Madeline Lettré Comoglio and Susan McArdle have always known they would be designers—it just took them awhile to figure out what they would design. Both Maryland natives and life-long art students, Comoglio studied marketing and graphic design while McArdle focused on illustration. Careers in the corporate world drew on their skills, but it wasn’t until each woman became engaged that things really clicked. “I wasn’t finding the right fit with any invitations that I saw,” says Comoglio, “so I designed my own and all of the details that go with it.” McArdle also designed the invitations for her own nuptials, and, inevitably, both women were soon designing for their friends’ weddings, as well. “Every designer has what they really love to design, and for me, it’s wedding invitations,” says McArdle, who founded her company, Just Ink on Paper, in 2009. Echoing her sentiment, Comoglio retreated from the corporate world to create mlc designs once she realized the joy that custom design brought her. “I’ve done it all, from publication design to nonprofit,” says Comoglio, “but it was only when I was doing wedding invitations that I was truly myself.”
Q: At what point in the planning process should couples hire a stationer?
Madeline: Typically, it’s once they have their main vendors—venue, photographer, florist. As a custom designer, I like to work with couples as long as possible. Usually, I meet with them at least a month or two before the save-the-dates go out.
Susan: Couples are coming to me five to six months from their wedding date, but earlier is always better. You can start off with an idea, and things can change as you progress toward the wedding day.
M: People are definitely putting more thought into the design because they are using that to inspire the rest of the planning. Some won’t want to pick out their cake or their linens until they finalize the invitation design because they feel that it’s the first way people will get a feel for what they’re planning.
Q: What are some non-traditional materials that can be incorporated in the invitation and day-of details?
S: Glitter. I’ve been using a new manufactured glitter paper, and it can add a nice pop of color that’s really unexpected. It’s a unique look—you either love it or you hate it.
M: I like the more organic materials. I’ll use twine or hemp a lot and wrap it with a cute tag. I’ve done a lot of burlap and lace. Recently, I did a clear envelope filled with confetti with the save-the-date information printed on the envelope.
Q: What’s included in a stationery suite? What paper elements can stationers design in addition to the standard suite?
S: I do invitations, an RSVP card, and a reception card if it’s separate from the ceremony. I’ve also been designing illustrated wedding timelines, and it’s a fun way to introduce a little whimsy into the ceremony. You can map out the ceremony from the dinner to the first dance to the cake cutting.
M: I encourage “less is more” when it comes to the information on an invitation. You do not need to print a book for your guests, and you don’t need a paragraph of text to explain hotel information. It should be short and sweet. I try to drive people to a website if they have it; I’ll use a little tag for that. I also design envelopes so that it’s a part of the package, designed with the same thought and care as everything else.
S: I’ve had a few clients who want to be a bit more traditional for the wedding invitation, such as blush and gold, but want a bit more of a “wow” factor for their reception items. They’ll do bright, bold colors like hot pink, but with the same typefaces to keep the look and feel of the invitations. It doesn’t always have to be matchy-matchy.
Q: Do you prefer couples with a pre-planned concept or couples who look to you for ideas? And any advice for those who have no clue as to what direction they want to take?
S: Many times, they’ll come to me and have already found a design of mine that they like. I’ve also worked with clients who have no idea what they want, which can be interesting at first. It usually ends up being awesome because it becomes about them, and they really inject a lot of their personality into it. It’s fun either way.
M: I tell clients to pull inspiration from anything. It could be a pattern on your favorite dress. I even had a bride who came to me with her perfume bottle that inspired her dress and color scheme.
S: It’s helpful if they can tell you want they don’t like. They might not know anything else, but they may know that they don’t like pink or lots of embellishments.
M: When I show my samples, I say, “Tell me what you do not like, as much as what you like.” That almost helps me more.
S: That’s why they come to us rather than picking a cookie-cutter invitation online. You’re paying for someone to take your ideas and put them on paper.
Q: All wedding invitations contain the standard essential information. How can a couple inject their personality into the design?
M: Be yourself. If you’re the kind of couple who wants to be playful and wants everyone to come and have a good time, rather than a more formal theme, I always encourage you to have fun with the wording.
Q: What are some recent trends that you are seeing in designs for the big day?
S: Rustic trends and casual scripts that bleed off the edges.
M: Subdued color pallets, blushes, golds, grays, greens, as well as lace and burlap. I am seeing more color though, and it’s making me happy. As a designer, I love having interesting colors that we can match. I’m hoping for more color and fewer neutrals.
Q: Paper products can add up. How can couples save money without sacrificing quality? Are there any unexpected costs couples should keep in mind? Where do you suggest splurging?
S: Unfortunately, the invitation is one of the first places that budgets get cut because many brides want to do it themselves. But with invitations, there are so many options. You don’t have to go full letter-press with an envelope liner—you can do less is more and have it still be beautiful.
M: I say go smaller, don’t go bigger. If you’re working on a budget, let’s do a small rectangle instead of a large square. With just little tweaks like that, we can keep it to a minimum. The fewer pieces, the less cost, but you can still have something different that reflects you without going over budget. Labor may be one of the most unexpected costs. If you want a pocket and ribbon for every invitation, someone has to spend the time doing that.
S: If you can, splurge on the invitation. That’s what gets them to the wedding.
M: It’s the first impression—not just of the day of the party—but the first impression of them as a couple and the beginning of their life together.
S: And when guests receive the invitations, they know what kind of wedding it’s going to be. They know if they’re going to get a filet and crab cake or pigs in a blanket. You only get one chance to make that first impression.
M: The coolest part of my job is when my clients tell me that all their guests are calling to say that they just got the invitation and can’t believe it. To see that excitement when the guests start receiving them is the best for me.
Q: Any advice when it comes to stamps?
M: I use Zazzle custom stamps a lot to match the piece. They look great and definitely finish the look. For regular stamps, I am very particular about the stamps I choose. Typically, the rose stamp is nice and neutral, whereas the brighter, bolder stamps tend to take away from the overall aesthetic of the beautiful invitation. I’ll put the stamps on the envelope mock-up so the couple can visualize it.
S: I’ve had a few clients use vintage stamps, also. It can be pricey, but if you have a smaller quantity of invitations, it works out really well.
Q: What is your final advice for brides?
M: Don’t be intimidated by the invitation process.
S: People think that custom design means we are way too expensive.
M: But it’s our job to make the process work for them.
S: There’s something to be said for coming in person to meet with a designer. You can see the designs, feel the paper, look at the color. It’s completely different from picking something online.
M: I try to put things in perspective. If something is a day late, it’s still going to be fine. Just don’t stress, and have fun with it.
S: That’s why I chose the name for my company—at the end of the day, it’s just ink on paper.