4 essential ways from Excel to InDesign

The pagination of Excel data into InDesign is one of the most requested types of workflow.
There are four widely adopted approaches to link Excel with InDesign.


Limited flexibility
Flat pricelist;
product datasheets


Data Merge

Best effort-to-result
Save Excel as .txt/.csv
Single product style
flat catalog; certificates

document merged page1

XML Import

Extensible layout
Steepy to learn
Calendar, pricelist, and catalogs



Fast, flexible, assisted
99$/month (free trial)
Pricelist, catalogs;
Very large documents


In this page, we want to give an introduction to each of these approaches and refer to the related tutorials we have conducted. A particularity of these tutorials is that each one comes with a downloadable package, which should give you a working foundation that we hope will accelerate your learning and your ability to paginate your own documents.
Today Place Command Options is the only official integration between InDesign and Excel (or at least this is the only one that explicitly cites Excel in the official Adobe documentation). Do not be scared! The other two integrations can still fluently paginate Excel data in InDesign with very small workarounds (like our Export as Unicode free Excel add-in).

Place Command Options

The Place Command and its options is the most straightforward method of importing data from Excel to an InDesign document. Matched with a clever use of both Excel and InDesign tables it can be tweaked to obtain some interesting results such as paginating price lists and batches of business cards.

However, in our opinion Place Command Options are best used in the population and updating of product sheet tables. Yes, population AND update, since one of the features that this method offers is the creation and maintenance of the links between spreadsheet files and the InDesign document.

Other features of this method are: range selection, tables that flow across multiple pages, preserving spreadsheet formatting, or applying InDesign Table Styles.


Price List with Place Command

Learn how to paginate a simple price list with Place in InDesign

price list_formatted_indesign_result

Product sheets with Place Command

Learn how to paginate automatically a price list, using data from Excel with the InDesign Place Command Options.

Data Merge

InDesign Data Merge is the method with the best effort-to-result ratio.
Basically, you map a single product style, which is copied and injected once for each row of you data file. We need to write a data file instead of an Excel file: this is the first deviance from the straight path of Excel to InDesign. To use InDesign Data Merge you have to “save as…” your data as another plain text format (a .txt/.csv).
Aside from that, for all the projects focused on a single product style, repeated for each record of your Excel spreadsheet, Data Merge will become an indispensable tool. Data Merge is the standard method for paginating business card batches, yearbooks, deck cards, certificates, etc. automatically. It is also good for creating a price list or a long stream of product sheets.

Features include: creation and maintenance of the links between spreadsheet files and the InDesign document; product styles are inserted automatically and new pages are added; the product styles are inserted as a standard floating object, hence it is easy to customize a page after the initial pagination; image fitting options.

The “save as…” step is just a simple additional, but be aware that it could expose you to the infamous “Save as glitch*”. We help to solve this issue with our “Export as Unicode free Excel add-in”.

document merged page1

Create a simple car catalog with Data Merge

Learn how to create a simple car catalog with Data Merge.

XML Import

This method gives you the best overall opportunities to build a tailored workflow. The learning curve of XML Import is a little steep (here we would like to help with our tutorials), but really you can automate almost any kind of layout. With XML import, it is possible to handle four different types of content, text, graphics, attributes, and tables, conveniently.
With attributes and tables, you can control the layout of quite complex documents such as calendars, complex pricelists, and technical catalogues. XML import takes into account the category of your entities, allowing you to create breaks: table breaks, page breaks, category breaks (a.k.a. chapter separators), and document breaks.

To generate the XML from Excel, you can start with the following simple tutorial.

The XML import enhances the graphic control you can have of your layout thanks to a carefully thoughtout data structure. This method lets you take advantage of a concatenate text frame (like the Master Text Frame option you find in the new document options). This lets you build a flow of objects paginated inline with the text. In this way, if you need to delete some paginated objects, the following objects flow back automatically. That’s nice!

If you manage to pair the XML with some JavaScript, the sky is the limit.

With XML Import and JavaScript, it becomes easy to handle the breaks: table, column, and page breaks.

If you are paginating a big catalog with JavaScript, it become easy to assign different Master Pages to different product categories, create category separators, sort indexes and tables of contents, and create photo indexes.

With JavaScript, you can concatenate time-consuming computational task (such as some InDesign book functions or PDF exporting) so you can stop babysitting your computer and think about even more advanced enhancement such as the XML smart layer for touch applications.


How to make a Catalog with XML Import

How to make a Catalog with XML Import