Off The Grid – Designing My Son’s Birthday Invitations

It was early April. The air in Warren was getting warmer and the spring showers were starting to wear away at the brown and gray dinginess caused by a long winter. With the 30th of May fast approaching I knew it was time to start planning my son’s second birthday.

After a long debate, research and careful analysation of my son’s habits it was decided that we would be making the party train themed. My wife began the planning by going to Amazon and finding out what kind of decorations are offered for such a theme. Would we only be able to find Thomas and Friends decorations? Would there be non licensed “choo choo” party supplies out there? That’s when she found the funniest set of invitations we thought we would ever be able to find, not to mention how appropriate they were.

Two Two Train Invitation.
One of many pre-made original invitations we found.

I saw these invitations and thought to myself “Roland, you’re a designer. You could make these invitations, and make them way better. Plus it will be so much cheaper. And there won’t be any wasted, unused pieces from over buying.” So I set out on the journey that was creating my son’s birthday invitations.

Chimera Soiree Invitation
A set of invitations from the Chimera Soiree.

While brainstorming I was thinking about the one time before this that I was tasked with making a train themed design. When I was a senior in college at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania I was on a design team tasked with promoting the annual student art, poetry, and prose book called Chimera. That year we decided to make all of the promotional material for the exhibition at the Erie Art Museum look reminiscent of The London Underground train system, and, more specifically, its early days. The tickets for the party were made to look like Underground train tickets from the turn of the century.


Making the invitations in the pastiche of 19th century US train tickets seemed like an appropriate and interesting idea.


The first step was to create a brainstorming board. I decided to include some of the decorations we had found on Amazon, some Thomas themed some not, as well as a TON of examples of train tickets from that period. The board ended up looking almost like an infographic. Check it out.


Roman Birthday Party Inspiration Board and Infographic
Click To Enlarge


The first thing I noticed about the tickets I found were the ornate logos. I had to design one of those. It was going to really make the design bold and stand out from all of the others I had seen online. During the design process of that logo I made the decision to give everything a bit of an offset since printed materials of that time would have been made on a press, not an inkjet printer. All in all I was pretty pleased with the result.


Logo for Roman Lewis Rail Road
Logo for Roman Lewis Rail Road


If I was going for the offset press feel I knew I had to arrange the text in varying sizes and weights with lots of text dividers and borders. I didn’t want to go too crazy though, because we have learned a lot about readability and graphic design since the early days of printing presses. A modern sensibility had to be kept.


I also wanted to make the invitations two sided. Another aspect of the train tickets of those early days of steam engines is that a lot of them had illustrations of trains depicted right on the ticket. It seemed obvious. Illustrate one of those steam engines and put the illustration nice and big right on the back.


Time was running out though. The invitations had to go out soon. Since this project wasn’t for sale or making me profit in any way I decided to use a stock vector. I can’t remember for sure where it came from but it is probably from

It was time to print these suckers. I used some perforated postcard paper made by Avery. I also printed a weathered texture underneath the design to give it an even older look and feel.


The final product was looking amazing. They seemed like a big hit and the “Two Two Train” pun is pretty hilarious. My mom still has hers hanging on her fridge 3 months later.

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