Looking to create invitations for a party or birthday?
If you don't have the budget to employ a graphic designer to create invitations that are custom-made, but you don't want to settle for shop-bought ones where you have to hand-write the details on, there are some great cost-effective alternatives.
Customize an Existing Design
There are some great websites around that will let you create invitations online by choosing a pre-existing design template and making the necessary changes you want in order to personalize it for your own party, birthday, or special occasion.
- You don't have to have any design skills or technical knowledge as the sites make it as simple as entering the text you want into different boxes which correspond to different positions on the layout of the invitation. You can then often choose what shape and size to create invitations (ie flat, folded, postcard), what paper type (satin, matte, metallic, recycled), the paper weight, whether add your own photos to the design, and sometimes even the option to make customized postage stamps.
- You can preview each design change you make, then once you place your order the invitations are professionally printed and mailed to you—with envelopes—within a couple of days. Some sites will even mail them out for you for an extra charge.
- Using websites like these to create invitations can be a very cost-effective way to produce professional looking invitations for a party or birthday. As the basic design is already done, and the website allows you to make changes in real time, you avoid having to use a graphic designer to create something from scratch—which can be quite expensive.
- Another great advantage is that you can often upload your own mailing list so that each invitation has a different name printed onto it, or to pre-address the envelopes—saving you lots of time.
Below are a few of my favorite sites to create invitations that I think have some of the best designs. (The recommendations below are for US visitors, UK and Australian visitors see here).
- Chic, Sophisticated and Tastefull Invitations. This site has a great choice of really tastefully designed invitations (see below) covering both adult and kid's parties and holiday party invitations. Many of the invitations can be personalized by adding your own photo.
- Well Designed or Handmade Invitations. This site has a great selection of really well designed invitations, lots of handmade and vintage options, and some sophisticated die cut (cut to shape) and pop-up invitations - such as the ones below. So you might want to consider this site if you're looking to create invitations for a special occasion.
- Kid's, Teen, and Adult Invitations. This site has a great range for all ages, including themed cards and ones that are just elegantly designed. There are also lots of options for cards that can be personalized with one or more photos (such as the 50th Anniversary card below right which includes 4 different photos celebrating the couple's marriage).
- Luxury Invitations. Many of the invitations on this site are more expensive but the quality is quite incredible - with a lot of the designs cut into shapes or featuring 3D elements (such as the gala invitations below right which incorporates a black bow tie!). If you're looking to create invitations for an upmarket adult birthday, anniversary, or other special occasion this site is definitely worth a look.
- Unusal & Themed Invitations. This site is great for finding more unusually themed invitations (say for an Alice in Wonderland party or a Redneck theme party) which might be harder to find elsewhere. It's also great for finding vintage style invitations and those that are in the style of something like a passport, boarding pass, newspaper front page,antoque book, telegram, etc.
For UK and Australian visitors, see below for similar sites near you
Click for UK Suppliers
Click for Australian Suppliers
A few things to look for when using these sites:
- Check what options are available for the weight of the paper. Good sites will offer around 100lb—110lb cover weight (approx 300gsm metric) which is a good quality weight for most party invitations—anything less than this and your invitations might look a bit thin and cheap. Of course if your party is very formal or a wedding for example, you might want to consider a higher-weight card.
- If in doubt, request a sample—most sites will happily send you out a blank sample so you can judge if the paper weight is heavy enough for your needs.
- Check what options are available for the type of paper finish (i.e. the treatment given to the surface of the paper). Which finish you choose will determine how smooth or rough the paper feels and how much it will reflect light.
- The most common are:
- A matte finish doesn't reflect light so it doesn't appear shiny. Colors often appear softer with a matte finish. As it isn't shiny it doesn't attract fingerprints as easily. This finish is probably closest in look and feel to the texture of ordinary paper that you might use in your printer at home and is good for invitations that don't include photos. Many business cards and greeting cards come in a matte finish, and it's particularly suited to black and white photos or old sepia images. This finish is good if you want a soft, natural look—for baby shower invitations for example.
- A gloss finish has lots of shine and makes colors look rich and vibrant. Often people associate gloss with quality—such as upmarket magazines—but bear in mind it can also make something seem more commercial and mass-produced. It's good for color photographs, but again bear in mind that fingerprints will show up much more which can be a disadvantage for invitations.
Satin / Silk
- A satin (sometimes called silk) finish is less shiny and is a perfect halfway mark between matte and gloss. You get the best of both: the bright, vibrant colors of gloss, with the viewing and handling ease of matte.
A lot of decision will come down to personal preference, but remember to consider what finish might be more suited to the theme / style / design of your invitation. For example a rustic, natural, earthy party theme such as The Secret Garden will probably suit a matte finish, whereas a colorful 1960's theme might benefit from a satin or gloss finish.
- You might have to dig a little deep within these sites to find a design that suits your taste. Don't judge the whole site based on the first page of designs you view. There are usually hundreds to choose so many probably won't be too your liking, but there are some real gems for every occasion, in there so be sure to have a good browse.
Alternatively, search each site by the theme of your party or the type of invitation you're looking for (ex, passport, vintage, poster, golden ticket).
For example, both the invitations below came from the site mentioned above for Unusal & Themed Invitations by searching for 'vintage' in the invitations section.
- When I'm organizing a party for a client I'm used to having a graphic designer create invitations so it's fair to say that I have pretty high standards, yet I was pleasantly surprised at how many good designs I found on these type of sites.
- I especially liked that there were some really good themed designs so you could create invitations in the style of say a passport, telegram, wine bottle label, treasure map, cassette or a Golden Ticket inspired by Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. The latter would be great to send out to guests tucked inside your favorite chocolate bar for a kid's birthday party. (Both designs below also from the Unusual & Themed Invitations site).
- I recommend using sites like these to create invitations if you don't have a large budget but still want something a little special. They're a great alternative to pre-printed, shop-bought invitations, and if you choose the design carefully you can still make them really creative.
- Read my party invitation ideas page for extra ways you can personalize these invitations to make them even more special —such as scenting them, or combining with an object or sound chip.
- Below is a great example of an invitation for a kid's birthday party with a jungle theme. The invitation itself is just a small tag, not much bigger than a business card. However it was tied around the neck of a rubber snake. The snake was then mailed out to guests in a cardboard tube filled with real leaves and twigs. As the object becomes the main focus you can get away with having a smaller mini card containing all the party details.
You can easily apply this principle to create invitations for any theme. Just think of a small cheap object that represents your theme (ex, a plastic tiara for a princess party, or an eye mask for a superhero party etc).
- These printed mini cards are a really cheap way of making your own personalized photo invitations (see below right) or for combining with an object to make a 3D invitation (like the snake example above, or these other examples). They're half the size of standard business cards (2.75" x 1.10"), really cheap (100 cards for $19.99 / £12) and you can upload your own image and layout the text using their simple to use on-line tool - no technical experience necessary! An added bonus is that you can use as many different photos as you want at no extra cost - so you could even have a different photo on every card if you want.
Just tie them like a tag onto a small object and suddenly you have a much more impressive invitation.
- For more information about these mini cards USA visitors can click here, alternatively UK visitors see here.
- Alternatively, if you don't want to print personlized tags, just hand-write the party details onto decorative shipping tags (like these below) and tie onto the object with string or ribbon. For a selection of decorative tags available for US visitors click here, and for UK visitors see here.
- The quality of home printers has improved hugely in recently years, meaning you can now print some pretty decent party invitations out yourself at home. This means that you can create invitations by customizing an existing design online, but instead of paying to have it printed you simply pay to download the finished artwork as an image file which you can then print yourself or take to a local copy shop to print for you.
- This is great way to achieve professional looking invitations if you're on a tight budget.
Send an Online Invitation
- If you're on a really tight budget you might just want to create invitations online and send via email—without any printing at all. However I don't recommend this approach for every type of party. They're really only suited to casual get-togethers or last minute parties.
- Read my advice on the pros and cons of using Online Invitations.
These are some easy and cost effective ways to create invitations for a party, birthday, or special occasion. Of course you may decide that you want to invest a little more money in creating some entirely unique, custom made invitations.
Although going down the custom made route can cost more, you will have greater flexibility and the opportunity to create even more unusual designs. In the past I've created some really unusual ones including invitations printed onto wood, transparent Perspex, and even elaborate pop-up invitations. It really just comes down to your budget.
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Matt James is a professional event planner and owner of event agency Left Field Productions, which has produced events for Elton John, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kevin Spacey, Stella McCartney, David LaChapelle, John Waters, and Elvis Costello & Diana Krall. Since 2004, Left Field Productions has won 30 industry awards for excellence including Production Company of the Year.