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Why does variable data printing take more time to plan than a traditional printing?

Why does variable data printing take more time to plan than a traditional printing?

It takes more time because of the planning that goes into the front end when you create a variable data campaign. Not only does it take more time on your part, it also takes more time on your vendor’s part (which means it typically costs more from a printing standpoint).


Well, on your end you will have to:

  • review data: do you have data that will make a good campaign
  • review goals: what are the goals of the campaign and how does the data fit those?
  • design of the piece: engage a graphic designer that understand variable printing and digital printing and then design a mail piece that incorporate the data and design
  • plan for wacky data: integration of data into the design is key because you have to remember to plan for the really long data fields (people with long last names like “Kriemelmeyer” are sensitive to that)
  • method of mailing: figure out when you want the piece in mail boxes and what you have in the budget for mailing for both the method of mailing (first class mail (1-3 days) vs. standard presort (4-6 days) vs. bulk mail (whenever) and the size of the final piece (letter, postcard or flat)
  • piece size: piece size is largely determined by amount of content and mailing budget
  • paper stock: paper is determined by amount of content, desired look and feel and mailing budget
  • mail design: best to get the mailing panel approved with the postal service to save time and costs on the mailing (best to work with your print vendor because they have a contact with the USPS to ease this through the system)
  • seed list: always use a seed list which is a group of internal staff on your end that will receive the mailing like your customers (so you know when it gets delivered)
  • frequency: the GOOD NEWS is that you can re-use all this hard work and run it monthly, pulling new data and sending it to the vendor and they can re-use all their programming to run it (so it does automate)

On your vendor’s end, a good vendor will consider:

  • size of the piece: this matters because not all digital presses have the same sheet size and it is better for client’s if multiples can fit on one sheet
  • manufacturing method: digital versus offset – this is determined both by the actual design, the integration of photos (or not) and quantity – for very large runs (250,000 or more) there are some sophisticated ink jet method that will work with offset print to create a “personalized piece” if you have a run over 250,000 pieces it is worth discussing options with your vendor
  • data merge: what software to use to integrate the data with the design (could be Planet Press, XMPie, PageFlex)
  • seed list: yes, the vendor should also have a seed list incorporated into the mailing to track delivery times and how the piece holds up in the mail

These are the main considerations when it comes to variable data printing. I cannot stress enough that once you start a variable program, all of the work on the planning side pays off because the data can be supplied daily, weekly or monthly and your vendor can get the pieces printed and in the mail very quickly once that initial variable programming has been set-up.