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Wedding Calligraphy: The Basics

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The ancient art of elegantly curved and curly handwriting, calligraphy has its root in Greek: kalli, meaning beautiful, and graphia, meaning writing. If you’re planning a grand, high-style wedding and want formal, intimate, au courant invites to match, calligraphy may be the perfect printing technique for you.

What It Costs
Whether you choose sumptuous curves or sophisticated lines, calligraphy adds a personal touch that reflects the tone of your event. Of course, this handcrafted, luxe look may set you back a pretty penny. Wedding calligraphers that painstakingly handcraft each address can charge anywhere from $2 (for less-experienced calligraphers) to $10 (elaborate jobs by seasoned professionals) per envelope. For an entire invitation (inner and outer envelopes, plus return address on response cards), the price jumps significantly.

Selecting Script
You’ve got a lot of styles to choose from. While it may seem overwhelming at first, in the end, your final choice should look great with the printed script on your invites and, at the same time, reflect your wedding style. Keep in mind also that most have variations and/or can be customized to complement your invitation typeface. Below are the seven most basic styles.

Italic
By far the most popular, this simple “hand”-or “style”-looks good on any paper. Italic letters slant upward to the right and are based on an oval shape, with the width of the letters usually half of their height. Created with a broad-tipped pen, the lines are clean and crisp. Multiple variations of italic include Chancery (sharper and more formal), Scroll (which resembles cursive handwriting), Straight (less formal), and Flourished (which is enhanced with a calligrapher’s personal touch). Good for: semi-formal ceremonies such as a Sunday afternoon wedding.

Copperplate
Scripted with a pointed pen hand-dipped in ink, this style uses pressure to create thick and thin lines. Developed in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, Copperplate is a graceful hand most famously exemplified in the Declaration of Independence. It is one of the most difficult alphabets for a calligrapher (due to the slow process of applying and releasing pressure on the nib); therefore, it tends to be the most expensive. As with Italic, there are endless variations. Rook, for example, has exaggerated curls, while Sloop boasts capital letters with elongated curves. Good for: setting a romantic mood.

Gothic
Also called Old English or Blackhand, Gothic is a very formal, heavy hand written with a broad-tipped pen. Good for: theme or period weddings.

Uncial
Uncial (pronounced “un-seal”) is one of the oldest styles of handwritten alphabets, though its straightforward style has contemporary flair. Used in Greek and Latin manuscripts of the 4th to 8th centuries A.D., this rounded and stylized alphabet is mostly all caps, with the letters about the same height and width. Good for: Irish-themed affairs and for matching simple print typefaces.

Roman
Developed by Italian scholars in the 14th century, the classic, clear, round alphabet of Roman lettering is one of the most recognized of all styles. The subtle serifs of Roman calligraphy make it less formal than its related print typeface. Two variations: Antique Roman, a stately script with capital letters that are much taller than its lowercase, and Roman Capitals, a typeface similar to traditional Roman but all caps. Good for: showers and other casual parties.

Spencerian
Ornate and flourished, Spencerian is a formal offshoot of Copperplate that dates back to the 18th century. Created with a pointed pen, the thick and thin lines create sophisticated letterforms and rhythms within the script. Good for: matching unusual printed scripts, as Spencerian has no set alphabet for calligraphers to follow.

London
London is hand lettering made to look like a printed typeface. Based on the Spencerian hand, it is beautifully classic, formal, and highly readable. It can be scripted with or without loops on the ascending letters. Good for: sophisticated city affairs.

Finding Your Calligrapher
Your stationer or printer can usually refer you to calligraphers, and online portfolios of calligraphers’ work can be found on the Internet. You can also ask friends for recommendations if you favored the lettering on their invites. Most calligraphers require roughly 10 to 14 days to address 100 invitations. Keep in mind, though, that if you are getting married during a popular month (May through October), more time may be needed, especially if you are looking for something elaborate (designs, scrolls, and so on). Be sure to double-check the turnaround time.

recurring motifs
To carry the formal look of calligraphy throughout your wedding event, consider adding a little swirly script to the programs, reception cards, escort cards, place cards, table numbers, favor tags, dinner menus, and more!

Deciding Factor
Before you hire, you’ll want to solidify fees, ask about minimum orders, garner a list of references, and inquire about each of your prospects’ backgrounds. A calligrapher should have a degree or certificate in the arts, not just a dog-eared how-to book. Ask how long they’ve been in the biz. Quality comes with experience, and a new-to-the-field hobbyist’s work may not have the confidence of stroke you’re seeking. You’ll also want to show each calligrapher your invitation and ask for a font sample before you make a decision. The key to good calligraphy has always been consistency: Shape, stroke, weight, spacing, and rhythm are all factors in letter perfection. So be sure to survey as many samples of lettering designs from each calligrapher as possible.

Avoiding Errors
Once you’ve made your final decision, you’ll be asked to give your calligrapher a typed guest address list (handwritten lists, even if legible, may introduce errors). Be sure to check your list twice and make sure that someone else familiar with the names takes a careful look as well. To make it easy to follow, leaving little room for error, lay out your list in an orderly, three-line format:
Mr. and Mrs. John Davidson
123 Main Street
Merrytown, MA 12345
Still, what to do if your calligrapher spells your Aunt Millie’s name with a “y”? Will you have to pay for the correction or are re-dos done free of charge? It probably depends on whose mistake it is — hers or yours — but get the answer in writing before you hand over the envelopes and addresses. When ordering your invitations, make sure to order extra envelopes just in case there is a slip-up. It’s common to order 25-percent extra.

Finishing Touches
When you receive the finished product from your calligrapher, check and double-check each invite and envelope. Remember, your invitations are the first tangible example your guests will have of your wedding, and they can go a long way toward setting the tone.

A final consideration: In addition to addressing the envelopes, some calligraphers, for a nominal fee, will stuff, seal, and stamp the invitations, which is a simple way to save some time. Find out if this is an option.

 

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