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Data Merge in Adobe InDesign CS

Creating multiple-record layouts for catalogs and buyer's guides By Dave Nagel
If you're in magazine design, chances are you've had to lay out a buyer's guide, advertorial supplement  or some other sort of reference section that requires you to import data and place it in repeating fields. It's no fun doing this manually, but if you have the latest version of Adobe InDesign CS (with the PageMaker Plug-In Pack), automation is fairly simple, as long as you know how to set it up. Since there isn't really any documentation on the process, I thought I'd show you just that ... and also let you know about some of the limitations involved.

So we're going to take a look at how to place multiple records from a data source onto one or more pages. But I should note before we get started what some of the advantages and drawbacks are to using InDesign's built-in data merge functionality. On the plus side, it gives you access to paragraph styles and other formatting options that might not be available in a third-party application (such as Microsoft Word, where you'd perform the merge and then import it back into InDesign for final layout and formatting). It also gives you the ability to include images in the data merge, which is useful for company logos in an advertorial layout or product shots in a catalog. On the negative side, the data merge functionality isn't all that flexible in InDesign when you're placing multiple records on each page (as we're about to do), as opposed to single records spread out over multiple pages. The two main limitations are that any content you place on the page besides the variables must be on the master page (folio lines and other elements) and not on the document page; and that you can only use one master page per data merge, though you can certainly break things up into multiple merge projects fairly easily to get this functionality back.

That said, we'll get started with a typical--but hypothetical--buyer's guide supplement (End to End Service Providers) for a hypothetical magazine (Synergy & BS Quarterly). To create this guide, we'll need two elements: a data source containing all of the company names, addresses and the like; and one formatted text box with variables, which we'll create in InDesign.

The data source
When you're doing a data merge in InDesign CS, you must begin with a data source in a proper format. This can include a tab- or comma-delimited text file or a .csv file, which you would create by exporting from whatever database or spreadsheet program you use. For my example, I'll be using a tab-delimited text file. I don't want to get into this part too much, so I'll just give you a quick rundown of the process of creating one of these. If you have more questions about it, my contact info appears at the end of this article.

LIke a .csv file, a tab-delimited text file can be created from just about any database or spreadsheet program out there. You can also create these from scratch, as I did for this example. The file consists first of a row containing the names of all of the fields in your data source, and each of these is separated by a tab, followed by a return at the end of the row.

Following this, you'd insert row upon row of data, filling in all of the fields that correspond the the field names in the first row. Each field, once again, is separated by a tab, and each full entry is separated by a carriage return. Don't worry about lining things up; just make sure that each entry contains as many tabs as the first row, even if some fields are blank. The image below shows an example of this.

OK, so, assuming you have your data source prepared, you're ready to begin the data merge in InDesign.

Preparing the document
Now, if you have any experience with data merges in other programs, one thing about the process in InDesign will throw you off. Unlike in programs such as Word, where all of the entries flow together in a single text string, in InDesign, each entry is its own text box. So, to begin, you'll want to create a text box and include any elements that will go into the final layout, such as labels like "Phone," "Fax," etc. In my case, I want to have three blank lines at the beginning (to be filled in with company name and address), plus labels for Phone, Fax, URL and Email. I also want to add a little formatting to the text, including a rule beneath the final line.

When this is all set, you still need to set up your document. If your final document will consist of pages with differing layouts, you'll need to create a master page and perform a separate data merge for each one of them. My project will consist of two layouts, one an intro page with some text and a headline, and one with just the data. Since the process is the same no matter how you're setting up the document, I'll just show you the first page. Here I've placed my introductory text (along with the folio line) onto the master page and adjusted the margins on the document (Layout > Margins and Columns) so that they don't overlap with the master content.

In the end, the merged data will be distributed across the height and width of the margin areas, separated by an amount of space you specify later. For now, all you need is the one entry form, any master content you intend to include and margins that will prevent the merged data from overlapping with the master content.

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Related Keywords:adobe indesign, data merge, pagemaker edition, pagemaker plug-in pack


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