With the Variables window in Illustrator you can make something a bit like a data-merge document with lots of variants for different records (InDesign’s data merge is usually better, but I have to use Illustrator for this, for other features that are in Illustrator and not in InDesign).

After setting these up, you get an Illustrator document with a drop-down menu in the Variables window that lets you switch between different many variants on a template.

How do I turn this into lots of static files (or a static file with lots of artboards), similar to the Create merged document option in InDesign?

Some handy links on Illustrator variables / dynamic documents:

Example. Say, you’ve done the following steps in Illustrator, creating a dynamic document with variants:

  1. Create a chart with the graph tool, put some data in it.
  2. Open Variables window, select the chart, click Make Graph Dynamic and create a new graph variable.
  3. Capture data set from the variables flyout menu.
  4. Save variable library as XML.
  5. Put data in the XML – e.g. for testing you could just open the XML in a plain text editor, find the chunk from <v:sampleDataSet to </v:sampleDataSet>, and copy and paste it a few times, varying the data values and dataSetName.
  6. Reload the new XML variable library from the variables flyout menu.

You now have a drop-down menu that lets you switch the chart between each data set you created.

Let’s say there were 1,000 variants. How would you turn this into a directory of 1,000 separate files (any format: PDF or AI are both fine) with filenames based on the data set name, without manually switching and doing Save as each time?

I'd have thought there would be an option, like InDesign Data-Merge’s Create merged document, but I can’t find one anywhere. Failing that, I'm sure that Actions should be able to do this, but I can't figure out how. If not Actions, maybe a script can do it.

Or if that’s not possible directly, is there a way to make one mega-file with an artboard for each data set (which can then be split into separate files)?

1 Answer 1


Yes, the data set exporting is very well tucked away.

To export the data sets into pdf's you need to do this:

  • Make a new action where you simply save a pdf document.
  • Then from the corner menu in Actions window, select Batch... enter image description here

You should:

  • Select the action you just made
  • Select source: Data sets
  • and Override action "save" commands.

enter image description here

Then press ok.

I have never used this for thousands of pdf's, so I'm not sure how long it'll take, but that should do the job.

  • 2
    Awesome! Perfect! p.s. I have to ask - what does your HULK SMASH!! action do? :-D Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 14:30
  • 1
    ...and one tip for anyone following this method: if you're creating lots of PDFs, don't forget to make sure that View PDF after saving is not ticked when recording the save PDF action!! D'oh... Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 14:40
  • 2
    @user568458 :P HULK SMASH!! does this: 1. Select all cmd+a 2. Create outlines cmd+shift+O 3. Outline stroke 4. Save (.ai) 5. Save as (.pdf) -- It's for logos and such.
    – Joonas
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 14:43

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