Designing and Data Merging with multiple records in InDesign CS6 or CC

Tutorial Details

Difficulty: Advanced

Estimated Time: 35 minutes

In this tutorial we’ll show you how to data merge multiple records from a spread sheet (Numbers or Microsoft Excel) into a document with InDesign’s data merge feature. It is a complex technique that can create great – looking informational design when used correctly.

Can be used for:

  • Badges
  • Designed Data Lists
  • Informational Graphics
  • Catalogues

What you’ll need:

  • Data source (.CSV file)
  • InDesign document

IMPORTANT: Rules for multiple record data merge

  1. A multiple record data merge can only be produced from a single page InDesign document. Having two or more pages restricts data merge to single-record mode.
  2. Everything on the document page – even if it has no data placeholders in it – will be duplicated in the merge process. If the other objects on your page prevent more than one record from fitting (such as a big background image), data merge will behave as if it’s producing a single record layout because the document can’t accommodate more than one record per page.

So if there are page elements you want on the pages that don’t need to be part of the merge, move them to the master page.

#1 Get all the dynamic information in a CSV file

In this example I am using Microsoft Excel in Windows; however, these steps should be similar to Numbers in Mac OS.

Add any data you’ll need in the data merge onto the spread sheet.


  • Project Name
  • Department

For any content you do not want duplicated on the page, add it to the master page. This could be an introduction or an image etc. To data merge an image we need to place the link to the image in the CSV file and provide the heading “@img”. In Excel this should be typed as ‘@img. The ‘ provides a resolution to an Excel bug where it doesn’t recognise @img by itself.

Make sure you have your headings across the top and records underneath as shown.
csv example

Export your data to a CSV format (comma delimited file). If you have multiple sheets of data try and consolidate them to one. If not the different sheets will be separate CSV files.

Save CSV file

#2 Open up your prepared InDesign file – this should include your designed master pages.

Set up your design in InDesign. You can use master pages for the layouts and content you don’t want duplicated on the same page. Anything that is going to be data merged needs to be on the main page otherwise it won’t work.

Indesign CS6 master pages

#3 Set up your data merge design – use paragraph and character styles to make changes later on easier.

The data merge design is something that will take tweaking to get right. At this step we just want to create the design and layout. So use text boxes, tables, image boxes, lines, colour etc.

InDesign CS6 Data merge design

Make sure to use paragraph styles and character styles to allow changes to be made in future updates to the document. Finally make sure to group everything so the design layout is maintained.
Grouping objects in Indesign CS6

#4 Optional: Change any text boxes to Auto size height, width or both under text frame options.

Text Frame Options contains a few features such as Column width flexibility, balancing, Inset Spacing, Vertical Justification, Baseline options and Auto-Sizing. This is accessible from the top menu under Object – Text Frame options.

Text frame options in InDesign CS6

The content from the excel file that we are using has variable content length. For example Project 1 has a short project description and Project 2 has a long project description.

Variable content length InDesign CS6

InDesign can adjust the size of the text box so that no text becomes overset. To do this we go to Text Frame options – Auto size and select (for the purpose of this design) Height only. We want the text to flow downwards so also select the arrow pointing downwards underneath the Auto-Sizing drop down.

Auto sizing text box in Indesign CS6

#5 Select CSV file to be merged in InDesign

Along the top menu, go to Window – Utilities – Data Merge and a new panel should pop up. Click the further options button and click “Select Data Source”.

Data merge panel in Indesign CS6

Select Data Source in Indesign CS6

From here select the CSV file and click open. There should now be a list of data field titles.

Data fields in Indesign CS6

#6 Put your data field titles in the design – make sure it’s on one page only.

Now start adding the data field titles to the design. This will insert placeholder text which will be substituted in the merged version of the file with a record.

Place holder text in InDesign CS6

#7 Style placeholders if necessary

As part of your design you should have styles already. If not, change the paragraph or character styling as necessary and create a new style from it by highlighting the text and clicking “Create new style”
Creating a new paragraph style in Indesign CS6

#8 Optional: Put in an image – generic image sizing can be applied at the data merge.

We also want to add an image to our design. As part of the CSV we imported an image link. InDesign will automatically link to that image. Add the image placeholder to the frame by simply clicking the frame and then clicking the data field title.

#9 Create Merged Document – select multiple records on drop down for records per document page. Select record range if need be.

Go to the data merge panel, click the drop down and select “Create merged document”.

Creating a data merged document in Indesign CS6

Under “Records per Document Page” select “Multiple Records”. If this area is greyed out then you need to delete any extra pages that you have in your document so that you are left with one page (having multiple pages in the master page layout is fine).
Multiple Record Data merge in InDesign CS6
If you don’t want to merge the whole CSV then select the range by row.

#10 Select generate overset text and alert images missing

Make sure “Generate Overset Text Report” and “Alert When Images Are Missing” is selected.
Generate overset text report

#11 Click on multiple record layout and preview

By the preview we see everything is overlapping and needs more space in-between.
Multiple record layout in InDesign CS6

#12 Adjust columns and rows depending on your sizes, arrange by either columns or rows first.

Under the spacing section we can increase the spacing between the columns and the rows until nothing is overlapping. This is great if you have specific placement needs in your design.

Grid placement for data merge in InDesign CS6

#13 OPTIONAL: Under options select fitting that you want to apply to images.

Depending on the image sizes, you may decide to fit or fill frames proportionally. In this instance we want to fill frames proportionally.
Data merge fill frame proportionally in InDesign CS6

#14 Click OK to merge document

This will create a new document that has the merged data in it. It will create as many pages as it needs to merge all the data you selected. We can delete or add pages as necessary.
Overset Text report in Indesign CS6

#15 Apply Master Pages

Now apply the master pages as needed by dragging and dropping the master page onto the page you want to apply it to. Now just organise the data in their correct places.
Apply master pages in Indesign cs6

#16 Apply Master Pages

Now apply the master pages as needed by dragging and dropping the master page onto the page you want to apply it to. Just organise the data in their correct places.
Design and layout in Indesign cs6


In this tutorial we’ve learned:

  • How to use Data Merge in InDesign
  • How to merge multiple records per a page
  • How to format an InDesign document for multiple records

I hope you have found the tutorial helpful. Feel free to comment below.