Wedding season is upon us, and for those of you planning your stationery needs, you may be wondering, "Where do I even begin?" Though it might seem backward, a great way to start is by making decisions about printing—even before you tackle all the design details.

I'm Sara Hahn, an in-house graphic designer at Liv By Design and Twelfth & Lark Paperie, and I'm going to outline some common stationery printing options to make things a little easier. Knowing which printing method best fits your style and budget will help you make informed decisions during the design process and avoid pesky unexpected costs!

Digital Print Stationery


These days, digital is one of the most common ways to print. Digital printing uses 4-color process (CMYK) just like your home printer, so it can produce any spectrum of color you want. This makes it ideal for photographs or complex, colorful designs. Your invitations are printed directly from a digital design file, so it's fast and convenient for all!

Pros: Inexpensive, no set-up fees, quick turn-around time, no color restraints

Cons: Flat image without texture; limited to paper thicknesses that can pass through the printer

Offset Printed Hawaii Invitation

2. OFFSET PRINTING (a.k.a. Lithography)

This is another very common printing method. Offset printing involves ink that is transferred from a metal plate to a rubber blanket, then on to the paper. This technical process is perfected by the press operator, which means high quality—but also a set-up fee for each custom job. Offset is a good option if you plan to print a large quantity of the same design, but may not be best for small quantities. If you only need to print one specific color, however, offset can be more affordable than digital printing.

Pros: High image quality, consistent results, more paper/material options

Cons: Flat image without texture, more expensive for small print quantities, longer turn-around time, number of colors affects price

printing processes thermography


Thermography creates a three-dimensional effect on the paper, adding a special textural element to your stationery. A special powder is mixed with the ink, causing the ink to rise up with a high-gloss finish when exposed to heat. Go science! It's often used in place of expensive engraving. This unique process is not offered by all printers, so you or your graphic designer may need to do some research.

Pros: Beautiful raised texture on the paper, more affordable than letterpress or engraving

Cons: Not recommended for super fine details or large sections of color; more expensive than digital & offset; number of colors affects price

Lettepress invitations coral navy


Oh, beautiful letterpress. This is an age-old printing technique in which raised forms and letters are inked and—you guessed it—pressed into smooth paper to leave a tangible impression. Today the process commonly goes something like this: your digital file is turned into a photopolymer plate for each color in the design. The plate is secured to a huge metal press, ink is mixed by hand and spread onto the press, and paper is manually cranked through the machine to create a print. Letterpress is a fine craft that requires a longer turn-around time to accommodate these steps and the drying time between each color. Also, because letterpress is such a manual process, there can be slight variations from piece to piece. I happen to love this human, hand-crafted appeal!

Pros: Lovely textural detail; high quality, hand-crafted feel; more formal than digital & offset

Cons: More expensive; longer turn-around time; number of colors affects price

envelope liner ideas


You'll also want to think about these important factors when deciding on your printing method:

· Paper Stock — There are so many paper options to choose from! Talk to your graphic designer or printer about which papers work best with your chosen printing method. They will likely have paper samples to let you see and touch.

· Envelopes — Will you want return and/or mailing addresses printed? Will you want a calligrapher to hand-address your envelopes? How about envelope liners for an extra pop of color? Don't forget to include mailing and postage costs in your stationery budget.

· Shipping — If ordering your stationery from a non-local printer, shipping is something else to consider in your budget which may not always be included in initial quotes from the printer.

· Timing — Find out upfront the turn-around time for your print-job. If you need to get your invitations in the mail by a certain date, work backwards and estimate how much time you can allow for design, printing and shipping.

There are, of course, many other printing and embellishments options out there to make your stationery extra special. These include screen printing, embossing, engraving, foil stamping, painted edges, die-cuts, bellybands and more. Have fun and remember that stationery is supposed to be a beautiful souvenir of this special time in your life, not a confusing hassle. Consulting a graphic designer or printing specialist can make life much easier. Best of luck to you!