Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night...though this isn’t the Post Office’s official motto (as you may have thought!), it sounds pretty serious. In truth, the Post Office is an amazing service that we have here in the United States. They process 493.4 million pieces of mail every single day. That’s over 5,700 piece every second. That’s insane - but also absolutely incredible, and I am constantly in awe of them.
You may not have a ton of contact with the post office outside of a few birthday cards once a year, but if you are planning a wedding, get ready to be extra friendly with your mailbox for a while. Knowing how to mail invitations can be tricky, though. Most stationery designers have a love/hate relationship with the US Post Office, and I tend to err on the side of love (for evidence, see above. 493.4 million!!!). I currently have a postman who goes above and beyond the call of duty for me, and always has a great attitude - and some nice pats for my dog, which doesn’t hurt! However, you have probably started hearing horror stories about missing Save the Dates or invitations going rogue. Out of almost 500 million pieces every day, sometimes some pieces slip through the cracks, so we put together a list of the most common Post Office Woes and how to avoid them when mailing your wedding invitations!
How to Mail your Wedding Invitations
First things first - how often does mail go missing? The average according to USPS statistics is ~3%. This does not include pieces that get returned to sender, but solely those that go missing. You probably only send a few cards every now and again, so you may not have experienced this. However, if you are sending 100 invitations, it’s safe to plan on about 3-5 going missing. Thus, our first tip!
I typically recommend about 7 extras for various reasons (photographer, keepsakes, B-list invitees), but the most important is for those that go missing. It is going to be a lot more expensive to reprint one invitation than it will be to add one from the get-go. They can go missing for tons of reasons - honestly, one or two may be because your guest provided their address with a typo in it! A few extra will make this issue disappear!
The Post Office says these should be on the same side as the main address to avoid confusion. With wedding invitations, this isn’t ideal aesthetically, so there are a few ways to help avoid issues. The basic principle is to make it so a machine couldn’t possibly think your return address is a main address. I like to keep everything to only 2 lines - no names, and zip code on the same line as city/state. Or even put everything on one line. This will still be effective as a return, if necessary, but the machines aren’t likely to think it’s a guest address. Keeping the return small is great too, and putting it higher up on your envelope will keep it out of the guest address zone! One last piece of advice is to choose a slightly less contrasting color for the returns - we’ll talk about that in a minute.
I get this question a lot as a calligrapher! Calligraphy is slightly tougher to read, but as long as the writing is large enough, the machines won’t have an issue. If they can read my dad’s chicken scratch, they can handle a little modern calligraphy. Keep the zip code spread out on its own line for best results - the machines read from the bottom up, so if the zip code is legible, it’s most likely to get where it needs to go.
The postal machines are fine with almost any color - but they don’t like red writing. I don’t get requests for red too often, but I try to steer clear of anything in the red family, even maroon or burgundy. Make sure your colors contrast enough that the machines will be able to tell what they say. I often use like colors (dark gray on pale gray envelopes, for instance), but there has to be enough of a difference that you can distinguish letters from far away. For best results, use darker colored inks (charcoal, navy, black) on light colored envelopes.
There are so many things that affect postage, and this is the number one way to get your envelopes returned to you. Forever stamps will always cover up to 1 oz, but with wedding invitations, you may go over this fairly easily. Every Office’s scale will be a little different, so I advise all my clients to weigh their invitations at the exact PO they’ll be sending from before purchasing or applying stamps (your designer can probably send you a sample up front for a low cost - trust me, it’s worth it!).
Other things that will up your postage are not so intuitive - if you add a wax seal or thick ribbon, then that has the potential to not fit through the machines. This will require what’s called a “nonmachinable surcharge” because it requires hand-cancelling of the stamps. Right now, that cost is $0.21 additional. Square envelopes also require this extra $0.21 charge, and unfortunately, your local PO may have slightly different regulations or ways of enforcing them. Always check with them before making any final postage decisions!
One more note on postage: USPS.com has a 10 business day processing time for stamp orders. Yes, this seems insane, but that’s just what it is. Give yourself enough buffer time if you’re ordering specific stamps!
Keeping your Invitations Pretty!
This is a tough one, because you never know what’s going to happen along the way to your guest’s mailbox. That rain, snow, heat, and gloom of night that we talked about before are all likely to make an appearance.
The absolute safest way to mail your invites is in mailer boxes, but those can be somewhat expensive postage-wise and require extra packing materials. Some companies offer clear plastic sleeves that you can mail your invitations in - you can see through them to the addresses that are on the envelopes, but they would protect from rain and some other potential issues. These may require some extra postage depending on exactly how you pack them. Then there is the traditional inner and outer envelope - the outer is a slightly larger one that protects another smaller envelope inside it. The inner envelope also only has the guest’s names (usually less formal). If you know there is a storm forecasted in your area, then you can always wait a few days to mail your invitations if you have time.
One big thing that you can do is hand-cancelling. We talked about this with postage as it typically does cost $0.21 extra (if you are lucky you may find a local PO that will allow you to stand there and do it for free yourself!). This basically requires rubber stamping your postage stamps to “cancel” them so they aren’t able to be used again. While it sounds like it, hand-cancelling does not prevent your mail from ever going through a machine - it simply reduces the number of machines that the mail goes through. So while it won’t be a foolproof way to protect your envelopes, it can help you out a little! If you’re already paying that $0.21 for a wax seal, square invite, etc. then you should already have this covered - make sure to remind your postal workers of that when you drop them off!
One final tip in regards to Save the Dates - I often get requests to do a postcard style Save the Date to save on postage. However, by the time these get to your guests, they are usually in fairly bad shape, so I don’t recommend it. Feel free to use a postcard for your RSVP card though, because your guests will only see it when it’s fresh and clean!
While I absolutely appreciate and love the Post Office, they are a little crazy sometimes. They’re working hard, having tons of budget cuts, and they are only human, so mistakes happen. The best thing you can do to avoid stress is to give yourself time. Mail your invitations as early as possible to allow for some time if a few get sent back to you or go missing. This way no one will be rushed to get the information for your wedding!
Every single Post Office is run by a human, and thus every single one will be slightly different. This is a government agency, after all. I actually drive further so that I can visit the more friendly PO in my town, where the agents all seem more familiar with wedding invitation processes. Checking in with your local PO and giving them a head’s up about your invitations is the best way to ensure the best results! I try to estimate as best I can for my clients, but your local folks are the ones who are going to be sending them out, and their requirements are the ones you should always refer to when mailing your invitations for your wedding!