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In Demand, Variable Data Delivers

May 1998
Variable data printing is a remarkable tool—especially in direct marketing environments—for pulling individuals into a subject, a theme, a sales pitch. Imagine the value of producing documents rich in custom-organized, image-intensive designs, fully personalized for each recipient.

While the on-demand printing systems at today's digital printing houses and high-end commercial sites are actually delivering these personalized prizes, the real enablers of this growing marketing phenomena are the software packages.

As a starting point, let's take a look at EFI's Fiery FreeForm variable data solution. Now available with the Fiery ZX line of color servers, FreeForm enables customers to use their existing workstations (PCs, Macs or UNIX) and software to produce documents with variable data. Users specify master or variable elements from a standard print driver. True variable data workflow is achieved by RIPing the master page once and overlaying the variable data.

The varying data can be transparent or opaque, can overlay, and can be freely rotated or scaled. The data can include any combination of color or black-and-white text, graphics and images without limitation on placement or element size.

Master and variable documents can be set up from the client application by using the printer driver, from the Fiery Command Workstation, or remotely over the Internet using Fiery WebTools.

"Variable data printing has been available to large corporations such as utilities and financial institutions for the last few years," asserts Dan Avida, president and CEO at EFI. "Just as with PostScript and desktop publishing, capabilities once reserved only for large companies are becoming economically attractive to smaller businesses and individuals."

Today's variable data printing, Avida explains, operates on two principles. "The first principle is that of the fixed or master document, which may include the page layout, as well as those graphics, text or images that are common to all pages," he says. "The second principle is that of varying data or elements, which may include graphics, text or images that are unique to each page."

Fiery FreeForm's ability to distinguish between master and variable data and treat them appropriately is somewhat unique in the market, for now.

Once users create document layouts using the applications of their choice, they then specify those graphic elements that will be "master elements" and those that will be "variable elements." And, from that point, FreeForm only RIPs the master document once. Each time the document is called thereafter, the Fiery pulls the already-RIPed master document and overlays it with the text and other variable elements as they are being sent to the printer.

"People don't want hassles; they want variable data solutions with no limitations," Avida adds. "They want unlimited flexibility and huge amounts of power—that's what we're aiming to deliver."

In addition to Fiery FreeForm, EFI has built Xerox's VIPP architecture into the Fiery ZX for the DocuColor 70 digital press.

Colorbus CEO Thomas White sees today's variable data activities as only the beginning. "Taking a more broad perspective, you'll find the real interesting opportunity in variable data in a combination of databases, the World Wide Web and print-on-demand," White states.

"People want to print different documents, with different content to different places in the world and print it locally at different sites—our vision is to take variable data to the next level by leveraging technologies that are on the market today; that's the true challenge in the variable data printing field today."

Various Variable Visions
Xerox is another player delivering variable data on a multitude of levels. Virtually any software manufacturer delving into variable data development has contacted Xerox, urging for collaboration and endorsement.

After all, Xerox DocuTech technology is driving custom printing on many levels, so it is only logical that Xerox should be the plum target for variable data software innovators.

Who dances with Xerox?

Xerox officials report that most of its customers use two or more of the standard three (so far) variable data software technologies that the DocuTech inventor supports: Xerox Variable Data Intelligent PostScript PrintWare (VIPP), Atlas PrintShop Mail 97 and Scitex Darwin.

Here's a thumbnail of each:

VIPP is used with applications that have a constant printing structure. Constant structures are less graphic-intensive and are characterized by a repetitive variable set and a large number of records, as in financial statements. VIPP is an expanded version of the former Xerox Generic Format (XGF) product.

In addition to the DocuColor 70 digital color press, VIPP currently supports Xerox network PostScript printers, including the DocuPrint Network Printer Series (NPS) family, the DocuPrint 4220 and 4230 distributed network printers, and the DocuTech 6135 and 6180 publishers.

DocuPrint products are optimized for transaction data-oriented production printing applications, while DocuTech products are designed for production publishing applications. DocuColor systems are built for short-run, on-demand production color printing. Future VIPP support is anticipated for other Xerox PostScript printers, including the DocuPrint N32 and N24 Network Laser Printers (NLP).

Atlas PrintShop Mail is a mail-merge/composition tool targeted to applications such as coupons, labels, invitations and lottery tickets. PrintShop Mail offers quick turnaround and high flexibility.

The Scitex Variable Information Solution (SVIS) has three components, including Scitex Darwin, a Mac-based authoring tool working concurrently with QuarkXPress to offer a friendly user interface with its own database manager to control the variable data. Darwin is ideal for highly creative applications that require Quark's limitless ability to flow text and objects on the page.

Also in the SVIS is the Scitex Variable Print Specification (VPS), the Scitex-developed formal language designed to facilitate both creation and processing of variable information jobs. Scitex VPS is an extension of the Adobe PostScript page description language and is intended for use by a VI (Variable Information) document authoring system to generate VI jobs. Any VPS enabled digital front end can process VI jobs efficiently.

In addition to Scitex, Xerox is also working arm-in-arm with West Coast-based Splash Technology, the company once solely focused on color—the company that pioneered servers which enabled color copiers to do overprinting, spot-color simulations, progressive separations and other value-added functions. Naturally, these capabilities turned the head of Xerox.

Splash, now in control of the DocuPress since its still relatively fresh acquisition of ColorAge, is moving more and more into the variable data spectrum. The

DiamondMerge feature on the DocuPress Ultra allows efficient handling of variable data print jobs by merging together any two documents. One of these documents is created as a form on the DocuPress. The other is printed with the instruction to use the form that was previously created.

For variable data use, the static page elements would exist on the DocuPress as a pre-RIPed form. The variable data are the only data that then need to RIP and image. And because DiamondMerge will merge any two documents, they can originate from different applications or workstations.

The new Splash PCI v6.0 and Splash DC v3.0 products to be introduced later this spring offer variable data printing as an option, featuring an optimized version of Atlas PrintShop Mail that creates a flat file with pointers to a database of text and graphics.

The new Splash servers intelligently and efficiently interpret the variable portion of the data that come from that application to improve performance when printing to a Xerox digital color copier.

"Our approach with the new Splash PCI and Splash DC lines is to break down customer barriers to trying variable data printing," states Kevin Macgillivray, CEO of Splash Technology. "Yet this is not our first variable data printing capability. Our Splash DocuPress line for the office and print-for-pay markets has included a server-based template/variable solution for more than one year now. Over time, we believe there will be a number of solutions tailored around all the diverse business cases and uses."

It seems variable data is working to be as customized as it can be—content may never be the same.

— Marie Ranoia Alonso


SAVVY SOFTWARE

Atlas Software's standalone application for variable data applications, PrintShop Mail.

The VIPLine from BARCO Graphics is a complete system that functions as part of BARCO's PrintStreamer front-end system for digital presses.

EFI's Fiery FreeForm supports open platform, application-independent variable data printing, allowing use with any application on any platform that can print to a Fiery.

IBM offers variable data tools to personalize data, which can be implemented into individual documents. MergeDoc is an IBM production tool that runs on the InfoColor 70 console. MergeDoc preflights and preps variable data jobs for the RIP.

Colorbus, recently acquired by fellow RIP-manufacturer Colorstar, offers PrintStorm, a printing extension that sits between the page layout software and the printer.

Scitex's Darwin solution allows for customization of graphic-intensive documents. Created for Scitex color servers, Darwin creates in QuarkXPress.

VariScript, from Varis, is a database-driven variable imaging software that allows for the complete separation of the data and page format.

Xerox's Variable Data Intelligent PostScript PrintWare (VIPP) is an expanded version of the former Xerox Generic Format (XGF) product.

Agfa offers Personalizer X, a QuarkXTension that allows variable-data documents to be created in QuarkXPress for use with the Chromapress.

Indigo's E-Print 1000 Turbo-Stream digital offset color press sports a new front end designed specifically for variable data software.

Xeikon offers its own array of tools, including the Xeikon Variable Data System, which separates the processing of fixed and variable data.
 

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