ANSI - American National Standards Institute
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Expanding the Boundaries of the Printing Industry

Variable Data Printing Standard Uses New Language

New York, Aug 08, 2002

The printing industry was revolutionized six centuries ago when Johannes Gutenberg invented the first printing press that allowed multiple copies of one document to be printed relatively cheaply and efficiently, leading to the emergence of mass media.

Although printing techniques continued to evolve, it wasn't until the 20th Century-with the advent of photo-mechanical composition, cathode ray tubes and laser technology-that radical transformations of the process occurred. Today, the Committee for Graphic Arts Technologies Standards (CGATS), an ANSI-member and ANSI-accredited developer, is helping to further expand the boundaries of current printing technology with the recent approval of ANSI CGATS.20, Graphic technology-Variable printing data exchange using PPML and PDF (PPML/VDX), as an American National Standard. ANSI CGATS.20 utilizes Personalized Print Mark-up Language (PPML), a relatively new printer language for Variable Data Printing (VDP), and the Adobeâ Portable Document Format (PDF) to provide a formal way of communicating design that is device-independent.

"PPML/VDX is a new opportunity for more people to reap the broad benefits of variable data printing," said Tim Donahue, the document editor of ANSI CGATS.20. "This includes marketers, designers, agencies, printers, as well as the end users who will appreciate these higher-value, customized materials."

Digital presses are widely viewed as being the future of printing with VDP as one of the fastest-growing applications. VDP is a technique in which the content of a printed piece varies based on information stored in a database. The process has been used for many years in different technical applications, such as credit card statement printing. However, with increased interest in VDP from the graphic arts industry in recent years, several new applications have emerged.

The drawback to using VDP is that each printer capable of printing VDP documents uses its own proprietary technology for design and production, giving less than ideal control over the final product to the marketing department that wants to distribute the finished piece. The outcome has been a long and complicated process of communications between the client's marketing department and the printer through several stages and sets of proofs, and limited design options based on the restrictions of the printer's technology. Clients are often forced to continue using the services of a single printer simply due to the high cost of redesigning jobs to accommodate another printer's technology.

ANSI CGATS.20 provides a solution to these challenges as it reduces the need for extensive communication between designers and printers by allowing designers and printers to exchange the final form of variable documents electronically. Designers will also have more choices as to what printer it uses as well as complete control over the final form, content and appearance of a variable data document.

Many current applications for VDP involve marketing to consumers. For example, a travel agency wants to send its past clients a brochure introducing new services it now offers including incentive travel packages to entice the customer to try these new services. VDP allows the agency to use information about past travels of clients to tailor the special deals information to each client's preferences-a woman who likes camping would receive information about special hiking trips, while a man who makes regular trips to Asia would get information about a special package for traveling there.

By removing many of the barriers involved in variable data design and printing, CGATS believes that the PPML/VDX standard will facilitate further growth in the industry.

 Homeland Defense and Security Standardization Collaborative