Wednesday Wisdom -printing processes

Welcome to the first “Wednesday Wisdom.” The more conversations I have with brides, the more I realize that brides are expected to just “know” things when it comes to planning. It’s as though the ring is magical, and as soon as you put it on your finger you instinctively know exactly what FIL, MOH, MIL, and MOB stand for, or exactly what the difference is between one silk and another. Seriously? I remember reading so many posts that to me, just looked like a Jumble clip from the newspaper. (FIL? What about FML? I knew what that one meant and the more jumbled letters I saw the more relevant it became.)* So in order to help make the engagement process easier (or just widen your span of “common knowledge”) I decided that every Wednesday I will pick a topic and explain it/offer suggestions/ etc. If you have a question, just ask! If I don’t know the answer, I promise I’ll do my best to find it.

So here it goes.

Since I create invitations, I figured the best topic to start with would be printing processes. (Because let’s be honest- if you haven’t had to deal with invitations before, more than likely you get a glazed look and nod anytime someone starts talking about the differences between engraving and letterpress and just pray that they don’t call you out for having no clue what they are talking about.)

Let’s give you a clue.

Most people say there are 4 (main) types of printing. I say 5, but the 5th isn’t really “printing” so I guess that is still up for debate.

1) Engraving. Go ahead and pull out your checkbook or black Amex if you’d like this. It’s beautiful, but it’s pricey. Unlike flat printing (we’ll get to that one) not everyone can do this. Wondering why? Here is how it works.

The text you’d like for your invitations is etched onto a copper plate. (If you’d like to know more about the wonderful world of etching click here.) The plate is then coated with your choice of ink color and wiped clean so that only the etched indentations on the plate holds any ink. Next, a very high quality and soft paper (think cotton papers, not computer papers. Normally it’s a high lb. paper as well. This is a topic for another Wednesday though.) is pressed against the plate (under a lot of pressure) in order to make the paper mold into the etchings. What’s left when the paper is separated from the plate, is crisp and clean raised lettering. If you want to tell if it’s true engraving, flip the invitation over. (yes, just like in the hallmark commercials.) If it is engraving, the back of the paper will have a "bruise" (or dent) left from the pressing of the paper into the plate.

If this is the case, go ahead and pull out your fancy party dress because engraved invitations normally hint at a formal affair (esp if they use black ink and scripty fonts.)

2) Thermography. Think of this as a good knock off for engraving. Here, instead of a plate, the printer uses a heat sensitive resin to create a raised (often glossy) lettering. There is no plate and therefore no bruising of the paper. It’s usually not as crisp as engraving, but many brides choose this option because it gives a similar look for a lot less green.

3) Lithography/offset printing, or flat printing. There really is a difference between lithography and flat printing, but thanks to the digital age your printer might say you are receiving one thing and you will actually get another. Lithography- used today mostly for printing maps, posters and books- still uses a plate (usually made of aluminum) that is then put onto a cylinder of a printing press. Without getting into too much detail (you can find that here if you are interested) lithography works by using a chemical process that makes the image hydrophobic (water hating for the majority of us who forgot freshman college science terms) and the rest of the negative space hydrophilic (of water loving.) Long story short, the ink sticks to the image and the negative space is washed away by water.

Flat printing on the other hand is what you get when you print from your computer. Granted, your printer will more than likely have a really nice digital printer so the image will be better than you would get from printing them at home, but the concept is the same.

Both produce a flat image (as opposed to the raised images of thermography and engraving) and are much more affordable. If you are going for the flat look, I recommend lithography; to me it has a much nicer finish than regular flat printing. You should also know that flat printing insinuates a more casual affair. If you are throwing a black tie party, this probably isn’t the process for you.

4) Letterpress. While not for everyone, letterpress is back in a big way. I love letterpress because of it’s tactile nature (much like engraving you can actually feel the bruised/indented paper), though it is more expensive mainly because of the amount of work required to create it. It has a slightly homemade/craftsman feel, but can be designed for any occasion. Letterpress uses moveable type (think Gutenberg style press) that presses ink covered letters or forms into the paper. By combining multiple different “runs” of plates, the printer can create a wide variety of images and colors. You can also have the text pressed into the paper without ink-known as blind embossing- which is a really unique and subtle process. Instead of relying on ink to see the image, the image is seen thanks to the value changes/shadows created by the pressed paper.

5) The last “printing process” I want to mention isn’t really printing, but is a very popular option for invitations and one that 70% of my brides opt for. That is having your invitations handwritten. This is my all time favorite method, especially for small weddings. “Back in the day” invitations were handwritten to each guest from the bride’s family. (If you were ever wondering why that piece of tissue paper is in a lot of formal invitations it originally served as a way to keep the freshly dried ink from smudging in the envelope.) Having your invitations handwritten isn’t cheap, but it brings an intimate feeling to your event unlike any other process can. And with all of the different styles of calligraphy and modern calligraphy available, the options are endless!

So quick recap:

-If you want something tactile, choose engraving, letterpress, or thermography.

-If you are looking for something incredibly formal, engraving is the way to go, but it is expensive.

-If you are printing shower invites (or looking for something less expensive) thermography (for a more formal shower), lithography, or flat printing are great options.

-If you want something unique and intimate, or if you are having a small wedding and want each guest to feel as though they were personally invited, go with handwritten invites.

Hope this clears up some printing questions! Have a great Wednesday!