What to Know If You're Obsessed With the Hand-Lettered Wedding Invite Look

Before you break out the calligraphy pens yourself, consider all your options.
Danielle Halibey
by Danielle Halibey
Updated Sep 28, 2021

Just a few years ago, Meghan Markle was making headlines not just for her impending nuptials and future title, but for her role as a skilled calligrapher. Actress Paula Patton applauded the Duchess for helping her bring handwritten wedding invitations to life for her own 2005 wedding to Robin Thicke. The perfection-level calligraphy on their save-the-dates and custom wedding invitations was all courtesy of Markle, who apparently blew the couple away with her impressive missives. Long story short: Stunning penmanship is nothing to sleep on when it comes to imagining your wedding stationery. "Handwritten elements on your stationery and envelopes immediately set the tone for a personalized and unique celebration," notes Alane Gianetti, owner and lead designer of Hoboken's Write Pretty for Me. "They let guests know that the couple is thinking of their entire experience, from the moment they receive the invitation to the actual wedding day."

Here's the thing. While beautiful handwriting and signature script is an art form in its own right, it's also the product of years of fine-tuning and finessing—something that can't be learned in a rush just to elevate your invitation aesthetic. In this guide, we'll explore the optic allure of handwritten wedding invitations, ways you can get the look for your own wedding invites and where to go to find a professional calligrapher to make it all happen.

If handwritten calligraphy still feels out of reach, you can take a peek at offerings from our own The Knot Invitations. Our cost-effective calligraphy-inspired invites will save you some serious time and safeguard your budget. You'll also get to experience the personal touch of our talented in-house designers who will customize the appearance of your names and ensure absolute perfection with your suite.

In this article:

What Are Handwritten Wedding Invitations Exactly?

It sounds like a silly question, because handwritten seems pretty self-explanatory, right? But when you actually think about it in the context of wedding stationery, it's not as clear.

Historically, handwritten wedding invitations were only reserved for the most privileged classes; those getting married would hire monks versed in calligraphy to handcraft their invitations and prepare the wedding announcements for their prospective guests. The invitations were quite literally written by hand, word by word, just like an intimate love letter would be drafted. Today, handwritten wedding invitations just mean that some element of the overall design features handwritten calligraphy or script fonts. The personal touch is still intact and the visual effect is still as sophisticated and elegant as it was in its earliest forms. You just have a lot more freedom to make the look your own in 2021.

Envelope Addressing

If you're engaged, you've probably seen hundreds of calligraphed and hand-lettered envelopes on your wedding feeds, in a variety of iterations to match any and every wedding style. This is the way to go if you love the handwritten look for its formality and nod to tradition. Your guests will receive their wedding invitation envelopes in the mail and immediately feel a special connection to the occasion and your personal ask. "Receiving a hand-addressed envelope in the mail makes your guests feel extra cared for right away before they've even entered your wedding," says Gianetti. "Who doesn't love opening their mailbox to find a beautiful, hand-calligraphed envelope in the midst of bills and junk mail?! It's truly the best surprise!"

Envelope addressing doesn't have to be limited to the outer and inner envelopes or your return address—you can also weave calligraphed quotes or distilled parts of your vows into your envelope liners and even the outer envelope flap (complete with a stunning wax seal, if you're so inclined).

Spot Calligraphy

Unlike traditional calligraphy, modern calligraphy is not typically used on the entire invitation (it can be difficult or busy to read and expensive). Instead, spot calligraphy is what you'll see most frequently on the main invitation itself, anywhere that traditional script fonts would appear. "I use this myself when designing custom invitations, meaning I'll write the couple's names in calligraphy, headers for the various cards, etc.," explains Gianetti.

Now, if you're already working with a stationer who isn't a calligrapher, but you'd still like to incorporate hand-calligraphed elements, spot calligraphy is a great way to do just that. "Many stationers will work alongside calligraphers to provide this service to their clients for both their envelopes and their stationery," says Gianetti. Interrupting printed typography with hand-furnished flourishes really makes a statement, especially if you choose a different ink color, metallic or watercolor palette to oppose the rest of your invitation suite.

Can You Handwrite Your Wedding Invitations Yourself?

If you've always loved your handwriting and want to add some extra character to your wedding correspondence, handwriting your own invitations (and we're not talking about the write-in invitations we had for parties as kids) can be a very special contribution to your big day and a thoughtful heirloom to cherish for years to come. That being said, given the extent of the undertaking, we'd recommend doing so only if your guest list is small (no more than 50 invitees) or you only plan on DIY-ing your envelopes and you're confident in your craft. "When it comes to envelope calligraphy—unless you have loads of extra time, a good deal of patience and a steady hand—I suggest leaving your envelope addressing to a professional calligrapher," Gianetti cautions.

Having the right tools (fine-tipped markers, pointed pens or more advanced inkwells and nibs) is also a requisite to pulling off a calligraphed look beautifully. If you've done your research and have everything you need, then definitely give it a go. Your guests will appreciate the personalized approach, and you'll definitely save some money in the process.

Why You Might Want to Trust the Pros

With 8,000 things happening ahead of your wedding, you'll have a lot on your plate already. Calligraphy is complicated to begin with; if you can leave the tediousness (all of the invitation wording wonders and envelope address etiquette) to a tenured pro, you can keep your creativity sharp and come to your calligraphy service consults or design meetings with laser focus, inspiration and templates to replicate for days. "While it might be tempting to DIY your invitations, it can result in more money spent and more stress, which is the last thing you need leading up to your wedding day," relays Gianetti.

By adding a stationer or calligrapher to your wedding dream team, you're not just transacting for gorgeous goods, you're also getting incredible insight and industry intel. "Calligraphers know exactly what type of ink to use, can pass along guidance and tips on etiquette, will dedicate ample time to completing the addressing and proofread all of the envelopes before returning them to you," offers Gianetti. Moreover, once you've collaborated on a single project, you can segue into conversations about other wedding details you might want help with: custom monograms, day-of signage, place cards, escort cards, table numbers and more.

What Services Are Best for Handwritten Wedding Invitations?

Going with a handwritten wedding invitation is a banner decision for your wedding day, for so many reasons. "Guests know the wedding is going to be something extra-special when they receive their invitation and see each element has been carefully thought out and executed with close attention to the details," assures Gianetti. But where can you turn to bring your calligraphy wedding invitation dreams to reality? Start with the talented vendors and wedding tastemakers first, and then consider online marketplaces. Sites like Etsy allow you to browse thousands of small businesses, artisans and designers, then connect with individuals who specialize in hand lettering and offer calligraphy services that meet your budget (and coalesce with your wedding vision).

Bespoke Services or Tiered Options From Custom Stationers

Should custom calligraphy be out of your price range, you can absolutely look for semi-custom stationery or a la carte packages from the same designers. "Many stationery designers and calligraphers will include handwritten elements and custom artwork in their semi-custom line, so you still have that personalized touch, but at a more budget-friendly price point," says Gianetti.

Another cost-conscious alternative is purchasing a calligraphy font from a calligrapher. "There are several calligraphers who have turned their hand calligraphy into a digital font that's available for use on envelopes, stationery and more," adds Gianetti. "Purchasing a calligraphy font from a calligrapher still helps support their art and lends an elegant, handwritten feel without it being totally custom to you."

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