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Programming IT Technology

Large Scale, Professional, Mail Merge Apps? 17

xtermz asks: "I recently began working for a mid-large scale print house. We do everything from printing of sales fliers to invoices for some fortune 500 companies. For doing these invoices, we use something called JetLetter which is basically a mail merge program on crack. It lets your create a template, pull from a database and send a PCL stream to your desired printer type. The problem with this program is that it is designed only to pull from flat text files, or antiquated .dbf files. It can't support SQL Server, XML, or anything made after say...1992 (even though they have a 'JetLetter 2000' version, which is basically the same DOS based app with a 'Windows' interface). If you try doing a search for 'mail merge', your likely to get back a couple thousand hits for MS Word. Talking to my co-workers, JetLetter seems to be the only solution which suits our needs." Many people seem to think that to do "mail-merges" you need a word-processor. Not so. A mail-merge is simply applying a subset of data over a text template. Looking at the problem this way, can any of you offer suggestions to a solution that xtermz might be able to use to replace (or supplement) JetLetter?
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Large Scale, Professional, Mail Merge Apps?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Crystal Reports is a product of Seagate Software. It is a report generator that uses OBDC to connect to back end databases. I have seen it used with Access, Foxpro and M$ SQL
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Take a look at Lyris, it is designed for larger lists but it has excellent mail merge functionality.
  • Well put, so our question to the questioner is - since your current app works fine, why not put the effort into finding something that'll make the text files it needs from the data sources you are using.

    This gluing together of things is of course the unix way. In fact, what the poster above was joking about perl may turn out to be true; it is probably surprisingly simple to make a little perl script that takes the XML or connects to the SQL server, and turns it into the kind of text file your crack-addled mail merger wants.
  • How about writing a conversion utility that will convert from a SQL database or XML file and output a file that is readable by your software? It wouldn't require much programming at all to do this and it should meed your needs. Sure it isn't streamlined like it could be, but it is an option.
  • i simple perl/php script or c program should be able to do this really simply.. just a couple of reg_exp's to replace a few blocks and your done..
  • Sorry, that should have read "Xeikon" [xeikon.com], not Xitron.


  • I know Heidleburg is mostly known for their large offset presses, but they do have a digital press too... and it's quite good.

    I fugured, "Why confuse them with details here..." q:]


  • A friend works for a local printing company (the one that does Readers Digest), and I got the impression from him that they used mostly custom written software since off the self stuff didn't do things they needed, like sort the print order by street address so that packs of material could be bundled in such a way so that the mailman just strolls down the street taking the top catalog off the stack and always finding that it is the right one for the next house.
  • The subject basically says it all. Wouldn't you be able to do that with only those two technologies, and a format that can parse those?
  • You could try Star Office. You can set up fields in a StarWord document that get data from any of the databases that StarOffice support, since it supports ODBC that means any database that ODBC supports. Then a complete database-driven mail merge printout is only a couple of clicks away.

    And its free and cross-platform. And the US dept of defense like it.

  • A "digital" Heidleburg? My mind boggles, but that's cause the last time I was around a Heidleburg it was the size of a 58 Buick and had to be scrubbed down once a year (in the middle of summer of course) with Amaco "white" gasoline, and I was the low man on the totem pole who had to do it.
  • Of course at the time I was crawling through that particular press the latest thing in digital was an IBM 360 reading punch cards and Amaco "white" gas was about the only lead-free in exisitance. :-)
  • Next it need to be loaded into Postal sortation software on a PC so it is correctly sorted to comply with USPS rules and regulation to obtain the lowest postal rates and generate the mountain of paperwork the USPS requires.

    To anybody who is looking at doing this for the first time - check with the end person to see if they are trying to get bulk rates. You have to sort them and put them in specific crates in a particular order for bulk mail. The first time I did this, I wasn't told. So we had six low paid employees sorting a roomful of mailings for a week or two.

    And since then I've learned to lock myself in a meeting room with anybody who asks for anything that will take time or cost money and get the *FULL* specifications, through to the end, from their mouths, of what they want. Later, (when I had her), I'd grab our inbound tech person who had been a secretary to take notes... not because I'm bad at notes, but because then it was the two of us with dual notes against his or her word ("No, I told you this!", is the first comment everytime the spec changes post-delievery). Now I just insist on recording key conversations... including phone calls.


  • Wouldn't this be a one-line perl script?

    Wait a moment, dumb question. Everything is a one-line perl script.
  • Try a Google search for "Variable data printing software" instead... probably more accurately describes what you're trying to do.

    For your needs, Xerox is definately a leader... I'd talk to them about software, or possibly a digital printer company like Heidleburg, or Xitron.

    Or, hire me, and I'll write you a custom one through PostScript. q:]


  • As an employee of a top 100 commercial printer my job function is inline addressing and variable messaging on saddle stitching lines. My 2 cents on file formats:

    Text files and .dbf files are used because they are the lowest common denomninator that everybody can work with. With data and lists comming from many sources, and data prep done both inside the company and by outside vendors the reality is that every day we still recieve some files on 9 track tapes.

    A customers address file may pass through several programs on several different platforms before it is finally printed on the end product.

    For example a customers address/varible message file comes from a database on a main frame.

    Next it need to be loaded into Postal sortation software on a PC so it is correctly sorted to comply with USPS rules and regulation to obtain the lowest postal rates and generate the mountain of paperwork the USPS requires.

    Next that file comes to the printer where it needs to be converted to an format specific to the equipment that will do the imaging.

    The equipment specific file formats are still one of three types of text files that have added equipment control field(s):

    1. De-limited field text
    2. fixed field with text
    3. header/data pairs of text file of either of the above types

    You should be able to generate useable text files that contain what ever information you desire from any database app
  • Was my last employer and they can do some of this.

    BCC Software [bccsoftware.com] has Mail Manager 2010, a mail merge software. When I worked for them 6 years ago, they were probably the fastest mail merge software in existence. They work with flat databases, and can import many types of files. They print to many sorts of printers, and also print all the assorted USPS forms that you need. I think they would give you a demo.

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