Mailing wedding invitations can be tough. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…though this isn’t the Post Office’s official motto (as you may have thought!), it sounds pretty serious. In truth, the Post Office is an amazing service that we have here in the United States. They process 493.4 million pieces of mail every single day. That’s over 5,700 piece every second. That’s insane – but also absolutely incredible, and I am constantly in awe of them.
You may not have a ton of contact with the post office outside of a few birthday cards once a year, but if you are planning on mailing wedding invitations, get ready to be extra friendly with your mailbox for a while. Knowing how to mail invitations can be tricky, though.
Most stationery designers have a love/hate relationship with the US Post Office, and I tend to err on the side of love (for evidence, see above. 493.4 million!!!). I currently have a postwoman who goes above and beyond the call of duty for me, and always has a great attitude – and some nice pats for my dog, which doesn’t hurt! However, you have probably started hearing horror stories about missing Save the Dates or wedding invitations going rogue with the USPS. Out of almost 500 million pieces every day, sometimes some pieces slip through the cracks, so we put together a list of the most common Post Office issues and how to avoid them when mailing your wedding invitations!
First things first – how often does mail go missing? The average according to USPS statistics is ~3%. This does not include pieces that get returned to sender, but solely those that go missing. You probably only send a few cards every now and again, so you may not have experienced this. However, if you are mailing 100 wedding invitations, it’s safe to plan on about 3-5 going missing. Thus, our first tip!
I typically recommend about 7 extra wedding invites for various reasons (photographer, keepsakes, B-list invitees), but the most important is for those wedding invitations that go missing in the mail. It is going to be a lot more expensive to reprint one wedding invitation than it will be to add one from the get-go. They can go missing for tons of reasons – honestly, one or two may be because your guest provided their address with a typo in it! A few extra will make this issue disappear!
What do you do if one of your wedding invitations goes missing in the USPS? Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do. This is why we recommend ordering extra. If you have an entire set of wedding invites that’s gone missing, talk to the manager at the Post Office you mailed them from. Show them a set, so they can see what you’re working with and advise on where they may have gotten stuck. I’ve had clients invitations just get stuck in a box in a corner, until they went and asked about them and were miraculously found! The US Post System is overworked and under-financed, for the most part, so give them a little grace. But these tips below will help you avoid this altogether.
The Post Office says your return address should be on the same side as the guest address to avoid confusion. With wedding invitations, this isn’t ideal aesthetically, so there are a few ways to help avoid issues. If you go with a return address on the flap of the envelope, the basic idea is to make it so a machine couldn’t possibly think your return address is a guest address.
I like to keep everything to only 2 lines – no names, and zip code on the same line as city/state. Or even put everything on one line. This will still be effective as a return, if necessary, but the machines aren’t likely to think it’s a guest address. Keeping the return small is great too, and putting it higher up on your envelope will keep it out of the guest address zone! One last piece of advice is to choose a slightly less contrasting color for the returns – we’ll talk about that in a minute.
These tips will help your envelope get read the right way. Here’s a video all about wedding invitation envelopes:
I get this question a lot as a calligrapher! Calligraphy is slightly tougher to read, but as long as the writing is large enough, the machines won’t have an issue. If they can read my dad’s chicken scratch, they can handle a little modern calligraphy. Keep the zip code spread out on its own line for best results – the machines read from the bottom up, so if the zip code is legible, it’s most likely to get where it needs to go.
You could eliminate this issue with a mix-and-match envelope addressing style – use calligraphy or a script font for the names, but a block print for easy reading of the address.
Need help formatting your addresses? See our post on that!
What color is best for wedding invitation addresses? Can you address your invitations in any color? Well…sort of.
The postal machines are fine with almost any color – but they don’t like red writing. I don’t get requests for red too often, but I try to steer clear of anything in the red family, even maroon or burgundy. Make sure your colors contrast enough that the machines will be able to tell what they say. I often use like colors (dark gray on pale gray envelopes, for instance), but there has to be enough of a difference that you can distinguish letters from far away. For best results, use darker colored inks (charcoal, navy, black) on light colored envelopes.
Can you address wedding envelopes in white ink? The Post Office says they don’t like white ink, so it’s a little more likely that they’ll get stuck if you go that route. However, I do it all the time and don’t have any more issues than I have with regular old black ink printed addresses. I personally test the limits of the Post Office all the time when mailing wedding invitations, but it’s up to you how comfortable you are with that!
Here’s a post on white ink printing if you’d like to read more about how I do that in-house!
There are so many things that affect postage when mailing wedding invitations, and this is the number one way to get your envelopes returned to you. Forever stamps will always cover up to 1 oz, but with wedding invitations, you may go over this fairly easily. Every Office’s scale will be a little different, so I advise all my clients to weigh their invitations at the exact PO they’ll be sending from before purchasing or applying stamps (your designer can probably send you a sample up front for a low cost – trust me, it’s worth it!).
Other things that will up your postage are not so intuitive – if you add a wax seal or thick ribbon, then that has the potential to not fit through the machines. This will require what’s called a “nonmachinable surcharge” because it requires hand-cancelling of the stamps. Right now, that cost is $0.20 additional. Square envelopes also require this extra $0.20 charge, and unfortunately, your local PO may have slightly different regulations or ways of enforcing them. Always check with them before making any final postage decisions!
One more note on postage: USPS.com has a 10 business day processing time for stamp orders. Yes, this seems insane, but that’s just what it is. Give yourself enough buffer time if you’re ordering specific stamps!
Want to explore vintage stamps? Watch this video:
This is a tough one, because you never know what’s going to happen along the way to your guest’s mailbox. That rain, snow, heat, and gloom of night that we talked about before are all likely to make an appearance.
The absolute safest way to mail your invites is in mailer boxes, but those can be somewhat expensive postage-wise and require extra packing materials. Some companies offer clear plastic sleeves that you can mail your invitations in – you can see through them to the addresses that are on the envelopes, but they would protect from rain and some other potential issues. These may require some extra postage depending on exactly how you pack them.
Then there is the traditional inner and outer envelope – the outer is a slightly larger one that protects another smaller envelope inside it. The inner envelope also only has the guest’s names (usually less formal). If you know there is a storm forecasted in your area, then you can always wait a few days to mail your invitations if you have time.
One big thing that you can do is hand-cancelling. We talked about this with postage as it typically does cost $0.20 extra (if you are lucky you may find a local PO that will allow you to stand there and do it for free yourself!). This basically requires rubber stamping your postage stamps to “cancel” them so they aren’t able to be used again. While it sounds like it, hand-cancelling does not prevent your mail from ever going through a machine – it simply reduces the number of machines that the mail goes through. So while it won’t be a foolproof way to protect your envelopes, it can help you out a little!
If you’re already paying that $0.20 for a wax seal, square invite, etc. then you should already have this covered – make sure to remind your postal workers of that when you drop them off!
One final tip in regards to Save the Dates – I often get requests to do a postcard style Save the Date to save on postage. However, by the time these get to your guests, they are usually in fairly bad shape, so I don’t recommend it. Feel free to use a postcard for your RSVP card though, because your guests will only see it when it’s fresh and clean!
You should mail your wedding invitations 8-12 weeks before your wedding. If your wedding is a destination wedding, mail them on the earlier side. As long as you’ve sent out Save the Dates, you CAN absolutely mail your wedding invitations too early. If you send them 4-5 months beforehand, it may seem like a good thing, but it’s actually not. Your guests won’t have made travel plans yet, so they won’t be able to RSVP immediately, and will likely forget.
While I absolutely appreciate and love the Post Office, they are a little crazy sometimes. They’re working hard, having tons of budget cuts, and they are only human, so mistakes happen. The best thing you can do to avoid stress is to give yourself time. Mail your invitations as early as possible to allow for some time if a few get sent back to you or go missing. This way no one will be rushed to get the information for your wedding!
Save the Dates can never really be sent too early. Especially if you have a destination wedding. It’s just an “FYI”, and there’s nothing official a guest has to do after receiving one, so it’s okay to get them out even a year early! The rule of thumb is at least 6-9 months early though (on the earlier side if people have to travel). Make sure you include your wedding website on the Save the Date, so people can book travel plans.
Every single Post Office is run by a human, and thus every single one will be slightly different. This is a government agency, after all. I actually drive further so that I can visit the more friendly PO in my town, where the agents all seem more familiar with wedding invitation processes. Checking in with your local PO and giving them a head’s up about your invitations is the best way to ensure the best results! I try to estimate as best I can for my clients, but your local folks are the ones who are going to be sending them out, and their requirements are the ones you should always refer to when mailing wedding invitations.
Having trouble addressing your wedding invitations? Make sure you check out our full blog post or the video below for lots of examples and help with wedding invitation address etiquette!
Hi, I'm Laney!
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Absolutely stellar advise!! ??
Thanks girl! I hope this helps with your future mailings!
Thanks for putting this together – it’s so helpful! Question – if I have a square envelope plus a wax seal, would I need just $0.21 of extra postage or would I need $0.42 of extra postage?
Hi Linda! Great question – if you have paid $0.21 for the "nonmachineable surcharge" then you will not need to pay an additional. This is the surcharge for hand-cancelling the envelope, so if they are already doing that due to the square shape, then they don’t need an additional for the wax seal. If, however, you go over 1oz in weight, then there will be an additional $0.21 for a second ounce!
This helps out a lot for a beginner like me! Thank you! Question… For the extra $0.21 charge, do I add an additional postage stamp or do I pay that at the counter? How would that work?
Hi Josie! Sorry for the delay – you will need to add that as postage! There are $0.21 stamps out there or you can use vintage postage, or any other combo that you like – it makes for gorgeous envelopes 🙂
This is incredible! It’s all of the things I’ve been thinking and just haven’t written down yet. Thank you for this!
Casey @ C3 Design Co
how about the thickness of an invitation , before they charge you the " package" charge?
[…] You’ll have to add a “nonmachinable surcharge” for a wedding invitation with a wax seal. This is because the bump created by the seal can’t go through the machines that the Post Office uses to read the envelopes (read a lot more on mailing wedding invitations here). […]
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[…] Usually you need your wedding guest count and meal counts by 1 month before the wedding for your wedding calligrapher (hint hint!), caterer, florist, and other vendors. This helps you arrange the seating chart and finalize all of your details in that last month before the wedding. So assuming about 1-2 weeks for invites to be delivered and 1-2 weeks for guests to send their replies back, sending invites 8 weeks out will be perfect! If you’re sending your invitations internationally, you’ll want to allow more time. Here’s a long post about mailing wedding invitations. […]