Discover the Printing Method That's Right for Your Wedding Invitation

Famed calligrapher Laura Hooper shares her expert tips on choosing a print method for your invitation suite.

Discover the Printing Method That's Right for Your Wedding Invitation

Photo: Amy & Stuart Photography

Laura Hooper Calligraphy Invitation Suite

Choosing an invitation can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of planning your wedding. Once you start the process of shopping for the invitation suite, you’ll encounter a huge variety of choices and designs, made even more complex by the different printing options available. Each alternative will appeal to different brides depending upon personal tastes and cost considerations, so it’s wise to be informed before getting started.

Letterpress has long been a popular option in the United States. Using metal or rubber plates, an artisan hand-runs each invitation through the printing machine, which is often a vintage or antique printer. Each color must be run separately, and the printer will often mix the color on a palette to create the desired shade. A skilled letterpress printer will ink the machine to ensure even coverage on every piece of stationery that is fed through. The cards are then “pressed” with the ink-covered metal plates, indenting each word into the paper. Thanks to adjustable grippers on the machines, the paper used in letterpress can be several layers thick, allowing for a deep impression. Different materials, such as wood, plastic, or even metal, can also be used. Due to these factors, however, letterpress can be an expensive invitation option, especially if more than one color is used.

Another traditional technique is engraving. Engraving has been around for over one hundred years, and also uses a metal plate that is etched with the desired invitation wording. Ink is spread into the etchings, and the plates are heated and pressed into the paper. This method gives the ink a hardened, raised impression. If you flip your stationery over, you will see the telltale sign of an engraved card: an impression on the back from the high heat of the metal plates.

Thermography is an alternative print method that produces lettering and designs, which, like engraving, are also raised to the touch. Thermography machines use a sand-like plastic powder that is poured into the hot ink to elevate the wording from the paper. Multiple colors can be run on the same page, and because no metal plates are needed, the setup is far less expensive than engraving. The machine can only grab paper of limited thickness, so if you’re looking for weighty invitations, thermography is not the method for you. However, because it is not produced by hand, it is a more affordable option than either letterpress or engraving.

Flat Printing
Last of the methods to be discussed here is digital flat printing. It’s perfect for brides who want to include a multitude of colors rather than just one or two. A huge press digitally prints directly onto the paper, and the ink is flush to the surface, not raised or indented. Orders can be completed more quickly than with other techniques, so digital printing is a fantastic option for brides who are facing time constraints. No plates are used for this method of printing either, keeping setup costs down but limiting paper thickness. However, both digitally flat printed and thermographed invitations may be backed with a second sheet of card stock to add breadth and/or extra color to each piece of the suite.

Regardless of your price point, it’s possible to get a beautifully printed invitation suite using one of the above methods. Consider the pros and cons of each before making your selection, and then pair your choice with a great design. You’ll be able to pop your invitations in the mail knowing your guests will be impressed.