Variable Data Printing – the simple tool to personalise your marketing

Posted on September 4th, 2014 | Tags: Booklets, Brochures, Calendar, Direct Mail, Flyers, Gift Vouchers, Greeting Cards

Looking for a way to make a marketing material have that personal touch? A personal touch that will make the recipient more likely to read it, giving you a powerful way of connecting with them. A connection that is the basis of building a relationship that will grow your business with them. This can all come from the use of Variable Data Printing. More than just simple mail merging, it’s a combination of smart marketing design and culling of data from your own records. The careful blending of these two things will give you a new way of making connection with your clients and you should read this article to see if a tool you can put to use.

Think of Variable Data Printing in these terms: On you printed page you set areas as containers which can hold anything you like (be it text, numbers, or pictures) that are selected from a list of information you give the printer to read and the fixed material adjusts to fit it. All of this sits as a separate layer on top of the fixed things like your contact details or background graphics. If you have done mail merging of a customer’s name and address in a letter, then you have done the basics of Variable Data Printing.

How you go about creating a Variable Data Document is all dependent on where you get your data from, what type of program you are using to create the page, and how you plan to do the printing. Because the combinations of how this is setup are endless there is no one simple way of doing this. I can give some basic guidelines and tips on what common mistakes to avoid.

When generating data from your source program, name your columns something that you can understand easily. When you are setting up the data within a document, a logical name makes it simple to make sure that you put each bit of data in the right place and you don’t miss anything.

Spreadsheets are the simplest tool for doing pre-processing of your data before you load it in to your document. They read and write a wide range of common data formats, CSV being the universal standard. It also allows for easy sorting and searching of the data you want to use. If you want to create new data based on what you have, for instance calculating a cost saving of changing from one brand of item to another, spreadsheets are perfect for doing that too. A simple macro or inline instruction is all your need then copy and paste thought the document.

Comma Separated Value files (CSV) are the most common data import/export format for Variable Data Printing. Before exporting the file see if you can remove commas from your data, otherwise you will confuse the program that will try to read it. If you have to have divider of some kind use a ‘;’, ‘.’ or some other non-comma mark to get around it.

Sort your data in a logical way. A common method is to sort alphabetically by business or persons name. This makes it simple to check that you have not missed anyone during the process of creating the source data and generation of the final document. It’s great for us printers too, as it makes it simple to find and reprint any a single document if it got damaged in the production process. Spreadsheet programs are great for this too.

Blank entries are perfectly fine for variable data, as long as they are truly blank. A lot of programs will put spaces in a blank data point. A blank space can show up in your final document and result in an odd look, a blank line in the middle of an address is a classic example. A simple search for ‘ ’ and replace with ‘’ will often do the trick.

If you want to get the cheaper rates by Permit Post your addresses need to conform exactly to the NZ Post address standards. You can download the rules directly from their website. We can also help you with that if you would like some guidance.

If you plan to use VDP to put different images in the document depending the data, here’s the basics. You must have an exact path to the image in the data file, ie ‘c:\mydocuments\mailmerge02\fishingrod2.jpg’ in each record. Also make sure that the filename, and extension are correct including spaces, ie ‘ fred.jpg.’, ‘fred .jpg’, ‘fred.jpeg’ are all different files to the computer. The size of the image doesn’t matter so much as most publishing programs will scale images to your predetermined size automatically (although that can result in unexpected outputs sometimes). Then all the images for that data point of the record must be of the same proportions or the document will have odd gaps. The simplest tool I’ve found for doing that is Microsoft Office’s picture editor, as it comes with a crop tool that allows you to set the crop to a standard photo sizing.

Most desktop publishing programs allow you to use layers when creating documents. Use this to your advantage when creating VDP documents. The items that never change, like the background, your contact details, static images and some static text can all be placed on lower or master page layer. You then put the changing data on the upper or normal layer. Doing this gives you a lot more flexibility when it comes time to generate the printing file. If you prefer to have everything on every page, then when you generate the PDF the program knows to keep only one copy of the fixed items from the master page and lay the changing data over the top of it, resulting in a much smaller file. Alternatively you can create one PDF with just the static images, turning the data layer off, and a second containing the variable data, turning the static layer off. This spit file approach works really well when you get very large runs of data, in the 1000’s, or have a complex multi-part document with lots of graphics in the background.

This is just a taste of the interesting and very useful tool known as Variable Data Printing. If you would like to know more, why not call or email us at Copy Express, or better still book a meeting where we can go over the technology and give you practical examples with you to show how it would advance your business.