Of interest: New Data Merge techniques and quote bug

In the latest Colecandoo Youtube episode, four Data Merge specific features are covered, namely:

  • Adding faux-returns to a data merge field to split over lines, and subsequent limitations of this technique;
  • Using GREP styles to swap a character for a glyph during a Data Merge;
  • Highlighting field codes so that they are easier to see when not showing live data; and
  • A bug that occurs when a double-quote is at the start of any field in a Data Merge text file.

Faux returns within a field

The faux-returns technique is written about elsewhere, so rather than spoil their presentations, please read the articles directly from the appropriate sources:

I’m a fan of this trick, but emphasise that this is a workaround rather than a long-term solution, given that formatting is limited and there are more appropriate ways of accomplishing this task such as dedicated plug-ins or an XML workflow.

Swap characters for glyphs

Daniel Solis also features a clever trick to swap phrases with glyphs during a Data Merge that uses both GREP styles and ligatures. Again, rather than simply repeat the technique, please see his original video here.

A similar method can be employed using Indiscripts’ Indyfont script, but rather than swapping phrases with glyphs, will swap single characters.

Highlight Field Codes

The video also shows a method for highlighting field-codes when Data Merge is not in the preview mode. It relies on the [Basic Paragraph] style using a GREP style that contains a large highlight, and that any other styles in the document are based off of the [Basic Paragraph] style. It also means the document has to be styled correctly.

I’d demonstrated this technique following a real-world example of a live file where fields were very hard to see, and the file had to have an offset shell printed with variable data printed afterwards, so making sure the shell had no variable data on it was crucial. Using this technique would make finding the field codes much easier to see.

Double Quote bug

Also featured in the video was an issue that once again arose from a real-world example where a customer had provided a database that had double-quotes at the beginning of fields, but no closing quotes, resulting in rather unusual results.


Better Infographics for Data Merge with Chartwell Bars

While speaking at the 2016 PEPCON in San Diego along with Co-presenter David Creamer on the topic of Data Publishing, I presented an older tip that allows shapes to change size based on numerical values that appear in Data Merge. The tip requires the Chartwell typeface, particularly the Chartwell bars font. I’d mentioned at the time that while it was a novel tip, I didn’t have a practical purpose for it. I’d also mentioned in my presentation about using knockout groups in InDesign to hide information and had demonstrated it using my “Parkway Drive” demonstration where it is used to hide parts of a sign that changes size, but again felt there should be a better use of this tip.

However, it was on my 15 hour flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne where I thought of a new and much more practical purpose – creating infographics. I also thought about getting some sleep, but that was a fool’s errand!

Once I arrived home, I tested out the theories I had during the flight, and while the results were mixed, I was happy with what had been achieved.

Ultimately, I have created three techniques for anyone making infographics. In all instances, I’ve colored the chartwell bars font as black so that the technique can be demonstrated, but in application the type (and its spacer) would be given the color “none”:

1 – Infographics as scaleable shapes.


This uses the method described in an earlier indesignsecrets.com article that I have written. Rather than rewrite the tip, the link to that article is here. The point of difference is that the shape being transformed into an infographic is what is being scaled.

There are some drawbacks to this method.

First, the shape has to allow the chartwell bars font to expand from the left to the right without getting caught on any part of the shape, so not every shape will work. Bottles that were used in the example were fine because they meet this criteria.


Second, there is a lack of precision, especially concerning low numbers as the graphic scales. This appears to be because there is a minimum size that the graphic can shrink to.


2 – Data that is pasted into a vector


This method works the same way with the exception that the data is in a rectangular shaped textframe that is pasted into the target shape, and also given a 2mm spacer object to allow low figures to be presented. The 2mm spacer is a 2mm square that is an inline object before the figures in the chartwell font.


For anyone wondering why such an odd technique was used to add 2mm to the frame, I had tried using a 2mm left align or a 2mm inset space in the shape itself but these presented issues.

3 – Hiding an image underneath


This works the same way as method 2 with the exception that rather than being pasted into the graphic, it is pasted above the graphic. An additional anchored object that is larger than the infographic is then pasted after the figures in chartwell bars and given very specific values in the anchored object dialog box, along with being given the fill color of paper and a multiply effect of 0% from the effects panel. The frame with the values is then grouped with the infographic that is underneath and the “knockout group” checkbox is ticked.


To make the effect more impressive, an “after” graphic is added that is the same size as the infographic but has different properties to make the difference in the values clear to the reader.

Moving forward

By itself, these techniques aren’t that impressive if creating one-off graphics, but if preparing infographics for variable data (whether for a catalogue or direct mail) I’m sure that readers will find these methods quite useful. These are not the only infographics tricks I have recently discovered, so watch this space.

Next Beta Script: Data Merge Cut and Stack Assistant

As a regular user of Data Merge, I often have to assemble projects that require cut and stack impositions. Most of the time, I prepare my files one-up at the correct size and output to PDF, knowing that the RIP of the digital printer has imposition software that has the ability to prepare cut and stack style impositions.

If cut and stack is an unfamiliar term, it is a style of page imposition where the subsequent pages appear on the sheets below until the end of a stack, and then begin again at the top of the sheet in this continuous pattern.

Unlike bookwork that may have a maximum page count of under 1000 pages, cut and stack impositions can deal with page counts in the hundreds of thousands… enough to make any imposition program buckle.

Another way of handling cut and stack impositions is to prepare the imposed base in Adobe InDesign, and then manipulate the data so that rather than being one long list, the list is split into columns based on the amount of pages-to-view on an imposed sheet. This is a quicker method as there are less pages to process and no imposition software to use, but there is the time taken to split the data appropriately, and will suffer any human error that went into manually making the revised database.

Frustrated with this situation, I decided to create a script that would take a large database and repurpose it for a cut and stack imposition. On that note, I present to you my latest script.

The imposed base is created in Adobe InDesign with text frames in place for the data merge placeholders. The script is then run and prompts the user for the original data. An interface appears asking the user for:

  • The records to process;
  • The amount of records in a set;
  • The amount of sets in a stack;
  • How to process last records (in case the stack sizes are uneven); and
  • Any other identifiers visible in the database.

Once OK is clicked, the script creates a duplicate of the original database and arranges the data appropriately, and launches the Data Merge palette so that the imposed base placeholders can be populated.


If you would like to test this script, please go to the Contact page and in the comment field, ask for the Data Merge Cut and Stack Assistant script.

Data Merge from InDesign to unique filenames script to remain FREE

Several months ago, I announced the beta version of a script that had been in development for some time – the ability to prepare uniquely named PDF or InDesign files from a Data Merge.

The Beta release of the script is now complete and the final version is now available from the downloads page. More importantly, it will remain as a FREE script for the InDesign community to enjoy.

If you have downloaded a copy PRIOR to 28 November 2015, it may have a time-limit that is drawing closer, so if you wish to continue to use the script, make sure to download the latest version from the downloads page mentioned earlier.

To see the script in action, I have also produced a series of Youtube videos on the Colecandoo channel.

I am working on a Pro version of the script that will contain enhanced file naming features and expanded export abilities such as export to png, interactive PDF etc. More information about this script will be made available closer to its release date.

I have also made custom versions of this script for specific requests, so if that is something that interests you, contact me via the requests page.

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