Printing Terms for the Bride-to-Be, Part I

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

Back when I first got married, you went to a card shop or similar and flipped through a massive book of wedding invitations. If you had a lot of money you might look at engraving, but most of the invitations were thermographed: printed in a raised ink so they looked engraved without the high cost.

Growing up around a print shop, I used to love looking through those ginormous books at all the different invitation styles and color and font choices.

And back then, unless you were using pre-printed cards where you filled in the details by hand, there wasn’t much happening on the DIY invitation front. Considering it was the mid-90s, even those who had computers at home probably had a dot matrix printer, maybe an inkjet, but only offices had the impressive laser printers (and even those weren’t as impressive as they are now).

I refuse to call those the “good ‘ol days” for obvious reasons.

So, 2 things have now been established:

  1. I’m old enough to remember when not everyone had a computer around, much less knew how to use it by age 3.
  2. Times have changed.

When I charged back into the wedding world in 2011, I was pleasantly surprised at how many brides and grooms now take a more active, diy approach to their paper goods. I was, of course, planning to do the same for us since I like to diy anything and everything I can (always have), but now it was more common which meant no longer needing to reinvent the wheel!

But what I was most surprised at was that brides were using PowerPoint to design their invitations!

PowerPoint was never meant to be a desktop publishing software. This is definitely a case of just because it’s there and kinda-sorta works doesn’t mean you should. And reading further I saw plenty of instances where knowing a little bit more about how printing is done away from you home computer set-up would prevent a lot of reprints and frustration when the order comes back from the printer–be it local or online.

So I’ve put together this basic guide to printing terminology and a few tips on designing for you non-graphic design majors. (Though, really, with the number of issues we have with recent grads not knowing these things, even graphic designers might pick up a thing or two from the below.)

As I was writing this all down it started to get very long. Instead of chopping it down to bare bones, I’ve decided to break it up into 3 parts. If you have no interest in diy-ing your paper goods, feel free to skip this and my next 2 posts. For the curious, read on!

Pages, and Parameters

First things first, a sheet of paper is a piece of paper. We’re starting out simple on purpose, here. A sheet of paper has two sides and, therefore, at least 2 pages.


At least? Oh, yes, follow along carefully because this is where we lose some folks at the office.

Take a standard sheet of 8.5″x11″ copy paper. On it’s own it has a front and a back, so 2 pages*. Now, give that sheet of paper a quarter turn and fold the right side over to the left (like you would if you were folding your wedding programs), and suddenly that 1 sheet of paper has turned into 4 pages, each page 5.5″ wide and 8.5″. And, yes, you should always know your page size–that’s what the printer is going to be concerned with. Just because you fit 4 RSVP cards on 1 sheet of copy paper, that doesn’t mean that’s how he’s going to run it!

When you folded this sheet to make your booklet, you also created a spine where the pages meet and fold.

ProTip: the size of paper goods is always described as W x L, so measure across the top, first, for the width and then down one side for the length. For envelopes, the width is whatever side the flap is on.

Okay, take another sheet of paper and fold it the same way, slipping the first sheet inside (again, think like a program). Now those 2 sheets have become an 8-page booklet with a spine that needs to be secured somehow. Unless they specialize in weddings and charge an arm and a leg for hand-finishing, chances are your only option is going to be to saddle-stitch (i.e. stapled down the middle of the sheets along the spine). If you want to add ribbon or do some decorative stitching, you can request that they just fold and collate (marry together) the pieces and you can finish the binding (what holds the separate sheets together) on your own.

Incidentally, when you folded the one sheet into four pages, you created a signature. Now, if you started with, say, an 11″x17″ piece of paper and folded it in half and then half again, you’d have created an 8-page signature. After trimming the folded edges that aren’t the spine, you’d have your entire 8-page program done on a single sheet of paper if you could print that big. Multiple signatures can be nested inside of each other to make bigger booklets, but that’s probably outside the needs of your average wedding, so we’ll move on.

One more thing before we end for this post–if there is a folded spine on your booklet, then your page number must be divisible by 4. If you are stapling a stack of sheets together, then you can have a page count divisible by 2 (front and back of 1 sheet, remember), but if it has a spine it needs to be in sets of 4 pages to work. That’s just all there is to it.

*A page is a page no matter how blank–yes, you count the blank pages, too, because they definitely exist. Anyone else remember manuals or bills with “this page intentionally left blank” on them, just so the reader wouldn’t freak out about potentially missing information?

One thought on “Printing Terms for the Bride-to-Be, Part I

  1. Pingback: Printing Terms for the Bride-to-Be, Part II | Third Time Bride

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