After you have decided you are having a party, one of the first things to figure out is who you are inviting and how you will let them know about your event. Which is where this guide to party invitations comes in handy.
So let’s get on with today’s topic…all about party invitations.
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First let’s start with the types of invitations that are available. Depending on how formal your event is, and how much money you want to spend, there’s a variety of options to choose from.
I’m ordering them from least formal and least expensive to the most formal, most expensive options.
Really Informal – Text or Email
To be honest, for most of my parties, I don’t send out fancy invitations. I use a simple text or email message to invite people.
It works just fine for more casual get-togethers when I’m not really keeping track of how many people are going to show up. (For these parties, I put everything out on the buffet and go with the “when it’s gone, it’s gone” philosophy of serving food).
And it’s free…so that’s always a bonus.
Organized Informal – Online Events
However, for sit-down dinners and other events where you need to know how many people will be there (or if you’re just not comfortable with the idea that you might run out of food), online invitations are probably the better way to go.
They take a little more time to set up, but they can still be free and they automatically keep track of who has replied.
If all of your guests are on Facebook, then using Facebook Events is probably the easiest way to go. And your guests will see the invitation.
You can choose a theme picture (or upload your own), pick who you want to invite, specify whether or not its a private party, and determine if your guests are allowed to bring others.
Then it will keep track of who accepts your invitation and send out a reminder notification for you a couple of days before the event.
If not all of your friends and family are on Facebook, then evite.com* may be the way to go.
It has all the functionality of Facebook, plus it has a lot of themes to choose from (make sure to pick a free one if you don’t want to pay for it).
You can also create a “what to bring” list (perfect for a potluck!), specify how many guests each person can bring and allow people to indicate how many kids they are bringing (if you want to allow that).
The one issue with online invitations like this is that the email with the invite often ends up in people’s Junk folders and they don’t see it. Which means you end up having to call or send a separate email/text to tell them that it’s there.
Online Party Planner
Online party planners like partylabz.com are another way to send invitations.
Many are free until you get to a certain number of invitees (such as 100).
You can have them send the email invitations for you, or just have them keep track of the RSVP’s for you. In the second case, they give you a URL that you can include in your invitation. Then your invitees go to that URL to say whether or not they are coming.
Online party planners usually have additional functions available besides just the invitations…such as a party page that you can customize, or a “Secret Santa” option that will pair people up for you (if you are doing that kind of gift giving at a Christmas party).
As with online invitations, you do need to make sure that your invitees have seen the invitation…it often ends up in their Junk folders.
The next group of invitations are invitation templates. These are invitation designs available online that you can customize with your party information.
Many sites (such as Greetings Island) offer them for free. You fill them out and then either save, print or email them directly to your friends.
The direct email option is pretty much the same as the online invitations and online party planner options above. And you may have the same problem with people not seeing it because it ended up in their Junk folder.
The difference with using an invitation template is that you can also send them by saving it as a file and attaching it to an email that you send. That way it is much more likely to end up in your guests’ inboxes rather than their Junk mail.
Formal – Mailed Invitations
For more formal events, mailed invitations are the way to go.
Just getting a “real” piece of mail in their mailbox makes the event feel special before people even know what it is.
I also tend to use this form of invitation if I’m hosting a party for someone else (eg. someone’s birthday or anniversary) and I don’t know all of the guests who will be there. Often, emails sent to people you don’t know end up in the Junk folder and they never see them.
There are many different price points for mailed invitations, none of which are free (at the very least, you have to pay for the stamps).
Which is why most people only do these for important events.
DIY invitations are often the least expensive way to go, and are definitely the most personalized.
But of course, they take the most time.
I’ll be posting DIY invitations you can make for a Great Gatsby party next time, so stay tuned for that if you’re interested!
Yes, invitation templates end up in both the online invitation and mailed invitation lists.
As I mentioned above, these are invitation designs available online (often for free) from sites like Greetings Island.
You fill them out. Then you print them and mail them.
If you choose a nice quality paper, these printed invitations can look quite nice. And they have a lot of designs available, so you just might find what you’re looking for.
Pre-printed invitations are the ones that you order in packages.
They have a design already printed on them and leave spaces for you to fill in your party information.
These are fairly inexpensive to buy, but aren’t as customized as some of the other options.
If you want custom invitations but don’t want the hassle of printing your own, printed-for-you invitations are the way to go.
My favorite place to order these types of invitation is zazzle.com.
They have a ton of unique invitation designs, and deliver good quality invitations.
For really pretty invitations (that are a little more expensive), try looking for the ones that are laser-cut.
They have intricate designs cut into card stock that are then used to wrap the invitation.
There are a lot of beautiful designs on Etsy* and many are hand made.
If you have a Cricut and want to make your own, you can look for the people selling the svg files, which will save you some money.
And I will be posting a DIY tutorial for making a laser-cut Gatsby invitation on your Cricut next time, so watch out for that!
What To Include In An Invitation
In any case, there is some information that should always be included regardless of how you tell people about your party.
The purpose of the party
This seems fairly obvious, but I’m always surprised at the invitations I receive that don’t spell out what/who the party is for. (For example, “Bill’s 40th birthday party” or Wanda’s annual Halloween costume party).
The date and time of the party
At a minimum this should include the date and a start time.
If you are renting a space, or just don’t want people to stay too long, make sure to include an end time.
Specifying an end time also makes it more likely that people will arrive fairly close to the start time, especially if there is only 2 or 3 hours of “party time” in between.
Make sure to include a.m. or p.m. in your time. It’s always best to be specific, even if it seems obvious.
Include the name of the location as well as the address.
For example, if the party is being held at someone’s house, the location name would be “Bill’s house”.
For a venue, use the actual name (eg. Hall’s Restaurant).
If it’s possible for people to get the address confused (eg. the same address exists on Bloor St East and Bloor St West), include the zip (or postal) code for those using a map app.
Or add a separate card with directions.
Let your guests know that you would like them to respond, and by which date.
Also make sure they know who to contact and how.
For events that don’t have formal RSVP cards included in the invitation, I like to give them multiple ways to respond – call, text or email (or if you’re using an online party service, the URL where they can respond). That way people can choose to use the method they are most comfortable with.
Who is hosting the party
If you are hosting the party for someone else, make sure people know that.
You can do that either by adding a line at the beginning of the invite that says something like “Susan invites you to Bill’s 40th birthday party”.
Or by saying it in the RSVP line – “RSVP to Susan” and then include all of your information.
Special instructions are things people need to know before they come to the party so that they can prepare for it.
Write these special instructions at the bottom of the invitation in smaller text.
They would be things like BYOB (bring your own booze), Cash bar (ie. they need to bring money), you’re expecting them to dress up in a costume to match your theme, or that it’s a black tie affair.
You could also mention that you don’t expect them to bring gifts (by saying “No gifts, please” or something like “Your presence is the only present we need”).
Yes, there is such a thing as invitation etiquette.
Most of these are more applicable to mailed invitations or online invitations than text messages or informal emails. Except for the first one…which always applies.
1. Do NOT ask for gifts. Instructions that say “Gifts appreciated” or anything like that anywhere on the invitation is just plain tacky.
2. The invitation should only have details that are directly related to the party so that your guests can quickly find the information they need. Additional details like directions, accommodations or where you’re registered should be included on a separate insert card. Or use one of the online party services to put all of that extra information…then you can just give everyone the URL. Note: Some people consider even having an insert with your registry information on it as tacky (similar to point 1 above), so you can make a judgement call on whether or not you wish to do that.
3. Use the third person when referring to yourself: “Wanda Simone invites you to her annual Halloween party” (rather than “My annual Halloween party”)
4. The way you address the envelope should let people know if they are allowed to bring additional guests and children. This should not be on the invitation itself (that means no special instructions that say “Adults only” or “No children, please”). Include terms like “and guest” or “and family” on the envelope if you are expecting them to bring others. If you are including an RSVP card, you can also include the maximum number of expected guests from their family (eg. “____ of 4 will attend”).
5. Pick a style of invitation that matches your party. Formal events should have a more formal looking invitation with elegant fonts and more expensive paper. Casual events can use more playful fonts, colors and graphics. That will give your guests an idea of what to expect when they arrive.
Now The Test…
Can you spot all the things that are wrong with this very pretty invitation? Scroll down to find out.
1. It doesn’t have the name of the person celebrating the birthday…so unless you know this person’s address by heart, you don’t know who this is for.
2. The address isn’t specific enough. There are a ton of Main Streets, so without specifying the city (and maybe the zip code)…this is too confusing.
3. The time should say “p.m.” at the end, just to avoid any potential confusion.
4. There is no RSVP contact name or information on how to contact the person
5. The “Gifts Appreciated” line is an etiquette no-no.
6. Nothing on the invitation lets you know what type of a party it is. The invitation looks like it might be a formal affair, but since it doesn’t say “A black tie event” or something of that nature, it’s hard to know for sure.
When To Send Party Invitations
For most parties, sending invitations 2 to 3 weeks in advance is fine. This is true regardless of whether you are sending a text message or mailing a physical invitation.
However, there are some exceptions when you will want to send invitations earlier…6 to 10 weeks in advance:
- You are planning an event for a popular party date (like New Year’s Eve)
- There are a lot of out of town guests who need to make travel arrangements
- It is a really important day (such as a wedding or 50th wedding anniversary)
Another option for these special occasions is to send a “Save the Date” card well in advance (it could even be a few months ahead of time) and then mail your invitations closer to the time.
That’s it for our ultimate guide to party invitations. Come back next time to learn how to make our DIY Gatsby Laser Cut Invitations.
Other Party Planning Information You Might Like
Hopefully we’ve answered all your invitation questions! If not, let us know in the section below.
This post was originally published on December 4, 2019 but was updated with new content on October 7, 2021.