Short version of the question

When using Data Merge to put pictures into an InDesign document, how do the file paths need to be written in the data source file? The official documentation appears to be incorrect.

The longer version of the question

i.e. stuff I've tried that "should have" worked but didn't:

I'm attempting to use the data merge feature of Adobe InDesign, but I'm finding that it's far more persnickety about the file paths for merged images than the documentation suggests.

According to the documentation, I should just be able to write the file paths of merged images as strings like:

Mac HD:Photos:BillTucker.jpg Desktop:Family:dat.gif

However, after much experimentation, I've only succeeded in loading images with their paths written out this way when the .csv file of merged data was located in the "Documents" directory. If the csv file is in a subdirectory of "Documents", InDesign fails to find the image files.

Using relative paths always seems to work. e.g. All of the following work:




...if the .csv file is in the same directory as the image (for the first example), the directory below the .csv file (for the second example), or in the final example, if there is an "images" directory off the .csv file's directory with the image in it.

My goal is to be able to write the file path in such a way that no matter where the csv file is located, the image can be found. It seems like this format should work: Documents:Games:VL:assets:icons:state.png

Using the full file path copied from the Links panel for the image also works: /Users/sambrown/Documents/Games/VL/assets/icons/state.png

...but like I said above, that format only seems to work when the data source is in ~/Documents, not a subdirectory.

What am I getting tripped up on here?

3 Answers 3


The file paths given in the documentation are indeed a bit misleading in my experience, too. I have never noticed before that certain ways of writing the file path actually do work if the InDesign file is in ~/Documents because I never put anything there. Instead I’ve always used relative paths or absolute ones—the latter just needs the right syntax to work.

Now, first of all, it should be said that the very first example given in the Adobe documentation is quite simply stupid: Mac HD:Photos:BillTucker.jpg will never work out of the box, because there is no Photos folder directly in the folder that represents your Mac’s boot drive unless you’ve added one yourself. That’s not how OS X/macOS structures things. The photos folder (which—at least in macOS Sierra—is actually called Pictures) is located in your user folder, i.e., it’s /Users/sambrown/Pictures, assuming your username is sambrown. (When you’re logged in, ~/ is a shortcut way of writing /Users/sambrown/.)

There is, however, a difference between the traditional Mac OS and Unix-based file systems to take into account as well.1. Here’s a brief overview of why this is (or was) such a mess (although that page also uses a nonexistent (Mac HD)/Documents as its example, which should more realistically have been (Mac HD)/Users/sambrown/Documents).

Also note the difference between using a colon and a slash as the directory separator: the colon was standard in Mac OS; the slash is standard in Unix. The directory separator cannot be used in file names… but things are still messy there. Everything in OS X and macOS now displays file hierarchies using slashes (or more graphic elements like the little triangle used now in the Finder) as the directory separator, but if you try to name a file with slashes and colons, you’ll find it’s the colons that it complains about, not the slashes. Oh well.

InDesign is kind of an odd mixture here: it requires the Unix way of traversing file directories, but it doesn’t understand the Unix style of using slashes as file path separators, only colons. And it’s different from both of them in that the path should not begin with a directory separator. So you start with Volumes or Users, not /Volumes or /Users.2

If you have the state.png and BillTucker.jpg images located where your question has them located, you will need the following paths:


At least that works for me, regardless of where the InDesign file is located. If you have files on different drives (whether they’re extra internal or external hard drives or network shares), those have their own separate roots. But since everything in Unix starts with the drive you’re booting from, other drives’ roots appear in a folder inside the current drive; that folder is called /Volumes. So if you have an external drive with all your photos called LotsaPix and you have your Bill Tucker tucked away in a folder called Very important! on that drive, your path would be:

Volumes:LotsaPix:Very important!:BillTucker.jpg



  1. Note that Mac OS is not the same as macOS. The former is the old versions of Apple’s operating system up until OS9, before OS X came along; the latter is the rebranded name of versions of OS X starting from Sierra. Mac OS had its own kernel and file system; OS X and macOS are built on a Unix kernel and thus underlyingly have a Unix file system.

  2. The initial slash/directory separator is actually Unix’ way of referring to the root of the file system, which is equivalent to the root of the boot volume, i.e., your computer’s hard drive. Without the initial slash, you’d be looking at a relative path, i.e., Users/sambrown would refer to a folder named sambrown inside a folder named Users inside the current folder. This initial slash was not used in the old Mac OS notation, and InDesign won’t allow it either, but it doesn’t only look in the current folder.

  • The colon separator has always worked for me, 6 years now. I just got an M1 Mac and every combination of / or : or ::, with or without quotes.... Everything is crashing InDesign as soon as I hit Preview Data Merge or Create Merged Document.
    – dazonic
    Commented May 9, 2022 at 7:44

OK I have a real answer to this long asked question. It took me a couple of hours of playing around with different options but I got it to work on Mojave OS. We keep all of our files on a NAS and nothing local. Indesign file can live anywhere on your server.

Example of the file path where we have our images saved is as follows: /Volumes/Marketing/KLS/ARTWORK/Custom_Marketing_Tool/test/Image001.jpg

You can save your tab delimited text file (your data file) in the following directory for example: this is just an example of where I put my data file, you will need to replace the names of folders with your own but look at the path compared to the path above. /Volumes/Marketing/KLS/ARTWORK/Custom_Marketing_Tool/

Then in your tab delimited text file in the @Photos column, the only part of the directory you need is: test/Image001.jpg

Note that I am using forward slashes and not colons.

Then everything works beautifully. It only needs the path to the image relative to where your data file lives.


We just got it to work on macOS with a comma-seperated file and a dot-slash preceding the relative paths.


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