Variable Data in InDesign

March 22, 2024

This is the basic instructions on how to do Variable Data Printing VDP setup in InDesign. If you’re looking to do a basic letter such as in Word I have the basic instructions here.

Sometimes you’ll want something more designed than a letter or just prefer to work in InDesign than in Word. Most of this will be the same setup, I used the same letter and data file as I used in the Word setup.

The Data:

The first row is your headers and will be seen in InDesign as the data input names, name these for easy referencing of what is in that column.

The file will need to be saved in a Comma Separated Value (CSV) format, if you created the spread sheet in Google Docs select the CSV. If you created in Excel use the one below the ‘Specialty Formats’ for separates by commas. Do not select the CSV at the top (that does it by Tab separation), this won’t work in InDesign.


I created a new letter sized file and imported the Word file. I made the text box fill the full page. This way if any of the records (the data being brought in) are longer this will give the text room to flow and not be overset (text going outside the text box). If you think your text could go to two pages, you can setup an over flow page, or when you test your data find the longest entries and reformat document to fit on one page.

Open the Data Merge window:

This can be found in the menu: Windows > Utilities > Data Merge

In the Data Merge window click the hamburger menu (top right, looks like 3 vertical lines stacked, like a hamburger); Click ‘select data source’

When you select your data file you’ll see a menu that shows all the column headers you created in the first row.

Adding the data placeholders:

In InDesign highlight the words you want to have the data flow into, such as first name, then in the window for Mail Merge select the name ‘First Name’ continue this through the letter to add all the data connections to be added.

In the bottom of the Mail Merge window is a box for ‘Preview’ click that box you can see how the data is merged in there and click the arrows to go through some of the records. This is a good way to see how things are flowing and if you missed bringing in any data and if you might be going over in text, it will test for this in a future step.

If you noticed, you missed a column and need to add into your data you can go back into your data source add it. Then in the Mail Merge hamburger menu select ‘Update Data Source’.

Merge Data:

When ready to make your final file you have 2 options:

1 – Merge into a new InDesign File: In the hamburger menu select ‘Create merged document’ this will merge the data into a new InDesign file, if you have 100 rows (records) you’ll have a 100-page InDesign file.

If you only need certain one(s), you can select those in here.

For a regular letter mail merge leave as single record, the multiple will be if you’re doing more than one up like mailing labels, used this when setting up postcards.

Leave the last 2 items checked. The overset text is great to leave on in case your text goes long, better to have it tell you then have the letters go out with text getting cut off.

The ‘Multiple Record Layout’ we won’t go into here for a single record.

‘Options’ mostly about image variables, we won’t go into this in this post.

Hit ‘OK’ when ready and you’ll get a new InDesign file with all the records.

2 – ‘Export to PDF’ this will bring up the same menus and choices, when you hit ‘OK’ it will bring up the save to PDF menu where you’ll select the PDF type, options, and where to save. It will also give you an Overset Text report. This method is good if you know you don’t need to do anything after you merge and need to send it on to the printers.

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