(Almost) Everything You Need To Know About Printing Methods

So you’re thinking about your wedding invitations. Whether you’re browsing online, heading to a stationery store or working with an independent stationer, you have one big decision to make that will impact the look, vibe and pricing. I’ve worked at Paper Source and created suites in all (but one) of these methods so I know my way around a bit! Shall we?

Digital Printing

Do you have a printer at home? That’s a digital printer. Granted, my printing partners have the highest-quality digital printers so you don’t deal with the endless issues like at-home printing. Either laser or inket, digital printers print ink directly on top of paper with no texture. This is a nice go-to method for any design because you can use multiple colors and textures at once. There is a slight dulling effect from computer to print because of the color systems each requires, so if you’re super specific about color and tone, I always recommend ordering a test print.

Letterpress Printing

Let’s. Get. Classy. Remember Johannes Gutenberg? The guy who printed bibles? He invented the printing press. I may have been the only one interested in this part of history class. BUT, letterpress printing is one of my absolute favorites. Not only because I have a wonderful Louisville local printing partner, Hound Dog Press, but because it has an amazing texture and quality. Letterpress is a type of relief printing. Custom plates are made for each design. Those plates are rolled with ink and pressed into paper. Each color is an additional pass, so letterpress typically is single-color.

Foil Printing

When you get something shiny and metallic in the mail, it’s foil printed. Similar to letterpress, custom plates press into paper. But with foil printing, instead of pressing ink into the paper, you’re pressing a thin sheet of foil. Depending on the printer, this can be gold, silver, rose gold, holographic, and more. In most cases, foil printing can be paired with digital printing for more texture!


So this is the one I don’t really mess with a lot. But I’ll tell you about it anyways! So you get an invitation that isn’t either of the above methods. It’s a raised, glossy ink in one-color. It’s probably thermographic printing. If you know your prefixes, you know that thermo means heat. TRUE. In this printing method (to simplify it a lot), the design is printed onto the paper with a special slow-drying ink combined with embossing powder. When the powder is heated, it reacts by hardening.

Good-to-know Printing Concepts

Variable Printing: Any minor change made to a design that can be printed (front address blocks getting printed with multiple addresses is variable printing, 150 invitations that are identical is not variable printing)

Reverse Printing: In digital printing, reverse printing lets you appear to have a printed piece in white ink. This lets you control color specifically, if you can’t find a stock you like.

Paper Weight: Paper is measured in pounds. Your invitations, in my opinion, should fall between 110# and 240# paper. It’s a hard thing to explain in words but for reference, standard copy paper is 20#.

Bleed: When a design hits the edge of the paper, it’s called a bleed. This requires a design to initially extend past the edge of the paper, so the printer can trim off the excess.

Double-Sided: This should be self-explanatory but some printing methods don’t allow for double-sided printing without mounting another sheet.

Mounting: Essentially, gluing 2 pieces of paper together. This can create a double-sided effect if the printing method doesn’t allow for it or add a border around an existing sheet.

4-Color Process (CMYK): This is the color management system for digital printing. It means that a specific combination of 4 colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) are combined to produce the intended color.

RGB Colors: This is the color management system for monitors. When you’re talking about design, you have a specific combination of 3 colors (Red, Green, Blue) to produce the intended color. You can get close to a CMYK equivalent but it will always be more vibrant as RGB.

Pantone Matching System (PMS) Colors: Pantone is a color matching system used in letterpress and occasionally digital printing. This is a process of custom-mixing ink before printing to create a color consistent with the PMS Value. Again, you can get a pretty close match with CMYK values.

What to do after you get your wedding invitations

So you have your wedding invitations in hand. First of all, congrats! Whether we worked together on them or not, invitations are one of my favorite parts of a wedding (obviously). But OMG when was the last time you physically sent a piece of mail through USPS and how does that even work these days? Let me walk you through step-by-step of what to do once you get those beautiful babies in hand.

  1. Make sure you have everything you need and everything is correct!

    The minute you get your invitations, no matter where they’re from, make sure you got what you ordered and all your guests addresses are correct and in-hand. If a human made them, humans make mistakes occasionally. If you ordered them online, robots also make mistakes. Better to find these errors sooner rather than later so you don’t have a time-sensitive crisis on your hands! Any good company will swiftly solve whatever problem (if any.. hopefully none) you have but I always recommend double-checking.

  2. Head to the post office (the first time).

    Frequently, wedding invitations cost a bit more to send than regular mail, especially when there are multiple pieces present. I’m not a postmaster but typically invitations suites of standard sizes range from 70¢ to 85¢ each to mail. Anything oversized (over 6.25” on one dimension) or rigid (acrylic, boxes, etc.) will be over that.
    Take your whole suite in and ask them to weigh it and give an accurate postage amount before you purchase your stamps. They should have a binder or book to look through and choose a stamp that complements your suite. If you’re ordering vintage stamps, you can piece together what you’ll need based on that same amount!
    Keep in mind that any international mail will need specific postage so plan to handle those on a case-by-case basis.

  3. If they’re not already, address your envelopes!

    If you didn’t have this service handled for you, you’ll need to address envelopes yourself. Get yourself an ice pack and get to writing! Make sure that your pen doesn’t smear and if it does, test one to make sure it’ll dry before you stack any envelopes on top of each other.

  4. Assemble each invitation.

    This is a great time to get your fiancé and/or whole family and friends over to help. Give them wine and set that production line in action. I like to stack largest to smallest piece, tucking the RSVP card inside the flap of the RSVP envelope. You can always play around with how that works when your guests take them out of the envelopes. Stack, stuff, seal, and stamp (with the correct postage). Don’t forget to set any international ones aside!

  5. Head to the post office (the second time).

    Now everything is ready to go and all you need to do is drop them off. Because they are precious cargo, I recommend confirming the postage amount a second time before you send. Then, you’ll want to get accurate postage for any international invitations as well. These are typically based on weight, size, and location. Finally, before you kiss those babies goodbye, you have one last decision to make: hand cancelling or machine cancelling. Hand cancelling means that instead of running them through a machine with the squiggly lines over the top right of the envelope and stamp, your stamps will be cancelled with a circular hand-stamp. In my opinion, it depends on the vibe you’re going for. Hand cancelled definitely gives off a more vintage look so it’s up to you!

Happy mailing!!