Variable Data Printing (VDP): A Case Study of Implementing Variable Data and Digital Printing in the Communication Technology Program at Eastern Michigan University


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David Gore, Marie Lee, and Jon Baucher Jr.


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Information Technology, printing, and fulfillment industries are converging to create a new paradigm, variable data printing. The merging of databases and design allow for individualized output, complete with mail fulfillment, new roles for printers, and new collaborations in education. New technologies allow all parts of the printing process to be digital. Information Technology, design, print and fulfillment are merging to lead us into a new age of image creation and delivery. This new format must be incorporated in the education of current and future students in this field.

The following statement of the future of the industry appears in the April 2007 Advertising and Marketing Review "The future is variable data, it may cost a little more per piece but it is a lot more successful and effective which is more important than cheap," said Bill Jones of Vision Graphics.

This paper addresses the implementation of variable data printing in the classroom. The digital presses that are becoming standard in the industry do not easily fit into the budgets of secondary, community college or higher education programs. The development of a class in the Communication Technology Program at Eastern Michigan University began with discussions at the Teachers' Conference at Graph Expo 2009. The industry professionals were showcasing digital presses and teachers were trying to determine how to include this new aspect of the industry in the classroom. The development of a class followed the steps listed below:

1. Selecting the page layout program. Adobe InDesign was already in place.

2. Selecting a program that would allow for easy and affordable implementation of the concept. Meadows Publishing DesignMerge was chosen.

3. Selecting an output device that would simulate the digital press environment at a cost within the program budget. The Canon Image Runner was selected.

4. Develop the curriculum - DesignMerge tutorials and instructor created projects and content were generated, tied to concepts associated with variable data.

5. Understanding and becoming a partner in the fulfillment process. This is not traditionally a role of the print professional and certainly a new area that the educator has to include.

The challenges of moving into digital printing are quite different from those of the traditional print shop. The digital environment requires that the designer have contact with, and at least a rudimentary understanding of, databases. This is an area that instructors of printing are typically not prepared to teach based on the education they received in school. This paper will illustrate how this content was developed and how it can be incorporated into the curriculum, at any level, without having a huge learning curve related to databases. We will also address the cost considerations of moving to variable data printing. While the top industry digital presses are far outside the typical educational budget, there are ways to obtain output that will teach the concepts on a budget that most programs can afford. The selection of the specific variable data software chosen, DesignMerge, was instrumental in this process, based on cost and output capability.

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