Variable Data Printing - What, How, Why

by Maverick Label | June 15, 2020

What Is Variable Data Printing?

variable data merge file
A variable data merge tells us what text you want and number of labels with that text.

Using variable data printing, we can change text elements of your labels on the press during the printing process. It's an option available to you because of digital printing. It allows for flexibility in your label design and text.

We use this technique to change text, serial numbering, or barcode elements. If you’re familiar with Word, it's similar to Mail Merge, a method of integrating data from a spreadsheet into a text document. 

How It Works

Just as with the Mail Merge process, in variable data printing, you decide where the variable data will go on your label. We then set our printers up to vary the data based on the spreadsheet you give us. The location of the variable data is in one place on the label, called the variable field. All the data inserted into this field will use the same font, color, and size (but that can be different from other fonts and colors on the rest of the label).

With variable data, you can personalize your labels - think of the Coca-Cola Share a Coke campaign, with individual's names on each label. The rest of the label was as usual, with the variable name data in one location on the label. That field used a spreadsheet or database of all the selected names, including the number of labels that should contain that name. This ability to personalize is a key advantage of variable data.

How You Can Use It

The most common use of variable data is with our asset tags, where you can change serial numbering or barcoding. Most customers just want sequential serial numbers or barcodes, where a data merge isn't required. But if you want different prefixes, suffixes, or numbering schemes, you can provide an Excel or text document with that information. We'll merge that info with the labels as they are printing.

Other options for variable printing include:

  • Labels that include information on country of origin, expiration/use by dates, part numbers.
  • Data for different batches or lab results (particularly for cannabis, with stringent government regulations and small batches).
  • Different languages (same label, but in German, Arabic, and English, for example).
  • Direct marketing or social media campaigns:
    • Story-telling; put parts of the story on different labels so your customers can find and piece together the whole.
    • Quotes, song lyrics, seasonal messages.

Our Variable Data Labels

Our variable data products allow for changes to text, numbering, or barcodes/QR codes. You can ask for variable data on our asset tags, industrial equipment labels, and some specialty products like UL labels, warning labels, and graphic overlays or control panels.

Generally speaking, you can set up simple variable data labels, with only one or two variable fields (serial number and model number, for instance) using our online quoters. For more variables than that, you'll want to talk to Customer Care to make sure everything is set up correctly and we understand exactly what you want.

In addition, if you want different artwork in a run of labels, we have label lines that allow for multiple versions of the same label, with different graphics and text. Each version must be the same size and use the same set of options (material, laminate, etc.) Placing one order with multiple versions, or "lots", will save costs over placing a separate order for each version. That's something else you should talk to one of our Customer Care reps about. You can reach them via phone, email, or chat from any of the pages at