How can InDesign data merge multiple data sets?

Data merging with Adobe InDesign

The merging of data in InDesign is often done with the function Serial letter compared from Microsoft Word. However, it also offers a lot more functions. Basically, the data merge helps you with data from sources (usually .csv or .txt) to be transferred to the layout in InDesign. As standard, Excel is used for the preparation. For these instructions (tutorial) you can use the three files listed below as templates:

  1. InDesign file
  2. Excel file
  3. Tab-delimited text file

What is a form letter?

The term serial letter is understood to mean the personalized creations of letters, envelopes, labels or even business cards as in our example. Placeholders in a document are replaced by data from an external source.

What is data merging in InDesign?

In InDesign fields are marked with variables or placeholders, which are subsequently replaced by a automated function be filled. After all, nobody wants to fill out hundreds of business cards by hand. Microsoft Excel or a comparable program such as Open Office or Google Sheets serves as the basis for the data.

What do I need to merge data in InDesign?

Only one Data Source and one already created layout needed. InDesign can even use image links for complex documents such as catalogs or price lists. In our example, however, we limit ourselves to creating business cards.

Create a layout for a business card in InDesign

First of all, we need the data merging panel, which you can access via windowUtilities can add. The design for your business cards or the personalized letter should already be fixed, because subsequent changes are always more time-consuming.

Create and prepare data source

In our example, the data source (Excel file) consists of a total of six columns that are filled with the necessary information.

Expert tip: So that there are no problems with the phone number afterwards, you should make sure that the + Sign not with one symbol starts. Because InDesign would adopt this symbol, so you have to manually remove it in InDesign afterwards. As with a house of cards, the basis should always be structured and stable.

Export data source correctly

In order to be able to feed the data into InDesign, it is important that the data is correctly exported from Excel. Under fileSave as you can now select the file format. InDesign understands two formats:

  • Tab Delimited Text (.txt)
  • Comma separated values ​​(.csv)

Merge data in InDesign

Now switch back to InDesign and open the control panel Data merging. You can use the burger menu in the top right corner (also called the control panel menu) to select the data source you want. InDesign automatically recognizes which data is created as a placeholder based on the header. In the next step you mark the area to be replaced in your layout. This is how the first name becomes the field <<Vorname>> and from surname <<Nachname>>. The brackets indicate that it is a data record.

Expert tip: Since the << >> brackets take up a lot of space, it can happen that your layout decomposes a bit. So always plan enough space and simulate the worst case in length during the design. That's the name Apu Nahasapeemapetilon longer than, of course Bart Simpsons.

Create a merged document

In the last step we create the final document. To do this, select the Burger menuCreate a merged document out. Alternatively, you can click on the small icon below the control panel menu. InDesign creates a new document for you in which all data sources are inserted.

Expert tip: The template file (in our example business card_ESY_Vorlage.indd) should always be the basis and should not be changed. Save the new document created by InDesign with the data already used under a different name. Make sure that this name is very indicative. With us we usually attach the purpose or the date to the end.

Change or update data sources afterwards

If more employees join or leave the company, the Excel file must of course be adapted and the source linked in InDesign. To do this, first update your Excel file and output the .txt or .csv format for InDesign again. Back in InDesign you can go to Data mergingControl panel menuUpdate data source always keep them up-to-date.

About the author

Fabian is the founder and lecturer of the creative training. As a communication designer, I have been dealing with topics such as branding, marketing, design and workshops since 2009.

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