A 101 Guide to Stationery Lingo
Navigating the wedding world can be so intimidating! When you’re planning your day, there’s a big learning curve. From choosing flower types and cake flavors to juggling vendor contracts and a never ending to-do list, making your vision a reality can be exhausting.
I want to make my part of the planning process as easy and understandable as possible for my clients, so today, I’m giving clear cut definitions to the most commonly used terms in wedding stationery.
This is a great beginning point for those just starting to explore the options for their wedding invitations and calligraphy, but it won’t explain everything. So keep in mind that if you ever get a little lost along the way (in any part of wedding planning), I encourage you to just ask questions! Vendors are happy to explain things and give you the tools to help you make informed decisions.
Our Invitation Services
Custom suites are designed from scratch, specifically for each client. We use the vision for the wedding and the clients themselves to craft something that is true to them and tells their story in a timeless and meaningful way. The sky is the limit with custom suites, and there are so many amazing things that can be done! Read more about custom stationery here.
The term semi-custom refers to invitation designs that are pre-designed and part of our collection. However, there is a large amount of customization available, including colors, printing methods, paper choices, calligraphy styles, wording, and suite size. View our collection here.
Process and Design Terms
An invitation suite refers to the whole package of paper goods, including any and all cards that go in the envelope. In addition to the main invitation, this could include a details card, response card, illustrated map, rehearsal dinner invitation, etc.
Stationery vs. Stationary
A common mistake made in the wedding industry is referring to stationery as stationary. These are two different things. Stationery refers to paper and writing materials, and stationary means to stand still or stay in one place.
If you encounter someone offering “stationary” as a product for sale (or for a creative collaboration), you should probably steer clear and work with someone else. Would you hire a doctor who didn't know how to spell "medicine"?
That being said, if you've accidentally referred to it as "stationary", it's okay! Now you know :)
Guest list vs. Invitation Quantity
Guest list is the total number of guests invited to an event. For example, my mom, dad, sister, and two brothers would mean my guest count is five.
When ordering stationery, quantity is needed. Oftentimes couples equate guest count and invitation quantity as the same thing, however not every single guest needs their own invitation. My mom, dad, and two brothers would receive one invitation for the four of them, and my sister would receive her own copy because she is over 18.
When providing a quantity needed for invitations, be sure to look at your guest list and figure out who would share an invitation, and who would need their own. Taking the time to do this beforehand will save you money, and keep you from having 50+ extras of your invitation suite.
Download our Invitation Etiquette Guide and read the "Basic Tips" section for more information on who exactly needs their own invite!
A design proposal is what we send all clients who inquire with us. A proposal for custom stationery includes an inspiration board, a couple rough sketches, initial material choices, and a breakdown of price. Semi-custom proposals and calligraphy projects include a quote and some other basic information about the project and our process. We use interactive proposals where clients can select the package(s) they’d like to order, ask us questions, or let us know if they’re going in another direction.
When working with clients, we send “digital proofs” prior to sending their design to print. This is a way for clients to check that everything looks correct, including spelling, wording, colors, fonts, layout, etc. After looking things over, clients let us know if there are any changes to be made, and we make revisions, and then we send another proof. Semi-custom clients are limited to three rounds of proofing, and custom clients have unlimited rounds (although typically clients only need 3). At the end of our final proof, we will ask for a signature confirming everything looks correct. Once we have this signature, we can officially send to print and order materials!
Pieces of a Suite
Save the Date
A save the date serves as a way for guests to mark their calendars for the wedding day. They’re sent out 6–12 months prior to the wedding. While couples don’t necessarily have all the elements worked out for their day, a save the date should tell guests a finalized date (venue should be booked) and general location. These are truly the first impression guests have of a wedding, so it’s important to invest some time and thought into them so they live up to the rest of the wedding!
The main invitation card is the centerpiece of every invitation suite, and gives the basic information: who is getting married, where they are getting married, and when it is happening.
Details cards are commonly used in an invitation suite as a way to describe more information about the event. This could include lodging, meal choices, wedding website information, dress code, and more.
The response card, or RSVP card, is a piece that guests fill out and send back to the host, informing them of whether or not they’re able to attend the event. These cards also can include meal selection and a line to write any dietary restrictions. The cards pair with a matching envelope that is already addressed and stamped, ready to send back to the host.
While some couples choose to only have one envelope for their invites, you can also have an outer and inner envelope. In those cases, the outer envelope is the shell that holds everything together, and includes postage and mailing addresses. Outer envelopes hold the inner envelope and the invitation suite, and are sealed with adhesive.
When using two envelopes, the inner envelope is designed to rest inside the outer envelope. Inner envelopes include calligraphy as well, although just the names of the recipients, no addresses. It holds the invitation suite and is left unsealed.
The word embellishments refers to optional, decorative touches to suites, like wax seals, envelope liners, wraps and overlays, calligraphy addressing, vintage postage, etc. While not needed, they add an extra touch that wows guests and makes your suite even more unique.
An overlay is a decorative touch that can be added to a suite. Often made out of vellum or another semi-transparent material, overlays are one of my favorite ways to incorporate unique textures, illustrations, crests, and custom artwork that makes the suite one-of-a-kind. I often place overlays on top of the main invitation card, and use the transparency of the material to play with the design of the invitation itself. They’re beautiful additions to a suite that can even be taken out and framed on their own for a special piece of artwork.
A wrap is both a decorative and practical touch to a suite. Like overlays, they’re often made out of vellum, semi-transparent material, or even decorative papers. The material of choice wraps around the whole suite, hold all the pieces together. Wraps can feature illustrations or incorporate unique textures, and look beautiful when finished with ribbon or sealed with wax.
There are several options out there for postage, but my favorite has to be vintage postage! With vintage, I comb through catalogs of old, unused postage, and curate a set that fits the aesthetic of the suite and is available to purchase through stamp collectors. It’s more costly than standard postage, but adds so much character to the envelope.
Wax seals are everywhere with wedding invitations nowadays! We can use them in a variety of ways: to seal an envelope, to seal a wrap, on the invitation itself, and on extras like menus and place cards too. They’re available in a variety of colors, and we can even custom mix a wax color if you wish. For the stamp itself, we can also create a custom piece that matches the suite, or use one of the many pre-designed stamp options.
An envelope liner is a decorative sheet of paper that is adhered to the inside of the envelope. While these work best in inner envelopes (because they do not have adhesive on them), they can also be used on outer envelopes. They’re a great way to add texture, illustration, color, or even just an extra layer to the envelope.
Letterpress is a form of printing where the design is pressed into the paper with an inked plate. This printing method leaves a three dimensional impression embedded into the paper, creating an invitation you can both see and feel. Each color is printed one at a time and each requires its own plate, so printing with multiple colors will increase cost.
Foil printing uses a raised plate with the design, similar to letterpress. However, instead of ink, metallic foil is used. The result is a foiled print of your design pressed into the paper. While custom colors are not easily accessible, there are many different options and finishes to choose from. Just like letterpress, each color is printed one at a time and each requires its own plate, so printing multiple colors will increase cost.
Digital (or Flat) Printing
Digital printing sends a file directly from a computer to a printer. High quality machines designed for printing thicker and more luxurious papers are used to invitations While digital printing is the most affordable option, it’s also the most flexible and time effective option. Multiple colors can be printed easily for no additional cost, and digital printing can capture details and textures (like watercolor) that foil and letterpress cannot.
Often recognized for its distinct deckled edge, handmade paper is the most luxurious paper option we offer. Artisans specifically dye fiber, then pull, press, and dry individual sheets. Each piece is a little different than the last, and brings life and character to the suite. There are several different vendors that we source our paper from, and each one offers unique colors and textures of paper. This paper can be foil printed, letterpress printed, and digitally printed.
Crane’s Lettra is a luxurious but affordable option for paper. Available in two weights, it’s soft cotton finish brings a beautiful and refined touch to a suite. This paper can be foil printed, letterpress printed, and digitally printed, so there’s a lot of flexibility in use as well.
Matte cardstock is the most affordable paper option we offer for invitations, but it’s also the paper with the most color and finish options. It works beautifully with digital printing, and can also handle letterpress and foil in most circumstances, although you won’t get as deep of an impression as you would with handmade or Lettra. Our envelopes are also made from a standard matte paper, and often are available in matching colors as well.
Vellum is a stunning paper known for its translucency. While we often won’t print an invitation card on vellum because it tends to be more flimsy, it is a great paper for illustrative overlays, wraps, and decorative touches. It can bring a unique and interesting touch to any suite, and can be printed on, sewn, scored, etc, and each method achieves a different look and feel.
We often use A9 paper for an oversized main invitation card. It measures half of a standard letter sheet, at 5.5”x 8.5”.
A7 is our standard size for save the dates and main invitation cards. It measures 5”x 7”.
We may use an A6 card in combination with an A9 or A7 invitation card. It measures 4.5”x 6.25”.
A2 is a common size for details cards, thank you notes, and sometimes save the dates. It measures one quarter of a letter sized sheet, at 4.25”x 5.5”.
4 Bar Card
While many stationers use this size for response cards, we tend to use A2s for responses. A traditional 4 Bar card measures 3.5”x 4.875”, although when using this size we often round it up to 3.5”x 5”.
Calligraphy is an artful way of writing. Traditionally, a nib and ink are used to achieve this look. While script calligraphy is more popular for wedding invitations (and is also what I offer), there are other forms of as well, such as Italic or Blackletter.
Calligraphy is not a font. Instead each word is written by hand by the calligrapher. That being said, there are many script fonts that are inspired by calligraphy.
A nib is the small metal piece at the end of a calligraphy pen. For pointed pen calligraphy, our nibs have a slit cut right up the middle of the nib, creating two flanges. This slit separates when pressure is applied, and comes together when pressure it not applied, creating the thick and thin lines often seen in script calligraphy.
There are many different kinds of nibs that can be used, although my favorites are a Zebra G, Nikko G, and Brause Steno (or Blue Pumpkin). Each has different levels of flexibility, and are used for different script styles and purposes.
Because nibs are only small metal pieces, they need a nib holder to make them usable as a pen. A nib holder is simply a barrel shaped item (like a pen or pencil), with a place at the top to hold nibs.
I use the this term to describe envelopes that have both the recipient and return addresses written in calligraphy.
Recipient calligraphy is when just the recipient address is written on the front of the envelope. This does not include a return address.
Return Address Calligraphy
Return address calligraphy is written on the back flap of the invitation envelope.
Spot calligraphy describes any work that is to be digitized and added to a design! While in most cases we do this for invitations and other wedding paper goods, we are also able to create spot calligraphy for websites, brands, and businesses.
Place Cards vs. Escort Cards
While sometimes used interchangeably, escort cards and place cards are a little different. Both are used as tools to direct guests to their place at the reception, but escort cards lead them to their table, and place cards tell them their seat at the table. While place cards typically only need a first name (unless there’s two Mikes sitting at one table, for example), an escort card usually uses first and last name along with the table number.
An escort display is simply a term for how you show escort cards. Couples have gotten really creative with these setups in recent years, because even though card is in the name, they don’t have to be written on paper! Cupcakes and food, plants, and materials like terra cotta and agate are the tip of the iceberg for escort cards and escort displays.
A seating chart is a large sign or collection of signs that tells guests what table they are to sit at. While escort card displays have pieces that guests can take with them to their table, seating charts have names written directly on the sign, so there’s nothing to take. These can be made out of a variety of materials like wood, acrylic, fabric, paper, glass, etc.