Quick, what will be your guests’ first impression of your wedding? Here’s a hint, it will happen long before they get to the ceremony, see the dress, or eat the cake. Your wedding invitation (or save the date card) is your guests’ introduction to your wedding. It tells them where to go, what to wear, and what kind of event to expect.
Today, when we rely so much on electronic communications, the idea of choosing or designing an invitation can seem overwhelming. That’s why I recently sat down with Heidi and Leslie of Three Graces Design in Chicago to get some top tips on how to work with invitation designers.
1. Get recommendations and referrals
This may sound familiar, and with good reason, no matter what the vendor, this is really the number one tip. It’s the reason OneWed lets couples rate vendors. Unlike photographers, caterers, and florists who all regularly work together, invitation designers tend to work on their own, before the big day. If you have a wedding planner, he or she may have recommendations, but this is one category where you’ll really want to do your research by talking to friends and family, and looking online.
2. Looks aren’t everything
Obviously, the quality of the designer’s work is important, but equally important is their level of customer service. Make sure to ask for a few referrals. When you call the referrals, ask questions about the company’s service (timeliness, professionalism, etc) as opposed to the quality of the work, which you’ll be able to judge for yourself from the portfolio.
Make sure you have a chance to look at actual samples, not just photos. The quality of the paper and printing makes a big difference in invitations.
3. Understand your timeline
You’ll need to think backwards to figure out when you should start working on the invitations. You’ll want to send your invitations out six to eight weeks before the wedding. This leaves you time to get responses, and to have someone harass people who don’t send in the RSVP cards. So, for custom designed invitations you’ll want to start the process four to six months before the wedding. If you want to send coordinated save the date cards, or you want the invitations to be hand-addressed, you’ll want to aim for the earlier side of that equation. Remember, this timeline is for completely custom designed invitations, for pre-designed invitations, your timeline isn’t as tight.
Also remember that you have responsibilities in this timeline. If you are late approving the text, or making a decision, it will affect the designer’s ability to get the invitations to you on time.
4. Understand your budget
Invitations are typically 4-5% of your wedding budget. Before meeting with an invitation designer make sure to have an accurate idea of what your budget is. To do this, take 4-5% of your overall budget, and divide it not by the number of guests you have, but by the number of families/couples you’re inviting. Remember, you only need one invitation set per household. So, if you have a budget of $25,000, your invitation budget is about $1,000. If you’re sending 100 invitations that breaks down to $10 an invitation, which includes the save the date card, invitation, thank you note, and postage.
5. Understand what you’re getting
A custom-designed invitation set may cost between $7-$12 an invitation set. Now when you compare that to some sources that advertise $2 an invitation that can seem like a lot. BUT, here’s the thing, for that $2 you’re getting… an invitation. For the $12 you may be getting an invitation, a response card, an envelope for the response card, an envelope for the invitation, and a map. Make sure you get a full idea of what the costs include before deciding that something seems affordable or unaffordable.
6. Come prepared, but also be prepared to listen
Although ordering invitations happens early in the process, you still need to have some idea of what kind of wedding you’re having before you meet with the designers. Is it formal, informal, casual, funky, traditional? Remember, the invitation sets the tone, so you don’t want to create a casual, funky invitation, and then decide later that you’re having a black-tie affair. If you have pictures of your dress, flowers, bridesmaid dresses, or even pictures of ideas you think you might like, bring them along. If all else fails, think about what you DON’T like or want.
While it’s great to have a solid idea of what you do and don’t want, you also need to remember that you’re working with a professional designer. If he or she tells you that something won’t work, or will be too expensive, listen.
7. Eco-friendly doesn’t have to mean paperless, or ugly
We love green wedding ideas at OneWed, but we also love the elegance and tradition of an actual paper invitation. Fortunately, the two are not mutually exclusive. There are lovely papers made from cotton fibers, with no added chemicals. There are also seed papers, which guests can plant after the wedding!
Reducing unnecessary paper is good for the environment, and your budget. A smaller-sized invitation, and a postcard reply card both reduce unnecessary expenses in terms of postage, and paper waste.
In the past, formal invitations often included an inside envelope, and an extra piece of thin paper over the invitation. This was done to protect the invitation from the post office, and really isn’t necessary any more. Sure, it looks sort of nice, but is it really worth the life of a tree, or the extra money?
8. Don’t get thrown by unusual terms
With wedding-related purchases it’s very easy to get bogged down in jargon. Letterpress, thermography, inked, embossed, card stock, cover stock, vellum overlay… these are just some of the terms used in describing invitation options. You don’t need to go out and buy a new dictionary, but if the designer uses a term you aren’t familiar with, ask questions!
9. Order 10-20 extra invitations
Things happen, invitations get lost in the mail, your mother-in-law realizes she forgot to invite her second cousin’s sister, you get a new boss, etc. You or your parents may also want an invitation to frame, or include in an album after the wedding. Ordering a few extra invitations from the beginning is less expensive than doing an emergency second run. This is another place where a seemingly inexpensive invitation may wind up costing you more than you thought. Many non-custom places only do orders in quantities of 25 or 50, so if you’re sending out 50 invitations, you may wind up having to order 100 just to have a few extra.
10. Consider creating a unified look
One of the benefits of going with a custom-designed invitation is that you can create a complete look for your wedding including thank-you notes, menus, escort cards*, place cards and table numbers. Recently, Three Graces created a seating chart to display at the reception in place of individual place cards.
Thanks again to Leslie and Heidi of Three Graces Design for sharing their expertise.
* For those of you looking for the answer to the trivia question, an escort card is the card you pick up at the entrance with your name and table number. A place card is what you might find at your table telling you the exact place you should sit.