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Top Wedding Invitation Tips

Just getting started with your wedding invitations? Find out everything you need to know to get them ordered, sealed and delivered.

Photo: Jesse Leake Photography / The Knot

Define Your Wedding Style

The invitation is your guests' first peek at your wedding style. Along with listing the location and time of day, the invitation -- and, more specifically, its style -- hints to the formality of your wedding. You should have an idea of the type of event you're throwing -- classic and elegant, or glam and modern -- before you start shopping for stationery, so you can choose an invitation style that hits the same note. Then browse wedding invitation photos and stationers' websites and gather inspiration so you can give your stationer an idea of what you like.

Know Your Colors

Think about your wedding colors too -- you may want to incorporate your colors and a motif into your wedding invitations and then carry both through to the rest of your wedding paper (like the escort cards, menu cards and ceremony programs) for a cohesive look. While ivory, cream or white card stock paired with a black or gold font is the classic choice for formal wedding invitations, you can also brighten your invites with colorful or metallic fonts, paper stock, envelopes and liners. Just keep readability in mind when choosing your colors (keep reading for more on that).

Play With the Shape and Size

A 4.5-inch-by-6.25-inch rectangular card is the traditional size and shape for wedding invitations. But couples are also channeling more playful or modern vibes with circular, scalloped and square invitations. Just keep in mind: Veering away from the standard envelope size can increase the postage -- bulky or extra-large invites may cost more to send.

Make Sure They're Legible

As you consider colors and patterns, don't forget about the text -- the information you put on the invitation is the whole point of sending it out in the first place. Your local stationer can help, but in general, avoid light ink on light backgrounds and dark ink on dark backgrounds. Yellow and pastels are tough colors to read, so if you're going with those, make sure the background contrasts enough for the letters to pop, or work those colors into the design rather than the text. Also, be wary of hard-to-read fonts like an overly scripted typeface -- you don't want to sacrifice readability.

Choose Your Words Wisely

Learn the rules to wording your invitation. Traditionally, whoever is hosting is listed first on the invitation. Customarily, you should spell everything out, including the time of the ceremony. On classic wedding invitations, there's always a request line after the host's name -- something like so and so "request the honor of your presence." (Read Wording Invitation Samples for all the details.)

Don't Crowd the Card

List only the key points on your invitation: ceremony time and location, the hosts, the couple's names, the dress code (optional) and RSVP information. Trying to squeeze too much onto the invitation card can make it harder to read -- and it won't look as elegant. Leave things like directions to your wedding venue and details about postwedding activities for your wedding website and/or print them on separate enclosure cards. One piece of information that doesn't belong anywhere on your suite: where you're registered. The only acceptable place to list registry information is on your wedding website.

Start Early

Your save-the-dates should go out six to eight months before the wedding. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks -- or longer, depending on how fancy you go -- to print them. While your save-the-dates don't have to match your invites, ordering everything from one stationer can save you money and make the invitation process easier on you. So start scouting stationers 9 to 11 months before the wedding. Aim to order your invitations about four to five months out so they're ready to mail six to eight weeks before the wedding. If you're having a destination wedding or marrying over the holidays, send out your invites even earlier (10 to 12 weeks before the wedding).

Get Your Dates Straight

Include your RSVP information on the bottom right corner of your invitation or on a separate enclosure, and be sure to make the deadline no more than three or four weeks after guests receive the invitations -- check with your caterer first to find out when they'll need the final headcount. The more time you give guests to reply, the more likely they are to forget, and you'll need time to put together the seating chart. Plus, your final count may affect the number of centerpieces and other decor elements, which your vendors will need to finalize a few weeks before the wedding.

Consider Costs

The price per invite can vary widely -- anywhere from $1 to more than $100. It all depends on the design, ink, typeface, printing process, paper and quantity. Top-of-the-line papers, color ink, formal printing techniques (like letterpress and engraving) and custom design will add to your costs, as will decorative extras like envelope liners and multiple enclosures. That's why it's important to research your options ahead of time -- so you can pick your priorities, whether it's sophisticated printing and a custom design or multiple enclosures. Also, if you're planning to hire a calligrapher, look into the cost of that (think: $2 to $8 per envelope) at the same time you're choosing your invitations, so you can account for it in your stationery budget.

Get Your Envelopes Early; Have a Pro Address Them

When you order your invitations, see if you can take the envelopes home immediately (or as soon as possible). That way, if you're having someone other than your stationer (say, a calligrapher) print the return addresses on your envelopes (most stationers print the return addresses for little or no charge; it's often even included in the suite's price), they can get a head start. While you don't have to hire a calligrapher to address your envelopes, we highly recommend it -- it looks beautiful and makes an elegant first impression. Traditionally, addresses are handwritten, so unless you have impeccable handwriting, it's best to leave the envelopes to a pro. If you plan to do them yourselves, tackle the project in a few sittings to avoid sloppiness or mistakes. While using printed labels is an easy (and affordable) option, handwriting each address is not only more formal, it's also more personal. It shows your guests that you want them to be at your wedding so much that you took the time to handwrite (or have a calligrapher hand-letter) their name and address on the envelope. But if your penmanship is more like chicken scratch and you don't have the budget for a calligrapher, you can print the addresses from your computer using digital calligraphy software.

Triple-Check the Proof

Before your invitation order is printed, your stationer will send you a proof (either a hard copy or an email attachment of the invite mock-up). Don't just have your fiance and mom read it over. Ask your English-major friend or a grammar-savvy bridesmaid to check the proof before you okay it. You'd be surprised at the things you may miss (pay special attention to details like date and time and spelling). Borrow a tip from copy editors and read the proof word for word from right to left so you don't accidentally gloss over any mistakes.

Count Your Households

You don't need an invitation for every guest. Take a look at your guest list and figure out how many houses need invitations before you give your stationer a number -- you might be able to cut your order in half. Cohabiting couples get one invitation; for couples living apart, you can either send one invite to the guest you're closer with (and include both names on the inner and outer envelopes), or you can send out separate invitations. Families get one invitation (addressed to "The Smith Family," for example). The exceptions: Children who don't live at home (like college students) or anyone over 18 who lives at home should get their own invitation.

Order Extra

It's expensive to go back and print more invitations after the fact. Order enough invitations for your guest list, plus 25 extra in case you need to resend an invitation, want to put some aside as keepsakes (trust us, your moms will want at least a few) or plan on sending invitations to a "B-list." Tip: If you have a lengthy B-list, consider ordering a second set of invitations with a later RSVP date. And even if you're hiring a calligrapher to address your invitations, ask for extra envelopes in case of returned invites or addressing mistakes (calligraphers generally require an extra 15 to 20 percent).

Don't Forget the Rest of Your Suite

Order your menu cardsprograms and thank-you notes with your invitations. That way, your stationer can include all of the pieces in one order, which may save you money and time. It's also a good way to ensure all your stationery has a cohesive look, even if you want to vary the design slightly for each element (by switching the dominant color or alternating between two patterns, for example). Also, don't forget those little items like favor tags and welcome bag notes.

Remember Your Thank-Yous

Track RSVPs as they come in using a guest list manager tool or spreadsheet. Include a column where you can note what each guest gives you. Then, as the wedding gifts start rolling in, begin writing your thank-you notes so you don't fall behind. For any presents received before the wedding, you should send a thank-you note within two weeks. For those given on or after the wedding day, give yourself a month.

Put a Stamp on It

It may seem obvious, but it's easy to forget: If you want guests to mail back their reply cards, include stamped (and addressed) envelopes. That way guests don't have to pay for the postage. Traditionally, the return envelopes should be addressed to whoever is hosting the wedding; however, if your parents are technically hosting, but you're keeping track of the guest list, you can use your address instead. And you can find customizable stamps to coordinate with your design at TheKnotShop.com. Tip: Postage rates do change from time to time, so check the rate before you add those stamps to make sure you've got adequate postage.

Do a Weigh-In

While you probably can't wait to drop those wedding invitations in the mail and check another thing off your to-do list, weighing a sample invitation (enclosures and all) at the post office first could save you many more to-dos later. Trust us, you don't want to deal with the hassle of invitations being returned because of insufficient postage. And while you're at the post office, ask about hand-canceling your invites. This involves a stamp that says your mail is processed (instead of running your invites through the processing machine like regular mail, which could bend or even ruin them). While hand-canceling is free, check with your local post office first to make sure that it has the hand stamp. And keep in mind that while most post offices try to keep hand-canceled mail separate from regular mail, there's no absolute guarantee that your invitations won't go through the processing machines. To ensure that they don't, you can pay a non-machinable fee to have them hand-processed -- it will guarantee that your mail will be sorted by hand.

More on Invitations:
Addressing Your Wedding Invitations
Calligraphy Basics
Printing Techniques
Invitation Word Samples
> Postage Pointers

-- Amanda Black

See More: Wedding Invitations + Wedding Stationery