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Finding the Full Potential of Variable-Data Printing

(October 2015) posted on Tue Oct 20, 2015

Personalized and printable, Big Data isn’t just for the tech geeks.

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By Mark A. Coudray

Here’s an example for those of you who print real-estate signage. Using VDP, you can create yard signs with detailed information about a house or aimed at targeted demographics that might be different for each property. You can print signs with unique QR codes that would take prospects to the specific webpage for that property. You can go one step further and add PURLs – personalized URLs – that would take each viewer to a unique landing page. All of these interactions would be highly relevant, measurable, and trackable.

Variable-Data Options
Like most things digital, there’s a wide range of options for doing VDP work. Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.

Although I don’t recommend using it, Microsoft Word’s mail-merge feature allows you to create a basic VDP document. Any graphics pro will wince at the thought of printing out of MS Word, but we’ve all done it and for simple VDP tasks, it works very well. The best applications would be things like groups of labels, name tags, or similar items printed multiple up. For example, if you were doing name tags for an event where there would be six groups, each with 10 members, you could set the job up as two columns by three groups and merge the appropriate data into each, eventually printing 10 sheets. It’s not hard to set up such a job; consult the MS Word documentation.

The next level up is where most specialty graphics printers will be operating – at the design software level. You can do VDP work in CorelDraw, Adobe Illustrator, and InDesign. Create a target document, define data placement areas, and prepare a data document in Microsoft Excel or OpenOffice, as well as any images you wish to data merge into the final piece. I won’t go into detail on the procedures for each program here, but there are some very good YouTube tutorials as well as several extensive courses on

For this article, I created an example for an event where a race bib was needed for different runners who would be doing a 5K, 10K, or full marathon. Below you can see the bib graphic, done in InDesign and saved as a template, with the variable-data areas defined.


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