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Calligraphy and Invitation Design


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The History of Wedding Invitations

Kelsey Carpenter

1954 wedding invitation of my grandmother

1954 wedding invitation of my grandmother

When we think about wedding invitations today, we jump right in - ordering photo Save the Dates and contacting an invitation designer who is well versed in Illustrator and Graphic Design. We may not be sure how they craft our perfect invite, but with their help we get our wording sent off, images and motifs approved, and a couple months later our guests send in an RSVP. There's little to remind us of what wedding invitations used to be until we start looking at invitation wording (which is often very formal, strict, and sometimes feels antiquated). Perhaps a glimpse back happens when you consider invitation addressing (write out the apartment without abbreviations or nix the woman's name on the envelope "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith"), but that's usually as far as your look-back goes. On to planning the signature cocktails.

But, before you jet off to cleverly name the "Hers" Moscow Mule, there's a whole world of interesting information out there about wedding invites. A lover of nostalgia and paper-history, I can't help but share. It's all the more interesting when you consider calligraphy's origins are deep and not just limited to today's Instagraming modern scripters.

Did you know that prior to the invention of the Gutenberg press, there was a town crier that announced you were getting married? Someone literally walked through the streets screaming out the news - like a talking newspaper that you caught the news from while tossing out your chamber pots or scrubbing clothes on stones. Ya know, normal 1400s things.

If you could HEAR the wedding announcement, you could attend. Try to plan that wedding - there's no entree selection RSVP cards with that method or "no kids please" ceremonies.

In the middle ages, basically no one could read, so wedding invites (if they had been scripted and sent out) would have looked like pieces of art and been unreadable by your guests. Calligraphy was a skill that the monks alone had mastered and nobility (with the gift of literacy) would commission their work by monks. Those hand-calligraphed pieces could be sent out to other nobility.

In the 1600s, printed type (pressing lead type onto paper) came about and those town criers lost their jobs. Newspapers could be distributed that announced information like weddings. Blame the 1600s for newspaper wedding announcements. 

All hail the mid-1600s when someone figured out how to engrave. Engraving is a method alive today and is usually your most expensive method of printing. How curious it was the only method back in the day. Engraving is not only gorgeous, but really cool. Engraving back then meant an artist or calligrapher would hand-write text in reverse (image that, fellow designers) on a metal plate using carving tools and then that metal plate would be pressed into paper with extreme force to make the "engraving" or impression. Because text was smudgy as heck, you'd then lay a sheet of tissue paper over the engraving to protect smudging and off they went! The neatest thing? This is still used today. Ever received a formal invite with tissue paper laying over the invite? That's why! Smudge-free and from the 1640s.

Traditional wording was really an origin of this time and each guests formal name would be engraved onto the invitation at the top (ultra-customized). 

In the 1800s, like everything else, the Industrial Revolution changed it all. Easier, cheaper, mass printing methods emerged and there sprung up the idea of mass-market wedding invitations. The invites still couldn't go by post and were often delivered on horseback (what an entrance!). This is where the idea of outer envelopes emerged. The outer envelope protected your inner invitation and inner envelope from damage whilst on horseback. Today many brides use inner and outer envelopes and it's considered very formal. Nice to know it came from an issue with horse dirt getting all over your pretty goods.

It's post WWII and Emily Post pops up and tells every person they need appropriate etiquette wedding invites. Thanks Emily! Thermography enters the scene which allows raised type (like engraving but much cheaper) and now everyone can have a pretty and less expensive invite. Thermography is referred to as "poor man's engraving" which is understandable considering the insane engraving prices. 

Today we've bucked basically all tradition and people are ordering wacky and non-traditional designs off of Minted and emailing out their RSVP cards or their entire invitation, but everything has it's roots in the original traditions. Maybe you don't have a town crier, but most brides like a gorgeous invite and some formal addressing that harkens back to horseback delivery times.

If you're still reading and curious, here are a few Emily Post circa 1922 advice for your invites:

All formal invitations, whether they are to be engraved or to be written by hand (and their acceptances and regrets) are invariably in the third person, and good usage permits of no deviation from this form.
— Emily Post Etiquette, Chapter XI
Invitation with hand-addressing to the guest on the invite

Invitation with hand-addressing to the guest on the invite

The invitation to the ceremony is engraved on the front sheet of white note-paper. The smartest, at present, is that with a raised margin—or plate mark. At the top of the sheet the crest (if the family of the bride has the right to use one) is embossed without color. Otherwise the invitation bears no device. The engraving may be in script, block, shaded block, or old English. The invitation to the ceremony should always request “the honour” of your “presence,” and never the “pleasure” of your “company.” (Honour is spelled in the old-fashioned way, with a “u” instead of “honor.”)
— Emily Post Etiquette, Chapter XI
No variation is permissible in the form of a wedding invitation. Whether fifty guests are to be invited or five thousand, the paper, the engraving and the wording, and the double envelope are precisely the same.
— Emily Post Etiquette, Chapter XI
Engraved pew cards are ordered only for very big weddings where twenty or more pews are to be reserved. The more usual custom—at all small and many big weddings—is for the mother of the bride, and the mother of the bridegroom each to write on her personal visiting card:
— Emily Post Etiquette, Chapter XI
The Train Card

If the wedding is to be in the country, a train card is enclosed:
A special train will leave Grand Central
Station at 12:45 P.M., arriving at Ridgefield at
2:45. Returning, train will leave Ridgefield at
5:10 P.M., arriving New York at 7.02 P.M.
Show this card at the gate.
— Emily Post Etiquette, Chapter XI
William and Kate's Royal invitation

William and Kate's Royal invitation


If a wedding is to be so small that no invitations are engraved, the notes of invitation should be personally written by the bride:

Sally Dear:
Our wedding is to be on Thursday the tenth at half-past twelve, Christ Church Chantry. Of course we want you and Jack and the children! And we want all of you to come afterward to Aunt Mary’s, for a bite to eat and to wish us luck.

— Emily Post Etiquette, Chapter XI
1895 wedding invitation

1895 wedding invitation

Flat-Lays: How to Style Wedding Invitation Suites

Kelsey Carpenter


You can't have a wedding without the guests receiving an invitation to the day, and unless that guest is being invited by email alone (relatively uncommon), the bride will likely have a paper copy of her invitation suite. A photographer should always make sure to photograph those details and the bride should always make sure to provide her paper goods to her photographer. The paper ephemera associated with a wedding can be as important as (and even as expensive as) a wedding dress or a wedding band. If you're shelling out for gorgeous scripting and pretty papers, it'd be a shame if a photographer missed this part of your big day. Invitations also set the tone for your event. To include the paper as book-ends to your wedding album and coverage is only natural.

But so often, an invitation suite is captured sloppily, or even worse, not captured at all. So here are a few tips on how to style invitation suites and how to make sure you get those pretty paper details captured!

Tools you'll need:

  • A camera (iPhone works fine for social media shares, but for any professional photographs you'll need a DSLR or film camera). I personally use a Canon T-series DSLR.
  • Styling board or neutral surface without a distracting background. My favorite styling board is the Heirloom Bindery 2-Color Styling board. I chose French Blue and Light Linen.
  • Vintage stamps or pretty Forever stamps. I love Verde Studio on Etsy.
  • Props! Silk ribbon, florals, greenery, or wax seals make lovely additions to an invitation suite. 
  • Natural lighting. Photograph in natural lighting, but not direct sunlight. Minimize shadows and deliver as much light as possible using reflectors or simply a white sheet of poster board/cardboard/or large white sheet of paper. No need to use flash!

Mistake #1: Crowding your image with too pieces

Don't fall prey to the idea that you need to capture every single piece in one photo. Simplicity helps draw the eye to individual pieces and can create an emotive image. A crowded image, like the one above, is so busy, that the eye doesn't know where to look. 

Mistake #2: Using too many props or props that don't make sense

This is similar to mistake number 1 (overcrowding), but applies specifically to prop usage. In the image above the following props were used: silk ribbon spool; vintage stamps; rings; petals, flowers, wax seal stick, wax sealer. Using each of these props doesn't make a lot of sense for the narrative of the image. A wax sealer is pretty, but the invite doesn't have any wax added to it so the wax seal feels out of place. The ribbon would be better used alone or tied around a piece. Vintage stamps make a lot of sense as the envelopes do feature vintage stamps. A flower always makes sense and is lovely but has more impact alone.

Mistake #3: Crooked paper goods

This is a big pet peeve of any OCD and Type A bride and calligrapher out there. Crooked pieces in the image makes everything look sloppy and unprofessional. use a ruler or a sheet of paper with a straight edge to make sure you're styling everything straight across the board. With your camera parallel to the styling board (held above it and held straight) you'll avoid a lot of angle issues that make paper appear crooked when it isn't.

Mistake #4: Covering up script or design with items like petals or rings

A bride's wedding dress is commonly hung and photographed on a beautiful hanger with gorgeous lighting for her wedding album. When a photographer photographs an invitation suite, often they lay rings over the invitation suite and petals and obscure the art. Calligraphy and invitation design are as much art as a wedding dress. Don't cover them up with other pieces! Let them shine.

how to style an invite suite flat lay

Tip #1: Keep it simple

Using less props and props that make sense makes everything stand out more! Make sure you're thinking about the flat lay as a story rather than just a last minute shot. Everything in the image should contribute to the story of the wedding and the invitation suite.

Tip #2: Evenly space out your styled goods

Evenly spaced goods makes each piece stand out (can you sense a theme). With the image above, my eye is drawn immediately to the invitation and pretty envelope addressing rather than scanning an overcrowded image, trying to find something to visually focus on.

Tip #3: Capture texture

Be sure to capture texture if the paper goods are textural. A lot of decision making, cost, and thought goes into the feel of a paper suite. Not capturing the texture is ignoring an entire piece of the invitation suite that was likely very important to the bride!

Tip #4: Capture all of the day-of goods in addition to the invitation suite

Don't forget to photograph: vow books, vows, place cards, programs and more! Each paper good contributes to the beautiful day and deserves to be photographed!

Want to practice? I sell practice suites in the shop!



Must Have Paper Goods for your Wedding Day

Kelsey Carpenter

must have calligraphy for your wedding

Sometimes it's the absolute last thing to cross your mind and a week from your wedding you remember: I need something to write my vows in. Or perhaps it's a cocktail sign or a welcome sign pointing guests to the wedding ceremony location. Day-of paper goods and signage can be an afterthought, but often they're the details that make everything look so romantic on your big day. Not only are all of the paper goods lovely keepsakes, photographers love to capture those details and they'll flesh out your wedding album beautifully. 

So what items are you forgetting:

Ceremony Paper Goods

  • Vow books. There's nothing less beautiful than a crumpled piece of paper or an iPhone used to display your vows as you read them to your husband or wife. Photographers love to capture you reading your emotional vows, so even if you're using premade vows or reading vows prior to the ceremony, be sure you have a pretty booklet or sheet to read your vows from. Bonus? These are a wonderful keepsake! 
  • Reserved signs. If you have special guests or a front-row seat reserved for family members, little scripted reserved signs are a beautiful way to identify that the seats are saved. Reserved tags can be business card sized or RSVP card sized. They can even be cute paper tags tied to a flower or a bit of greenery.
  • Welcome signage. Is your ceremony behind a building or around a corner that might make it hard to find for guests? A big welcome sign (think poster-sized) in a frame or on an easel can be a beautiful introduction to you event and helpful too!
  • Flower toss bags. If you're having your guests toss petals at your ceremony (or toss anything for that matter), little paper bags with scripting "Toss Me" on them can be a pretty and directional detail for your guests.
  • Readings. Similar to your vow books, do you want one of your guests doing a reading off of their iPhone or computer paper? Have your readings scripted out. These make a great keepsake and backdrop for photos!
  • Passed champagne signs. It's a tiny little detail, but if you're having a champagne bar/champagne passed/or just a couple bottles, add a scripted, folded tag on the passed trays or on the table with a cute phrase like "It's time to Pop the Bubbly." It's a tiny detail that will make everything all the prettier.
  • Cards for your loved ones. Want to be sure to thank your lovely Bridesmaids, Groomsmen, parents, and sweetheart? Have a custom card and envelope made by your calligrapher to be create instant keepsakes.
  • Programs. You might not have a long ceremony, but guests love to have something to read during the wait for you to walk down the aisle. Programs can be a cast of characters (introducing your wonderful family and wedding party), simply a list of events, and can also be a big thank you to all of your guests!

Reception Paper Goods

  • Escort Cards. Escort cards are usually displayed on a table or on a large board and are a chance to get creative. Hang tags from flower bottles, write names on slices of agate, use a tented paper card, hang seating assignments from a screen adorned with ribbon. Escort cards should be scripted per couple (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) and include table number.
  • Seating chart. Used instead of escort cards, seating charts are usually large (poster sized) and work wonderfully for large weddings! Get creative with yours and make sure it's personalized to your wedding colors and displayed in a gorgeous frame.
  • Place Cards. These show a guest their assigned seat and are used in addition to escort cards if there is assigned seating at each table. These can be pretty details on the plate or table. Think names scripted across the top of a menu, wood slices with gold script, or flat paper cards.
  • Head table place cards. These can be specially made to honor your wedding party. Maybe dip-dyed in watercolor, maybe accompanied with a thank you note, these can be really wonderful bits of decor at the head table.
  • Menus. Plated dinner? It's lovely to put a menu at each seat, perhaps tucked into a napkin, tied around a baguette, or even displayed larger at the end of the table as a buffet sign if you're not doing a plated dinner.
  • Dessert signage. Have a cute dessert bar? Notify your guests what each delicious treat is with a tented paper sign. Makes for wonderful photos!
  • Hashtag signage. Don't let your guests forget your hashtag. A sign at the entrance to your event in an 8x10 or larger can give people the details!
  • Matchbooks, cocktail napkins, coasters. Did you know you can personalize all of these items with your initials, monogram, or crest? Don't forget these fun items as they can double as keepsakes and favors.
  • Favor tags. Be sure to decorate your favors with some pretty. It might be a stamp on a muslin bag, a tag on a little box of cookies, or a scroll of paper for each guest indicating you donated in their name in lieu of a favor. Be sure to personalize every detail for a truly memorable event!

Paper Goods for your Photographer

Don't deprive your photographer of pretties to photograph. Photographer favorites include:

  • Vow books
  • Scripted vows
  • Notes or letters from bride to groom
  • Pristine copy of your wedding invitation suite with a faux address on the envelope
  • Pristine copy of your save the date with a faux address on the envelope
  • A pretty copy of your program
  • Menu and place cards to style together

How to Pick Your Calligrapher or Invitation Designer

Kelsey Carpenter

How to choose a calligrapher

Picking a stationer or calligraphy vendor can be just as nerve-wracking as picking your photographer, florist, and dinner menu for your wedding. New to the world of custom designed invitations, how can you tell what is good, what is not, and who is going to best serve you? Luckily I have a few tips that might make the process easier!

1. Review the artist's portfolio.

If you love everything in it, consider it a great fit. If you don't like anything in it, time to move on. If you like at least half of their portfolio, it's worth a reach out. Unlike reviewing a photographer's portfolio or a florists, be sure to pay attention to their script style on their envelopes and their invitation suites. A calligrapher's "hand" can't be modified, so if you're not feeling their style, it's not a very changeable element of their portfolio. 

2. Look at their examples of real weddings

The wedding industry is full of a fun thing called "styled shoots." These are chances for photographers to shoot faux-weddings to practice, for florists to create inspirational bouquets for their portfolio, for calligraphers to play with ideas that aren't always practical (like all handwritten invitations or deep watercolor washes). A styled shoot is a great way for someone to get practice, but you should be able to review a collection of that person's #realbride work. Seeing a real wedding executed will demonstrate that the calligrapher has experience, that they have met deadlines and satisfied client expectations.

Real wedding experience also will give you a clue as to the calligrapher's ability to handle problems or bumps in the road. An established calligrapher, though cost may be higher, will likely be able to achieve quicker turn arounds, have better vendor relationships and wholesale discounts, and be a problem solver for common wedding issues.

3. Reach out and assess their level of professionalism

If you reach out to a vendor and they take a couple hours to a day to respond, it's an indication that they are frequently communicating with their clients and will frequently communicate with you. If you reach out and two weeks later you get a response, that's probably a bad sign. Make sure that your calligrapher is presenting you with a quote on their services that is written down in an easy-to-read format. This will help you as you proceed with the process. Getting bits and pieces of costs or ballpark figures when you're ready to book means you might be in for a cost-surprise near the end of the process. Finally, be sure you and your calligrapher have a contract that assures delivery dates, refund eligibility, deposit information and more!

4. Determine personality fit

Just like with your other vendors, be sure that you connect with your calligrapher. If you reach out and they don't communicate in the style you like to be communicated with, perhaps find another person that meshes better. If you have any initial red flags, they'll likely become a bigger problem down the line. Why? You're spending sometimes a year or more working closely with this designer. If you don't like how they email, speak on the phone, communicate, or deliver materials, you're in for a long year!