You won't need to order your stationery until your guest list is almost complete. Once you have decided on a Venue, date and time for the ceremony and reception, and your menu, as well as the style of your stationery, you should place your order with the stationers. Allow 3-6 months to prepare the invitations for mailing.
Invitations should be sent out seven weeks before the wedding. If your wedding is on or near a significant holiday, invitations should be sent out ten weeks before the wedding.
If you know of the date some time in advance, send a "save the date" card or letter as soon as you have agreed the date. A save-the-date mailing should go out as soon as you have set the date to give your guests plenty of advance warning and ensure everyone is available.
Printing methods include:
(i) Engraving: Wording is cut onto copper plates, which are then cut into the paper. The lettering can be felt on both sides. This is for ultra formal weddings. It is expensive.
(ii) Thermography: Similar to engraving but cheaper.
Check with the stationer for the methods they recommend and use.
Wording and contents for invitations:
(i) Invitations should be hand-written.
(ii) Spell out the full names of the guest(s) invited; first, middle and surname. No nicknames or initials.
(iii) You have an inner envelope, not glued, with just the Title and Surname of the persons invited, and an outer addressed envelope.
(iv) Include children's names on the inner envelope, one to a line, under the name of the parents, as otherwise you may be sending a message that the children are not invited. List the children's names in preference to putting 'and family'.
(v) Note: Children of 18 and over should receive their own individual invitations.
(vi) Use phrases such as, "request the pleasure of your company" and for RSVP cards, you request "the favour of a reply".
(vii) The RSVP card is sometimes not understood to be a request for a response. So make it clear that it is to be returned: "Please reply by (date)", or, "The Favour of a Reply by (date) is requested."
(viii) The RSVP card is normally placed in its own envelope. You could consider providing a Stamped Addressed Envelope for the RSVP to be returned in. You leave blank spaces for the Guest name(s) to be written on the card. After the space for the guest's name, have a couple of options the guest can tick; "Declines with regret" or, "Number of persons attending". Asking for the 'number attending' instead of a simple, "Yes I'm coming" choice, alerts you to any extra guests or fewer guests compared to those invited in your original invitation.
(ix) Information about the reception can be on a separate enclosure card - a 'reception card'. Also include the menu choices and invite Guests to choose what they will eat at the Wedding Breakfast.
(x) Include a copy of a road map to the venue. This could be just a photocopy, or you could have the stationer copy something more impressive on to a 'map card'.
(xi) Contrary to what retailers will tell you, it is not correct etiquette to enclose Gift Registry cards notifying your guests where you are registered for wedding gifts, with your invitations! It is impolite to infer that a gift is expected at the moment you're requesting the pleasure of someone's company. This information should instead be enclosed with your earlier 'save-the-date' card or sent out in a separate mailing or conveyed by word of mouth.
Ask to see some sample sets of 'Invitation Packets'.