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Invitations in Color

Photography: Anna Williams

Source: Martha Stewart Weddings, Winter 2002


For years, notions about what constituted an acceptable and tasteful wedding invitation were strict and unwavering. "Invitations were engraved in black ink on white paper," says John Paul Greenawalt, CEO of DB Firenze, a stationer with shops in Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C. He then lowers his voice to a whisper and adds, "Of course, if you were really daring, you might do one in off-white." Times have changed, however, and many couples now view invitations -- along with every other aspect of their wedding -- as a means of personal expression. "I think that couples want to use whatever colors and materials they can to convey the idea of their wedding," says Laurie McLendon of Papivore stationers in New York City. Color can help to communicate a sense of playfulness and celebration. It is also entirely possible to create a color invitation that is as elegant as the black-and-white invitations of the past. "You can use a classical format," Greenawalt explains, "and incorporate color as an expression of sentiment or style."

Color can be introduced in the basic elements (the card stock, envelope, or ink) or used for subtle embellishments (an envelope liner, tissue insert, border, or motif) to establish the feeling of a wedding with the invitation. It is, after all, a guest's first glimpse of what the event itself might be like. If you decide to use color ink, there are several printing methods that will produce beautiful results, even with light ink on dark paper; they are engraving, letterpress, offset printing, thermography, and foil-stamping (this last technique is costly and not widely used, but it can be quite beautiful). Each method has unique characteristics, so consult your stationer about which one will work best for the ink and paper you choose. It is also possible to hire a calligrapher to hand-write an invitation, which can then be reproduced using offset printing or a letterpress. Make sure that your printer shows you a color press proof before the invitations are printed -- an ink that looks one way on white paper can look completely different against color.

If you hire a calligrapher to address color envelopes, ask if she has experience working with gouache, which is a base of opaque white pigment to which watercolor is added. Gouache is ideal for use on a color envelope because the pigment blocks the background color from showing through. Transparent ink is less desirable because it will blend with the background color of the envelope, producing a third, perhaps unintended, color. Invitations are little works of art and deserve to be treated as such. When you take them to the post office, request that they be hand canceled. Also, give some thought to the stamp you select (visit for a full selection). Remember, you are not only mailing out an invitation to an event, you are also sending a message that you can't imagine celebrating your wedding or embarking on married life without your guests. Says Greenawalt, "It's one of the most important pieces of mail that you will ever send."

Color Inside or Out

Color can come as a surprise when it peeks out from a white or ivory envelope, or the color of an envelope itself can be the surprise.

The use of white or neutral type on a color background can result in invitations that are surprising but as sophisticated as traditional black-and white ones. Color combinations to try: Red card stock engraved in elegant white script; the envelope with a fine white border. A Kelly-green invitation engraved in white with the bride and groom's names in a larger size; its accompanying envelopes a slightly brighter hue of green. Baby-blue card stock engraved in a soothing honey brown; the invitation edged in silver foil.

Borders and Motifs

Color can set off a design element or frame the text. Color combinations to try: A green-scripted invitation with hot-pink edging. A chartreuse leaf that hints at a botanical theme. Scallop edging and a yellow border that frame hot-pink engraving. Lilac type and a monogram reproduced from calligraphy to convey a sense of intimacy. A baby-blue border to enhance a lily-of-the valley motif. Gray type contrasting with a romantic botanical pattern in mustard yellow.

Liners and Tissues

This delicate use of color is perfect for personalizing formal invitations. Color combinations to try: Handmade linenlike paper engraved in orange; the envelope with an orange glassine liner. A burgundy envelope liner that lends drama to an invitation engraved in black; use coral tissue to protect the invitation and to line the envelope of this minimalist invitation. Set off baby-blue engraving and a blue shell motif with blue tissue and a blue envelope liner.

Envelopes and Liners

When they arrive in guests' mailboxes, color envelopes make a brilliant impression. Color liners turn the act of opening one into a surprise. White envelopes may be lined with color, and color ones lined with white; or colors may be used together, either to contrast or to complement one another.

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