Applications for Variable Data Printing
In this article, we’ll cover the basics of variable data printing, or VDP, and some tips to consider when evaluating variable data printing software solutions.
What is variable data printing used for?
Variable data printing is a modern, evolved form of digital printing. With VDP, you can mass-customize documents using digital printing technology. A simple comparison is to consider the process of creating a document template, including and configuring placeholder fields that will pull personalized data elements (such as a recipient’s name) into the document before/during printing.
The truth is, VDP is capable of much more than a simple variation of a template, though. That’s the simplest type of VDP job—simple data merge operations.
A more advanced form of VDP uses a process called versioning. Versioning enables more customization, based on specific markets, for example. Based on which market or customer segment you’re targeting, you can apply different amounts of customization per group—including different text elements or images for different audiences, for example.
Full variability printing is the most advanced form of VDP, where text and images can be customized for each individual copy being printed.
Don’t worry, though, this does not need to be a manual process—not even close! In fact, there are many examples of VDP solutions that make the process fairly simple, and we’ll get into what to look for when considering the right solution for your needs.
How does variable data printing work?
The basic process of setting up a VDP job involves a few distinct steps.
Gathering, checking, and organizing your data. You’ll need to make sure the data you intend to leverage is collected, organized, and of high quality. For example, to print useful, product-identifying QR codes on product labels, your database of product codes and other vital information needs to be complete, current, and accurate. The more certain you are about the integrity of your data set, the less you’ll have to worry about double-checking the output and fixing any errors that occur.
Designing your document. This is where you essentially create a template, putting the key content together—and inserting placeholders in the document (where your “variable data” will be inserted, pulled from the database created in the previous step). For VDP, the document will make use of static elements—all components that will be the same for the entire print job—and placeholders for the dynamic content to be pulled and inserted.
Printing the job, or working with a printer of your choice to complete the job.
Types of variable data printing
The most basic variable data printing jobs offer a very simple premise—something minimal, like printing mass mailers customized with customer names or addresses. This is essentially a data merge process. Variable data is the information that is dynamic (as opposed to static). The most basic example, again, would be customizing product labels with identifiers—or something like applying unique barcodes to certain sets of labels.
For the simplest VDP jobs, there are different variable data software packages available for variable text (and even image) insertion. Some of these operate as stand-alone VDP software solution packages, well-suited for the most straightforward jobs. There are also plug-in modules for digital publishing suites like Adobe Creative. These solutions can be bolstered with mailing and data quality management software to extend their functionality.
More complex jobs will make use of more sophisticated processes, like versioning. Versioning consists of several smaller print jobs (as opposed to one mass run) and accommodates additional customization opportunities including graphical content changes (in addition to basic text-based data merging). By taking a versioned approach, different amounts of customization can be applied to different customer or market segments, for example.
Full variability printing takes versioning a step further, providing extensive customization and personalization for each individual output (in other words, each customer mailer or product label can be individual to each recipient or product).
The extent of the job—as well as your comfort/knowledge and existing capabilities, will play a role in software and other needs.
Based on your current setup and capabilities, you’ll likely apply one of the following basic methodologies to your process—and this will be another factor to consider when evaluating VDP solutions and variable data printing companies to work with.
Variable data printing methods
You can think of the most fundamental VDP method as, essentially, a PDF-type template. The first step is creating the template document, placing all static content and sending the result to the printer’s memory. A print driver or raster image processor (RIP) tells the printer to always print the static document first, and then to retrieve and print the variable data within the template. This method is no more complicated than a basic mail merge.
A more advanced version of VDP starts by creating a print file that combines the static and dynamic elements prior to sending to the printer. This essentially creates an individual print file for each piece of output content, potentially creating a massive amount of data. Creating files in this fashion makes use of relatively standard software, but risks creating file sizes that may compromise overall printing speeds.
The most complex methodology is similar to the method described above, setting out the static and dynamic elements prior to printing. Here, though, specialized VDP software is utilized to produce optimized print files (e.g., PDF/VT, PostScript) that only need to process the static elements a single time—maximizing print speed by streamlining the RIPping process.
What software and services are needed for variable data printing?
VDP typically requires software in order to access necessary files and databases (to pull dynamic data), itemize digital elements, and personalize individual sections of digital collateral. Once you know what you want to accomplish with your VDP job, and what features or functions represent your must-haves, do some VDP software comparison research. It’s worth consulting a website like G2’s product comparisons and recommendations to compare feature sets, pricing, and more.
Data merge software: For basic data merge jobs, the mail merge functions of common applications like Microsoft Word can work. To link mast documents with variable data, Adobe InDesign can get the job done—provided you implement the right plug-ins or special DVP programs. (For example, InDesign supports text variables, but requires special plug-ins to work with images.)
VDP solutions: Software designed specifically for VDP offers wide functionality with minimal need for additional plug-ins or integrations. The best VDP solutions will enable dynamic elements beyond simple text or images. For example, rules can be created to modify fonts and colors, or even formatting or auto-inserting specific text or elements as needed.
Software considerations for variable data printing
Because of the versatile possibilities of VDP, it can be difficult to set specific, comparative criteria. That being said, though, a few common and crucial considerations are functionality, flexibility, and scalability.
Functionality: In addition to making sure a selected software application will accommodate your project’s specific methodology and content, you’ll also need to consider how easily your potential investment will integrate with existing processes and procedures—as well as how your clients prefer to work with data and documents. Functionality isn’t just about doing what is needed, though; it also should do so without adding any extra steps to existing workflows, if possible. Ideally, your investment will streamline the work and enable you to get the printing done: correctly, and on time.
Flexibility: While your initial considerations may be job-specific, try to anticipate future needs as well. This way, you can ensure that the solution or solutions you choose will continue to drive value after that first job’s complete. Consider your own—as well as your clients’ or customers’—requirements, both current and future. Additional flexibility considerations include collaborative authoring features and compatibility with existing equipment and processes.
Scalability: Lastly, you want to think strategically about the future. While you may start with relatively straightforward VDP applications, once you get a feel for what all is possible and come up with new uses for the technology, you don’t want to have to repeat the process of finding the right technology.
From basic VDP to fully-customized workflows and product kittings, DuraMark has you covered. DuraMark offers functional, flexible, and scalable solutions with versatile applications. Some of our specialities include:
ANSI Safety Labels to ensure worker safety, reduce liability, and comply with American National Standards Industry (ANSI) standards. Our ANSI Safety Labels boast excellent durability, clarity, and adhesion.
ISO Standard Safety Labels to ensure worker safety and organizational compliance with the International Organization for Standardization’s standards. DuraMark’s ISO Labels are also exceptionally clear and durable, with permanent adhesion.
Building custom labels based on common applications, like custom Caution, Warning, or Danger signs or labels, which use familiar formats and colors (for easy recognition) with text that can then be customized for any number of specific uses.
Let’s talk! Get started with DuraMark
DuraMark provides high-quality, exceptionally durable labels for clients across a number of industries, including agriculture, construction, healthcare, and transportation. We bring clarity to the VDP process, helping clients meet their needs and providing them with great customer service, cost efficiency, durable quality, and efficient processes. We’re generally able to get your jobs done, and done right, with a 4-day turnaround time.