Picking the right invitation to announce your event should be about more than just relaying a date, place and time. A well-designed invitation can build excitement and give guests an idea of the character the party will have.
"[Invitations] set the tone," says Margaret Jones, co-owner of the stationery shop Scriptura. "They get the guests excited. They let the guests know whether it's something worth attending.
"I think the amount of care a host puts into ordering and selecting an invitation is indicative of the amount of care they'll put into the party they've invited you to. I think it's better to let [guests] know that you're going to give it your best to throw an amazing event, and the invitation is just the opening shot."
There are a wealth of invitation options available, from mass-produced fill-in-the-blank versions, to customized wording and type on a pre-made template, or custom-designed invitations that can include monograms, logos, art and embellishments, such as a ribbon with a three-dimensional fleur-de-lis closure and more. What a host chooses depends on his or her budget, priorities and aesthetics.
Designer Alexa Pulitzer, whose stationery collections are sold all over the world, says she helps clients conceive their invitations with an in-depth discussion about what they want to achieve overall.
"Typically people come and have an appointment with me and one out of 100 people know what they want," Pulitzer says. "They're coming to me to help them create and do something that will set the tone for their event. [The invitation] is the first impression of an event."
Fergie Lewis, who owns Invitations by Fergie, says she designs invitations after party planners have set the colors and look of the event.
"I primarily work with planners who have an idea in mind and they'll present a storyboard and we'll look at everything they're doing — the decor, the flowers — and I'll zero in on a particular detail that caught my eyes. I just did a wedding for a bride that did a lot of teardrop chandeliers (as wedding decor), and I took a teardrop and worked it into the invitation. My designs are based on something in the wedding that they're doing. We create a logo or brand for the wedding."
At Scriptura, which has two letterpresses and produces its invitations in house, Jones says she talks with the clients about their priorities and what they want to convey to their guests.
"Different things are important to different clients, and some people are deeply invested in how they present themselves on paper and want to go the extra mile to have a fantastic invitation," she says. "Other people are less inclined and just want the simplest thing and the most cost-effective thing, both of which we're capable of producing.
"I find that with events, people strategize where they want to put their money, and they don't always follow a formula. Some people are very deeply invested in the music and the band, some people care about flowers and some people never want anyone to wait in line for the bar. Customers vary in what they care about the most. The people I am seeing at Scriptura tend to care deeply about the invitation and how they present."
For example, one client, a New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival fan named West, was having a 50th birthday party, so Scriptura incorporated a pole of flags like people bring to Jazz Fest into the invitation, with one reading "Jazz West." For another client, an in-house artist reinterpreted Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night painting for the inside of the envelope and letterpressed some of the starry images onto the invitation itself.
"The better invitations actually capture the spirit of the party," Jones says. "Party invitations mail out three to four weeks in advance, and it's the only thing you have to keep you engaged, motivated, excited to go to the party. This is all they have until they walk in the front door and see the tableaux created for their enjoyment."
Invitations also should give guests an idea of appropriate dress, whether the event will be inside or outside and how to RSVP.
A new trend, Jones says, is adding an email address where people can RSVP. Some customers consider that gauche, but Jones says the online option generally receives a larger number of RSVPs than traditional phone confirmations. Pulitzer says she still advises against email RSVP lines on wedding invitations, however. "There are many ways to get your guests to RSVP," she says. "I explain that to my clients when I meet with them."
For other events, the quality of the invitation — the paper, typefaces and print quality — can indicate attire.
"Before you even read an invitation you can look at something and get a sense, literally subconsciously, if it's coat and tie or if it's going to be something outside in the backyard that might be a little more casual," Jones says. Wording on an invitation doesn't need to be excessive, but should include who is hosting, what is being celebrated, the date, time and place, she says.
Some hosts even want the writing on the envelope to convey a message, and they might hire a calligrapher to address the invitations. That service is available at Gem Printing, which also offers hundreds of invitation templates that can be personalized through typeface selections and wording.
Lewis says she started her business 15 years ago because she wanted a unique invitation for her wedding and couldn't find options she liked.
"Brides really want to incorporate things that are specific to their wedding," she says. One bride, who was getting married at Academy of the Sacred Heart on New Year's Day, for example, wanted traditional ivory and gold invitations, but with the fountain at Sacred Heart worked in. For an event at Race & Religious, Lewis included a map of the area near the venue.
Once a concept is in place, a host must decide on paper and printing. There are many different weights, colors and textures of paper available, and printing methods include letterpress, engraving and flat printing.
Letterpress, which literally presses words and images into a heavy paper, costs more and takes longer than flat printing because the process is labor intensive. The results can be stunning, however, Jones says.
Pulitzer prefers engraving, but offers five or six different printing techniques. "It depends on the type of paper you're using, what print method we're going to use," she says. "For a high-end party people typically will engrave. If they are a foundation or a nonprofit, we try to do something much more cost-effective, like flat printing.
"There's a lot of economics that actually go into a print job, and there are so many ways to cut corners and save. ... Many times people want to do a more economic printing technique but do something to the edges. Having owned a print shop, I'm quite savvy at how to get the best product for the least price."
The printing technique and special treatments can extend the length of lead time needed to produce the invitations, but a general rule of thumb is to order invitations four weeks before they need to be mailed. There are exceptions. Gem Printing offers a one-day turnaround for customized invitations.
Buying fill-in-the-blank or make-your-own invitations is an option, but Jones says it's not always worth the savings. "It stresses people out," she says. "Five percent of my clientele are do-it-yourselfers who have tried to do it and they hate the way their handwriting looks or don't like the quality of printing. ... Lots of what we do is just clean up for people who could have just handed it off (in the first place)."
Pulitzer says finding affordable solutions is her specialty — but she also offers clients something intangible: a network. She keeps a list of performers, event venues, caterers, bakers, florists, etc., and provides it to her clients for free.
""It sets me apart," she says.