The Q: "My MIL really wanted us to have engraved invitations, but they are SOO expensive. Why is that and what's the main difference between the different kinds of printing styles? Are some "fancier" than others?" - Laura in Brooklyn, NY
The A:Yes! It's sort of shocking huh? We worked with a client on a custom design and her dad really wanted them engraved, but when we got the estimate, it was literally THOUSANDS of dollars. It's not always that expensive, and it depends on custom or not custom, but it's not the "frugal" route either.
I'll call this post, Invitation Printing 101.
Basically there are 4 types of printing methods that are commonly found on wedding invitations that achieve a variety of looks and styles: Engraving, Thermography, Letterpress, and Flat-Printing.
Engraving is the oldest method of printing wedding invitations. Essentially, a plate is made of your text or monogram, etc, pressed into the paper and then filled with ink. That's where those little tissues that come in invitations boxes were originally there- the ink would sometimes smudge, so the tissues were meant to prevent that from happening. Because of the process, it's quite expensive. New Plates are made for each invitation and the letters are laid out in a very very careful process. Because it's the traditional way and because of the luxury of the process (it's so careful and lovely and generally needs to be done on really wonderful, heavy, rich cotton paper), it lends itself to traditional style and formal weddings. It is a very elegant statement.
Thermography is a newer method that mimics the look of engraving in it's formality and elegance, but, it's the Cubic Zarconia of printing. To most people (brides included) they won't notice the real difference upon seeing the invitations of an engraved invitation vs. a thermographed one, if the paper quality is high enough. The main thing is that Thermography (which is a raised type form of printing that infrared light and heat processing) is quicker and cheaper to generate and it is the most popular form of printing wedding invitations today. Because it's so affordable and is so flexible, a variety of fonts, and inks are available and the turn around is much simpler. Thermography can totally mimic the formality of engraving or it can be used in more fun and casual invitations.
Letterpress is an old old old process that has become much more chic and artistic lately. Essentially, letterpress is what it sounds like, it involves moveable type (and images) and the surface of the typeface is inked and then pressed into the paper. So it has a slightly heavier look than engraving, but it lends itself to some more graphic designs. Think block printing. Letterpress has had a real renaissance lately as it plays up the ability to do more unique things with invitations and is utilized by many custom designers. This process is very time consuming and because of the way it's done, you can expect to pay more for more than 1 color of ink used in any one design. The look is a bit more crafty and less rigid than you may find with engraving, and as such it really lends itself to weddings that are trying to achieve a more personalized feel (though not necessarily informal). In any case, there are more and more designers that are starting to offer a few standard designs in letterpress (even some of the larger manufacturers like Carlson Craft) and that makes obtaining that look of letterpress slightly more affordable than doing a totally customized design.
Flat Printing is the most common form of printing that most of us see on a daily basis and it is being used more and more for wedding invitations. It's also much more affordable than any of the other processes that we've discussed thus far. Flat printing is typically used on smooth surface papers and is great for bold invitations with contemporary, or colorful motifs. More and More often custom invitation designers are offering flat printing as an option to couples who want the unique look of custom invites, but don't want the expesne of or aren't into the aesthetic look of letterpress designs. Additionally, some larger manufacturers are offering flat printed options for their more contemporary designs. This style of wedding is great for more contemporary affairs. If you were getting married in a traditional ballroom, I wouldn't really go this route. But for destination, loft parties, etc, this can actually really compliment a design style.
Generally speaking, most people will buy their invitations from larger wedding invitation manufacturers who offer Thermography or Engraving (some companies actually offer both). However, there are many many talented designers doing letterpress and custom designed letterpress and flat-printing options.
We are lucky enough to carry a bit of all of these at our company.
The main piece of advice is to find something that speaks to you as a couple and that sets the appropriate tone for your party. The method of printing can enhance that, but the design is the ultimate consideration in addition to cost.