Variable-data printing (VDP) (also known as variable-information printing (VIP) or VI) is a form of digital printing, including on-demand printing, in which elements such astext, graphics and images may be changed from one printed piece to the next, without stopping or slowing down the printing process and using information from a database or external file.[1] For example, a set of personalized letters, each with the same basic layout, can be printed with a different name and address on each letter. Variable data printing is mainly used for direct marketing, customer relationship management, advertising, invoicing and applying addressing on selfmailers, brochures or postcard campaigns.


The difference between variable data printing and traditional printing is the personalization that is involved. Personalization allows a company to connect to its customers. Variable data printing is more than a variable name or address in a printed piece; in the past, a variable name would have been effective, because it was a new concept at the time. In today’s world, personalization has to reflect what the customer values. In order for VDP to be successful, the company must know something about the customer. For example, a customer who loves baseball receives a VDP postcard with an image of their favorite baseball player. The postcard is effective, because the customer is more likely to read what is on it. An example of an ineffective VDP piece would be to mail a postcard to the same customer with an image of a soccer player. If the customer has no interest in soccer, then he or she may or may not pay attention to the postcard. The idea is to add value to the customer through the ability to relate to them. Personalization allows a company to relate, communicate, and possibly start a relationship with a prospective customer and to maintain a relationship with their current customers. A prospect that is converted to a customer can then be converted to a loyal customer. Companies want to create loyal customers, and variable data printing can help gain these types of customers, along with quality work and service.

Another benefit is the increase in the response rate and response time. Because personalization catches the attention of the consumer, the response rate of a mail campaign increases. Personalization also increases the response time, because the mailed piece has an effect on the consumer. This effect causes the consumer to respond quicker. A mailed piece that is not eye-catching may be put down and forgotten until a later time, so it may take weeks before a response is received.

The Consumer

The consumer is the most important aspect of variable data printing. In order for the campaign to be successful, the company must have all the necessary data about the customer. Data is important anytime a product campaign is beginning. If the company does not know their prospects or customers, they may lose them or fail to realize they are targeting the wrong people. Every product is not for every person so getting to know what your target consumer wants, expects, and enjoys is important. For example, selling dog treats to a person who has a cat will not be successful. The consumer has no use for what is being sold to them, so it is important to know the target consumers before starting a campaign. Marketing research is often the tool used to gain knowledge about the consumer; it is also the second step in a marketing plan. An example of how marketing is used to learn about consumers through surveys. Surveys that have an incentive attached to them for completion usually have high response rates, because the consumer perceives value for completing the survey. Once the target consumer has been found, the data needed for a campaign can be used. This data is what becomes variable. The data gained from research will go in a database, and this is where the data will be pulled for the variable pieces. An example of a variable element would be age. Age could determine what type of message is sent out to a certain age group.

Origin of the concept

The origin of the term variable data printing is widely credited to Frank Romano, Professor Emeritus, School of Print Media, at the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences atRochester Institute of Technology. Mr. Romano does not explicitly take credit for coining the term  but points to his use of it as early as 1969 and its appearance in the 1999 book, “Personalized and Database Printing”, that he authored with David Broudy.

The concept of merging static document elements and variable document elements predates the term and has seen various implementations ranging from simple desktop ‘mail merge’, to complex mainframe applications in the financial and banking industry. In the past, the term VDP has been most closely associated with digital printing machines. However, in recent years the application of this technology has spread to web pages, emails, and mobile messaging.


Variable data printing can be combined with other platforms – such as PURLS, email blasts, and QR codes; all three platforms are considered marketing tools. Many people have found the benefit of combining all of these platforms in order to have a successful campaign. Email blasts and PURLS allow a company to find out information about their consumer. An email blasts usually doesn’t contain much personalization, but it can. The bulk of the personalization would be seen in a PURL. A PURL is a personalized universal resource location (URL). In short, it is a landing page. It is also where most of the knowledge about the consumer will be gained. The email blasts will contain a PURL, which will lead the consumer to a personalized page. The PURL is where a company can gain information about the consumer through the requested information. The QR code can be added to a mailed piece. It works like an email blasts. It directs the consumer to a website. The integration of these three platforms can help a campaign.

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