The class of products generically referred to as variable-data tools really is a mixed bag. They range from QuarkXTensions and stand-alone software applications to printer drivers and hardware caches. Some are proprietary solutions from the press manufacturers themselves, while others have been introduced by third-party developers. The level of functionality and cost vary greatly.

For the most part, variable-data solutions have been device-specific. This means projects have to be targeted to a specific printing system almost from conception. Repeat jobs become captive to the platform/ workflow for which they were originally developed. Such constraints have the potential to restrict the growth of any new technology.

The members of PODi, the digital printing initiative, recognized the benefits of bringing some standardization and interoperability to the variable-data tools they offer. They responded by undertaking development of the Personalized Print Markup Language, or PPML. This effort actually includes several related goals.

If it is widely adopted and effectively implemented, the act of establishing a standard achieves the goal of variable-data system interoperability. In theory, a job prepared by any PPML-compliant system could also be used in any other similarly compliant workflow.

As for the print language itself, the central goal of PPML is to make it faster to print documents with variable content. This is achieved by providing a methodology for the caching of elements that are reused in a variable-data job. Such elements are retained in a pre-processed state, ready for integration into a document on-the-fly as it is being printed at the device’s rated speed.

According to the documentation, there are two capabilities that are central to PPML-object-level granularity and reusability. “Granularity” refers to the size of the pieces a system works with in processing a job. Printing systems typically have been limited to working at the page level. Enabling individual pages to be built on-the-fly from a collection of discrete objects makes it possible to gain processing efficiencies through the handling of repeating elements.

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