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Design for Digital Printing Part 1: Choose Wisely

Mike Dietz

The fundamental rules of design do not differ greatly when developing direct mail to be produced on digital vs. conventional presses. Your goals and strategies are the same, but the road forks when you start talking about tailoring unique offers to individual consumers.

Conventional direct mail production offers the ability to uniquely target select groups with the combination of preprinted “shell” forms and variable imaging (typically black text). This process has been a proven standard in testing strategies since the first mailing list was compiled. The puzzle that designers and marketers have always struggled to solve is making offers relevant to even more targeted groups. That was challenging until the advent of digital printing.

Digital is a dream come true for designers like me. I can place unique copy wherever I want and change imagery for every file. It sounds like the answer to all of my testing dreams – and to a certain extent it is.

But we all know that if something seems too good to be true it probably is. So what’s the catch? There are a number of things to define before you jump into the digital pool.

Future Quantity Guides Design

  • Is this a small trigger program targeting my best customers?
  • Is it a test that has an opportunity to grow into a larger program?
  • If a large roll-out program is the end goal, your digital piece needs to be designed with a conventional solution in mind. You can avoid lengthy redesign and testing headaches by simply designing in a more conservative way.
  • Understand what elements are going to provide challenges if your mailpiece needs to switch between digital and conventional platforms.


The ability to identify and target unique groups has always been the challenge for direct marketers. Now marketers can get down to a granular level thanks to the digital solution. The new challenge is defining the line between the appropriate amount of individually-variable content and too much content – as it is often blurred. There is a strong temptation to make non-essential elements variable just because you can. It’s like an artist trying to apply all the colors in his studio to a single canvas. If he does, the finished work won’t be hanging in a gallery.

A selective approach will almost always provide the best results. It is critical to identify the specific variable elements that will have an impact on the mailpiece. Keep in mind that adding variable fields can add both expense and time to the initial set-up of the project. Start off with a modest testing strategy that can be controlled and added to as required.

When used correctly, the digital solution is a tool that will build strong direct mail programs.

Check back Friday for Part 2 on design for digital printing, which will focus on the keys to accurate color reproduction.

link https://www.iwco.com/blog/2012/12/12/design-for-digital-printing-part-1/
Mike Dietz


Mike Dietz

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