Home Baked Variable Data Labels with QuarkXPress 7

My client, Joanna’s Delectables, bakes delectable gourmet cookies, which the company sells online and ships throughout North America. Packaged in custom-printed mylar bags of various sizes, Joanna’s Delectables come in 6-, 12-, and 24-count packages. Although the client does accept single bag orders, most of its business is corporate gift bulk orders of 10-50 bags. Joanna of Joanna’s Delectables asked me to find a way to allow gift orders to be personalized per recipient. For example, if a company ordered fifty dozen-count cookie bags for its sales department, Joanna would like to include the extra personal touch of putting each employee’s name on his bag of cookies.Rather than staples or self-sealing bags, Joanna closes each bag of cookies with stock gold foil embossed “Thank You!” seals she buys by the sheet. We’ve all seen those “Thank You!” seals; they’re well done and classy, which is why they’ve been used so often that they’ve become cliché. Replacing them with personalized bag seals was a no-brainer.

My first thought for creating the seals was variable data printing (VDP) through a print shop local to Joanna’s Delectables. VDP is a digital printing process that takes imagery directly from the computer to press. Film and plates aren’t used, which enables each print to be different–personalized–while maintaining high quality and an affordable rate only slightly higher than typical, non-variable offset printing. Using a template I would design, Joanna could provide a list of names, and the print shop’s VDP system could automatically insert the names into the template and print the seals.

Unfortunately, that solution wasn’t going to work–at least not all of it.

Upon calling around to print shops in the vicinity of Joanna’s Delectables’ rural home-based office I found that there wasn’t one that had the equipment to do same day variable data printing. The closest VDP-capable shop was a five-hour roundtrip drive from Joanna. Joanna’s Delectables is a one-woman business that operates almost entirely on rush orders. Orders come in only a day or two before they must be shipped, and cookies are guaranteed to ship the same day they’re baked. Baking and packaging 10-50 dozen cookies on that tight a timetable, Joanna simply can’t devote five hours to picking up the labels.

The solution was, of course, for Joanna to print her own bag seals.

She already had a good quality color laser printer, and she was computer savvy. All that needed to be done was to design a template and teach Joanna to customize it. Although both Adobe InDesign and Adobe Illustrator can import Word and TXT file lists of names and flow them through linked text frames, and either could have made the customized seals, I chose QuarkXPress for the job because it offered the same import and flow ability plus a shared content (formerly synchronized text) feature that offered the possibility of even greater personalization.

Cookie Cutting
Because Joanna would print the seals herself on a laser printer, I needed to build the QuarkXPress template to fit standard, easily obtainable, and pre-cut label sheets. I chose WorldLabel.com’s WL-OL325 circular labels, which come 24 to a sheet. The 1.625-inch diameter circles fit well with the cookie bags and offered a generous amount of space. After downloading a PDF diagram of the label sheet, I set about designing the QuarkXPress template.

Step 1: Create the Basic Layout

  1. According to WorldLabel.com’s specs, the label sheet was 8.5×11-inch with 0.549-inch top and bottom margins and 0.4157-inch left and right margins (QuarkXPress rounded the side margins to 0.416-inches). Therefore the first step was to create a new print layout to specs in QuarkXPress 7 (see Figure 1).Figure 1

    The New Layout dialog with the specs needed for the circular labels template.

  2. The labels sheets Joanna will print onto are pre-cut, so the design must match exactly. To make sure everything lines up, I needed to design directly on top of the precisely measured and laid out PDF label template. I began by creating a picture box the full width and height of the page–8.5×11-inches–and then importing the OL325.PDF label sheet template into the box. Because the PDF template already has the page margins built in, I needed to fit it to the entire 8.5×11 page surface rather than inside the margins.
  3. The label sheet template outlined the circular labels. Those outlines are guides for designing; they shouldn’t be printed. There are a couple of ways of preventing objects from printing, but in this case, I prevented the entire layer from printing.
    Double-clicking the Default layer on the Layers palette opened the Layer Attributes dialog (see Figure 2). Checking Suppress Output prevents the layers contents–in this case, just the picture box and its picture–from printing. The template will still be visible on screen; it just won’t print. That’s exactly what I needed.While I was at it, I also checked the Locked option to prevent accidental repositioning of the label sheet template as I worked above it.
    Figure 2

    The Layer Attributes dialog.

  4. Finally, I created a new layer with the New Layer button at the top of the Layers palette; this new layer is the one on which I will do all my real work.

With the basic template set and ready to go, I saved the project and prepared to actually begin designing the new cookie bag seal.

Step 2: Design One Label
When designing any layout wherein one design will be printed multiple times on the same page (called “ganging”) it’s critical to work only on a single instance until the design is perfect. Otherwise you’ll be costing yourself time and frustration needlessly. Design a single label, proof your client with it, make any requisite changes, and proof again. When you and the client are completely satisfied with the one label, business card, or tag instance, only then should you worry about replicating it to fill up the sheet. Figure 3 shows my finished bag seal. Because each label will be different, I used FPO, or dummy, text just as a visual aid; it will be replaced later.
Figure 3

The final design of the bag seal with FPO text in place of a customer name and actual message.

Step 3: Prepare for Duplication
QuarkXPress can copy the one design semi-automatically across and down the page. Before that, however, we have to think ahead and prepare.

The text box containing the cookie recipient’s name must be blanked. After duplicating the seal, I’ll need to link all the instances of the recipient name text box, and text boxes can only be linked if they’re empty. Technically, the first doesn’t need to be empty in order to link it to other boxes, but since I’ll be duplicating this first instance, it’s better to go ahead and empty it. I’ll save myself a little time by grabbing the Content tool, selecting the FPO text “Jane Doe,” and deleting it. The formatting will be retained by the text box, so anything I type or flow into the box will match the look of the former FPO contents.

In this design, the recipient name text box will hold only a single line of text, so it must be only as deep, or tall, as a single line of text. If I were working on a different labeling project–for instance creating four-five-line address labels–I’d make the text box deep enough to accommodate that text.

Below the recipient name is another text box for a customizable message. In addition to personalizing the seal with each recipient’s name, Joanna can now also allow the purchaser to include a unique message. The message offers another level of personalization and will be the same on each seal. This is the reason QuarkXPress is uniquely suited for this project.

There are 24 seals to a sheet, which means a large order of 50 bags of cookies would require more than two label sheets. If Joanna had to copy and paste the customer’s message into all those seals, well… Doing so would be tedious and could result in errors. By taking advantage of QuarkXPress’s shared content (formerly synchronized text) feature, however, changing the message across all seals in an order becomes a snap.

  1. With the Item tool, select the message text box.
  2. Open the Shared Content palette from the Window menu and click the New button at the top of the palette (see Figure 4).
    Figure 4

    The Shared Content palette after adding a shared content item.

  3. When the Shared Item Properties dialog appears, give the shared content item a logical name–in this case, I’ll name it “message”–and check the options to Synchronize Box Attributes (include text formatting), Synchronize Content (so that changes to one instance automatically apply to all instances), and Content and Attributes beneath that. Click OK, and the look of the text box on the page will change (see Figure 5). The lightning bolts indicate shared content. The value of doing this will become apparent in a few minutes.
    Figure 5

A normal text box (left) and a shared content text box (right).

Step 3: Completing the Template
The precut label sheets include 24 1.625-inch diameter seals arrayed in four columns of six rows. Therefore, I need to get my one design duplicated 23 times. Enter Step and Repeat.

  1. With the Item tool, select all the components of the first label, and then choose Item > Step and Repeat.
  2. Step and Repeat makes duplicates of selected objects at a uniform distance from one another. It can duplicate objects horizontally, vertically, or both simultaneously–the last results in duplicates angling away from one another, not copies out to the side and down. I’ll begin horizontally. In the Step and Repeat dialog box I’ll enter 3 as my Repeat Count (four columns minus the original in column one) and then the horizontal offset value I computed from the width of the selected objects plus the width of the negative space between circles (2-inches in this case). Vertical Offset I’ll leave at 0” (see Figure 6). When I click OK, QuarkXPress will create three duplicates to the right of the first, and they’ll hopefully all be correctly spaced. If not, I’ll figure up my measurements again, press CMD+Z/CTRL+Z to undo the Step and Repeat, and then do it again.
    Figure 6

    The Step and Repeat dialog box.

  3. Once all four copies are in place across the page, it’s time to step and repeat down the page. The process is the same: Begin by selecting all instances across the page, and then use Step and Repeat to duplicate the one row of objects to fill up the empty rows on the page. Of course, this time, set the Horizontal Offset field to 0” and use the measurement of object height plus space between circles as the Vertical Offset value.
  4. With all the copies in place, it’s time to link the recipient name text boxes. Select the chain-link-icon Linking tool, and click on the recipient name text box in the first, top-left corner, label. The box will change from a solid outline to a dashed outline to indicate that it’s selected and ready to be linked to the next box. Click on the recipient name box in the second label, to the right of the first, linking the two together. (Tip: If you hold down the Option/Alt key when clicking on the Linking tool, the Linking tool stays activated and you can simply click on each subsequent box to link it to the preceding one.)
  5. Repeat the linking process through all subsequent instances of the label–begin with the last box linked, and link that to the next one.With the Linking tool active and one of the boxes selected, arrows appear between linked boxes to reveal the flow of text. When all boxes are linked in the proper order, you should see arrows moving left to right, top to bottom, between all instances of the recipient name boxes (see Figure 7).Figure 7

After Step and Repeat and linking all the text boxes, the labels are ready to be used.

Step 4: Use It
The template is finished and ready for use. How? Simple: Each recipient name text box holds one line of text, so Joanna can import a Word or TXT document list of return-separated names into the first box. Each return jumps to the next box, leaving one name before moving on to the next box. She can also just type in a name, hit return to move to the next seal, and type another name.

Changing the customized message at the bottom of the label is even easier. Shared content is like two facing mirrors; it’s an infinite reflection. Change the text or formatting in any one, and they will all instantly synchronize to match.

Before delivering this solution to Joanna I cleaned it up a bit. First, I moved all the objects to a master page to make it easier for my client to insert additional, ready to use template pages. Of course, because QuarkXPress doesn’t allow layers on master pages, I had to remove the PDF template picture box. Although I could have made the picture box non-printing via the Modify dialog’s box-level Suppress Output option, I couldn’t protect it from accident alteration. Removing it entirely was preferable.

Finally, I saved the document as a QuarkXPress 7 QXT template rather than a QXP project. The difference is, when you ask XPress to open a template file, it doesn’t–it opens a clean, new project based on the template. No matter what you do to that project, the original template remains intact and unaltered unless and until you deliberately choose to replace the QXT, which is a big safety feature.

After a half-day, one-on-one training class, Joanna was confidently using her new bag seal template in XPress. Thanks to the features of QuarkXPress 7 and WorldLabel.com’s easy to use PDF templates and pre-cut label sheets, Joanna got all the benefits of variable data printing without incurring the delays and costs of vending it out. Bag seals can be created and printed from Joanna’s computer on demand–even while the cookies bake.

Pariah S. Burke is a design and publishing workflow expert bringing creative efficiency into studios, agencies, and publications around the world as principal of Workflow:Creative (www.WorkflowCreative.com). He is the author of Mastering InDesign CS3 for Print Design and Production (Sybex, 2007) and Illustrator CS2 @Work (Sams, 2005); the former trainer and technical lead for InDesign, InCopy, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat to Adobe’s own technical support team; a freelance graphic designer with 20 years experience; and the publisher of the Web sites Quark VS InDesign.com (www.QuarkVSInDesign.com) and Designorati (www.Designorati.com). When not traveling, Pariah lives in Portland, Oregon where he writes (a lot) and creates (many) projects and publications that empower creative professionals.