Customizing Print Jobs with Variable Data

In the last post we talked about offset vs. digital printing and I mentioned that with offset printing there wasn't a way to customize individual pieces without added costs. Variable data is a technique that utilizes the strengths of both processes to produce customized or personalized print materials in a cost effective way. Using this technique, the 'shell' of the piece is produced offset and then information flows in from a provided database or excel document to customize each piece. Producing things this way takes advantage of digital capabilities and avoids the need to set up each individual file. Variable data in it's simplest form is addressing envelopes or self-mailers (as seen below) in it's more complicated form it can be swapping in specific language, information, graphics or maps that are unique and designated for that particular recipient. This process is predominately used in mass mailings but can be utilized for other items that require individual set up, for example, company business cards, numbering event tickets, labeling credentials, etc. 

The below 'shell' was produced offset. Here it is before variable data was applied.

The same piece addressed using variable data.

Understanding how variable data works and it's capabilities can be incredibly useful when you're dealing with files that require customization. It's a helpful tool and a great time-saver.

Offset vs. Digital Printing

Understanding the differences between offset and digital printing when printing any sorts of materials will ultimately save you money and produce the most visually pleasing results.

Offset printing is the process of transferring ink from plate to rubber roller to paper. If you're producing something full color, you'll use 4 plates: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, or CMYK. As the paper rolls through all 4 inked plates within the machine, the inks are layered one on top of the other to create the final full-color image.

• high-quality job with consistent results
• inexpensive for large print runs
• accommodates unusual/thick materials

• slow
• expensive for short runs
• no customization without added costs

Because this process uses custom plates, there are set-up charges, but once you start printing, the individual price per print is incredibly low. Let's do an example:

set up charges - $500
price per print - 1¢

100 prints - $510
10,000 prints - $600

Digital printing is a much simpler process in which the image is transferred directly to the printer digitally, avoiding the plates completely. 

• speed
• inexpensive for small print runs
• able to customize per piece

• color inconsistencies
• limited paper options
• mediocre results

Because this process doesn't involve set up, there are no upfront charges, but the price per print is more expensive. Let's use the same example:

set up charges - $0
price per print - 20¢

100 prints - $20
10,000 prints - $2,000

The decision between offset and digital comes down to a few key factors: money, time, and quality.  Knowing the pros and cons of each process will help you make a more informed decision and produce the best quality results for your specific printing situation.