three panels, accordion style; the typical invitation wording is printed on one panel, while the others might contain information for peripheral parties and/or the travel and accommodation information.

Design Treatment Terms:

Belly band: A piece of material that wraps around your invitation suite to hold it all together. It can be as simple as a ribbon or as luxe as laser-cut paper or a piece of lace.

Edge painting: Painting or inking the edge of thicker card stock; it's often done on an invite with a beveled edge.

Map cards: Most commonly featured on enclosure cards in invitation suites. Maps can be hand-painted and customized to call out locations where the wedding events will take place and even the couple's favorite local spots. Directions to the wedding may be printed on the same card.

Monogram: A combination of your fiance's name and your name -- it can be both of your first names, your first and last initials, just your first initials or simply your new married ones. Many couples use a custom-designed monogram as a wedding motif.

Motif: A reoccurring theme, image or design used throughout your wedding details, including your invitations and other wedding paper (it's sometimes referred to as a "dingbat").

Perforations: Small holes in the paper used to create a design or effect.

Wax seal: A very traditional form of sealing your envelopes. Oftentimes a family emblem is made into a wax seal for the wedding -- many couples also create their own monogrammed seals for the occasion.

More on Wedding Invitations:
Addressing Your Envelopes
Printing Techniques 101
Calligraphy Basics
7 New Invitation Trends

-- Amanda Black

See More: Wedding Invitations + Wedding Stationery