what is variable data printing

What is Variable Data Printing?

Written by: Tom Altman, Chief Technology Officer

In every business, connecting with and speaking directly to your clients makes all the difference. Since the rise of the internet, some businesses who used to have success with postcards and direct mail have moved those campaigns to email marketing, and the wins have dwindled.

What was old is new again

Effective direct mail marketing is made easy through variable data printing, a service which merges database files in the printing process. This service is also known as variable information printing. It’s a printing process that allows elements like images, text, and graphics to be methodically merged. This happens without slowing or stopping the process of printing. The information is gathered in real time from an external file or database.

Example: if you were to print out invitations with the recipient’s address and name in the same font and style as the rest of the text, no address label maker – wouldn’t it have more impact? This form of direct marketing is available on postcard campaigns, brochures, pressure seal self-mailers, and customized packaging for digital products with variable data.

Variable data printing for transactional mail and print

In transactional mailing, mail is used to finalize a client transaction; this doesn’t necessarily have to be monetary. Though many do not view transactional mail as a viable marketing tool – it remains crucial throughout the business process. And it’s an opportunity to develop customer loyalty by building lasting personalized relationships.

Some forms of transactional mail include:

  • Appreciating your clients for their loyalty.
  • Sending out collection letters, statements, and invoices.
  • Alerting clients when there are changes in their accounts, made by the business or themselves.
  • Confirming recent client transactions.

Variable data printing presents a fantastic opportunity to market your business with transactional mailings you are already sending.  Leverage the bills, statements, or invoices you already send and turn them into money makers.

Enabling personalization

Direct mail has been given new life thanks to its power of personalization.  Without personal data, direct mail campaigns would achieve little, mainly because of looking like cliche business ads.  Spam sent to the masses with little to no relevance to the potential customer.  Leverage your current data which is living in telemarketing apps, social media, CRM, and past invoices to create messages that speak to the individual customer.

Ways businesses use personalized data:

  • Displaying locally-based information – an address marked on a map.
  • Sending reminders for shopping carts abandonment on e-commerce websites – via print.
  • Printing data related to past products and services viewed or purchased.


variable data printing example

This variable data postcard illustrates how specific customer data is used to create marketing materials with personalized salutations, product offers, and imagery.


Levels of variable printing

At the most basic level, variable printing is all about changing names and salutations in every printed piece. When it comes to highly-varied variable data printing, versioning is applied.  Varying customization levels for equally diverse campaigns.

Even the images and text can be changed – all in real time.  For every piece, your static elements will remain the same with the focus being on the text, images, addresses, and other personal information that changes per customer.

Example: A car dealership could utilize vehicle purchase history to send each customer a customized mail piece telling them it’s time for an upgrade, and show them the latest model year of their current vehicle.

For this to work seamlessly, the information contained in databases has to be accurate and up to date.

Direct digital printing outgrowth

By harnessing the power of your database, variable data printing adds more flare to color documents which are already rich in visual detail. The final product looks and feels similar to conventional offset printing, but the message is entirely different because it’s custom. You can mass-customize an un-ending variety of documents through variable data printing.

Returns from variable printing may vary between 10x-15x for fully-variable tasks, and double the normal at the most basic level. It relies on relevancy, but overall provides a highly effective tool for increased marketing campaigns and most importantly ROI.


Looking to start a variable data marketing campaign, but not sure if your data is usable? Leverage our team of data detectives and printing professionals to uncover opportunity for growth in your business and start your variable data printing solution.

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