Working Smarter

I’m a busy person and nothing upsets me more than wasted time. So, when I was asked to use InDesign to typeset several hundred names onto a template of a certificate, you better bet I was scouring the Internet for any solution to keep me from manually cutting and pasting each name one at a time from Excel.

Originally, I set up a simple mail merge in Word by inserting my certificate design into the header as a full-page graphic. However, when I sent this to my in-house digital printer, it overwhelmed the machine and kicked the file out of the RIP. I thought surely, if Word is capable of automating something like this, InDesign must also have something similar. Enter the ‘data merge’ function.

If you work in an environment where you design catalogues or strictly templated print layouts, you may be familiar with this function. If you work in this type of environment and have not come across this function, read on and rejoice. Data merge is truly a time-saver.

I discovered InDesign’s ‘data merge’ function almost a year ago and have used it on several occasions to create certificates and personalized flyers (think variable-data, but small scale). Using InDesign, I design my layout on a master page to keep file size down, my machine from slowing to a snail’s pace and to allow for flexibility in updating the data source in the future. (The red circles on the graphics below indicate areas where information has been, or will be, pulled from an existing data source file).

Data Merge Graphic 1

You can also set up a data merge to create multiple records of a design. An example of this would be mailing labels. I used the multiple records feature to set a half-page flyer, 2-up on an 8.5in. x 11in. page. The downside, you cannot merge multiple records if the data fields appear on a document page in a document with multiple pages, or if data fields appear on multiple master pages. So, if you are planning on using the data merge feature for a large publication, it will require some planning upfront. The upside, since the release of CS3, you can place native InDesign files into an existing InDesign document. This allows you to easily piece together multiple InDesign documents and still maintain the ability to update each document individually; no more exporting and importing PDF files.

Data Merge Graphic2

I’ve only touched on the capabilities of InDesign’s ‘data merge’ function. Although I’ve only used this feature to import data fields, you can also use it to import images (if you design catalogues or coupon books, I’m guessing you’re shouting for joy).

I don’t admit to being an expert, but I do know a good thing when I see it. This is a feature worth sharing. Feel free to read through this online Adobe reference to learn more about InDesign’s ‘data merge.’