Determining the Best Way to Produce a Variable Data Print Project
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February 1, 2011

I love a debate.  One that is often tossed around in the print production community is the best way to produce printed pieces with variable text and imagery.  Before we go any farther, let’s do a little glossary to make sure this is easy to understand.  At NextPage mean the following in relation to printed output:

  • Variable data:contains information or imagery that changes from piece to piece. These are truly personalized to each recipient.
  • Versioned: a single strategy translated into several static versions.  These are not personalized, but grouped to improve targeting and relevancy.
  • Static:each piece output is the same for the entire print run (the only exception often being the recipient address for a mailing.) Everyone receives the exact same piece.

When producing a project where the output is not a static piece, there are three options:

  1. Produced using variable data printing on a digital press
  2. Versioned pieces using offset printing combined with digital or inkjet printing
  3. Multiple static versions printed on a traditional offset printing press

Why does it matter which print method you choose?

Let’s look at a few real blunders that have resulted from applying the wrong method to a project:

  • A variable data project without “real” variable data is less costly to produce as a versioned project.
  • A company’s advertising agency spends countless hours creating versions for a job that should have been printed as VDP(variable data printing) delaying a time sensitive project by five days.
  • Because of the intricate nature of an offer strategy, a database analyst spends extra hours reviewing each data set of the segmentation because each segment will be produced separately as versions.
  • Worse yet, because the data set is separated, incorrect, irrelevant offers are distributed, ruining the impact of the piece and destroying the ROI.

Choosing between Variable Data and Versioned Print

So how do you know if your data-driven project should be produced using variable data or versions?  In my experience, this checklist holds the answer to the debate:

  • How many varying text fields and images are you using?
  • Do you have any variable information within another variable field?
  • If you produce it by versioning, what would the total number of versions be?
  • What is the total quantity for the project?  What are the quantities for each version?
  • Does splitting the data into multiple groups introduce risk into the project or increase the data processing cost?

One last word of advice… your printer can be a vital partner in helping make these types of decisions.  Engaging them early and often gets the debate over and done with before unnecessary personnel and production costs come into play.

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