Variable Data in InDesign CS4 – mass mail or anything!
Purpose and Usage
What is variable data? Have you ever had a client ask you to create name tags with job titles underneath each name? Or how about taking an excel spreadsheet with names and addresses and put them onto a postcard you just designed? This would be a major pain, but not any more. What you will learn from this short tutorial will save you DAYS of tedious work.
Step 1: Content creation
You’ll need to start with an excel spreadsheet that contains all of the data you want to “place” into your project. Make sure each record is on a different line, and records with multiple data are on the same row.
For my example I will be using dates formatted in full text and the corresponding value is the day of the week. What I want to accomplish is to have all of the records be dropped into specific, formatted text boxes in InDesign and exported to a multiple page PDF to send off to the printer.
Once you are certain that you have all of the correct information in your table, export it as a CSV (Comma separated file) or as a .txt tab deliminated file. You can find these by doing “Save as…” and then in the file type dropdown box, choose one of the two. You cannot have multiple “sheets”, so be sure to delete them or move them to a new excel file and re-export them.
Step 2: Project Creation
Create a new document in InDesign (or download the sample file below). Do whatever formatting for the postcard or flyer or whatever. Be sure to use character styles for easy editing later.
I made simple document to be used as blank daily logs. I want to take all of the dates from the excel spreadsheet and have indesign make more pages using the data. But adding all those pages would make my document unnecessarily large. So instead, I will tell it to recognize that there are multiple data records and export individual pages to PDF instead.
Next, import the data into your InDesign document:
If your “Data Merge” window is not open, go to “window > automation > data merge” to open it
Next, we need to link to the .csv or .txt file we created in the first step
It will automatically detect the columns and data, and display the first records. In my example it shows the first day of the year. The next step is to replace the content in our file with the “record” data. The easiest way to do this is to delete the data from the text field, and then click and drag the record into the box. It will be formatted with the character or paragraph style and have “<<” around it “>>”. This means that value is linked to that record. Sweet.
You’ll now notice that the “Preview” button is selectable. Click it and then click the next button to view the next record. From the panel menu (underneath the close “x”) you can export to PDF or have it create a new document with as many pages as needed to display all the dates. There are many more customizable options using Data Merge, but they are not in the scope of this short tutorial. This is just to get your feet wet!
As always, please feel free to leave a comment if you found this useful or have any questions.