When it comes to print design, it’s important to begin with the end in mind. The final design solution needs to sync with your customer research findings and your choice of printing equipment. I know, I know—when I was a designer and a printer would begin to rattle off their list of printing equipment, my eyes would quickly glaze over and I would lose interest. But with the recent advances in variable data, toner-based digital and high-speed inkjet alone, knowing a bit about the printing process prior to beginning the design process will give you a much more effective end result.
Darwill is a Chicago-based direct marketing and communications company known for its personal approach—and highly effective campaigns. With clients like Evive Health, Microsoft and Beltone, Darwill has experience creating data-based solutions, with measurable results. We spoke with Darwill’s Director of Customer Experience, Mark DeBoer, about how he works with his clients to select the right printing equipment for the job. Here are his five considerations:
What Are the Unique Specifications for the Job?
Darwill has offset, digital and inkjet presses. In order to decide which machine is best for a given job, DeBoer considers what he refers to as the four-legged stool of cost, quality, variability and quantity.
“With offset, the biggest advantage is producing a high-quality piece at large quantities. But the drawback is, it’s a lot of the same pieces. Digital toner devices offer personalization, but are expensive to operate at high quantities. Inkjet brings you the possibility of printing a customized variable message and image at a cost-effective price. It’s also about five times faster. However, you might notice a difference in quality.”
Make Sure the Customer Knows What End-Result to Expect
By “customer,” DeBoer is referring to both the direct customer and the customer’s client. Print quality varies between offset and inkjet — but with careful communication and unique print strategies, it’s possible to get the results you want. “We print samples for customers to share with their customers, so everyone knows what to expect,” DeBoer explains. “The last thing we want to do is deliver something so new that customers have never seen it, without having set an expectation.”
Should More Than One Type of Technology Be Utilized?
Another technique is to use more than one machine to achieve different goals. When an exact color match is important, an offset press might be used for part of a job. Then, that piece could get married up with a personalized, inkjet component. “We try not to make it a one-machine-fits-all scenario,” DeBoer says. “A combination of pieces can deliver the right tool mix for us to print something that makes sense, quality and price-wise. When we use this technique, it’s very helpful to have access to papers which work on inkjet, offset and traditional digital printers.”
Is the Printed Piece Designed with the End in Mind?
When it comes to managing expectations, design matters, too. For example, in the case of inkjet printing ink can be one of the greatest costs, so DeBoer recommends limiting coverage. “You don’t want to flood coat a piece or create a paint job,” he advises. “In addition to cost, it could affect your folding and finishing.”
However, this doesn’t mean you must limit your design so much that it loses its impact. Instead, he suggests being intentional and making sure the areas where you are putting down color make sense. “If there won’t be a big increase in response rate, the cost to do a large block of color may not be worth the cost of the ink. But if you will get a better pull, then spend the extra money to get the right piece out there.”
Should Variable Data Be Utilized?
One of the biggest benefits of inkjet printing is variable data capability. “People want to get talked to relevantly and directly, and inkjet accommodates that,” says DeBoer. “If I am already a customer somewhere, don’t give me a new customer packet. Use the knowledge you have to create a more personal relationship.” Darwill uses data in a number of interesting ways. For example, they print statements for a human resources client that show employees how much money they saved the prior year, what this means for their retirement and what they could be doing differently to create a better future. “That is one of the most powerful things we do; and being able to do it in color, with charts and graphs, is even better,” DeBoer says.
For maximum results, he suggests going beyond the basics of using a customer’s name. “People get that we can put your name on the piece, in five places. But that’s kid stuff. I want to say, ‘Your customer bought this, this and this. Based on your modeling, we know that they would also be interested in this.’ Figure out that next level of sophistication. The possibilities are endless.”
The moral of the story is this: begin every print job with a conversation with your printer. Discuss your goals for the project and share the customer personas you’ve developed. It’s absolutely the best way to discover unique ways to use variable data, or you want to learn which print method is best for your printed piece.