5 common mistakes when addressing & mailing wedding invitations

Guest post by Angela
minted free address alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
If you want to skip all the hassles, Vistaprint and Minted have free addressing service… all you do is upload your addresses and they'll take it from there!

These days, almost all mail is routed through automated sorting machines, which take pictures of the front and back of the envelope, and try to figure out the correct postal code/zip code/post office to send it to, based on those pictures.  The machines are really very good at their job (99%+ of the letters get to the right destination)…  But there are things that can throw them off.

This doesn't mean your wedding invitations won't get there, but it may take extra time if your wedding invitations have to be hand-sorted, or your wedding RSVP cards go to the wrong post office first.

Once upon a time, I spent about a year working on improvements to the code for postal address recognition (in a couple of different countries; it's customized a lot for each country, but the basic ideas and system are the same).

Based on that experience, here's my advice to help your all wedding invitation mailings get exactly where you want them to go, as quickly as possible…

7 DOs for how to address your wedding invitations:

Check the rules and prices your postal service has for mailing before you buy supplies or postage

Nothing is worse than getting everything assembled, taking it all to the post office, and finding out that you don't have the right postage, or your envelopes are too big/small/can't be covered in chunky glitter.

Use standard practices on your envelope

Put the address where it's normally expected to go, some sort of stamp where it’s normally expected to go, and your return address in the normal corner, or on the back of the envelope. Now is not the time to get creative!

Use postal codes/zip codes

They help send your letter to the correct city on the first try, and should be at the end of the last line of the address, or on the bottom line of the address all on their own (or wherever your country conventionally puts them).

Use a LIGHT envelope color

You don’t have to stay with plain white, but it should be a light pink, blue, green, cream, or whatever other pale color you want. Avoid anything shimmer-y or with reflective bits in it.

You want lots of contrast between your address and the envelope.  In addition, some postal services stamp bar codes on the bottom of the envelope to help route it to the right place — you want those to be visible on your wedding invitations!

This means that as gorgeous as envelope and addresses like these are, they may have deliverability issues!

how to mail wedding invitations on offbeat bride alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
These hand-addressed envelopes from EloquenceDesignAndCo are gorgeous but may have issues with deliverability… go for something more like this

Keep the numbers and letters in the postal code/zip code separate from each other

Be careful if you address invitations by hand, and try to keep the numbers and letters in the postal code/zip code separate from each other. You don't want them to overlap, and don't get too creative with your calligraphy in that section.

Put all the shiny creative things your heart desires INSIDE your envelope, in whatever color you’d like

You can even do an inner envelope if you want to have the full effect of a silver envelope addressed in gold foil (I got these silver envelopes and loved them).  This will also let you have a nice envelope that doesn't have those postmarks and bar codes, if that's important to you.

FIVE DON'Ts for how to address your wedding invitations:

Don’t get creative with ink color

Black is great. Dark blue is great. Dark purple is probably okay. Anything else is not going to be picked up by the mail scanning cameras as well.  It will probably still be fine, but it increases the chances of problems. Red, purple, orange, or gold can be especially troublesome.

how to address wedding invitation envelopes on offbeat bride alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
This gold ink envelope calligraphy from StyleDahlia is so beautiful… but the invitation may take longer to reach the recipient since postal scanners can struggle with that gold ink.

Don't use silver, gold, glitter, or reflective ink or labels on your envelope

The mail scanning camera, which takes an image of the envelope for processing, will not read it properly because the light illuminating it will cause strange reflections, and you’ll end up with half your invitations routed to zip code 10000 instead of 40000 because there was a bar of light over the first part of the zip code.

This mistake will likely be corrected by a human eventually, but it may delay everything by a week or so until your wedding invitation is manually reprocessed.

vistaprint how to address wedding invitations alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
….If you think figuring out how to address your wedding invitations sounds hard, you can have Vistaprint just address them for you?

Don’t use too many designs on the outside of your envelope

…Especially right behind the address! That pretty checkered design or watermark could turn MI into MT when it’s read in by a computer, and send all your invitations on a trip to Montana. Definitely don’t do anything creative with blocks of text that closely resemble addresses on the outer envelope, because the computer processing the addresses has never read Shakespeare, and can't tell that quote from a city name.

Don't put anything that could get caught up in machinery

They can also get caught on other envelopes or pulled off on the outside of your envelopes. Sadly, that means stuff like these adorable wax seals probably aren't smart:

can I use wax seals on wedding invitations on offbeat bride alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
These adhesive wax seals are so cute… but will totally get caught in postal scanning machines 🙁

Don't get too creative with the font

The systems will recognize any standard font, but the more exotic ones — especially the ones designed to look like fancy calligraphy — can confuse them.  Especially bad in the abbreviations and postal/zip codes, where GA and OH can start looking similar more easily than you'd think.

If you want to save money:

Check the rules for basic first-class mail in your country before you purchase supplies. In general, odd shapes, anything too large or too small, and anything overweight will cost more.

Now, if you're saying “OMG! I already bought my black envelopes and silver pens! I've had my heart set on them since I was twelve!”

Relax, your invitations and RSVPs should still get where they're headed.  You might want to allow for some extra transit time, though.  Worst case, they take a side trip to the wrong post office, and a human being there figures this out and sends them on to the right person, or back to you. (…You did put those return addresses on your invitations, right?)

Alternately, if all of this just sounds like too much hassle, we HIGHLY recommend the free addressing services that Vistaprint offers. Just upload your addresses and let them take care of it!

How to get free addressing from Vistaprint:
After selecting and customizing your cards, follow these 4 steps:

1. Pick your envelopes.
You’ll be asked to choose from a variety of envelope styles. Select our custom envelopes or white addressed envelopes – both come with free addressing.

2. Choose your addressing.
A pop-up will appear. Check “printed return addresses”, “printed recipient addresses” or both. For return addresses, enter your info right into the pop-up.

3. Add your address list.
Download the template and add your details. (The bolded columns are required.) Upload your list and they'll scan it for errors.

4. Place your order.
Select any addresses you wish to edit or delete. Once you’re ready, click on the “Add to cart” button. Then you’re done! Your addressed envelopes will be in your cart at checkout.

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Comments on 5 common mistakes when addressing & mailing wedding invitations

  1. The only other thing I would add, that I had a nice long conversation with my Mother about when addressing our invites is, pay attention to which of your married friends changed their last names and which did not.

    If your friend is Mrs. Her-name, don’t address the invite to Mr & Mrs. His-name. Opt for Mr. His-name & Mrs. Her-name, or “The His-name/Her-name Family”.

    • This, definitely! Also would like to add: do NOT assume that because someone is married, they will use the “Mrs.” honorific. Particularly if the individual did not change her last name, it is actually incorrect to use the “Mrs.” honorific, as that would technically imply that she is married to her father (assuming she has her father’s name) or to her mother (if she has her mother’s name). Our solution was to just ask everyone how they wanted to be addressed. We sent out a form using Google forms that we had all of our guests fill out. For older guests or the non-computer savvy, there were people who either helped them fill out the forms, or we called them and asked how they wanted us to address their invitation.

      As someone who has very strong feelings on the subject of names and honorifics (I despise honorifics in general and will frequently avoid telling people my last name so they can’t use one without sounding either weird or really southern; if I MUST use one, I grudgingly use “Ms.”), I try really hard to make sure that I honor everyone’s preferences on how they prefer to be called/addressed.

      • This is ridiculous that people get so hung up on an honorific and you would even have to worry about this when trying to plan your wedding. If you’re being invited to someone’s special day, it means you are important to them. If someone is so offended by accidentally being called Mrs. instead of Ms. when someone else is trying to show that they are important, then the offended person needs to learn the world is not perfect and get over it.

    • We asked our guests to add their info to our address book at http://www.postable.com. Free to create an account and you can send your weddin’ folks a link with a simple form THEY can fill out. Guesswork, obliterated!

  2. And careful with return postage. I put return postage on all the RSVP envelopes, but made a mistake on the ones going to other countries. I put our global postage on the RSVP envelopes, but didn’t realize they needed Canadian global postage to come back. So my future mother-in-law had to call their guests. Oops. I thought global meant global. Apparently US global postage is only global for outgoing mail.

    • …. Oops. I just realized, I think we put standard US forever stamps on our RSVP envelopes for the Canadians. Oddly, either they got to us just fine that way or my family was kind enough to put their own stamps on and we didn’t notice.

      We also used green shimmery pen to address the envelopes. I have the distinct feeling of guilt that I probably made someone’s day shitty, but since that was like a year ago I’m just going to move the fuck on right now. And stop sending thank you notes with dark purple envelopes and silver pen.

  3. Another thing to note is that sometimes a thick envelope will also trigger additional postage fees. My envelopes were fine in terms of length/width/weight, but they were thick enough that they cost double postage. I wish I’d known that when I chose the fancy cards!

  4. Immediately regretting spending all night addressing my dark Tardis Blue envelopes in metallic gold ink… *sigh*

  5. Very clever tips. I would never thought most of them. not to use golden or silver ink on the labels is my eye opener. The sorting machine not being able to read it is a big bummer.

    Like a wedding photographer, I don’t mail invites but receive them. Still can mention these tips to my wedding clients and save them time and efforts. Anything which can make the bride and groom life easier is a good this.

    Thank you for sharing.

  6. OH! Also, be careful of things bulging on the inside of your envelopes. We had to pay extra because you could feel the wax seal on the inside. Suuuuuper lame.

    • Really? Our invitations had wax seals on the outside, and they all got through fine. (Except one. Somehow my sister never got her invitation. After reading this post, I’m blaming that on the green ink…)

      Of course, it’s possible that, like for Branwyn below, they solicited extra postage from the recipients and no one told me. I’m pretty sure one of my friends would have said something, though!

  7. I’m still a bit ticked off at the post office from when I mailed out my wedding invitations two years ago. We used homemade triangular envelopes for our triangular invitations. I knew from research this would cost extra as they wouldn’t be machinable and I was fine with that… we were only sending out a couple dozen invitations, so the cost wasn’t a big deal. I took one example to the local post office and directly asked how much postage was appropriate. The postal worked measured it, weighed it, talked with her supervisor about the unusual shape, and eventually gave me a price equivalent to two standard stamps. So I picked out some pretty stamps, put two on the envelope, and sent it to my mother as a test. It arrived without incident, postage accepted. So, I went ahead and made the rest, addressed them and gave them each two of those same stamps, and mailed them.

    It later came back to me that about half of the invitations arrived with a “postage due” stamp on the envelope and a smaller second envelope soliciting $0.15 from the recipient. The half that had this happen were not farther away or in different districts than the half that arrived without incident; there was no discernible pattern at all.

    I was angry because of the inconsistent nature of the issue (was it one price or the other? Apparently it depended entirely on post office worker who handled it, a sure sign of either poorly written procedures or poorly trained staff), the fact that I did my due diligence to determine the right amount of postage and that info was (maybe?) incorrect, and the fact that they humiliated me by soliciting the perceived shortfall from the recipients instead of from me, despite the fact that my name and address were on all of the envelopes. If they’d just contacted me I’d have happily payed the extra couple of dollars, or they could have returned them to me and I could have added a third stamp. I put all this careful work into making these beautiful unique handmade invitations and they made it look like I’d just half-assed it by not even researching the appropriate amount of postage.

    The moral of the story? I’m not sure, since I’m not sure what I could have done differently besides having the luck to have the person who thought my invitations should have cost $0.15 more be the one who told me the price in the first place. I really liked my triangular invitations in their triangular envelopes and I wouldn’t dream of telling other people to only use standard rectangular ones if they wanted to do something more interesting. They still all arrived, so in that sense they worked. Try not to get too worked up about small stuff, I guess… I think I was the only one who cared about the stupid “postage due” stamp; none of the guests who got them that way seemed bothered at all.

    Don’t mind me… Just venting…

    • I agree with you Branwyn. Yes, stuff ALWAYS and is guaranteed to go wrong, or at least not as we planned it. And I always tell myself the ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ mantra. But still as a bride we just have too many details to worry about and the incorrect info given to you would have pissed me off, too. I guess I have too high expectations of people but I don’t think ‘if you have a job do it properly’ is one of them. But that’s just me.

    • “If they’d just contacted me I’d have happily payed the extra couple of dollars, or they could have returned them to me and I could have added a third stamp.”

      Considering the extra postage is applied at the destination post offices, it’s not like the individual offices would contact you about paying $.15 here and $.15 there … and delivering the mail with $.15 postage due is much more cost effective than for them to send it back to you for extra postage.

  8. We just sent our STDs out and didn’t put a return address on them. In fairness though the envelopes were tiny- there really wasn’t room for a return address (I do intend to put them on the actual invites which will be bigger). We had to message a lot of people to get their addresses, so at least they’re expecting them and will hopefully let us know if it doesn’t turn up. I’m glad we have some spares now!

  9. Also make sure that you distinguish your return address from the recipient address. We sent out postcards with the recipient address in the usual area (right side) and stamped our return address on the left, and we received one back to our residence, where the postman mistook the return address as the recipient’s, maybe because they were a similar size? Who knows, but I wrote a note on the card, tossed it back in the mail, and it made it’s way to it’s intended, who got a nice laugh out of it =)

  10. I used Seal and Send Invites to save money. I also did post cards for my save the dates. I spent just under $200 for both custom made at a local print shop. I am nervous that the zillion envelope seals I bought wont be allowed… They are 1 inch with print and according to USPS I have to put one on each side and one in the middle. I’m hoping they are big enough and I don’t have to try and get something bigger. I’m also a little worried that the cardstock might drive up the postage rate. Does anyone have any experience with Seal and Sends?

  11. Question: Can you put the return address on the back flap of the envelope? From this post it sounds like you can; however we had to open all our sealed Save the Dates, put in new envelopes, and re-address every single one of them because the post office said the machine would read the return address as the address we were sending to. Not sure if the guy we talked to was misinformed or not. I’d like to do the return address on our formal invites if the machine can handle that though!

    • Not sure if this is still relevant, but I had things ‘sent’ to me from the return address on the back. I couldn’t understand it until I asked the Postie. I think she should have made that clearer – in some countries, like the UK, the custom is to put the return address on the back.

  12. As a letter carrier, I can say do NOT put the address on the back of your envelopes. So many invitations and letters get delayed or missent because the mail gets sorted by the DPS machine as being sent to the return address. So, it then has to get resorted if we catch it, or gets returned to you if we don’t.

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