Variable Data Printing Technology

Variable Data Printing Technology

Variable data printing technology is technology with its roots in the desktop and its future in the cloud. The term “variable data printing” was coined as early as 1969 by Frank Romano, Professor Emeritus, School of Print Media, at the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology.


But the practices of variable data printing were in use earlier than Romano came up with the name. The idea of taking structured data from a spreadsheet and automatically migrating it into a document eventually became known as mail merge. That’s because often, variable data printing has been most useful in direct mail applications like letters, postcards, and product offers.


Today, variable data printing goes beyond document and label printing. The VDP process now applies to web pages, emails, and mobile messaging. Customizing a website or email to automatically generate featuring data about the end-user, such as their name and location, relies on the same technology as physical printing, even though the output is digital.


Let’s explore more about variable data printing technology, illustrated with variable data printing examples. We’ll also share insights about how your physical items printed with variable data, like product labels, can close the circle with users online and truly help businesses make the most of cutting-edge variable data printing technology.

What Does VDP Stand For in Printing?

VDP stands for variable data printing, a digital printing process that lets customers change certain information on each piece in a print run. Information that is commonly targeted with variable data printing includes names, addresses, phone numbers, barcodes, QR codes, serial numbers, and even images or graphics. For instance, a chemical manufacturer may need to print labels for different canisters where each label has a different barcode, set of chemical hazard symbols, and contact information for resources like disposal centers or customer support. Through VDP, these needs are met while the client also enjoys the cost efficiencies of bulk-printing durable labels.

Variable Data Printing Software

Variable data printing works through software, leveraging databases to help the digital printer change information in certain areas between printing each piece. There are three main approaches to variable data printing:


1. Print the same basic document every time, then print the variable data on top to fill in blank spaces. For example, someone printing a letter might print the body of the letter, then have the contact’s names filled in during a second run.

2. Use software features like Mail Merge to combine the basic document and variables into individual print files for each item. For example, someone printing labels with custom contact information might create a spreadsheet and then merge it with a layout in Word or a PDF to get the print job done.

3. Use software that can process the basic document alongside a database containing the variables, and generate a unique output at the moment of printing. For example, a manufacturer printing labels with barcodes may rely on this integration to pull in the appropriate barcode in real-time.

These approaches scale upward in complexity, and each has its benefits and disadvantages. The type of variable data printing used by a vendor can inform the cost for the customer, as well as the quality of the end product. While the first approach might make printing letters in bulk mre affordable, what if the name is off-center, or prints on top of other text?


As software for variable data printing becomes more robust, greater customization can be achieved through more advanced VDP platforms. Today, variable data printing can allow teams to replace graphics and images as variables, not just text. This is different from the historical approach of using programs to dictate the changes in text only. 


Software as common as InDesign and Microsoft Excel can be used by a business to create the files needed for a VDP job. The InDesign file contains the base design, and the spreadsheet contains the variables. But doing all the organization manually can be a lot of work! G2 has listed many VDP software solutions that serve businesses with different needs, such as large amounts of data, document assembly, or the need to align the printing data with the real-time information in a customer relationship management (CRM) platform.


What software should companies use to create variable data print files that can be shared with a vendor? There are several elements to consider:


VDP Software Comparison Checklist


 - Does the platform preserve complex design elements? If not, your design could look great before it goes to the printer but not come back looking the same way.


 - Are data and layouts from past print runs saved for easy reordering? If not, you will have to do the same work over and over, even when you just need to update something as simple as a logo.


 - Can you customize every necessary field? If not, the solution isn’t helping you make the most of variable data printing to achieve your goals. 


 - Are the file sizes reasonable, or causing delays due to the need for processing? If file sizes are too large, it can delay timelines and make processing orders a headache.


 - Can reordering be automated, if desired? That way, you can constantly have a supply of safety labels or other essential materials so work isn’t stopped. 


However, achieving a variable data printing job is just one way software makes life easier for businesses. At DuraMark, we’ve also found a solution to deliver more value with variable data printing through our DuraLink platform. With DuraLink, the variable data printing process gives our clients the chance to deliver custom messages to end users.


For instance, a lawnmower manufacturer prints a durable label with either a QR code or TEXT TO function. When the end user scans the QR code, or texts the relevant phone number, they are directed via DuraLink to the user manual for the mower and given the opportunity to contact customer support, all in one place. This type of solution is a major value-add for consumers today, leaving them more satisfied with their experience at a moment where their loyalty might have been lost.


In short, variable data printing technology applies to both the effort of printing custom, personalized content, and the end user’s experience of that printed product in the field. With a partner like DuraMark, businesses can achieve both in one turnkey solution.

Variable Data Printing Machine

The amazing potential of variable data printing to provide customized, meaningful, and important messages to customers is not achieved only through software. There’s also the variable data printing machine, also known as a digital printer. Variable data can be printed through other solutions, but they aren’t as efficient as digital printing.


Variable printing with screen printing is time-consuming and expensive, and depending on the level of needed customization, may not even be possible.


Commercial digital printers may be able to achieve variable data printing affordably and quickly, but cost and speed aren’t the only elements of importance. There’s also the question of quality. Using a small office printer or home printer to do variable data printing, the durability and quality of the printed products will not be the highest. 


This is especially true when printing labels that need to be durable and long-lasting. A printer that is affordable to many businesses simply won’t be able to achieve the lamination and quality that help labels last. Variable data printers that are capable of that level of quality typically cost several thousand dollars or more, not to mention the training necessary to operate and maintain the machine.


Partnering with a print vendor using a true industrial-quality variable data digital printer comes with many benefits for a business, including:


 - Reduced spend on unnecessary materials and inventory storage
 - Cost savings thanks to more efficient use of materials like toner or ink
 - Faster turnaround time on custom printing projects due to the machine’s greater efficiency
 - Complete customization with any color able to be printed on the label in any place
 - Reduced carbon footprint due to more efficient data storage and machine operation, as well as conserving supplies like ink
 - Scalable partnerships that minimize waste over time and learn how to help you thrive better with each completed project


When companies need to print variable data on labels, they need those labels to be clear and long-lasting, even under heavy use or other extreme conditions. The best and most certain way to guarantee long-lasting quality in durable labels and decals is to work with an industry partner like DuraMark.


Our labels can last for up to ten years thanks to premium polyester material layer with UV-protected ink as well as a UV-blocking laminate. This means unmatched label clarity and durability, along with excellent adhesion no matter how extreme the work environment.

Vetting Variable Data Printing Companies? Let’s Get to Know Each Other

As the leading label supplier in North America, DuraMark succeeds by putting our customers first. Our team exists to solve problems for our clients and help them find the right label for each application and need. Helping our customers achieve compliance through high-quality durable labels is just the beginning. It’s also our mission to help interested companies use their labels as a tool to grow customer loyalty and satisfaction through the DuraLink platform.


Another way we go the extra mile for our clients is through product-specific label kits. This enables employees in your facility to simply grab an envelope and know with confidence that every label they need to complete the product is inside. No digging through bins and boxes or worrying that one version of the label looks slightly different that the other. Instead, we close the loop on the potential of variable data printing by making it clear which labels need to be applied to which product, without question.


Speed, agility, and customer service are the core tenets of our business, and we celebrate every win right along with you. If you’re looking for an innovative, responsive, one-stop resource for durable decals and safety labels, look no further than the best. Contact DuraMark today and let’s talk about what we can do to make life better for you and your employees.