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Almost everyone has to format data that comes from a database or a spreadsheet sooner or later. Perhaps it's a company directory or a thousand different personalize labels. Now, when you have a bunch of data that you need to layout, the first thing you should think of is data merge. It's a whole database publishing feature hidden inside of InDesign. Here, let me show you. Go to Window menu, scroll down to Automation and choose Data Merge. Data Merge is not as powerful as some of the other third party database tools that are on the market. For example, I have gotten great results from a couple of plug-ins. One called InData from EM software and another one called DataLinker from Teacup Software. But while InData and DataLinker do far more than Data Merge, they also cost a lot more too.
If you can make your project work with Data Merge then obviously that's the thing to do. Now, in order for data merge to work you need two things. First, a file with all the raw and formatted data, usually a tab or comma-delimited file exported from a spreadsheet or a database. Second, you need an InDesign file that has a template that says, where the data should go and how to format it. I am going to switch to Excel to show you the data file we are working with. Here we have a relatively short one, but the important thing is here to first line must be the header row, you can't just start with Baking Chocolate here, you have to start with the name of this column: Item, price, Code and so on.
Our fourth column is called Picture, and you'll see that these are all the different names of files on disc. These are different Photoshop files that we have on hard drive. And notice that the header has an @ sign at the beginning. If you are going to be importing pictures into InDesign, the first line of that, the header of that column must begin with an @ sign. I don't know why they chose the @ sign, but that's what they did. If it's a picture it has to have an @ sign as the first character. That just tells InDesign, hey, everything in this column is pictures. Now, in this case my text file, this data file, is actually in the same folder as all of these images. If it wasn't the case, if your text file is at one place and your pictures are some place else, then you have to actually put in the whole path to each of these, the actual path on disc to each of these pictures. If you are doing that on Windows you need to use backslashes on the Mac, you need to use a colon between each of the directories. But in this case it's much easier because we have the text file in with all those pictures. You don't have to worry about file paths.
Now, that we have our data file setup here, let's switch back to InDesign and I will show you how to insert that into our template. We are going to be using the Data Merge panel and the Data Merge panel is so simple that it even just give you 1, 2, 3 description of how to use it right with in the panel. First, choose Select Data Source from the panel menu, well we can do that. Let's come up here and choose Select Data Source and we are going to choose the file that we are going to be importing, the Excel file that we have there. No, it's not an Excel file. I happen to be looking at in Excel, but it's a text or a comma-delimited file. This won't work if you have an actual like an XLS Excel file.
Now, I'll click Open and we'll see that all of those heads that's first line in an Excel file, all of those show up in the Data Merge panel. Those are the names of the fields that we are going to be placing into our InDesign document. How do we get them into our template? It's easy. I'll start with the picture. I'll click on the picture frame then I'll come over here and simply click on the Picture field. When I click on that you can see that word picture shows up here in angle brackets. That means I have tagged to this with that Picture field.
Now, let's add some text. I'll double- click inside this text frame down here, and I'll insert some of this data. Let's start with the Item name, so I'll just click on Item and you'll see that it insert it and I'll press Return which goes to the next paragraph and I'll put a Code in here, and then press Return and then do the price. As simple as that. Now, let's do a little bit of formatting in here. Fortunately I have paragraph style setup automatically in this template, so that it makes little bit easier. I'll choose the Item, paragraph and I'll apply the Item paragraph style, I'll do the same thing to Code and the same thing to price, and now it's looking a little bit better.
Now back in Excel, I noticed that the price didn't have any dollar signs in front of it, so I better type those myself this is the static text that I am putting inside the text frame and that will show up in all of the text frames. The price inside the angle brackets will actually change from one items to next, but that dollar sign will show up for all of them. I'll do the same thing before the Code. I'll do a number sign in front of a Code just to make it look more like a code. I think that we are done. We have a template setup here and we are ready to go. I'll close the Paragraph Styles panel and it would be really cool if we could preview what this is going to look like in the final merge document. In fact, we can do just that by turning on the Preview check box. Turn on Preview and we can see the images dropped into the graphic frame, the Item name shows up, the Code shows up, the price shows up. It looks great.
By the way, I just want to point out that I did not use the Introduction Date field from the data file. You don't have to use all the data that's in that in coming data file. I just didn't click on the Introduction Date, so that won't show up in my final file. All right, let's create our final merge document. We could go to the Data Merge panel menu and choose Create Merged Document, but I think it's faster just to click on this little Merged Document button here. That opens the Create Merged Document dialog box and this gives us all kinds of control about how our final document is going to get merged.
We can choose which records to import, I'll just go ahead and import all of them I suppose, but if you had maybe 10 ,000 records or something that you are bringing in, it might be a good idea to start with just a small number of records just to make sure it's all working fine. Also we can choose how many records we want per Document Page. Right now, it's set to Single Record and there is just eight records in this, which means that I am going to get eight pages in my final document. On each page I will get one Picture, one Item, one Code, one price and so on. What if I wanted to have a grid of objects? So this looks like I could probably get three across, maybe a couple down. What if I want to make a whole grid of items, can I do that? Sure, we'll just change this to Multiple Records.
Now, when you choose Multiple Records here, you can preview what it's going to look like by turning on the Preview Multiple Record Layout check box. Let's turn that on, move this out of a way a little bit and we can say, yup. Three across, two down. It's looking pretty good, but it's crammed together. These are too close together. I would like to give a little bit more space between each of the columns and rows here and you can do that in the Multiple Record Layout tab. But, before I do that let me just point out two more check boxes here, Generate Overset Text Reports. Yes, that's a good idea. That means if there is any text that ends up being overset let me know, give me an alert about that.
Second thing is Alert When Images Are Missing. So if it tried to import an image, but I couldn't find the image, do you want an alert? Yeah, obviously, probably I do. So go ahead and turn that on. On other hand if you are importing like 10,000 records and you might want to leave those turned off, because it will take a little bit longer. You might get annoyed with various alerts. Anyway, now let's move on to Multiple Record Layout. We can see, we can choose the margin space here, which is currently setup to the same margins as the document itself, but we could change that if we want to. We can also change the amount of Spacing between each of the items on the page.
In this case, let's increase this to maybe little bit more, have 1p6 and you can see -- great. Now it previews it, I get little more space there. I probably want a little bit more space between these rows too. Now it looks pretty good. You can also choose which ones do you want. You wanted to go Rows First, one row and a next row or do you want do Columns first. So it'll start at the top and then go to the bottom, top, bottom, top, bottom. So, you have a lot of control about how InDesign is going to import this data. Finally, we'll go to the Options tab and we can see here that this is going to let us choose how InDesign should fill those graphics frames. Right now, it's set to Fit Images Proportionally, which will scale them so that none of the image fits outside of the graphic frame. But in this case I am going to choose Fill Frames Proportionally and as we learned in the Essential Training title that will make the images as big as possible, even if it means some of they gets cropped out a little bit.
I am also going to center these images in the frame and notice that as I do this, it's updating in real time on the document page behind us again because Preview is turned on. I am going to link the images. That's a good idea. I don't want embed all of them. Now, Remove Blank Lines for Empty Fields is nice. If any of the data might be missing in the actual data file. For example, if this did not have an Item code, if the code was missing do you want it just to be a blank line there or you simply not want to have that line at all. So if it where missing and I turned that on, then it would actually just disappear. I mean it wouldn't give me a blank space there. So that's usually helpful as well.
The Page Limit per Document is also helpful. Again, if you are importing thousands of items in to InDesign, you may not want to have a single InDesign document that has 10,000 pages in it, or 2,000 pages in it or something. So you could limit it a small number of pages that can be very handy as well. All right, we are done setting up the Create Merged Document dialog box and now it's time to click OK and create the document itself. I'll click OK, it goes and it gives us a little alert saying don't worry there was no overset text that's all good, click OK, move the panel out of the way here. We can see that we have a brand new document that it's created here.
It has brought in all that data, one graphic at a time, all the Item names, Codes, prices and so on. Let's go look at page number 2 with our Shift+Page Down and we can see that's all the data. It ran out of data, so it's stopped creating frames for us on this page. Very handy. Couple more things about Data Merge I should point out. One is, if you are going to be exporting this file out as a PDF, you can save yourself the trouble of making the document and then exporting it, because Data Merge itself can export directed to PDF. For example, we'll go back to our original template here. I'll go to the Data Merge panel flyout menu and choose Export To PDF.
That is a new feature in InDesign CS4 and it just writes the whole data merge file directly to the PDF without going to the trouble of making the InDesign document, first. So that's helpful. The last thing you need to know is if you are going to create one of these multiple records per page documents, well this will only work if you have only one page in your document. If you start out with two pages or more in your document, it won't work. InDesign simply won't do a multiple records per page layout, if you have a document like that. That said, every time I use Data Merge I smile. It is just so amazing to see InDesign do all that work for me. You just go to love automation.
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