How to make a catalog
The complete guide

“Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift”
(Albert Einstein)

From Wikipedia, a catalog is: “A book printed and distributed periodically by a department store or mail-order retail company containing pictures and descriptions of merchandise offered for sale, as well as an order form for ordering such merchandise by mail.”

The aim of a catalog is for a range of available goods to be understood as quickly as possible and for it to be appreciated for its design. Thanks to these intrinsic qualities, catalogs are one of the most effective sales tools on the market.

Let’s think of some issues to bear in mind when you are creating a catalog.

How to make a catalog – TOC

1. Why is a catalog important?
2. In which formats can be created?
3. The print catalog
4. The digital catalog
5. What parts make up a catalog?
6. How do you organize a catalog?
7. Who is the most suitable person to create a catalog?
8. What are the elements I need to create a catalog?
9. Product data
10. Images
11. Layout
12. The publishing process: What kinds of publishing processes are there?
13. The manual approach to publishing
14. The automatic approach to publishing
15. The automatic Cloud publishing process
16. How much does creating a catalog cost?

Why is a catalog important?

A catalog, like a logo or business card, is a tool used to identify and reinforce brand awareness. Marketing specialists know how much precision is involved in the creation of a catalog and how much a good catalog can make the difference in terms of sales.

It is essential to create a document that is, as much as possible:

  • functional: easy to consult and intuitively designed;
  • appealing: has a good firm cover, high-quality paper, a clear and modern layout, etc.

In which formats can it be created?

First of all, let’s see the catalog formats. A catalog is always created digitally, but the finished product can be one of two kinds:

  • Print catalog (e.g., desk catalog, IKEA catalog*)
  • Digital catalog (PDF, flipbook, an app, etc.)

*the most-distributed publication in the world, 211 million copies were sent in 2017 with the aim of promoting the activities of 328 shops in 28 countries.

Digital and print catalogs

Print catalogs

As IKEA knows, the print catalog remains one of the world’s best sales tools. These paper-based publications have many advantages:

  • Constant brand exposure
    The catalog is a physical object usually kept on a table or desk, so as to be readily available and accessible. Its “cumbersome / bulky presence” keeps your brand constantly exposed to your customers (one of the basic principle of advertising is, in fact, brand exposure).
  • User-friendliness
    A print catalog is always available and easy to consult by people of all ages. For a better understanding, we have to compare it with its digital alternative. Let’s think about how you search for an item in an online catalog. First, you need a good internet connection. Then, you have to find the document you need. If you are lucky, there is a navigable TOC, so you can go to the right page with a click; otherwise, you have to flip through it by hand until you find your desired item.
  • Readability
    Have you ever tried to consult a catalog on an iPad, maybe while talking with a customer? If you click in the wrong place, you can easily end up on another page. If you need to examine a detail, you have to zoom in, risking the chance of clicking on an unintended button.
  • Quick search
    A print catalog allows you to insert a bookmark anywhere you need, so you can easily return to the page you need to check in a few seconds.

print catalog

Digital catalogs

Let’s move on to the digital catalogs. Catalogs are created using digital tools, and today most companies use only digital means to distribute and promote their documents.

A digital catalog is usually created in the PDF format, for fast and easy delivery to customers. It is also possible to create flipbooks using dedicated software. Flipbooks are interactive, online publications that emulate paper magazines. To create a flipbook, is often necessary to have a complete PDF of the document ready to be converted into the interactive format.

Digital catalogs present a number of savings compared to printing and distribution costs, which are close to zero. Moreover, sharing and promoting your document is more immediate, because you have only to upload it to your website and share it.
The benefits of a print catalog are missing in a digital one, though… These can be summed up in terms of greater readability, user-friendliness, and a general feeling of involvement and professionalism.

What parts make up a catalog?

A catalog is a document composed of many different parts. Some are always used, like the cover, table of contents, and back cover; others depend on the kind of project and if they are required:

  • Cover (front cover)
  • Thumb index
  • Introduction pages: descriptions, advertising
  • Table of contents: chapters/sections, sub-chapters, page number indicators
  • Catalog: chapter separators
  • Table of contents: alphabetical order, or by code
  • Final pages: description, advertising, notes
  • Back cover

How do you organize a catalog?

The information we want to insert must be organized considering how the client will consult the catalog. You need to consider many elements: will the client look for products by category, or will he flip through every page? Would the client prefer a paper or digital version?

In most cases, if we are talking about a business catalog, it is useful to organize elements by category or by product attribute, such as price, color, application, and so on.

Catalogs with different uses present a different structure. Think about medical catalogs, for instance, in which articles are arranged alphabetically. Sometimes, it is useful to organize products in an intuitive way or using less strict criteria, maybe mixing the rules. In this way, customers will be more engaged by consulting every page.

create a catalog - catalog layout

Who is the most suitable person to create a catalog?

There is no one, single figure who creates a catalog. The answer is that many people are involved in the task.

Sales, marketing, IT, and graphics teams are all involved in the catalog creation process. The graphics department can be in-house or outsourced (to a communications agency / freelance graphic designer).

What elements do I need to create a catalog?

To create a catalog, you need:

  • Product data
  • Images
  • Layout

Let’s take a look at them in detail.

printed product catalogs

Product data

First of all, to create a catalog you need your product data. By product data, we mean: codes (SKUs / item numbers), category, subcategory, product name, description, attributes, prices, barcodes, etc.

This information can be contained in:

  • Business database / ERP systems: SAP, Oracle, IBM AS400, Microsoft Dynamics, Sage, Infor, ePromis, etc.
  • One or more Excel sheets (or CSV, TXT files)
  • XML files
  • SQL files
  • Company website
  • Previous catalog files (Adobe InDesign, QuarkXPress, etc.)

Images

Previously, once you have collected all the textual information you want to insert in your document, you must gather all the articles’ images and the eventual symbols/icons, if needed.

If you are creating a print catalog, you will need high-quality product images (200/300 dpi). Good quality images are essential for making your catalog into a professional document.

Often, you will not have all of the product images at your disposal and might try to retrieve them from your company’s website. These images will not be of a good quality (usually 72 dpi); therefore, they are not suitable for use in a print catalog.

Layout

When you have all the necessary elements gathered, you can move on to the operative phase of the layout creation.

In this phase, the graphic designer is involved, much more so if you are creating the first edition of the catalog, or if you are looking for a restyling of your previous layout. The graphic designer can be an in-house worker or outsourced (to a freelancer or communication agency).

The graphic designer will help you solidify your ideas about how to organize both the product information and images. He or she will create many drafts, usually using Adobe InDesign, until all of your requirements have been fulfilled.

The publishing process: What kinds of publishing processes are there?

Once the layout is approved, one of the crucial steps begins: the publishing process. This consists of inserting the information into the catalog in a structured way.

This step can be done manually or by using automatic software.

We are talking about:

  • Manual publishing: Copy and paste (this requires lot of time and is prone to error)
  • Automatic publishing: In-house/on premises software (these software packages are very expensive, and layouts are difficult to create; support is a paid service)
  • Cloud publishing services: Cloud software, or SaaS (inexpensive, layouts are fully editable, and support is included in the project price).

create a catalog manual and digital

The manual publishing process

First of all, let’s start with the manual publishing process. Creating your catalog manually consists of copying and pasting all data, piece by piece, from your data source into your document.

This is a task that can occupy a resource (in-house or outsourced) for a long time, several weeks/months, depending on how many articles/pages must be created. Another important element to consider when you need to create a catalog is the high chance of errors, due to the fact that a human drives this process, not a machine.

The automatic publishing process was born to overcome these drawbacks.

The automatic publishing process

The term “automatic publishing” refers to software/plugin solutions that allow you to automatically import product data from a datasheet/database into the document being created.

These are solutions that need to be installed in your PC, like classic software. Every computer needs its own software license. When you have to paginate, you can only work on a PC where the software has been previously installed.

These applications allow us to create documents in a specific format, or as a PDF. Only a few of them allow users to create files in Adobe InDesign formats (INDD, IDML, etc.).

automatic publishing process

In-house software presents disadvantages such as:

  • Not all data files are suitable for every software package. Each of them needs its own kind of data file: XML, CSV, Excel, etc.
  • The design process is limited. Layouts are created using default grids or, if you want to make changes, you must follow the software rules (hoping that what you need has already been implemented).
  • Learning how to use these programs is difficult, and there is not much online documentation to support them. You must also consider that each project is different and it will require different rules.
  • You will have to pay for training, which is often billed by the hour.
  • The competencies you must have knowledge of are in the “use it or lose it” domain. If you make a catalog once or twice annually, these competencies are easily forgotten. When you have to recreate the catalog, you will need a lot of time to remind yourself how to use the software.
  • The extensions of the created files belong to the software company. In this way, the source file can only be viewed on the PCs where the software is installed.
  • Usually, just one or two people in a company have the expertise required to use these packages. If they change position or are replaced, these competences are lost.
  • The cost for these packages is often about 15.000 –25.000 euros, excluding updates, licenses, and training.

Cloud-based publishing software

Finally, cloud-based publishing software is software you can use online. These packages require no setup, and users can access them with a common browser like Chrome or Firefox.
Many software companies have discovered that Cloud technology is a good way to reduce software costs, increase product innovation, and improve support for their customers. Automatic publishing software has found in the Cloud a good place where it can easily grow.

Companies like Pagination allow you to create your documents online, completely on your own, anytime and anywhere, with no need to install software or have any specific competencies. To set up a project, you need only to share some samples of data (Excel, CSV, etc.) and the type of document you want to automatically create (PDF, InDesign format). 

Pagination’s automatic publishing service has many advantages:

  • Easy to use. There is no need for dedicated training
  • Complete freedom in the document layout creation (design) phase
  • The possibility of using every kind of data source (Excel, CSV, XML, exports from ERP systems / databases / business applications)
  • The Cloud system does not require any software setup. The software is available anytime, anywhere, and on any device (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Explorer, etc.) and operating system (Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Android, etc.)
  • Files are created both in PDF (in high- and low-resolution, ready to print, or for digital distribution) and InDesign format (INDD, IDML). They are ready to be opened with Adobe InDesign and can be changed manually, when necessary.
  • The Cloud system gives you the ability to continue to use the PC during the document creation process, and an email notification system will inform you when the process has been completed and documents are ready to be downloaded.
  • The software is sold as an annual subscription fee. The price changes according to the kind of document you want to create, and it includes the document setup, evolutionary maintenance of the project, and fast customer service (via phone & email).

How much does creating a catalog cost?

Finally, let’s see the costs to create a professional catalog. It is difficult to spend less than € 2,000 for a catalog graphics project. Then, you should expect to add between € 20 and 45 per single paginated page (unless you use an automatic publishing service). A 300-page catalog made for the first time without an automatic system could cost up to € 10,000–12,000. Pricing depends a lot on how complex the product is and how many references it contains. By “references,” we mean all of the names, descriptions, and values used. A catalog of modular furniture where each product is described in a chart of measurements and finishings could cost up to € 40–45 per page.

An automatic publishing system can reduce costs considerably. Creating an editorial project with a cloud database publishing system can cost € 2,000–8,000, depending on the complexity of the document.

The printing phase

Now we’ve found out how to make a catalog, let’s move to the printing phase. Finding a good printer is relatively easy, but to find the right one, you must look at more than price. In practical terms, the printer is often the last line of defense before documents go to print.

Especially if you are creating your first catalog, or if you are teaming up with an experienced agency or professional, do not skimp on printing. If you can find a good printer, one who can help you in difficult or unexpected situations, keep him or her close to you. The printing process is a difficult one, and there are thousands of variables to manage to make everything good. Do not put pressure on your printer when it comes to timing, because you risk forcing the development of rushed conditions, such as drying inks or binding glue. You may be able to force some processes, but you run the risk of unpleasant surprises.

Printing costs depend on many variables, such as:

  • Number of copies to be printed
  • Number of pages in the catalog
  • Paper quality
  • Special processing (e.g., thumb index)

Below are some examples of the most common types of catalogs.

Printing costs – Catalog 1

  • 300 pages
  • Softcover perfect binding
  • Size: 21 x 29.7 cm (A4)
  • Paper: Classic demi-matte – coated matting
  • Paper weight: 130 gr
  • Cover paper weight: 250 gr

 

Copies Total cost Cost per copy
100 € 1.100,00 € 11,00
200 € 2.000,00 € 10,00
500 € 4.100,00 € 8,20
1000 € 5.300,00 € 5,30
2000 € 7.800,00 € 3,90
5000 € 15.000,00 € 3,00
10000 € 28.000,00 € 2,80

Printing costs – Catalog 2

  • 800 pages
  • Stitched paperback binding
  • Size: 21 x 29.7 cm (A4)
  • Paper: Classic demi-matte – coated matting
  • Paper weight: 115 gr
  • Hardcover

 

Copies Total cost Cost per copy
500 € 13.200,00 € 26,40
1.000 € 16.500,00 € 16,50
5.000 € 43.000,00 € 8,60
10.000 € 76.000,00 € 7,60

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