When it comes to planning a wedding, we know all you brides are making a lot of decisions about location, traditions, dresses and more. While all of those are super important, it鈥檚 hard to imagine a wedding without one essential element: invitations. Invites are important not just for giving your guests the essential deets, but also sharing a hint at what type of ceremony they can expect. With all this in mind, we turned to Shelley Barandes, owner and principal designer of Albertine Press, to give you the 411 on wedding invitation etiquette.

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Shelley started Albertine Press in 2005 after working in architectural firms in New York City and Paris for five years. She is now based in Somerville, MA, where she designs and produces greeting cards, note sets, coasters and journals that are sold in boutiques nationwide and on Etsy. Shelley also works with clients on custom design and print projects, including鈥 yup, wedding invitations.

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Common Mistakes Couples Make

We asked Shelley to share the most common mistakes couples make during the wedding invitation process, and she told us, 鈥淭he two most common issues we find are couples not starting the process soon enough, and not ordering enough invitations (and thus incurring costly reprint charges).鈥 When it comes to wedding invites, we guess the early bird gets their wedding invites out on time.

The Best Time to Order Invitations

Wait, what does 鈥渙n time鈥 mean? Shelley says couples should start working with an invitation designer four to six months before the big day. Couples who want to send highly customized invitations should consider planning even earlier than that. 鈥淭he design process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks or longer, depending on how involved your project or vision is. These things don鈥檛 like to be rushed. Printing alone can take several weeks, especially if you want bells and whistles, like envelope liners, edge painting or hand calligraphy. Don鈥檛 forget addressing, assembling and mailing those bad boys out! In short, the more time, the better.鈥

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Save-the-Date 101

These days, save-the-dates are just as important as the official invitations. 鈥淲e live in a time when families and friends are spread out around the country and even the world. Sending out some kind of save-the-date notice, whether designed and formally printed or simply in an email, is a courtesy to your guests to give them as much time as possible to plan for travel and accommodations,鈥 says Shelley. Couples planning destination weddings, holiday weddings or weddings with international guests should consider sending out save-the-dates six to twelve months in advance if possible. 鈥淚f you鈥檙e planning a wedding in a shorter period of time, that鈥檚 a-okay,鈥 says Shelley. 鈥淎 digital save-the-date, or even an email as soon as you set a date is a welcome gesture to help people plan to attend your wedding, even if that鈥檚 only a few weeks prior to sending out formal invitations.鈥

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The Best Time to Send Wedding Invites

Once your invites are designed to your liking, it鈥檚 time to send them off to your family and friends. Again, the more time, the better. 鈥淔or a typical wedding, invitations are generally sent about eight weeks in advance. You might stretch that to 10 or even 12 weeks for international guests or destination weddings. For small or local weddings, six to eight weeks is still appropriate, especially if you鈥檝e sent out save the dates and don鈥檛 need to give your caterers a head count much in advance.鈥

Cost-Cutting Tips

Don鈥檛 let cost concerns get in the way of designing beautiful invites for your nuptials. Shelley says that hand stamping your return addresses and lining your own envelopes for an extra splash of pattern or color are just a couple ways to cut down on cost. Here鈥檚 another tip: 鈥淒on鈥檛 discount colored envelopes. Generally the same price as their white counterparts, you can add in a complementary color to the suite without adding an ink color (which adds cost with many printing types). We partner with a vendor who prints guests鈥 addresses on the outer envelopes digitally, matching typefaces we use throughout the suite. It鈥檚 far less expensive than calligraphy and takes the burden off the busy couple.鈥

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Pick a Design Studio That Reflects Your Taste

鈥淭he invitations, though often managed last, are the first tangible thing guests have to set the tone for the wedding, and should in turn reflect the kind of event you鈥檙e planning,鈥 says Shelley. Shelley recommends looking at invitations on websites, blogs, magazines and, of course, Pinterest for inspiration before selecting your designer. After thinking through design needs, timing and cost concerns, then it鈥檚 time to make contact. 鈥淔ind a studio whose aesthetic you appreciate, and a designer who you have a good rapport with. Be honest with your opinions and share any vision or ideas you have, but then trust your designers to create something you鈥檒l love.鈥

How to Prep for Your Design Consultation

Once you鈥檝e found your dream designer, it鈥檚 time to prepare for the consultation meeting. Shelley suggests thinking ahead about how many invitation suites you need and what elements you want to include in the suite (i.e. invitation, reply, map, brunch or rehearsal dinner invites, etc.). Come prepared with an idea of what you鈥檙e looking for. 鈥淏e able to describe the kind of event you鈥檙e planning in a few adjectives (classic elegance, barnyard chic, casual contemporary, etc.). If there鈥檚 a particular design or style that led you to that designer, tell them,鈥 says Shelley. 鈥淚f you have strong opinions about typeface, color, style, paper or anything else, don鈥檛 hold back. The more information I get during an initial client consultation, the faster I can zero in on a design that is perfect for their big day.鈥

Have you made, seen or received any beautifully designed invitations in the mail recently? Share photos with us on Instagram or Twitter!

(Photos courtesy of Albertine Press)