Unless you work for a company called Hallmark,
there is no good reason to use off-the-shelf invitations.
They are almost always poor substitutes for
The first goal of an invitation is to provide
information. That’s the easy part. Filling in the
blanks on any store-bought invitation will satisfy the
need. Invitations, however, should also be memorable,
distinctive and reflect your personality or
company brand. Off-the-shelf invitations generally
are not memorable, can’t be distinctive if thousands
of other people also use them, and almost never
accurately reflect your personality or the brand of
your company. Designing your own invitations isn’t
difficult—and it’s easily worth the effort.
Guidelines for Typography
The first typographic rule for invitation design is:
1. Keep it simple. Invitations should be clear and
easy to read. Complicated typographic layouts will
almost always detract from the message.
2. Center at will. Centering lines of copy is rarely
a good idea in any medium—except in invitations.
Because the eye naturally returns to the left edge of
copy to begin the next line, readers generally prefer
left-edge alignment. Invitations, however, are read
slowly and on a line-by-line basis. There are also few
words per line in invitations; this allows the reader
to take in the whole line in one glance, then drop to
It’s generally recommended to keep invitations
to 10–14 lines of copy. Any more and reading the
centered lines becomes difficult. Lengthy copy set in
script faces also becomes tiring on the eye.
3. Create hierarchy with spacing. Use white space
to signal the relationship between parts of an invitation.
In general, there should be less space between
two supportive pieces of information than between
two that are disparate. Set the important copy large
and supportive text at a smaller size. Size and spacing
differences should always be obvious.
Normally, the most important stuff in an invitation
is at the top. Titles like “Graduation Party” or
“Annual Executive Off-Site” are usually given primary
billing by being put at the top of the invitation.
It’s OK, however, to break from this tradition. Try
setting this info at a very large size and putting it at
the bottom or along the left edge of the invitation.
Guidelines for Typeface Selection
Beyond providing information, type in invitations has two main jobs:
- Creating differentiation
- Establishing a mood or theme
These are accomplished through typeface selection.
4. Differentiate with your choices. Typefaces can
create brand and event distinction. The best choices
not only convey information, they also make the
invitation memorable. Spend a little time looking for
just the right font … and avoid using those bundled
with applications and your operating system. At
about $25, a new font is a cheap investment in a
distinctive invitation. The sidebar on the facing page
will give you a few ideas for font choices.
5. Set a mood. Typeface selection can evoke a mood
or create a theme. There is, however, a caveat when
attempting to build a theme with typefaces: It’s easy
to cross the line from “traditional” to hackneyed. If
you want an invitation that is typographically fresh,
avoid typefaces like Old English, Papyrus, Buffalo
Gal and Comic Sans. Most large font distributors
have keyword searches on their websites; try searching
under the theme you want to create. Not all
results will be ideal, but you may find just the font
you’re looking for.
6. One face is enough. Invitations are almost
always small canvasses and, as a result, one typeface
is usually enough to get the job done. Two typefaces
can sometimes clarify the message or create a hierarchy.
Employing more than two typefaces in an invitation,
however, tempts disaster: The hierarchy can
become confusing and the design jumbled.
7. Go decorative when … Use less decorative typefaces
for invitations that have many lines of copy or
where the lines of copy exceed six words.
8. Complement proportions. Consider complementing
the proportions of the invitation with typeface
choice. If the invitation is tall, or in vertical/portrait
mode, consider using somewhat more condensed
typeface designs or scripts with long ascenders and
descenders. If it is square or horizontal/landscape
mode, try a slightly expanded typeface design or one
with a large lowercase x-height.
Guidelines for Graphics
The primary rule for the use of graphics is the same
as the first rule of typography: keep things simple.
The most important part of an invitation is the
typography: the message. If you want to include an
ornament or graphic in the design, be sure that it
complements the message—and doesn’t overpower
it. Some fonts, like Isis and Gravura, have graphics
and ornaments that are designed to combine perfectly
with the letters and numbers. It’s hard to go
wrong using these.
There are two kinds of invitations: business and
social. While both can be serious or lighthearted,
theme-based or reserved, and elegant or unassuming,
the best typeface choices for each can differ dramatically.
9. The business of business is business. The key
thing to remember about business invitations is that
they are about business. They can be lighthearted
but not cute, humorous but not silly, and themebased
but not clichéd. A formal business invitation
should never be mistaken for one for a wedding or
bridal shower. Choose typefaces accordingly.
Scripts can be appropriate to business invitations,
but not the very fancy and highly decorative
variety. Sans serif typefaces are usually not used in
social invitations but can be perfectly comfortable—
and appropriate—in a business invitation. Elegant
serif typestyles, like Centaur and Dante, while not
normally used for social invitations, can be perfect
for a divisional conference or retirement party.
10. Loosen up socially. Social invitations enjoy a
much wider range of typeface choices. They can
be silly, cute or wildly ornate, as long as they are
appropriate to the event. Typefaces used in social
invitations can be as stylish as Edwardian Script or
as carefree as Carumba.
The best invitations use type to be memorable and
distinctive and reflect your personality or company
brand … and they are not purchased from the local
SIDEBAR: Quick type tips for invitations
SIDEBAR: Important information
for your event
- Do not use more
than one script.
have strong personalities.
Using two in
the same invitation
will be as harmonious
as Ann Coulter
and Ron Suskind
- A sans serif typeface
better with scripts
than a serif design.
- A simple calligraphic
will often complement
- Never set all-cap
copy in a script
typeface. If set
together, the letters
creating a typographic
- Use a fancy script
capital as an initial
letter lead-in to
copy set in a sans
serif or simple calligraphic
- Do not use punctuation
colons, etc.) at
the ends of lines.
- Only proper nouns
(names of people
and places, cities,
of the day of the
week, month name,
are the year line
or where the noun
is the beginning of
a new sentence or
- Do not abbreviate
states, or other
items, such as apartment,
- Name of the host or
alphabetically if necessary
- Establish the purpose—wedding, party,
dinner, picnic, etc.
- Name of honoree—bride and groom,
- Day/Date. spelled
- Time (“at six o'clock
in the evening”)—it
is acceptable to add
an ending time to
allow people to plan
- Name of place—e.g.,
St. John's Church
- Location of place
- Appropriate attire if
it is an issue
- RSVP details:
Provide a name,
phone number (or
e-mail address) and
RSVP deadline date
after RSVP wording.