Thanks for coming to, the world's #1 resource for all things InDesign!

Data Merging – Part 3

It’s been much longer than I expected finishing this three-part tutorial on InDesign’s Data Merge feature, but it’s been a very busy period for me. You’ll find part 1 here, and part 2 here. When I left you, I had created a reminder card layout in InDesign CS2, and created text and graphic frame placeholders. I selected the data source and linked the data fields with the placeholder frames. Finally, I previewed the result.


Now, it’s time to create the new data merge document. Click the Create Merged Document button (circled above), or choose Create Merged Document from the palette menu. This opens a three-tabbed-panel dialog box. The most important panel?Records?is where you select which records you want to include in your merged document. But equally important, you need to choose the number of records per document page. (This choice has tripped many people up.)

Select records

The layout we’re creating is a Single Record. That is, it creates exactly one physical page for each record in the merged document. (Remember, from our first posting, that a record is the complete set of fields that extend across the row of data. We’ll show you a Multiple Record layout next.) There are also options to generate a report if text gets overset in the process, or to generate an alert when images are missing.

You also want to click on the Options tab. Here you have choices for how to fit images in your graphic placeholder frames. (I prefer to presize my images to exact size ahead of time by running an action on the images in Photoshop.) You can also remove blank lines for empty fields or set a maximum number of records in a document. When you’re finished, click OK.

InDesign starts thinking about what to do. For a large data merge, this can take quite a while. Finally, it generates a new document containing the records you selected. As you can see in the illustration below, there was no overset text, and seven pages was generated in my simple example.
New Document Generated

Multiple Record Layouts. Now let’s show you an example of a Multiple Record layout. This is an imaginary examination certificate which will be printed 4-up on a page.


I find it helpful to create guides to help me figure out how to position the 4-up layout. When you create the Multiple Record layout, you only place boilerplate and placeholders on the layout once. You’ll position the other records using the Create Merged Document dialog box. (You can also place data-field placeholders on a master page.) When you click the Preview, you’ll only see a preview of the first record. Click the Create Merged Document button to open the dialog box.

This time, in the Create Merged Document dialog, choose Multiple Records in the Records per Document Page popup menu. Now the Preview Multiple Record Layout becomes available at the bottom of the dialog box. Don’t worry if things aren’t lined up the way you want. Click on the Multiple Record Layout tab to fix that.

Multiple Record Layout

Here is where you position the other instances of records which will appear on the same page. You’ll need to tweak the controls in the Layout of Records section to position the other records. This is where having the guides on the page helps you to position the elements more precisely. When finished, click OK to generate your new merged document.

There are a lot of other fine points which could be added here, but this blog entry is long enough already. Continue to leave your comments here on your experiences using Data Merge. It’s not a perfect solution for all data needs, but it’s helpful for simpler layouts. And it’s free!

Steve Werner

Steve Werner

Steve Werner is a trainer, consultant, and co-author (with David Blatner and Christopher Smith) of InDesign for QuarkXPress Users and Moving to InDesign. He has worked in the graphic arts industry for more than 20 years and was the training manager for ten years at Rapid Lasergraphics. He has taught computer graphics classes since 1988.
Steve Werner

Latest posts by Steve Werner (see all)

  • - November 30, -0001
Related Articles

100 Comments on “Data Merging – Part 3

  1. hi,

    I am mathews.. I saw the Data Merge video (EPISODE 43) it was great i could automate text.
    thanks for that..

    when i do a data merge for certificate which is A4 size…. i will get 14 pages in single pdf file…
    since i have to do 14 certificates…

    I have two questions on this…
    1) I need to create separate pdf
    2) I need to name the individual pdf as the name given in the field…

    I need to save the pdf to individual names..


  2. The document you wish to merge needs to be one page only otherwise the Single/Multiple Record option in greyed out…

  3. Hey All,

    I have just discovered Data Merge and am loving it. I have had several successes, however, there is one document that is giving me trouble.

    It is a multiple record per page merge, the preview looks great, and I am amped. However, when I finalize it, the new .indd generated populates the same record throughout. I have ‘All records’ selected from the dialogue box and have tried just about every type formatting scenario. My frame is right up against the margins and occupies the right amount of space. I have even tried creating a new document and just starting over, as well as relinking the .csv, the only thing remaining is for me to try it from a computer with CS5.5. (Currently running CS5).

    Any suggestions would be extremely helpful, apologize for the wordy paragraph.

    • Wyatt,

      3 years later and I’m experiencing the same issue. The preview looks fine and the result page is all over the place. From further review I’ve seen that the Multiple Record Data Merge feature in Indesign leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve used the data merge successfully on many occasions when each page contains a single row; however, multiple rows of data on a single page still fail.

  4. @Wyatt: If you need more folks answering, I would encourage you to write this up in the Forums, rather than on a blog post. This sounds odd, though. I would first make sure it works when the Preview checkbox is turned on. And check the Import settings; maybe you have it set to just one record?

  5. Had a similar problem to several other commenters: multiple records per page didn’t take. I had some crop marks on a hidden layer. As soon as I deleted the layers it worked like a charm.

  6. I was wondering if anyone answered Hans question. I am having the same issue…



    This tutorial was really helpful, thanks for that.

    I have been experiencing some problems though.
    When adding pictures to a frame, keeps giving me following warning:

    ? The data source references one or more missing images. The missing images cannot be previewed or merged. ??

    I can take another picture, in the same folder (same path), with a different name. Some pictures work, some don?t. (actually most of them don?t work)

    :Users:wannes:Desktop:2.jpg works just fine
    :Users:wannes:Desktop:1.jpg gives error

    and i am sure files are in this folder, carrying the right name.

    Can you help me on this topic please?

    Hans from belgium

  7. I didn’t see this question scanning through comments: Does this create a large file?

    I have someone else’s ID file that only has vector art and one merge field (not sure how many names were merged.

    The file is 200 MB… that seems weird!
    Any thoughts?

  8. Im writing to see if anybody answered
    John Durels question about the printing 1 on top and 2 after and 3 after that. All for he postcard and post office regulations

    John DurelsAugust 18th, 2009 ? 3:25 pm

  9. @Amy: I’m not entirely sure what you and John mean… is it just that you want to reverse the order of the data merge (do the last one first, then 2nd to last, etc.)? InDesign cannot sort, filter, or change the order. You’d have to set that up in the database/spreadsheet first.

  10. Issue: have created a page doc to enable a 4 up mail merge, but when I select multiple record layout and then preview it does it, but sends it way left corner of the pasteboard for all pages. Any assistance would be appreciated!

    • Sorry to have bump this comment after a few years but I was looking on forums on how to fix the same problem that you were experiencing. This might happen when you place the text fields within the master pages, which would result in Indesign duplicating the master pages instead of only the text fields. A quick fix is to remove the text fields that were in the master page and place them instead on a regular page. Hope that helps!

  11. David,

    Thanks for all you do. I have learned a lot from your site. I love Data Merge. I design high school football & basketball programs, sales cards and such and use it every chance I get. I have used it for placing barcodes & images plus countless variable text. My advise: Anyone who has to flow variable data needs to use it.

  12. Hi, i’m miguel from philippines, i’ve been working id cards for quite a year now, i use regular id size in my lay-out, there are 10 id’s in each page and my only problem is when i print the back id of the cards. i’ve been using select and rotating process so that my back id lay-out will fit into the front id lay-out. sorry for my bad english :)

    so my question is, is there a way to reverse the data merge automation so that my back canvas will mirror the front canvas? :) tnx

  13. The best solution I’ve found for this (as someone who works with variable data in a print shop) is to plan ahead of time and to break your data up into X sets of columns, were X is the number of items you’ll have on a page. It’s a bit of pre-work, but it’ll save a lot of time on long jobs. What you then do is a single item merge and plot items accordingly:

    Side 1:
    DATA1 | DATA2
    DATA3 | DATA4

    Side 2:
    DATA2 | DATA1
    DATA4 | DATA3

    For instance, if you’re doing a mail merge with 100 addresses you’d break your sets up into 4 parallel column sets whose titles are appended with a number (say ADDRESS1-4, UNIT1-4, COMPANY1-4, NAME1-4, etc.) and then the merge will run through the stacks, keeping your order sequential in stacking order (descending through the pile for each quadrant), which is preferable for when you go to cut the items anyway.

    This is often applied for things like sequentially ordered tickets, as well. It’s a useful trick if you don’t have something better to impose and do data merges with when you must have variable data on two sides of a product.

    Hope this helps.

  14. I have a layout of 4 postcards on 12×18 page. I did the multiple record merge with success but now I need to add the front of the postcard so I can print it front and back. Any ideas on a less time consuming way to do this. All I can come up with is inserting a page after each page and applying a new master. When you have 100+ pages it is very time consuming. Appreciate any help. Thanks.

  15. Hi Steve, wondering if you could help me. I have a list of names and addresses set up in a .csv file, when merge the data into Indesign, the same name/address repeats across all the labels I set up. When I preview multiple records, it repeats each name/addresses in all the text farm. I wanted it to show the name and address of each individual on each label. It works in Word, but I am having trouble here in InDesign. Appreciate your help. Thank you.

    • Lancia: Remember, you should make only one label on the page with data merge information, and then let Data Merge repeat it with the different information. It sound like maybe you duplicated the template many times yourself?

      • David, thank you for your email. I tried both ways. When I create only one label on the image and run the data merge, in the preview I can cycle through all the records and all the other names show up on that single label. When the data merge document opens up it shows one label per page. I do not want multiple pages, I want for example 10 labels on the page to be populated with each individual name and address.

  16. @Lanica Have you tried using the multiple records per page setting? The merged document can have up to ten records on the page depending on page size.

    • Hi Todrick, thank you for your email. Yes, I used the multiple records settings, it either repeats the same name if I have more than one label or if I have only one label on the page and select multiple records, it shows one label per page.

  17. I am mail merging 300+ trifold brochures in InDesign (as a single record). When I go to print 3 test pages on our Konica printer it triflolds all three together as a group. I believe this is because the copier thinks it is one big document, not individual pages. How do I get around this so it will only trifold one page at a time? I can’t sit here and print them one at a time, I need to be able to print 1-300, etc.

  18. Hi,
    Thanks for the great tutorial on mail merge in InDesign.
    I am designing a printed newsletter that goes out via bulk mail.
    Currently, the newsletter is printed in house on a large Canon printer that collates, folds and saddle stitches the pieces.
    Once the pieces are printed, the labels are printed and MANUALLY put onto each piece.
    I would like to know if I can create a single document in InDesign that then picks up my mail merge information and prints the mailing information on each piece in line. That way we can skip the label printing …
    Is this possible?

    • Yvette: yes, this is the idea of “variable data printing.” But each print from the Canon would have to be different. You could use data merge to make all the PDFs to print, or you could use some third-party variable data printing (VDP) software to do the merge at print time. Claudia McCue did a course that discussed this a little here:

      • Thanks, David.
        Yes. I want to do variable data printing. I would really prefer not creating PDFs of each file. (Each one would be between 12 and 24 pages depending on the edition, and there are about 800 addresses.)
        I sounds as if there is not an option or free plugin for InDesign, which is what I was hoping for. I am not sure our budget allows for a third-party option.
        I will look into the course, though.
        Thanks for your help!

  19. I’m trying to create multiple pages with ticket numbers. When I did a test the data merge worked perfectly, putting the tickets on multiple pages. When I had to change it to only have the tickets on one side of the paper because of our perforation machine, when I create the data merge it multiplies the tickets but instead of going right to another page after filling one, the tickets keep going outside of the margins onto the non-printing area of the page. What am I doing wrong? I’ve tried to start from scratch and it keeps doing it. I have to have these tickets done by Friday.

  20. Hi there……im doing a job with variable text and variable images. I have been doing variable text now for years and understand how it all works. I have been following Data Merging by Steve Werner and really love how he descibes his work.
    BUT, i have a small problem.
    When i put the image data into the xcel sheet (the image filename exactly), and then import data file into InDesign it comes up in the data Merge toolbox as TEXT (it has the Capital “T” next to it, and therefore inside the picture box is no image just the filename in text. Can anyone help me on this please.

    • In the header row of the field that contains the image, the field must start with an @ symbol. This should be the end of the matter, but when the @ symbol is added to the start of the field in Excel, it will display an error… so to get around this, type an apostrophe and THEN the @ symbol to “cancel out” the @ symbol.

      For example, if the field name is picture, type this into excel:


      Excel will change it to become


      The other thing to be careful of is the location of the images. I would recommend storing the txt/csv file from Excel in the SAME LOCATION as your images, otherwise your database will have to contain the full path names of the images. If the txt/csv file is in the same folder as all the images being referenced, then having filenames only will be fine.

      • Cheers for that Col, i was putting a comma instead of an apostrophe, that does the trick, good man

  21. We are trying to print a newsletter with 3 records. Newsletter is 8 pages. InDesign in wanting to print this as one 24 page document. We can’t get it to print and fold ONE 8 page newsletter. Ideas? Thank you!


    • @michelerhamilton: If you merge 3 records, InDesign will make a 24-page document. You can split it with Acrobat’s Split PDF feature. Or you can just merge 1 record at at time.

  22. Hi David,

    I would like to know if it’s possible to determine within Excel which Master is to be used. I have 10 masters, that needs to be applied to a bunch of cards (300). I can’t change the order to filter my data to easily insert my Masters afterwards.

    I know for image we have a marker ‘@, is there one for Master page?

    Thank you for your help

  23. Hi there, can anyone help me? I am trying to create place cards in alternate colours using data merge from a .csv spreadsheet.

    I have made a pink version and a teal version of the cards and just want it to alternate between them as it inputs records. How do i set the document up to do this? I guess it is something to do with how the master pages etc are set up but i dont understand it well enough to fix.

    I have managed to get it to do more than one record per page but it is doing a pink and teal one for each person and I cant fathom how to sort it. Also, it is only printing 4 on each page even though there is room for 6.

    You can see the document here:

    Can you help?

  24. Thank you sooooo much for this Steve!!! So useful!! I’ve always been doing these things manually before, but when I was tasked to create a 95 page document, every one with a different name taken from an excel file, I felt it was too much, and that there had to be a way to do it automatically. And I was lucky to find your AMAZING tutorial! Thank you again!

  25. I have an Excel Spreadsheet with Business Name, Phone, and Category.

    Admittedly – I’m an InDesign newbie – but I am picking things up quickly.

    I want to format this info (over 600 entries) into an almost “phone book” like layout.

    3 columns, Bold first line, tabs: with dotted Leader, regular typeface font phone number, next line category: italic.

    Link so:

    This Business Name ……… (555) 555-5555
    Financial Services

    I also need to adjust spacing between each (space after paragraph), kerning between Business Name and beginning of “…” (and after).

    It’s not allowing me to select multiple records per page…I’m trying to build a “phonebook” type of thing…am I doing this wrong by trying to use datamerge?

    Thank you to anyone who takes the time to add some insight.


  26. Does anyone know if you can data merge a page with multiple layers and keep those layers once you’ve merged the document? I’ve tried to split out the layers for the price and date on a document I’m working on and then as you have to group the elements, it loses the layers.

    Any help would be appreciated.

  27. Hi I saw someone had mentioned that they had successfully mail merged on 12×18 with 4UP post cards that are 5×7. I have tried to troubleshoot my issues but seem to have no success in getting my layout to work. Does it start with me having to divide the excel spreadsheet? There are over 440 address that need to be printed. I would love a step by step guide to help train. I have been at my store too long and need to get these bulk mailed out ASAP. Please help!

  28. I am trying to data merge a document that would have a location with multiple dates and time. So 3 columns 3 different locations with 3 different dates & time under each of those. Is that possible to do indesign?

  29. I am trying to rename a couple data field names (header row in source) to make the merged document fit into a system. I.e., “title” needs to be “title_J1” so that I can have a master source file for multiple documents. I just can’t find how to do that without starting from scratch.

  30. Lets say I’m creating a catalog. I understand how to output multiple records, but is there a way to incorporate breaks in the records that correspond to Chapter or Section titles within the records? or would that have to be done manually after you export the doc?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *