Ask the Expert: Breaking Down Invitation Printing Options

by Ryan Conner | December 11, 2013


A letterpress invitation suite from Chips and Salsa Design Studio.

Thanks to Abigail Luby from Chips and Salsa Design Studio for answering this week’s reader question:

We’re looking for initiations, but there are so many options! I don’t know thermography from engraved. Can you tell me the difference between the different printing options?


Letterpress is currently considered the most modern and popular printing option for wedding invitations and paper goods. Its luxurious look and timeless feel can be both feminine and fun.

Letterpress is a printing technique in which a raised plate of the invitation design or desired artwork is inked and pressed onto paper. The pressure of the transfer leaves the traditionally thick and soft stock with a deep impression of the design. Each piece of paper is fed individually through an antique printing press for each color being printed. This is why letterpress printing is priced on a per color basis.

Pros: luxurious feel and look, heavily texturized and thick stock, in vogue

Cons: not ideal for invites with over 3 different ink colors, longer turnaround time

Pricing: $$$


Engraving is the most traditional (and royal!) printing method. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge mailed engraved wedding invitations to their guests for their 2011 nuptials.

Normally printed using gold or black ink, the invitation design is etched into a metal plate, and like letterpress, the plate is subjected to intense pressure through a printing press. Engraving differs from letterpress in that the impression is not pressed into the paper, but the process raises or embosses the artwork so one can feel the elevated text on the surface of the stock.

Pros: timeless, traditionally simple designs

Cons: limited color options, not ideal for invites with over 2 different ink colors, longer turnaround time

Pricing: $$$


Thermography is similar to engraving as it too has an embossed feel. Unlike engraving, however, the artwork is first printed on paper then a powder is dusted over the invitation and heated. The reaction of the powder and heat create a raised effect.

Pros: raised effect for a fraction of the cost of engraving

Cons: not ideal for invites with over 2 different ink colors, raised ink has rubbery feel, longer turnaround time

Price: $$

Flat Printing

Flat printing or digital printing takes a digitally based image and transfers it to paper creating a smooth image with no impressions or raised text. The largest difference between flat printing and letterpress or engraving is that no special plate is needed in the process. Because of this, an unrestricted number of colors can be used without affecting the price.

While flat printing can be used for wedding invitations, it is most traditionally used for day of paper goods including wedding programs or dinner menus.

Pros: unrestricted number of colors, fast turnaround time

Cons: no raised or impressed texture

Price: $

Foil Stamping

Foil stamping is used when a metallic design or text is desired. Creating the same deep impression as letterpress, colored, metallic foil is sandwiched between a copper plate with raised artwork or verbiage and paper. Pressure from the printing press is then used to transfer the foiled design to stock. Foil colors used are traditionally silver or gold.

Pros: luxurious feel and look, only way to effectively attain a true and opaque metallic color

Cons: limited colors, longer turnaround time

Price: $$$

2 Responses to “Ask the Expert: Breaking Down Invitation Printing Options”

  • Florin | July 29, 2015 | Reply

    Foil stamping is not for metallic design only. There are hundreds of foil types that can be applied.

  • Gayle Tate | June 9, 2017 | Reply

    Can you help with this?…

    Would like to print my fine-line pen & ink drawings on high quality paper (100% rag or parchment, unryu, mulberry & etc). Small size, 6 X 8 inches, with approximately 1 – 2 inch margins. I need engraving and embossing, with an embossed plate mark for a border around each image.

    Want to obtain the look of the original, in black & white, with rich texture and feel, sometimes using the quality and natural color of the paper as part of the effect.

    Can you do this with digital images?


    G. B. Tate