QUESTION: What is variable-data printing and publishing?

ANSWER: "Variable-data printing" is a form of on-demand printing in which all the documents in a print run are similar but not identical. For example, if you are printing personalized letters to be mailed to your customers, each document probably has the same basic layout, but there is a different customer name and address on each letter.

When you use your word-processing software to do a mail merge, you are doing a simple form of variable-data printing.

These days, variable-data printing can go far beyond printing different names and addresses on a document. There are systems that let you insert different graphics into a document, change the layout and/or the number of pages, print a unique bar code on each document, use color extensively, and more.

The concept of variable-data documents extends to electronic documents such as PDF documents. The term "variable-data printing and publishing" (or just "variable-data publishing") encompasses both paper documents and electronic documents. 

On this Web site, we tend to use the terms "variable-data printing" and "variable-data publishing" interchangeably.

Software for doing variable-data printing and publishing is sometimes referred to as VDP software.

Variable-data printing and publishing is known by several other names. Some of them are:

  • personalized printing
  • personalized publishing
  • personalization
  • customized printing
  • customized publishing
  • database publishing
  • one-to-one (1:1) communication
  • one-to-one (1:1) publishing.
Because VDP software is often used to create documents for promoting and selling products & services, the terms

  • direct marketing, and
  • one-to-one (1:1) marketing
are often used in connection with VDP software.

Basic facts about variable-data printing & publishing

As mentioned, people often think of variable-data printing & publishing in connection with marketing. You probably see an example of this every month when you receive your credit-card statement. Do you find advertisements for discounts and special promotions printed on your statement? Most likely, your credit-card company doesn't send information about the same discounts and promotions to all of their customers. Instead, they analyze the buying histories of their customers; and they send information about discounts and promotions for specific products and services to customers that are likely to be interested in those particular products and services.

For example:

  • A certain customer might receive information about discounts and promotions for music, casual clothing, and sports equipment.

  • Another customer might receive information about discounts and promotions for jewelry, wines, and fine dining.

  • Still another customer might receive information about discounts and promotions for computer hardware, computer software, and luxury-vacation packages.

The credit-card companies use variable-data-printing systems to print these customized advertisements.

Variable-data printing and publishing shows up in other areas of our lives as well. Here are some other examples of variable-data printing and publishing:

  • Variable-data-printing systems are used to print labels on retail products.

  • Variable-data-printing systems are used to print license plates for vehicles.

  • Tickets and coupons are printed with variable-data-printing systems.

  • Insurance companies use variable-data-printing systems to print policies, benefit booklets and other documents.

  • Financial-services companies use variable-data-printing/publishing systems to create transaction statements in hard-copy (paper) format and in electronic (on-line) format.

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