Like any aspect of planning a wedding, creating big-day invitations is a true labor of love, yet many couples don't seem to understand just how much effort goes into making beautiful paper goods—but they should! After all, when you delve deeper into the world of stationery, you'll learn that the invitation process is actually quite fascinating, not to mention incredibly intricate. "From paper choices and print methods to tricky wording etiquette and design, stationers oversee a number of important details," explains Jackie Mangiolino, the pro behind the stationery company Sincerely, Jackie. "There are thousands of options when it comes to wedding invitations and working with a pro will help you nail the first detail of your day that guests receive." If you were ever curious about how the wedding invitation process goes down, from start to finish, you're in luck. We talked to three stationers to get the inside scoop on how the magic happens.
Not surprisingly, the couple needs to do a little legwork of their own before hiring a professional. After creating a short list of stationers you love, the future bride and groom should do some preliminary research to decide what they want their wedding invitations to look like. You don't need to get too granular (that will happen later!), but you should decide what your budget is, if your wedding theme will be reflected in the paper products (if you're having one), and if there are certain elements you'd really like to see as part of your stationery. "Most stationers have a distinct style and specialty, and you'll want to make sure your style fits with theirs," adds Mangiolino.
Once you have a general idea of what you're looking for, you should start contacting prospective stationers. This is when the magic really starts to happen. "After a potential client reaches out, there's a few exchanges, either by email or over a quick phone call, to get the basic details down," explains Marlie R. Vodofsky, owner and creative director of Marlie Renee Designs. Most stationers will just go over the basics, but some prefer to ask personal questions about you and your fiancé—like what attracted you to each other, where you've lived together, and which activities you enjoy doing. Then, he or she may ask about your wedding style and what you envision from your day—to make sure they're a fit for your needs. "Whatever your wedding theme, be it formal and black-tie or a more casual and relaxed gathering, we will use these details to help guide you through the design process to keep the big picture in mind," explains Kelsey Garrison, owner and calligrapher at Lairsey Paper Co.
During the first phone call or email with your stationer, you'll likely put a date on the calendar for an in-person consultation. Since her studio offers semi-custom stationery, that's when Mangiolino has her clients select their base design, so they can work out customization details, like the fonts, colors, and wording. Budget is also discussed during the consultation. "With so many options in the world of printing, there are many ways to achieve a certain style at various price points, such as mixing and matching high and low print methods," she explains. The average budget of couples who visit Sincerely, Jackie start at about $1,500 for 100 fine print invitation suites, but the final total really depends on the printing method. Letterpress, screen printing, foil stamping, and engraving all drive up the cost. "Digital printing, which is flat to the touch and often done on commercial laser printers, costs less," she explains. After the consultation, brides and grooms are typically given a detailed estimate based on the selections made during the consultation.
Once you've approved the direction of the design, including ink colors, paper varieties, envelope options, and any finishing details, the sketching process begins. "Your stationer will combine everything you discussed in the initial consultation with other design elements and put it to paper," explains Garrison. "This part of the process varies from designer to designer, but you'll likely be provided with a few different concepts and ultimately end up with a sketch of your invitation suite as a whole." Once the sketches are approved, your pro will begin the design and revision process. This, Garrison explains, typically involves creating a digital design of your invitation, which you will then offer edits on or approve.
After you've finalized the design, production can begin. At this point, your stationer will start ordering the necessary materials for your suite, which includes envelopes, envelope liners, paper stock, wax seals, and ribbon. "One reason why it takes so long for wedding invitations to be produced is because of the many, many moving parts that happen behind the scenes!" explains Mangiolino. "As pieces come back to me from production, I get to work on any assembly I need to do, which usually involves envelope liners, ribbon tying, pocket card mounting, and tons and tons of counting."
Related: 10 Things You Should Know Before Addressing, Assembling, and Mailing Your Wedding Invitations
Once the invitations are completed, you'll either pick them up from the stationery studio or they'll be boxed and shipped to you for mailing. While some companies will mail your invitations out to guests—especially those that offer addressing services—sending them out yourself gives you a little more control over the process. Mangiolino recommends her couples spend some time preparing their invites before dropping them in the mail, which can help them avoid potential mailing issues. "In effort to help, I weigh invitations for my clients, provide a self-addressed test mailer invitations, give tips for mailing, and offer protective vellum sheets," she says. "Hand-canceling is an easy way to reduce damage while mailing, although varying post offices handle this process differently."
She recommends sending a test invitation to yourself, just to see how it arrives. "If it's perfect, then go back to the same post office (same worker, if possible!), and mail the rest of your invitations," Mangiolino says. "If there's an issue with your test sample, go back to your stationer, tell them what happened, and troubleshoot as a team."