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Automate a Large Project with InDesign and Data Merge

by | Jul 10, 2010 | Indesign, Tutorials | 16 comments

This tutorial will definitely come in handy for someone that has to create dozens, hundreds, or more of names badges, ID cards, business cards, or anything else that would have the same graphics, but different information on each one. I had a project where a company had a huge trade show, and I had to make around 2500 full color name badges for them. Instead of spending weeks on this, I was able to complete it in an hour and print it within a day.

First, you will need to gather your project pieces. You will need to create your background graphics, logo, and anything else that will be repeated on each name badge. Open a new InDesign document and place the graphics how you would like them, and to the specific size that you need. Create these graphics in the top left of the document. You will only need to create these one time.

Now comes the important part. I had the company send me the list of the attendees in an Excel spreadsheet. One column will have the names of the attendees, and each additional column would have any additional information separated into individual columns. For example, this company had customer numbers, the company name, and the city and state as the additional information. So you would have a column for their name, a column for their customer number, a column for their n name, a column for their city, and a column for their state. Next, if they have not named the columns, you will need to create a header at the top of each column, called it something. This is vital, but will not be displayed in the printed document. Once this is done, it is time to save the document. This is very important- you need to save it as a tab delimited file. This is so that InDesign can pick this up and properly distribute the information. With this done, it is time to go back to InDesign.

Grab the text tool and create text boxes where you want each bit of information to be on every name badge. Here, you can format each text box to specify the look that you want. It is important to do this now, before we create the badges, otherwise you will have to format each individual badge, which is what we are trying to get out of doing. You can make the name larger and bold, the city and state italicized, etc. Simply put, make the text look how you want the final piece to look.

Go to your window menu at the top and choose Automation> Data Merge. This will open the Data Merge panel. Click the flyout menu on the right-hand side and choose select data source, and select the tab delimited text file you made earlier. This is where the magic happens. In the Data Merge panel, you will now see fields that are the names that you gave the columns earlier. You will use these to link your text boxes to the data in the spread sheet. Click the text box that you want for the name, and then click the name field in the Data Merge panel. Then repeat this for each additional text field. You will see << and >> before and after the column name in the text field if you did it correctly.

Then, choose Create Merged Document in the Data Merge panel. You will want to select multiple records per page from the drop down menu. You will want to create a multiple record layout, and here you can select your margins, and if you check preview multiple record layout, then it will preview your selection in real time, so that you can lay this out exactly how you want to. You can also determine the space between each record, between the columns and the rows. When you are done, hit ok and it will merge every single bit of data for you, creating hundreds or even thousands of badges in minutes.

The best part about this is that when creating thousands of badges, business cards,  etc., is that InDesign will generate an overset text report telling you exactly where text has run off, what page, and the words that are overrun. This is so handy, because it is an extra insurance policy that you won’t have any mistakes on your badges, or have any text cut off. If you happen to forget or get side tracked, if you try to print, InDesign will notify you that there is overrun text before you can print.

This is a great tool to create a huge project in very little time, and is very similar to mail merge in Microsoft Word. I have used this dozens of times, and it not only saves a ton of time, it takes little effort and is almost foolproof.

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