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The invitation is your guests' first impression of your wedding, so it's important that you're happy with the way it looks. Of course, as with everything else you organise for your wedding, the choices are endless. The key is to set your budget and then find something you like that fits the bill!

Choosing your style

Stationery can be bought by mail order, from department stores, printers or stationery designers. Many designs will be pre-printed, giving you thne opportunity to leaf through a catalogue and simply choose your favourite design, colour and type style.

Alternatively, you might prefer to have your stationery designed just for your wedding. Bear in mind that anything bespoke will be more expensive so if you're looking to keep your costs down, you should probably choose a pre-printed option. You can always add your own personal touch by learning calligraphy and writing the names yourself, or adding some ribbon or a colourful envelope.

For some fabulous pre-printed stationery, try designs by Confetti ( 0870-840 6060), Debenhams ( 0870-2424 555) and Marks & Spencer ( 0845-302 1234), Or, do something a little more personalised or bespoke, check out the new collections from Papyrus ( 020-7584 8022), Rice Wedding Designers ( 01332-205022) and Little Cherub Design ( 016420783027). Good quality invitations on a stiff card featuring calligraphy, photography and pretty floral designs are all popular styles at the moment.

What to Buy

Of course, stationery isn't all about invitations, There are also placecards, thank you cards, order of service sheets, table plans and favour boxes to think about. You might even consider having monogrammed coasters, napkin rings and individual menus. As with anything, too much can be overkill and it's never good to get carried away with one design. Think about what you actually need and then add an extra item or two from the range which you particularly like. For example, a specially designed table plane can make a real impact.

Sticking to the Budget

If you want to splash out on your stationery, you certainly can. Prices vary considerably, from about £120 for 100 pre-printed invitations to between £600 and £1000 for 100 bespoke invitations. Prices will add up if you choose to have everything in the range but there are ways of keeping costs down without scrimping on style:

· Write your own placecards or use a table plan provided by your venue

· Print your own orders of service on your home computer

· Instead of using thank-you cards from your range of stationery, write to each of your guests on pretty notelets or writing paper.

· Generally, stationery becomes cheaper the more you buy. Order a few additional invitations at the outset instead of wishing you'd bought more later on.
Time to Post

Your guests should receive their invitations about three months before your big day. Any more and the event falls too far in advance to expect people to respond; any less and you run the risk of people being busy or unable to book their accommodation or organise travel arrangements.

If you're getting married during a popular holiday period, or guests are travelling from abroad, it's wise to send invitations out earlier still. 'Save the date' cards are widely available and a great idea if you want to make sure people put your wedding in their diaroies well in advance.

Get Creative

Of all the things you can create yourself, stationery is one of the most popular and there are even various kits available to help you make your own. With plenty of time, some helpful bridesmaids and a little creative flair, this can be a rewarding task. However, if you're not particularly artisitic and haven't attempted anything like this before, have a lot of guests or not much time, think carefully before you take on the challenge. This is a speciial day and it's important to get everything right.

Order of Service

This booklet or sheet of paper allows your guests to follow what's happening. You can simply list the the order of events or you can include more details, from the titles and composers of all your music to each and every word that will be spoken during the service (this is more usual for a church wedding)

If you're having readings and hymns it's a good idea to include the words on the service sheet so your guests can follow. It can also be a nice idea to include the names of people participating, such as those giving the readings, the officiant, the musicians and the wedding party.

If you're using a professional stationery designer you probably need to place your order at least a month before the day. Before you place your order you must ensure that all your selections have been cleared by your officiant - it will be awkward and embarrassing to have a song or poem mentioned but not included in the ceremony.

An alternative is to order the order of service covers only and to produce your own inserts. This gives you a bit of breathing space but you should still finalise everything well in advance so you're not panicking or assembling the booklets at the last minute.
Print at least one order of service for every two guests and include about 20 spare copies for safety and to ensure you have at least one as a keepsake.

Sample Wording

Traditional (Bride's parents as hosts)
Mr & Mrs John Smith request the pleasure of.............................
at the marriage if their daughter Jane to Mr Jack Jones.
Bridal Couple as Hosts
Miss Jane Smith and Mr Jack Jones request the pleasure
of................................ at their marriage
Divorced parents as hosts
Mr John Smith and Mrs Liz Smith request the pleasure

'You and Your Wedding' Jul/Aug 04

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