Online invitations have their place, but they're not suitable for every occasion. It really depends on what type of party you are organizing.
As a guide, if it's a birthday, anniversary, baby shower, engagement party, or any other type of formal occasion or celebration then I wouldn't recommend using online invitations.
Receiving email invitations for these sorts of occasions is just too casual and makes the party feel less special or important. It just doesn't have the personal touch and might make your guests think that not much effort has gone into the party.
Online invitations are perfect if it's a more informal party or get together. For example movie night, game night, girls night out, or a casual dinner party.
They're also great if you're organizing a party at short notice and don't have enough lead time to mail out invitations, or you need to invite overseas guests. (Although you could also argue that if you're expecting guests to make a trip from overseas you might need to send them a proper invitation if you want them to think the party is important!).
Let's look at a few of the pros and cons for email invitations:
Most sites that offer email invitations are free to use, which is great if you're organizing a party on a budget. Even ones that charge a small subscription will still work out a lot cheaper than printing and mailing invitations.
Online Invitations also mean online replies, which makes it quick and easy for guests to accept or decline. Plus you easily see who has and hasn't yet replied and keep a track on numbers. Some sites will also let guests post comments when they RSVP (which is especially useful if they have to decline), and let them see who else has been invited.
Email invitations are of course quick, which is great if you want to organize a party short notice, but they also save you huge amounts of time addressing and mailing out invitations. Just upload you're email address book and you're ready to go.
This can also be a downside. Using free online invitations can send out the wrong impression about your party. In addition to making it seem less important or special, it might also make it seem a bit cheap. Do you want to run the risk of your guest's thinking "well if they haven't bothered with a proper invitation, it's probably not that big a deal".
Keep in mind that not everyone is online or feels comfortable using websites to RSVP. If you're organizing a birthday, anniversary, engagement, or any type of occasion that might include older family members then email invitations may not be suitable. And even for everyone else—emails can get pushed down, buried, or forgotten about in Inboxes. I'm particularly bad at this. I leave things in my Inbox to reply to later "when I have more time" and before long a whole bunch of new emails have come in and pushed those older ones further down and out of sight.
Also, you'll need to make sure you're email address book is up to date. People change emails (especially work emails) a lot more frequently than they move home.
One of the great things about a well-designed printed invitation is that it has sentimental value. It brings back memories of the occasion and is something that can be kept as a keepsake or memento—especially if it's from a landmark birthday or anniversary.
I know plenty of mothers who've kept their baby shower invitations to show their children when they're grown up. It's not quite so easy to do with online invitations.
Ultimately you need to decide what's more important when planning your party; the convenience and low-cost of using online invitations or the impression you want to create.
That's why I would say as a general rule of thumb use printed invitations for important celebrations and occasions, and use email invitations if it's a more casual party or informal get-together.
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.
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