The Benefits of Digital vs. Traditional Paper Invitations

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The date is set, the gingerbread cupcakes have been ordered, and there's a killer casserole recipe already bookmarked in your browser. Now how do you let guests know where to be and when? There are two primary options — online social/email invitations and the traditional mailed paper invite — and we've weighed out the pros and cons of each to help anyone decide what's best for their holiday party.

Whether "party" here means throwing a mammoth annual Christmas party or just inviting some family over for a Thanksgivukkah dinner, every host needs a place to share their party details with guests. Since the holidays arrive each year with a spirit of elegance and importance, even some tech-savvy hosts who usually opt for online invites might question whether paper is the way to go to make guests feel welcome and special.

The Players

There's probably a thousand ways to send out invitations both online and in person. A host could choose to draft a quick email or visit a local party or paper store for mailed invites, for instance. But here are a few major websites and retailers that are each a good bet for invitations, no matter which way you go.

All of the sites and stores below also handle Christmas greeting cards and party invitations for any occasion, if you're not hosting the holidays this year.

Digital Invites

Paper Invitations

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What Digital Invites and Online Social Events Do Well

  • It's cheap. Free, usually. If the holiday party budget is tight, this is one spot it's easy to cut costs.
  • Immediate RSVP. Click yes or reply to the email or Facebook invite and the host knows in real time how many guests to expect, without waiting on the post both ways.
  • Everyone can see who will be there. Some social and e-invite services let invited people see the guest list. Admittedly, this could fit in both the pro and con column. But as a guest, it's nice to see if I'll know anyone there without having to ask around.
  • Updating is a breeze. If the time or place changes, informing every guest is just a few clicks away. The event or invitation service might even sync to guests' calendars, updating everyone's appointments all at once.
  • Online extras. Creating a Facebook event, for instance, gives the party a digital home where the host and guests can comment and chat to arrange shared rides or organize who brings what at a potluck. There's also polling options available for the host to get a taste of what guests want to drink, for example (because nobody wants to run out of wine).
  • They can be pretty. Email invitations don't have to be a generic field of plain text and buttons. The e-invites from Paperless Post and Celebrations are some of my favorites, oozing personality and featuring designer collections from the likes of Kelly Wearstler­­, Jonathan Adler, Kate Spade, Real Simple and Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle brand.
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The Benefits of Traditional Paper Invitations

  • Style. Style. Style. Getting an elegant letterpress invitation in the mail is a world away from opening an inbox. And inexpensive DIY party invites (like these party invitations from 100 Layer Cake hand-drawn on a napkin!) are far more special for guests than a form email. It elevates even a backyard barbecue to a special occasion.
  • Everyone has an address, not everyone has Facebook. Grandma, Great Aunt Meg, that one friend who's sworn off social media; if the entire guest list isn't email savvy or isn't on the same network, digital event invites fall short and end up being more work for the host.
  • Make it clear who's invited. Online invitations are addressed to a single profile or email address, so even if a host means to extend the invite to spouses, children or unknown "plus ones," there's no easy way to make that clear. A paper invite can be addressed to a family ("The Johnsons"), a couple ("Adam and guest"), or a single person ("Caroline Baldwin").
  • It's more private. It's possible, of course, to limit privacy settings on a Facebook event, for instance. But overall, sending a physical invitation has less of a risk of being exposed via an errant comment or share to uninvited guests who might feel slighted.

There's no right or wrong choice for inviting guests for your holiday party. Decide what's important to you and best for your guest list, then determine if online or paper invites better fit the planning and style of your wintertime fête. What's important, in the end, is that you close out another year with the people you love and everybody is happy, well-fed... and knew exactly where to be and when.

(Image credits: Paperless Post; Paperless Post; Minted)