Your definition of “document composition” will largely depend on your perspective.

A graphic designer might immediately think of Quark Express or Adobe InDesign. A desktop publisher could probably name various plug-ins to those environments or perhaps list database-publishing tools like Corel Ventura or Adobe PageMaker. If you are approaching this question from an operations, IT or print production perspective you have a much longer and more granular continuum of needs which can only be met with high volume composition software. In my work, I deal with both ends of the continuum from the graphic designer to the high-volume output specialist (see

Composition products range in their ability to design documents from static to dynamic, and it can be generally stated that the more dynamic the document, the less fine control you have of layout, layering and color management. Beyond static page layout and database publishing tools are two categories of composition solution that begin to bring marketing, operations and IT needs together.

  • Variable Data Print (VDP): tools geared to one-to-one print marketing primarily targeted at print shops with digital presses

High Volume or Transactional Composition: the “big rigs.” These are the tools that use business rules to transform data into dynamic documents for a variety of print and electronic media.
The high-volume composition products did not start off with even a tip of the hat to marketing. The long-time leaders evolved from one of four major categories:

  • Report Writers – high volume sys out and other reports of which statements & transaction confirmations were once considered a part. Example Metavante CSF circa 1990
  • Typesetters or Page Layout – These products were focused on batch creation of forms documents that needed fine typographic control along with merged text. Example: Document Sciences Compuset (ne XICS) circa 1990
  • Assembly Tools – these tools were typically used in concert with page layout tools and provided the rules-based merge engine to bring together various forms and other resource to create policies, contracts and the like. Example: DocuCorp DocuMerge cira 1985
  • Correspondence – rule based correspondence generation often linked by a user interface to call-center or sales personnel. Example: Napersoft circa 1989. Major players who have been producing composition software since the early 1990’s or before include:

These days, many of the leaders are sunsetting their traditional products and launching new products that attempt to serve all four categories and drive output to both print and online channels. More and more, the desire to reach marketing users (and their budgets) is driving their product requirements.

Some of the key developments in the evolution of these products since the early 1990’s include the introduction of proportional fonts, data-driven graphics, graphical user interfaces (most of these tools did not have UI’s when first introduced), marketing campaign and message tools, post-processing tools for intelligent sorting and postal management. Some of the many tools that have established themselves in the market since the late 90’s include:

While these products are trying to serve broader audiences and layer more and more into their solutions, new players are emerging that go back to the approach of trying to do one thing well. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not clear what that one thing is. With no slight to their products intended, I find it challenging to place tools like XMPie and PageFlex into the continuum above. There are many other products that are not listed here that are targeted to very specific document types or vertical industries. I will drill down on some of those in future entries.

Meanwhile, I would be interested in feedback on the products that you are most familiar with and how you categorize them.