Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What Determines Stationery Costs? Part 3: Printing Methods

In part three of this four part series, I'll discuss how the way your invitations and stationery are printed affects your overall cost.

There are lots of different ways invitations and stationery can be printed. The following are several examples of what is most popular right now, how they work (a very generic overview as I am not a professional printer) and the costs involved in using the methods.

Home Printers (Ink Jets and Lasers):

Home printers (or even office printers if your boss will allow it) can work great for DIY party hosts. The main thing to remember is to be sure the stocks you decide to produce your invitations on is designated as being ink jet or laser printer compatible prior to attempting to print on it. Many stocks can't be used on home printers because they jam the machines. Also, you'll want to be wary of what colors you are trying to print on what paper. For example, you would not be able to print white text on blue paper on your home printer being most home printers do not have white ink. This method works best for folks printing darker inks on light papers and on thinner card stocks. Home printers would be the most economical option out there.

Offset (Lithography):

Offset is a popular printing method for invitations. You can have your invitations printed using either a traditional offset method or nowadays you could also opt for digital offset printing as well.

There are pros and cons for both methods depending on what your needs are. For example, traditional offset is usually less expensive than digital for very large runs (500+ pages). In many cases invitations are not printed in that quantity so it may not be the most economical option. Also, traditional offset printing also uses pantone colors (PMS) so the colors can be matched to be an exact shade/hue dependent on the pantone matching system. Traditional offset also does a better job of printing on darker papers because the inks are a bit opaque.

Digital offset is great for smaller printing runs which makes it great for invitations. Also, based on the way the machines are set up, they can print a full spectrum of colors (i.e. no need to choose from PMS though it may not be an exact match) for a generally lower price. Some machines are also set up to immediately crop, score and finish items immediately after printing, whereas with traditional offset the finished pieces would have to dry and set and then potentially be coated. Variable data (such as escort cards, envelopes, etc; any items where you would have a different name or information on each piece) are also available on digital offset, which is a huge plus.

I typically offer digital offset printing to my clients being it is a cost effective, reliable and produces beautiful results without breaking the bank.


Letterpress is very popular right now in the invitation world and it's easy to understand why. The finished product is beautiful and as artisan as one can get.

The way letterpress works is an image is burned onto a plate (or typeset using pre-made type blocks) creating a raised image on the plate, of which the ink is rolled onto. The inked plate is then pressed into the paper to create an impressed image. Letterpress can be designed to use one ink or more, with the more inks used the more intricate the design.

Due to the handmade nature of letterpress, expect to pay a bit more for this printing method. It takes considerably more time to set up and print each individual item than it does for other printing methods. Also know most letterpress printers will charge per ink color used, so the more colors you want the more expensive it will be.


Thermography creates the opposite effect as letterpress. It creates a raised text. The way it works is the paper is coated with a special powder and is then the areas featuring text and graphics are inked. The paper is then heated and there is a chemical reaction when the ink starts to dry which then causes the inked areas to raise. Thermography replicates the same effect as engraving (see below) but is typically less expensive. Expect if you want more than one color ink for it to cost you a little bit more money. It's a popular printing option for wedding invitations.


Engraving would probably be considered the most formal printing method for invitations. It creates the same effect as thermography (raised text) but is a bit more expensive due to the process. Similar to letterpress, engraving starts with a plate. Instead of the plate being treated so the designs/text are raised on the plate, engraving instead uses a plate where the images are more or less etched into the plate creating grooves. Then the plate is inked and pressed to the paper, and the plate then presses into the paper where the negative areas are and the inked text and graphics become raised. As is the case with thermography and letterpress, the more inks used the more expensive it will be. Engraving is a beautiful printing option for invitations, and will come at a higher cost than other methods.

What is your favorite printing method and why?

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