I have a report made in InDesign that needs to go to several different types of recipients (e.g. study participants, advisory board, and other powers-than be). The report everyone gets is the same, except page 1, which is a cover letter. Each cover letter using data merge to create a letter for each recipient. There are 3 different cover letters, one for each type of recipient:

  • Letter1.indd (20 different letters using data merge)
  • Letter2.indd (10 different letters using data merge)
  • Letter3.indd (10 different letters using data merge)
  • Report.indd (The actually report that needs to be combined with each cover letter)

So basically, I need to do a data merge on each letter, and each of those letters need to be combined with the report itself. The result would be 40 PDF files, each with a unique letter. If all the letters were the same basic text, that would be easy--but there are 3 different letters.

The options I've found so far are:

  1. Merge the letters into separate PDF files, create a PDF of the report, and combine all of them one-at-a-time using Acroat
  2. Place Report.indd into each cover letter. The problem is that the report is 80+ pages and InDesign requires you to place every single page by hand. The report also gets updated every 6 months.
  3. Use a Book. I haven't figured out how to get the data merge part to work with a book though.

So far, the only viable solution is #1. I'll waste an hour or two combining documents, but it'll work. I'd like to find a cleaner way (and faster) way to accomplish this task though.

4 Answers 4


I recommend using Adobe Acrobat Actions (I'm using Acrobat Pro X). It takes a little time to setup the first time, but once you have the main action created, generating the different reports with each custom letter is very fast. Those 40 PDFs you'll need six months from now will probably take 5-10 minutes to create.

First Time Through

First, create your merged letters, and export them as PDFs, so then you should have 3 files:

  • Letter1_Merged.pdf (20 pages)
  • Letter2_Merged.pdf (10 pages)
  • Letter3_Merged.pdf (10 pages)

Then export your Report - Report.pdf (80+ pages)

Now, in Acrobat, open each of the Letter#_Merged.pdfs, then click the Tools tab/button in the top right-ish area, and then click Extract from the Pages section. Acrobat Extract Pages
Check the box to Extract Pages As Separate Files, and then create some empty folder, (Lets call it Letters) and save the extracted PDF pages there. Make this folder somewhere local on your computer, this will help speed up the process. Do this to the same folder for each of the three Letter#_Merged.pdfs. This will turn your 3 merged PDFs into 40 single-page PDFs named something like Letter1_Merged 1.pdf or Letter3_Merged 10.pdf.
EDIT: If your letters are longer than one page, use Tools > Pages > Split instead of Extract. This will allow you to split your document at every 3rd page, or whatever you define.

Next, in Acrobat, close any remaining open files, and click File > Action Wizard > Create New Action. For the Start with pull-down, select A Folder on My Computer, and choose the Letters folder you created just a moment ago with 40 extracted single-page PDFs.
From the left-hand menu, expand the Pages section, and select Insert Pages, then click the icon in the Options column to select the report file - again, for the sake of speed, I recommend having this file on your local hard drive, you can always copy it back to the network after it finishes. You'll then be asked where to insert the report. DO NOT select Prompt User unless you want to re-select the same report file for each of the 40 PDFs.
For the Save to: pull-down, create another new folder where you want the final reports to be saved (Lets call it Reports). This folder should also be on your local computer for the sake of speed.
Your window should look similar to this: Acrobat Action Window After you click Save you'll be prompted to name and describe your action. Name it something you'll recognize, and the description can be blank, or whatever you like it to be. Uncheck the Run this action after saving box. Now, just go to File > Action Wizard and select from that list the action you created. It will bring up a box describing your action, just click Next to continue. You should see a little progress window pop up, and then after it finishes, go check your Reports folder. It should have 40 PDFs, probably with the same names as the single-page letter PDFs, but they should all have the report appended.

In Six Months

If the letters have changed, you'll need to re-export the merged letters to PDFs, and re-extract/split those into that same Letters folder. If your updated report is still located in the same place and has the same filename as last time, you don't have to update the Action, but if you've saved a new version, you'll need to click File > Action Wizard > Edit Actions and then select the action you made six months ago, and click Edit. Click that same icon under the Options column, and point it to your new report. Re-save the action, and then run it to get a new batch of reports.

  • See revised answer for solution when letters are longer than one page.
    – apex
    Nov 12, 2013 at 16:48

To attempt to do this I'd probably first try inserting a page at the beginning of Report.indd full of tags to receive the entire cover letter via XML. E.g. [Name], [Address],...[Body],...[Signature]

The XML import file would contain details for the 40 complete cover letters (with the three unique bodies repeating 10, 10 and 20 times). Map paragraph styles to tags.

After importing the XML you'd have a 3200+ page doc (within InDesign's limit of 9999). Then after printing to pdf, use one of the many third-party tools to automatically split the pdf every 80+ pages.

(Note: I'm not discounting Data Merge, I just don't know it.)

  • This seems like it could be a very good solution, but the content of the letters is updated each time. If someone else needed to prepare the reports in my absence, they'd probably run into difficulty figuring it out (I've never used the XML features in InDesign myself), which is why I didn't select this as an answer. It might ultimately, however, be a cleaner approach. Nov 13, 2013 at 0:59
  • I agree - XML import in InDesign is not that intuitive! But it's brilliant once worked out. :)
    – jontyc
    Nov 13, 2013 at 4:24

First of all, I'm not sure why you'd say that you'd have to place all 80 pages of the Report individually. Maybe I'm misunderstanding you there. You can drag multiple pages, or place (import) text onto multiple pages.

Second, my suggestion would be this:

  • Create your merged letters using Word.
  • Make three copies of Report.indd and call them Report-Letter1.indd, Report-Letter2.indd, and Report-Letter3.indd.
  • Place the Word doc of the merged letters into the respective InDesign files before the report. Use one section start for the letters and a second for the report.
  • When you export your PDF, you export the cover letter (page A, or page M, whatever) plus the 80-page report. So your export field is M, 1-80.

That should give you an individualized PDF, but only one source document for all the study participant letters.

When you have to update the report, you start fresh with a new Report document and then just re-place the cover letters.

  • If you "Place" an indesign document into another, it will not automatically flow into new pages. Instead, you must place-click-place-click-place-click... for every single page. Nov 13, 2013 at 0:57
  • @Scribblemacher So don't do it that way. Either drag the thumbnails using the Pages palette or re-flow the copy into the text frame. Nov 13, 2013 at 2:37

A user made a script that maybe will help you with what you are trying to achive. You can find it here:


Or on the creators website: https://colecandoo.com/downloads/

Maybe Adobe will include such a feature in the future, given that enough people vote here: https://indesign.uservoice.com/forums/601021-adobe-indesign-feature-requests/suggestions/32075518-after-data-merge-export-to-split-pdf

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