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April 2006 BY MARK SMITH
Technology Editor
QUALITY CONTROL is a demanding proposition in all printing, but adding variable data to the mix ratchets the challenge up a notch…or three. Since each piece is intended for a specific recipient, there’s no margin for error in any of the steps required to get the right piece into the right hands.

Multiple production issues can impact the integrity of every variable data job. Mailing requirements may be the most vexing component, though.

* It should go without saying that a good database is a must for any variable data marketing. Unfortunately, service providers typically report their experiences with clients remain akin to the industry’s history in receiving “print-ready” desktop publishing files. Clients may simply not know if their databases are good, think the data is good when it isn’t, believe it is their supplier’s job to fix the database or actually provide good data.

* Even if a piece is designed by someone with variable data expertise, there still is a need to check that the layout, template and variable elements all come together as intended by running sample output. This can be done more formally by sampling on a “nth” number basis or shortest and longest record in the case of a “name” variable field. For cost and timing savings, outputting the job as PDFs for on-screen review may be the better option for a thorough review.

* Printing and post-processing have to meet quality expectations from the first piece to the last. Along with doing regular sampling checks, it’s important for everyone who touches the piece in production to take responsibility for overall quality. Implementing a “finder’s fee” for bad pieces can motivate workers and help alleviate apprehension about “squealing” on other departments.

* If assembly and/or insertion into an envelope is required, this process also should be checked even if the work is done by machine.

* With mailings, the post office is the ultimate arbiter of quality. Unfortunately, what’s deemed acceptable can vary from site to site and postal official to postal official.

Not Simple to Start

“It’s still not an easy entrance into the (variable data) business even with the tools getting better,” observes Christopher DeSantis, president of Royal Impressions in New York City. “There’s more to it than just buying into the technology. You must have the experience, the workflow in place and the properly trained people required to achieve a 100 percent mailing with every record processed.”


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