Because the form of a wedding invitation is usually traditional -- an engraved, folded sheet inside a double envelope -- the smallest detail can set yours apart.
Format and Size
At its most formal, the invitation is a stiff letter sheet, folded once, with a piece of tissue protecting the type. It is placed within an unsealed envelope bearing just the name of the guest, and is then placed in an outer envelope with the full address. In the days of varnish-based inks, the tissue prevented the type from ghosting (smudging); tissue-lined envelopes can serve the same purpose. The inner envelope protected the invitation from grubby hands. Both elements live on to ensure the receipt of a pristine invitation.
The two most frequently used invitation sizes are 4 1/2 by 6 1/4 inches (classic) and 5 1/2 by 7 1/2 inches (embassy). The form can be a single card, a folded sheet with the printing on the outside, or a double-folded sheet with the printing on the inside. (For the traditional style, a single-folded embassy is folded again to fit into a smaller envelope.) Each stationer will have its own selection; the bride and groom can simply pick the format that suits the paper and printing style they have chosen.
An exquisite invitation should also serve as a memento. Use a paper that won't disintegrate over time: 100 percent rag, made of cotton or linen, is best. Papers made with wood pulp, which is highly acidic, can discolor. An invitation can be personalized by using handmade paper, which tends to have interesting textures and colors. Art-supply stores often carry a wide selection.
Stationery is usually measured in bond weight. A good letter sheet is made of 32- or 40-pound bond. You may also come across offset weight: 100-pound offset is roughly equal to 40-pound bond. Heavy cards should be made of three-ply stock.
Traditional invitations have a smooth vellum finish. Less traditional laid papers have a subtly ridged texture. Cards can have indented panels; edges can be beveled (cut on a slant) or deckled (rough).
In the United States, wedding stationery is usually ecru. White stock, quite common in Europe, is rarer here but certainly available.
The stationer will offer a selection of typefaces. The oldest are generally the most formal; Shaded Antique Roman and London Script are particularly popular for weddings.
Several printing methods remain available, each with its own process and effect. In engraving, letters are etched into a metal plate, which is rolled with ink, then wiped; ink remains in the etched lines. The paper is pressed into the plate, leaving a raised image and indentations on the reverse. Lithography is another old method, originally involving stone slabs and grease pencils. Updated, it is commonly called litho, offset litho, or just offset, and it produces a crisp, flat image. Through thermography, lithography is treated to look like engraving. Heat-sensitive powder is sprinkled onto the ink to form raised letters, which are less fine than those that have been engraved. Blind embossing uses plates to produce raised images without ink. It is reserved for motifs, monograms, and addresses on the flaps of envelopes.
Until recently, letterpress was the most common form of printing: Raised type is inked and stamped on the paper (the effect is almost the opposite of engraving). While large printing plants have almost all converted to offset print and computerized typesetting, small print shops using letterpress can still be found and can be the source of exquisite stationery.
The wedding invitation announces the couple's new life. Its character -- formal, informal, elegant, or amusing -- announces the newlyweds' style. They should take the time to choose papers, typefaces, colors, and emblems that they love, then order the stationery. At-home cards, correspondence cards (for writing thank-you notes), household writing paper, and envelopes can all carry the couple's individual stamp. A motif (printers call them ornaments) such as intertwined dolphins is a lovely way to make a mark: Stationers often stock a selection; printers can also make them from a clean piece of artwork.
Other Printed Items
Although you don't have to order them all at once, menus, place cards, table cards, and pew cards should come from the same source as the invitations, to ensure consistency of style and materials. Place cards, which can be either flat or tented, are especially lovely keepsakes for guests, especially when done in calligraphy.
Whether or not you'll include enclosures with your invitations depends on a number of factors. When the reception is held at a location different from that of the ceremony, it is common to include a separate reception card with the invitation. If the reception is large and the ceremony intimate, though, the invitation is for the reception, and a ceremony card is enclosed just for those invited to the ceremony.
When the reception and ceremony are at different locations, include the ceremony site at the bottom of the invitation or on a separate card. If the reception and ceremony share a site, there's no need to repeat the location. If only some guests are invited to the reception or to the ceremony, it's mandatory to use separate invitations and reception cards. When your reception doesn't immediately follow the ceremony, be sure to mention the time.
Maps and Directions
Direction cards or nicely drawn maps can be printed in the style of the invitation. If additional information (transportation arrangements, accommodations) is to be supplied, send it in a separate envelope after the guest has responded to the initial invitation.
The last element, the reply card, is a recent invention. In these busy times, realists enclose a small card with a stamped, self-addressed envelope, and hope for the best.