Understanding the Differences in Wedding Invitations — Engraving, Thermography and Laser Printing

Hello Readers!

I’ve been answering a lot of questions about invitations lately — the most consistent question being about the differences between different kinds of printing techniques.  There’s really three different methods that are commonly used today — and I’m no printer so forgive me if I get something technical wrong anywhere in this posting — engraving, thermography and laser printing.  If you don’t know what you’re looking at,  you use your fingers to tell the difference!

Engraved invitations are the most beautiful, the most traditional, and by far, the MOST expensive.  Especially if you’re having a small wedding.  In the engraving process, the printers actually create a metal plate with the text of your wedding invitation, in all of its parts and pieces.  The paper is pressed on the plate (there are several different ways to do this, hand-engraved being the most expensive) and the invitation is born!

When I was a little girl, I used to love it when my parents received a wedding invitation in the mail.  You could ALWAYS tell from the beautiful hand-calligraphy, the size and weight of the envelope, and the quality of the paper that it was DEFINITELY a wedding invitation.  For a little girl like me who used to play “let’s plan Sandy’s wedding” as a car trip game with her mom for years and years, the arrival of a wedding invitation was a big deal, even if I wasn’t included.  Oh yes, by age five I understood the etiquette.  Those special invitations weren’t for me and my siblings unless our names also appeared on the inside envelope.  But back to my point about printing…

When the envelope was opened, and then the second envelope was opened, I’d be standing there dying to know who was getting married!  My mom knew who it was from the return address, and besides, adults always know whose wedding invitation it is when it arrives.  Very few formal wedding invitations are a surprise.  So while I stood there, holding my breath like I was waiting to find out who the Oscar would go to, my mother would pull the wedding invitation out of the interior envelope, and to my complete horror, FLIP IT UPSIDE DOWN!!!  She’d run her fingers across the back of the invitation and either smile or sigh and shake her head before flipping the invitation back the other way around to read it.

That is how you can tell if a wedding invitation is engraved — and there’s no faking it.  An engraved invitation has the impression of the lettering on the back.  And the invitations are beautiful — front and back.  But engraving is expensive because the custom plates have to be created, for everything from the invitations to the RSVP cards to the envelopes — the more inserts, the pricier.  The only friend I’ve had that used engraving in recent years was a girlfriend who is a graphic designer.  She and her mother insisted she HAD to have the plates because of what she did as a profession.  But last year, when I asked her where they were, she and I had a great laugh.  She told me they’re in a trunk at the foot of her bed and odds are she’ll never display them.  But we had a giggle over how important the engraving had been to her at the time.  And how expensive!

Today, most brides use thermography.  I don’t think anybody looks down on that, it’s perfectly acceptable and looks lovely.  And it gives you a zillion font and style options.  Thermography is the raised-ink printing you can feel when you run your fingers over the front side of the invitation.  It doesn’t feel thatdifferent from engraving if you’re not my mother, but when you flip the invitation over, the back side will be flat and unblemished.  Seriously, that’s the only difference.  Except for the price.  Thermography is reasonably priced and looks lovely.  I used thermography, much to my mother’s dismay.  But when I was getting married, I wanted to go cheaper on the invitations and my mother totally put her foot down.  I’d caved on a number of issues, but on this, I held firm.  I wasn’t spending $5,000 on my wedding invitations.  And with a wedding in Vieques followed by a reception in DC and then the mailing of 300 more announcements to people who weren’t invited to either real event, let’s just say that it cost a fortune in printing even without the engraving.  Mom and I reached a compromise.  She found a Crane’s invite that looked like (but was much, much nicer) than the one I had selected that was less expensive.  She approached me with the proposal that if I liked her choice, she would pick up the tab.  She has excellent taste and it was far more beautiful than anything I’d looked at.  And she paid for them, never told me the final total, and never complained about it.  I know she was sad that we didn’t do the engraving — and I was too, a little bit — but in this day and age, how can you justify spending a few thousand dollars to “engrave” versus printing.

Now, don’t misunderstand me.  Not all printing is thermography.  Thermography is that raised process I described above.  A lot of girls don’t even bother with thermography, especially if they’re having very small weddings.  Many of the online dealers of wedding invitations are using plain later printing.  Some include free printing with purchase of a certain number of invitations.  And some brides even do the printing themselves at home on their own computers.  There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what fits your budget and that’s what you want to do.  Each bride has her own style and her own reasons for doing things they way she does them.

Destination weddings have grown an entirely new invitation style that I’ve never seen anywhere before my clients.  I have never seen wedding invitations in the multicolored themes, palm trees, ribbons, puffy starfish, actual glued-on seashells… the works!  Some of these girls are really creative and sometimes I think to myself that that’s something I’ll do if we have a renewal of vows on our 10th wedding anniversary.  And then I think to myself that my mother would be horrified!  But girls are craftier nowadays, and there are a million cool things to work with at craft stores like Michael’s and AC Moore.  The wediquette for destination weddings is very relaxed compared to the rules for traditional weddings.  Destination wedding brides in the Caribbean use all variety of invitations.

You should spend what you can afford on your own wedding invitations.  If your parents are willing to help you with them, that’s great.  Compromise can often achieve your goals in the end.  Just keep in mind that you want to use artistic elements in a romantic or elegant way — don’t get cheezy.  Because there are plenty of cheezy wedding invitations floating around out there.  Remember, you’re going to have to live with that wedding invitation for the rest of your life because some wonderful friend will probably mount one for you as a wedding gift.  And you will want to display it.

Until next time, happy wedding planning from Wedding in Vieques!


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