To VDP or not to VDP?That is a good question, and one that deserves asking again given that variable data printing still fails to make much real impact in wide-format. Why aren't we seeing more wide-format print using variable data?
VDP has such an obvious role to play by delivering specifically targeted information to personally addressed recipients, but there must be clients out there who can see the benefits of using customised data on their large-format print output. Think bus shelter posters with timetables relevant to a particular stop, think public location maps. The list goes on. So perhaps VDP offers more scope than it's currently getting credit for? Here five printers of wide-format graphics present their thoughts on the topic.
Have you ever investigated VDP for wide-format print?
Paul Dowell Director, Spenaprint: Yes, as soon as HP showed us what the Indigo presses could do our first question was "why can't we have this on our new wide-format printers?" HP said they would look at doing it and we expect to have full VDP before November.
Tim Boore IT business manager, Image Factory: We digitally produced a set of opening times for Christmas and Easter last year for a group of stores. We got Excel files merged into InDesign and PDFs produced for print so I suppose that is a kind of VDP.
Spencer Gardner Project manager, Gardners: Yes. We have two software solutions that will handle and support all our print devices.
Tina Brown Manager, Prime Group: Yes, on numerous occasions for projects driven by ourselves or for projects driven by clients. We have just finished a solution for a large client using VDP that is delivered worldwide which would have been impossible to accomplish without the use of variable data.
Mike Moradian Managing director, PrintExpress: No.
Have your customers ever asked for any form of VDP (in wide-format) or have you asked them?
P.D.: Only one customer actually asked about it but it was when we began to speculatively tell people we planned to do it that the idea caught hold. Now, wherever I go people ask when they can have it.
T.B.: Well, I suppose we have always had these types of enquiries as we started as a screen printer, so black screen changes with language versions were sometimes used
S.G.: We use VDP not only for supplying the variable data fields within an image but also to help reduce collation and packing costs. It is one of our standard processes - with or without the customers' knowledge
T.Brown: Yes, clients have asked but never as a direct question. Variable data in wide-format has been given as a solution to clients' needs rather than posed directly as 'do you want VDP?'
M.M.: We've had one such order - for a small number of bus shelter posters.
What do you see as its main role in wide-format?
P.D.: Why choose to have a standard product when you can have one configured to your own specification? VDP down to location level will enable advertising creatives to fine tune campaigns to an unprecedented level of detail. POS/POP media can be precisely targeted in store - each store can have its own promotions
T.B.: Store offers, varying regional prices and of course language versions with Euro and foreign currency prices as well.
S.G.: Another digital advantage over analogue and possible cost reduction.
T.Brown: We have provided many solutions using VDP in wide-format from display banners, POS to store front solutions. I think its largest potential is in display and POS. We have plans to team up with an industry specialist to deliver a solution we have on a much larger scale.
M.M.: The ability for posters to be specific to its surroundings.
Why do you think it is so slow getting off the ground in this sector?
P.D.: I honestly don't know why it hasn't happened already. Maybe technological constraints have been the barrier. I can produce digital output faster and better than I can produce the same with screen printing and the price is comparable for the end-user. Coupling VDP with the quality and throughput of the current HP wide-format digital kit seemed to us to be a no-brainer.
T.B.: Maybe because today's smaller print run capabilities make it unnecessary to produce versioned runs via software - you can just send native files manually, perhaps just as fast?
S.G.: VDP is not economic with short runs or small customers and needs time and money to be invested. You need a good IT department and to be able to automate your production to handle it well. This might reduce the amount of potential investors.
T.Brown: I think it's down to the drive from within the sector. We have come from a litho/digital background and ended up getting into wide format out of necessity. VDP in narrow format digital print is widely accepted so the transition to wide-format was easy for us. Having a good understanding of data and how to apply this to a variable document is essential.
M.M.: Cost is an issue. Litho printing say 250 B1 compares favorably with large-format inkjet.
Unless you need customisation on smaller numbers the advantages of VDP are unlikely to outweigh cost.
Do you think VDP has a future in wide-format?
P.D.: I suspect there will be a feeding frenzy of interest soon, and then it will die back a little. I think in a year's time, everyone will have to at least offer it.
T.B.: Yes. Clients will benefit from bespoke short runs enabling them to get targeted campaign within budget.
S.G.: It is a key to the growth of the digital market. Perhaps its use will increase once we see the promised 'green shoots'.
T.Brown: Absolutely. I am certain you will see more and more solutions delivered using VDP as clients and the industry cotton on to benefits to be gained from applying these techniques to this market, especially when driven through Web portals.
M.M.: In niche markets - but this may be quickly eroded by the advent of plasma screen and other technology.