Wedding Experts

Tips, tricks, and advice from the pros.

Wedding Experts

The Paper Dolls

The venue, food, and flowers are all important parts of the big day—but it’s the invitation suite that really tells your story, says letterpress pro Samantha Finigan.

Samantha Finigan wants to know all about you. How did you meet? Where do you live? What was the proposal like? The co-owner of Gus & Ruby Letterpress will happily take in all the details over glasses of champagne.

Finigan and her business partner, Whitney Swaffield, met six years ago while working at an ad agency. After bonding during walks with their dogs (Gus and Ruby, of course), the two friends decided in 2008 to launch their stationery business. Today they have a design studio and brick-and-mortar paper shop in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

When it comes to wedding stationery, Finigan and Swaffield let each couple’s unique history inform their designs. “People come to us for something different,” Finigan says, “knowing our invitations will get their guests excited for what’s to come, whether it’s a formal affair or a pig roast.”

—Marni Elyse Katz

At what stage of the planning should a couple order invitations?

Start the process as soon as you have the major details (date, venue, overall vision) ironed out, about six months prior to the wedding. This allows ample time for the design, proofing, and production process. If you’re creating a completely custom invitation, plan to start even earlier, about 10 to 12 months before the wedding.

When are save-the-date cards a good idea?

We recommend save-the-dates for destination weddings, those held on holiday weekends, and weddings in locations where accommodations are limited. Mail them six to nine months before the wedding. This gives guests enough time to make travel arrangements, but not so much that they toss the invitation aside.

There are so many different components to an invitation suite. How do you help couples determine what they really need? 

Stationery is often the aspect of wedding planning a couple has thought about the least. Many come into it kind of blind, but that’s okay. We educate them. Most brides and grooms will need the invitation, reply card, reply envelope, and outer envelope. But it’s important to work with a stationer who will illuminate the process in a way that makes sense for you, especially since there is so much choice. It’s not just about picking white or ecru paper, and black, gray, or navy ink anymore.

How do you help finicky clients choose an invitation design?

In the initial meeting we talk a lot about the couple. We pour champagne and ask them to fill out a worksheet, circling words that describe their vision—formal, rustic, romantic, extravagant, intimate, simple, chic, et cetera. We want to know about them, too, so our designs can be a reflection of who they are as a pair.

How strictly should a couple adhere to rules of etiquette? 

A bride and groom do not have to follow wedding rules from the 1800s. There are no wedding police. Set a tone that’s in line with your personality and party. For instance, the phrase “We request the honor of your presence” for a barn wedding where pulled pork will be served doesn’t feel right. You want the language to match the overall event style.

Has letterpress printing replaced engraving?

Letterpress is what engraving was generations ago. Even if a bride wants to be formal, she still wants to be current, and letterpress is the modern thing to do.

What new techniques are popular?

We see a lot of brides using foil stamping right now. It’s a printing process that uses heat, pressure, and metal dies to lay a thin layer of foil film onto the paper. It adds glam and glitz. People are also loving edge painting. You use a thicker card and have the edge painted for a gorgeous pop of color.

Is that extra piece of vellum enclosed with the invitation really necessary?

We don’t often get requests for that anymore. It was originally inserted so the ink on the invitation wouldn’t smudge.

How about envelope liners?

In past times, it prevented others from seeing through the envelope, but we like them from a design perspective. A couple might use a traditional invitation, but pair it with a fun liner.

When is it okay to use email? 

It’s never appropriate to use email for wedding-related communication with guests. Weddings are important events and should be treated as exalted occasions. That said, couples do use email to get out extra information or to alert guests if plans change.

What paper décor elements are hot right now?

Monogrammed coasters stacked by the bar are popular. We also make swizzle sticks with flags in custom patterns, especially for clients serving signature drinks.

Tell us about an especially creative piece you’ve designed recently.

For a wedding at a Vermont inn, we found a vintage map of the town that we turned into a gatefold folio to wrap around the invitation. Then we tied it with gold-filament-laced baker’s twine and attached a foil-stamped hangtag reading, “See you in Vermont.”

Where can budget-conscious couples save?

If you’re using letterpress printing, screen-printing, or foil stamping, limit the ink to one hue. You can easily add color with a contrasting envelope. Another way to save money is to use a custom return-address rubber stamp on the outer envelopes instead of having them printed. And at the reception, have a chalkboard with handwritten table assignments instead of printed or calligraphed cards.

Gus & Ruby Letterpress, 29 Congress St., Portsmouth, NH, 603-319-1717,



Samantha Finigan on how to create the perfect invitation suite.

Go Postal
Custom stamps are a finishing touch that can tie the whole wedding suite together visually.

Green It Up
Letterpress pieces can be printed on reclaimed cotton or bamboo—or even on paper containing wildflower seeds that guests can plant later.

Sweat the Details
An envelope liner based on something personal (the pattern of the rug at your reception, for instance) is more special than generic printed paper.

Don’t Mix and Match
Keep the printing types consistent within one mailed suite. You wouldn’t want to enclose directions printed on your home computer with your letterpress invitations, for example.