Want to try something crafty, but worried your skills will be judged inferior? Task the little party monster with creating the invitations. "No one will say a peep about your child's efforts, and kids love to be part of the planning," says Sararose Anderson, special events manager at Citibabes. With a small guest list, your petite Picasso can create each invite individually. Or parents can scan a single masterpiece or self-portrait and print it on their home computer. Stick with supplies at hand—crayons, finger paints, construction paper. For a splurge, custom rubber stamps with messages like "Celebrate with Nate" make tots feel special. Try Rubber Stamps, Inc. ($8--$10; 11 W 25th St, 212-675-1180, rubberstampsinc.com).
A snapshot of Junior in festive finery or a party-themed getup makes for a one-of-a-kind announcement. Several photo-sharing sites (think Shutterfly, Snapfish and Kodak Gallery) offer affordable invitation printing; use one image of your birthday boy or a series of different shots of him from throughout the year. To save cash, choose flat cards over folded ones. Shutterfly.com offers 4" x 8" flat cards for just 45 each, while a set of ten cards with your child's picture and illustrations from Eric Carle's Hungry Caterpillar is $10 at kodakgallery.com.
The simplest choice is one that parents should remember from their own childhood: ready-made cards with spaces for writing in details by hand. Stationery snobs will be pleasantly surprised by the up-to-date motifs to be found at corner paper shops—we're a fan of State News (1243 Third Ave, 212-879-8076)—as well as giants like Target (starting at $4 for eight). Kids can personalize them with stickers or confetti. David Stark, event planner to the likes of Rachael Ray and Vogue, suggests cutting up store-bought invites and having your child create a collage with the pieces. Or try imprintable invites from companies like Mara Mi and Inviting Company: Illustrated around the edges, they're ready to ride through your home printer after you set up the text.
The rise of the electronic invite
When it comes to this not-so-newfangled form, lingering etiquette stigmas seem to have lifted. E-mail is now cool, for a variety of reasons. First, it's completely free, which even more families appreciate these days. Second, it's green—no paper, no fossil fuels expended during delivery. Third, if time is of the essence (and you procrastinators know who you are), electronic invitations can be designed and sent to your guests in minutes. And last, it's interactive: Older kids will find it fun to log in to see who's responded.
Launched: 1998; sends more than 16 million e-mail invitations each month.
Number of kid designs: 110+
Kid themes & characters: Cowboy, dinosaur, Littlest Pet Shop, pirate, princess, Tsubasa anime, Yo Gabba Gabba!, zoo, dog suspiciously similar to The Lonesome Puppy by illustrator Yoshitomo Nara
Pretty partner: Child-friendly images from Real Simple magazine
DIY feature: Upload your own images.
Extra features: Lots of party organizing tools, plus electronic thank-you notes
Launched: 2008; combines digital and print—you can send invitations online or for a fee have Pingg print, stamp and mail paper invites to guests.
Number of kid designs: 40 (and growing), including a line developed exclusively for Time Out Kids.
Kid themes & characters: Balloons, candy, cupcakes, pinwheels, presents
Pretty partner: Youthful, party-related images from Martha Stewart
DIY feature: Upload your own images and customize background.
Extra features: Post your invite to Facebook; later, upload party pix to the invitation page.