Today I just wanted to take a quick minute to talk about doing wedding invitations the economical but equally risky way: digital printing.
Digital is just a cover-all word for anything that's not printed on a press. Whether it's an inkjet printout at home or a professional color-laser print, it's all digital. This is a great tool, but unfortunately the ambiguousness of the category leaves lots of people confused and/or disappointed with their final product. I always strive for the best quality whenever I go digital, but sometimes that's an excuse for people to give you cheap, strangely colored prints on floppy paper. Let's do some clarifying, shall we?
Any invitation you find or purchase online is going to be printed digitally unless otherwise clearly stated (and with a drastic price increase). Websites like Vista Print, Wedding Paper Divas, and lots of Etsy listings provide incredibly economical invites, but the compromise is in quality. The big websites will provide laser prints, which are clear, usually a little off in color from what you thought (there's really no way to get around this), and slightly glossy even on matte paper.
Some, not all, listings on Etsy will be inkjet, which is ink placed in dots per inch (or dpi), so it is common to get a dotty or grainy pattern in this kind of print. However, the ink is fluid and transparent so there is some blurring on the paper which compensates for this. Sometimes thick or textured paper can allow for too much bleeding/blurring, and small text can be slightly unclear. This ink takes on the finish of the paper you print it on, so matte paper will have a matte print.
For my purposes, I always print digitally through a professional printer with a color laser printer. I do not print on any paper that's less than 100lb cardstock, especially since stationery is supposed to have a weight that's more substantial. I choose to print laser because it's a clear, reliable, smudge-proof toner. It's more durable in the mail and always sharp for small type. An average cost for laser printing is around $1 a piece, although this varies with paper and color choices. Take a look at the difference between laser and letterpress:
Laser, Wedding Paper Divas
Letterpress, Bella Figura
When looking online, make sure you know what's going on! Check to see if the print is letterpress, thermography, flat offset, digital inkjet, or digital laser. Check the paper weight - regular copy paper is usually 24lb text, regular cardstock is 80lb cover (13-14pt is another measure), thin envelopes are 24lb text. Good envelopes are around 60-70lb text, good cardstock is 100-110lb cover. Great cardstock (especially for letterpress) is 220lb cover.
Now, aside from technical and physical characteristics of digital printing, there's the design aspect.
Lots of boxed, embellished invitations are for purchase at office supply or craft stores. These are the kind of invitations that come with all the paper you need, you print them yourself at home. This can be a great option, but lots of brides are confined to Microsoft Word documents and standard typefaces as their drawing board - there's only so much you can do. The difference between a custom designed invitation and a print-at-home version is really in the intangibles.
Just like you would take tips from a decorator on how to liven up a room with a few good details, it's a good idea to talk to a designer about some good pointers for coming up with a polished looking invitation. I'll touch on a few basics that are sure to turn your DIY project from typical to outstanding:
There is a difference between good and bad type. Hate to break it to you, but any type you download for free online is probably not great type. Not because it doesn't look cool, but because it most likely wasn't properly designed. A legitimately designed typeface takes time, lots of time, to create - and the people who do that for a living don't give those things away for free. Like I said, intangibles. You won't look at bad type and be able to explain why it doesn't look as polished as a professional invitation... it just doesn't. Take a look at these two type samples side by side:
The type on the left is called "Champagne & Limousines," the name is incredibly tempting, I know. It's free on dafont.com. The type on the right is called Jubilat, and is available from Darden Studio for $229.00. I imagine the former is used in numerous ads for skeezy nightclubs, whereas the latter is frequently used in the pages of Martha Stewart Living. Now, I'm not saying that you should purchase a $200 typeface for your invitations, there are lots of options in between. I like to browse myfonts.com to find fun, new scripts that usually fall between $30-$60. Also, most type is sold in packages of families (every version of weight and italics) and if you know that you will only use one style, you can buy just that one for a much smaller cost. And why not pay the typographers for their work, they have to pay the rent somehow, right?
When it comes to invitations, I think the rule should be: If you can't use an image wisely, then don't use it at all. Traditionally, invitations don't have any images on them - just text. However, with more unique weddings and brides full of personality, I think images on invitations can display the look and "atmosphere" of your wedding - getting your guests ready to be swept away with romance or to expect barbecue at the reception! I think the saddest way to misuse an image is to pick one that doesn't say anything. Why is it there if it has no purpose? Let's compare!
Swanky, classy, fun - Hello Lucky!
... swirly? - Wedding Paper Divas
Not that one of these invitations is pretty and the other isn't - they're both pretty in their own ways. But, one uses a style purposefully to convey an attitude... the other doesn't say much. I think the second invitation would feel the same with or without the image, maybe even more sophisticated with well-thought out type and no image. See what I'm saying?
With invitations and many other fine things in life, less is more. You want your invitation to be that breathtakingly beautiful, simply subtle, quiet reminder that your guests have been invited to something really special. Not a loud, flashy character yelling at your friends from the refrigerator door. Too many images, colors, typefaces - these things can clutter your information so much that nobody can find the time of the ceremony. You can go pretty far without jumping over the edge, but be mindful of the point where you've got more than you bargained for.
Heirloom - Lucky Luxe
Journey Together - Minted
The top invitation here has a lot going on - all those swirls, the border, the different typefaces, the two silhouettes. What a smart design choice, then, to print the entire thing in the ever classic and consistent black. It takes something that could be incredibly wild and makes it classic and exquisite. The second also has lots going on - two shades of yellow, two shades of pink, brown text, the tree, the couple on the bike, the pink band at the bottom. This invitation is cute, but it reminds me of something more appropriate for a shower than the main event.
Hopefully these tips are helpful and not just nitpicky - that's not my intention in the least. There is no reason to sweat the small stuff during a wedding, no need to fret that designers and grumps are going to scoff at your invitations. These things are just helpful to know when designing/ordering your invitations and searching for something that just looks good.
For my part, I design each invitation set specifically for the customer. There are so many nuances of personality, priority and daydreaming that set us apart. I love to take the late night inspirations and turn them into something real. Speaking of which... back to work!