Image Quality and Response Rates from Variable Data Printing

By | June 4, 2010

As I mentioned in the blog “Is Inkjet Killing Offset, DI Printing Killing Toner, or Offset Killing Toner,” it would be naïve not to acknowledge the momentum that inkjet presses are achieving. After years and years of false predictions of inkjet technology shifting from the transactional print space to the commercial and publishing spaces, it is actually starting to occur.

Now that IPEX is over I can discuss my experiences while visiting the HP Corvallis facility last June. The image quality I saw of the HP inkjet on specialty treated papers was impressive. Clearly some of the image quality improvements from inkjet are the result of a synergistic effect of inkjet technology and specialty treated papers. The increase in quality from the new generation inkjet presses has been also discussed in several recently published reports by David Spencer’s company Spencerlab.

I think it’s fair to say that just like in the toner-based printing world the image quality from different inkjet presses will be different and different across the different technologies. To be candid I have not seen all the devices or their print quality yet. I have seen the Oce, Riso and HP, but not the Kodak, Screen or Xerox devices. However, I think it’s fair to say that just as there are image quality differences across different toner-based devices there are also going to be image quality differences across different inkjet devices.

But regardless of the manufacturer or printing technology, a more important question is how does image quality affect response rates. In other words, if we did a side by side comparison of the same exact piece printed using variable data, would different image qualities result in higher or lower response rates. One of the comments that has always stuck with me was when someone said in a presentation that promotional pieces with the most impressive design or done with the most elaborate printing were held and admired and never motivated a response. But that’s another story.

Changes in response rate based on image quality and / or printing technologies is uncharted territory. There is very little research on the effectiveness of different image qualities. The only study I know of is the study by the market research firm INTERQUEST. They compared the response rates of inkjet and toner-based on a 10K postcard mailing that invited recipients to take a survey for a $20.00 Amazon gift certificate. In this study, they reported that the response rate was similar or about 75% for both. They also reported that the cost per piece and cost per response were about 2.6 times higher for the toner-based pieces.

But this is just one study. What do you think? Will image quality affect response rates? For companies switching from one technology to another should they do side by side testing? Could the quality demands of the piece play a role (i.e. text and line work vs. halftone pictures)?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

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2 thoughts on “Image Quality and Response Rates from Variable Data Printing

  1. Sarah

    I believe that image quality does affect response rates, especially if pieces are sent out at random to potential leads. It’s definitely easier to trash a piece that is obviously poorly constructed and of poor quality, but eye-catching printing, as you noted, does get noticed. If the message is the same on both pieces, I am certainly more likely to respond to the piece that is better designed and printed. However, the quality of the message is typically the kicker, and every promotional piece should have a clever, thought-provoking message to avoid the fate of the dumpster. You can print the most beautiful design in the world in better than photographic quality, but if the call to action is poorly constructed, you’re not going to generate a response. The beauty of digital printing, in terms of marketing collateral, is that users have the power to print in eye-catching color, with personalized messages for ultimate impact. Companies should certainly do side by side testing if they plan on switching technologies, especially if their switch is aimed at generating better image quality. If quality is similar, cost may very well be the deciding factor.

  2. Volker

    Sure, a major quality difference of the same printed piece would definitely affect response rates. However, especially at IPEX one could see that the different comparable digital presses are delivering similar quality. If you look at the differences there, it is unlikely that there will be an effect on response rates. I’m sure that there are other much more important influences, like the quality of the content, the degree in which the content matches the reader’s opinion or finishing features.

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