Tuesday, October 11, 2011

DIY Invitations? Here's how to avoid some disasterous results...

The printing world is changing SO FREAKING FAST! Why, it was only 10 years ago that we were keeping logos in one color because they needed to be economically printed that way. Off-set was really still the best choice for clear, crisp imagery on a variety of papers and that required some skill in setting up text and images so that the printer could use them to create a correct final product.

But things are so delightfully different now, and changing to our benefit every day. Your local printer (and I don't mean Kinkos or FedEx Office or whatever they're called now) can whip up some laser prints for you in a day, chop it all up for you and *bam!* you've got an invitation that looks great and was half the cost of even the cheapest on-line retailers. If you've got the will, I say "You Go Girl!" and I also follow that cheer with "Proceed with caution!"

If you're planning on going this route, keep in mind that there is a certain amount of planning that will avoid making this a "bawl your eyes out in your car with a box full of misprinted programs in your lap" experience. I've been designing and producing invitations for over 15 years and I still run into issues now and then. Here are 10 tips to keep the tears at bay.

1. BEFORE YOU DO ANY DESIGNING find your printer and meet with them. You've got a lot to discuss and a first meeting will give you a great starting point. If your printer is a real uncooperative jerk (and some are, unfortunately) then find another one. You want assistance, not an "that's not my job and I'm pretty sure I don't like you" approach to this project. Find one who is friendly and appears competent (they may even have done invitations before and you can look at their samples). If you are open about your skill level and listen to their suggestions, they will in turn help you along the process and the results will be what you'd hoped. If your friend is designing these for you, then make sure they are also at this meeting. Many graphic designers are not used to designing for paper and print, and this is helpful for them too.

2. ASK WHAT KIND OF PRINTING they offer and how much each costs. Usually, they will offer off-set printing which can be moderately priced for one color, but become expensive with more colors or certain cardstocks. Many now offer laser printing, which produces a crisp image in a multitude of colors and often priced as a budget friendly option. Ask what the limitations are for each printing method. For instance, my local printer doesn't run envelopes through his laser printer so we agree to do that with the off-set press. You also will likely not be able to run small or odd-sized items through any printer so that's important to know too.

3. BRING SAMPLES or pictures of what invitation styles you like. Just like your hairdresser, a picture can speak volumes in words you don't possess. You may want a triple layered pocket-fold with die cuts but they may not able to do that for you and may not even know where you can get that. Best know that early on in the design process.

4. ASK HOW TO PREPARE THE FILES by finding out what kind of programs and digital files they need for final artwork. Usually a pdf file is sufficient, but they may have certain specifications that will make the process run more smoothly on their end. They may also need the fonts you used, and the images as digital files as well.

5. ASK ABOUT PAPER AND CARD STOCKS you want to use. Some stocks give their machines fits and they will likely know which to steer clear of. Stick to something he/she is familiar with in a size that works. If you plan on sourcing your own stock, ask how much they will need, including overages. They will often need extra as they set up the printer, and you should plan on an extra 10-25 qty for your own imperfections in the process.

6. TALK ABOUT THE FINAL SIZE of your invitation. You may have played around on your computer with a design that is 6x7.5, but I dare you to find an envelope that will coincide with that invitation size. Ask your printer what a standard envelope size is for the style and shape you'd like and design your invitation from there.

7. ASK ABOUT PRICING because you need to know before you get involved in this project. If you intend to provide your own stock, ask how they will resolve a misprinted job. They may reprint free of charge, but are you expected to purchase more stock? Trust me, it's better to be up-front with these issues.

8. BE FLEXIBLE because what you want may not be the easiest to produce. Often times, you can create something close to what you had envisioned but with some tweaks to make the process smoother. If your printer is giving you that "I'm not so sure about that idea" head tilt, then back awaya little bit. Ask about options that could get you closer to the concept. Unless you are super experienced and know how to overcome the challenge yourself, the resistance is deadly to your project.

9. MEASURE EVERYTHING and then measure it again. Then make a life-sized sample, put it in your envelope and see if it still fits. I cannot tell you how many times a mis-measurement will sabotage your entire project. Measure and measure and make a sample and measure again.

10. COMMUNICATE every little freaking detail! When it is time to hand the files over for printing, Assume that you've never had any conversations at all and he's forgotten everything you talked about. Go over the job in person with each detail for each item needed. This is what they need to know before starting.
-Final trim size
-Final folded size (if applicable)
-Scoring lines and where they go
-Color/Ink needed
-What printing process you expect to use
-What the paper is you're using
-How many you need (plus extras)
-When you need them completed
-What you expect the cost to be (since you already talked about that, this is a good time to bring it up again)
-What your files are named and the program used to create them
-Bring a sample, even if it's not printed, to show how you want it to go together
-Your shoe size (just kidding, but you get my point now right?)


  1. Great post! My family owns a print shop in Southern California, and I used to do a little invitation design. I can't tell you how many times I have gotten word files and clip art from brides or 'designers' expecting miracles. :) It sounds to easy to "Just print it," but there is so much more involved when your dealing with more than your desktop printer :)

  2. As a printer, I find that color is one of the things that confuses people most when they first design an invitation or a program.

    I can't tell you how many times I've had people think that adding "just a little" of one color to an offset job will be cheaper than adding a lot. If you are having business cards or stationery or event programs printed on an offset press ("the old kind of printing," which is still better for many kinds of jobs), each color is an additional charge -- no matter how much of it you use. So go wild with that red if you want to! Just putting one word in red is NOT cheaper than putting half the type in red.

    Likewise, if you are going to be printing something on a digital press, you can use as much as you want to of ALL the colors. Those machines mix colored inks or toners whatever they print, whether it's all type or a scan of a child's artwork. So don't worry about using five colors when you want six -- six will cost the same.

    Gail at Brentwood Printing

  3. Margot, thanks for all this amazing advice. I've worked with printers in the past and what you say is so right on and yet I still need the reminders again


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