Automation and printing, making custom documents the easy way

Posted on June 29th, 2020 | Tags: Printing

One of the great advantages of the digital print technology we use, is that every page we print is generated on the fly by the printer so it can be unique. What’s so amazing about that, you might be wondering, every home and office printer can do that. We would agree with you on that fact, but what you might not realise is that it can be used to do some pretty impressive tricks. With nothing more than a little bit of planning, a few prepared files, and a simple spreadsheet, you can generate anything from a mailing label to multi page booklets, each one having unique contents. We are going to talk about variable data document printing and how it can make your next print job easier.

What is variable data printing?

Variable Data Printing (from here on we will call it VDP) is the process where part or all of the item being printed is different to the ones before or after it. If you have used the process of mail merge for address labels, then you have used a basic form of VDP. What VDP can do with a printing company, such as us here at Copy Express, is set up multi part documents that seamlessly merge to unified whole but are unique to each person receiving it. It can also be used to simplify production of multiple variations of a document, such as having local branch details on a flyer, while still giving economies of scale for the overall printing costs. This data isn’t just limited to text either, it can be graphics (such as id card photos) or whole sections of larger documents (include only the relevant chapters of an employee handbook for each department).

Why would you use it?

Simple, to make your job easier. Take the example of business cards for a large company. With one template that sets how the card looks, and a spreadsheet containing the appropriate information and quantities of cards needed for each person. The printer can then generate each card with the text correctly formatted and set up in the batches so it’s printed and cut with the most efficient way possible. Want to do a mail out to your customers and offer deals based on their buying history. Then with a prepared set of templates, document parts, and a spreadsheet, the system will generate the text to flow seamlessly on the page and add in the appropriate specials based on the data supplied. Another advantage is the reduction of time spent preparing and approving any standard documents. A new staffer needs business cards, using a VDP template you just fill in the blanks of the sheet, upload it to the printer, and then they send back the finished cards. No proof approval needed as you know it will automatically format correctly.

What is the cost?

That’s a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question. Simply put every job will have a different price based on what needs to be done. There are a few general factors on how much more it’s going to cost you over the standard pricing.

  • There is always a data setup cost. Generally a flat price as it covers the extra time it takes to setup a print job using VDP over a single design
  • A quantity surcharge. Because each ‘unit’ is unique, if something goes wrong, then it takes extra time to find and reprint the faulty units or to restart the run. That time has to be paid for.
  • Preparation work. Time is money, so the less time the printer has to prepare the files, the less that is going to cost you. This is where talking to them first is smart as they will often have templates you can just fill in and use, saving you time and money. You might also be charged a design fee if they have to modify an existing file to make it work as VDP master.

The process

Talking to your printing company is always the best thing to do first. Every company handles this work slightly different based on the way their equipment and processes are set up. It also depends on the type of item you want to print, as the process for business cards is different to a personalised newsletter. From there they will either supply you with a template/s to use to set things up or can take an existing design and modify it for VDP. Then they will generate proof merge files and send them to you to approve. Once approved it’s printed and finished as required. That’s it, some prep work then it’s no more difficult than any other printing job.

Will using VDP improve my marketing response results?

Yes, but only as a part of a well designed marketing plan. By itself, it’s no more effective than any other marketing tool. It doesn’t matter how personal an offer is, if the offer does not grab their attention in the first place or does not supply what they need. What you should treat VDP as, is a way to simplify the process of presenting that personalized offer that results from you understanding your own business data.

How does VDP improve my office operations?

Most of the people reading this article aren’t in a situation where they need to print out business cards for a hundred employees, or are mailing out thousands of personalised information packages. VDP still has a place for even the smallest of businesses, by encouraging you to think in a standardized data driven way. By setting up a business material that can use VDP, (business cards, flyers, forms, etc) means that you have standardized designs that lets you create a new one a couple of minutes instead of a couple of hours. You can create form letters/emails that will allow you to automate those repetitive tasks that every business has to do. It also encourages to look at the information you are collecting and guide you to exploit it more to help your business grow.

Where to go from here?

Like all subjects, there’s a lot more you can learn and apply if you have the time and interest. There are specialty professionals whose job is to analyze business data to generate ‘smart’ marketing systems. If you are a small business you don’t have the time or money for that. You do have the Copy Express Team. What we can do is sit down with you, discuss how to simplify and automate parts of your business by using VDP. Help you look at the information you gather to improve your ability to better understand your client base to better market to them and to bring in new ones. And of course how to use VDP to speed up the print side of your business so you can get on with running and growing yours.

That’s a quick rundown of the world of Variable Data Printing. If you have questions or want to find out how we can help your business make use of it, we are happy to answer them at any time. Just drop us an email, give us a call, or come on by and we’ll help you understand the process and what you need to do.