Effects plus live type equals effective VDP

Variable Data Printing (VDP) campaigns can be a great way of not only targeting a particular audience, but also getting their undivided attention. Sadly, much of the marketing utilising the latest and greatest VDP technology to target their audience are still relying on the old-fashioned greeting “Dear your name”.

While this blog isn’t a guide to marketing and nor does it profess to be, I just think that with the technology available in Adobe InDesign’s Data Merge, do VDP campaigns have to be stuck in the 50s style “Mad Men” campaigns?

In the past, the blog has demonstrated how to make contemporary campaigns with salutations displayed as:

  • Pencil-case letters
  • Scrabble letters
  • As part of a cartoon
  • Name badges
  • Street signs

Some of the samples use complex Excel files to break up names into individual letters to create the merge, but others use nothing more than live type to spice up the delivery of the reader’s name. On that note, if type can have an effect applied to it, then any VDP campaign can be taken to the next level.

For this post, I’ve just created a simple example using two live effects: One to look like writing in beach sand, and the other to look like clouds.


Admittedly applying both techniques to one campaign is overkill but the point is to illustrate that so long as effects can be applied to the live type, then creative effects like these can present the reader’s name in a more attention-grabbing fashion. The PDF (that contains all assets that made the PDF) can be downloaded here.

Effects that can be applied to live type are limited in InDesign. Effects such as distortions are limited to type on paths, the gravity effect (as applied on the sample) and the “square peg round hole” trick that can be found elsewhere on this blog. Other effects such as bevel/emboss, outer glows, drop shadows, feathers and satins are still available, as well as how they are applied to the layout such as the multiply effect, screen etc.

One individual who seems to make all text come to life is Mike Rankin who has a regular blog on Lynda.com known as InDesign FX and has other material on the indesignsecrets.com website. Also bringing these campaigns to life is the use of fonts that suit the effect being applied… that is for the beach sand example I decided to use a font that would look like a child’s handwriting as opposed to a serif or sans-serif font that is more appropriate for a letter or book.

I have recently found inspiration from the youtube channel Vsauce that has a regular episode titled DONG: an acronym for Do Online Now Guys. In a recent DONG, host Michael Stevens recommended the site says-it.com, a site for creating one-to-one web to jpg pictures. The site provides ideas – not always original – for VDP campaigns… but sometimes inspiration comes from the strangest places.

The bottom line: targeting a market is one thing, getting their attention is another. InDesign’s Data Merge can be a powerful tool for VDP campaigns, don’t limit communicating with clients with the old and tired “Dear your name” greeting.


  1. Our main challenge, moving into the variable data market, was what to charge for this new service. Realizing that we needed to analyze the market to understand its potential, we asked the questions, “How would our investment in the variable data market grow and expand our business?” “Would we see a profit while offering competitive prices for our client’s ability to personalize their direct mail campaigns and newsletters?” Well, we’ve answered these questions and have installed new equipment to better serve our customers with a HP Indigo 550 6-Color Press and DesignMerge variable data software. Now we can dazzle our customers with personalized print on everything from books to mailers and anything in between!

    • There are plenty of third party plug-ins to expand the VDP capabilities of InDesign, as well as standalone software. XMPie and Print Shop Mail are two others, and a quick Google search for the words “Variable Data Software” will no doubt yield many others.

      The main focus of VDP on this blog is to use the features available to InDesign with lateral thinking to create campaigns that are comparable to those that can be produced by third party plug-ins or standalone software. In the last five years there have been few campaigns that I could not produce using InDesign, Excel and the common Digital RIP software Command Workstation.

      Some dedicated VDP solutions not only provide a print avenue, but also provide a complete marketing solution that is able to follow up a print campaign with personalised text messages, social media feedback, emails and personalised URLs – things that DesignMerge cannot do. However the price for such solutions are out of reach of most businesses, and the time taken to achieve a return on investment – especially for businesses who are not solely focused in print and marketing – are not worth the purchase.

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