Digital Inkjet Printing: Personalizing Mail for Advancement Offices

Digital Inkjet Printing: Personalizing Mail for Advancement Offices

 Despite the increased presence of email and social media for marketing and communication, direct mail still provides an effective means of sharing your message with donors, alumni and friends. The ability to personalize a letter with variable text helps an advancement office make a strong connection with their constituents.

For many years, personalization only happened within the text. The “shells” of the layout design – usually anything static on the page with color – were printed on an offset press and the variable text was added with a black laser printer during a second run.  Variable text usually focused on names of constituents and mailing address, but could also include an ask ladder or the donor’s giving history within the letter.

The use of variable text was a very effective means of individualizing each letter, but could be limiting from a design and content perspective.

    • Layout could change for different segments, but separate shells would need to be offset printed for each. That meant determining the number of records for each segment and offset printing enough sheets for each segment.
    • Laser printing could only print one color… black. Any color text within the primary content has to be offset printed as part of the shell. Before laser print is added, much time is spent in quality control to ensure that the black printing was lined up correctly with the color text and graphics on the pre-printed shells. Letters would have to be checked for accuracy.
    • Despite best laid plans for a smooth run, we are working with machines and sometimes things break down. Oftentimes, extra shells are printed to account for potential issues during production and that cost is usually passed onto the customer. If something unforeseen occurs during production, it could require a rerun of both the offset print of the shell and the laser print for the variable text. This adds more time to the production process.

For advancement offices working to retain current donors and find new donors for their fundraising efforts, advances in digital inkjet print provide flexibility with print, tighter production windows and cost savings for the customer.


Flexibility with Print

With a digital inkjet press, shells are no longer needed.  Full color artwork and text can be printed in a single pass through the press.  Variable data isn’t limited to just text.

    • Variable images can be used within individual segments to highlight a specific student, faculty member, program or activity tied to a constituent record. That’s likely just a small part of the letter. Assuming your header has a graphic element, it could also be considered as a variable.
    • Layout design can change for each segment as well. If an image for one segment lays out better in a portrait style, whereas another looks better in landscape, you can alter your layout as needed to support your message.
    • Text can be used within the primary content using variable content, colors and sizes. Here’s an example of how a digital inkjet press benefits your design:
      • Imagine you are using individual scholarship funds for a four segment mailing. Each scholarship has a different name and a different length on the page. For example:
        • John Smith Memorial Scholarship
        • James Wilson Scholarship for Academic Excellence

All text before and after the scholarship is printed at one time and is adjusted on the page based on the length of the variable content.

    • What if you wanted to make these scholarship names get noticed by the reader? Perhaps changing the color of the text to fit the style of the letter would be effective. With a digital inkjet press, the variable text can be printed in color as part of the one-pass printing process.
    • If you really need that scholarship to stand out, you could increase the font size or simply bold the text. Either of those options would likely lengthen the space needed and would affect the rest of the content in that paragraph. The inkjet press would be able to adjust the static content on the page as the variable text around it changes.

(Note: Scholarships were used in the example above to describe how characters would affect your letter. Other possibilities include (but not limited to): college names within a university, chapter names within a Greek or fraternal society, or a development officers assigned to a donor.)

While these options are available, reviewing proofs of how it will look on a page is important. Depending on the amount of variable data used, your content may be lengthen to where your signature line is positioned awkwardly on the page. Being smart about how you use variable data is much better than using too much of it (quality over quantity).

Tighter Production Windows

When using, the traditional method of offset printing with black laser personalization there are a number of steps needed for both prep and set-up. Each of those steps take time to accomplish.

    • The data team reviews your data, identifies the segments and determines the counts for each one.
    • A proof of each shell is sent to you for approval before going to print.
    • The offset press will need to be set-up before each individual segment is run.
    • The data team reviews your list to ensure that each record has to correct segment assigned to it.
    • A second proof of the content inside the shell is sent to you for approval.
    • A laser printer will need to be set-up before the content of each individual segment is run.

That may not seem like a lot, but with multiple segments, the amount of set-up time can quickly add up.

With a 10,000 piece mailing utilizing four segments, running this piece through two separate print runs equals eight production set-ups for, in essence, 20,000 pieces.

As mentioned above, a digital inkjet printer provides the ability to print everything on the page in one pass. Think of it as “printing on-demand.” The production flow looks more like this:

    • The data team reviews your data, identifies the segments and that each record has the correct segment assigned to it.
    • A proof of each segment is sent to you for approval before going to print.
    • The press is set-up before the print run.

On a digital inkjet printer, a mail piece is run through one time. Segments can intermingle since the full artwork and content is printed directly to the page, making shells unnecessary. It is important to note that depending on the artwork on any supplemental materials (outer envelope, reply card, brochure), it may be necessary to separate the segments so that inserted materials match the primary letter.

All of this means that there is less time on the production floor and greater percentage of accuracy. As a result, the likelihood that your piece gets to your donor mailboxes by your targeted date increases exponentially.


Cost Savings for Customer

The current paper shortage in the industry has resulted in increasing cost of paper over the last year. This has many advancement offices reviewing their budgets to find ways to stretch every penny as far as they can. Knowing this, we make sure these cost savings are passed along to your office to increase your ROI and put the money raised from your donors back into your institution.

Digital inkjet presses can provide cost savings for some mailings.

    • Press set up costs are minimal.
    • Your entire print job may only have to run through the press one time meaning fewer set-up fees and less production hours.
    • Because there are no pre-printed shells, you only pay for what is printed. There are no extra shells printed in advance.

Because advancement offices run on tight budgets, you should be sure to talk with your direct mail vendor beforehand to determine your best options. This could mean obtaining and looking at samples from both a digital laser and digital inkjet presses to help you determine what would look best for your planned layout. Starting that dialogue early on can help prepare you for what to expect when it comes to the cost of your piece and the bottom line of your mailing budget.

Within the last year, JHL has installed two digital inkjet presses by Kyocera. These presses – referred to as “Kyos” in our office – enable us to continue to meet our customers growing need for greater flexibility in four-color variable data printing (both for text and images) and segmentation for personalized direct mail.

Please contact us to discuss your upcoming direct mail piece and best options for print and production.

Copyright by JHL Digital Direct. All rights reserved.

Copyright by JHL Digital Direct. All rights reserved.