Automating the printing process
December 11, 2007 1:53 PM   Subscribe

Printing/InDesign: What's the best way to collect information from a user (lets say business card info) and automate the process of sending an InDesign file to the printer?

I know that InDesign imports XML, I know that I can create a PDF form that mails XML data to a person. I know that third party people want to help, but I'm not sure I want them... yet.

What I don't know is if/how the process of getting the user information into an InDesign file (without someone needing to click on "Import XML") that can be sent to the printer can be automated (or if any of the above are applicable in what I'm looking to do). Starting points?

posted by unsigned to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The user may have to click something but most of this could possibly be automated with automator on OS X?

A cursory search on google brought this automator pack up :

Not sure, but I see no reason why you couldn't set up an auto export of XML into a folder then every so often get automator to check the file, if it's been modified then open Indesign, flow in the new xml and collect for the printer?
posted by twistedonion at 2:04 PM on December 11, 2007

I've done some work with scripting InDesign templates - let me see if I understand your workflow, because it sounds like it might be easiest to send a PDF, not an InDesign file, to the printer.

First off, someone will need to click "Import XML" in InDesign if you need to verify that. There's not really any good way around it.

Have you considered using InDesign to design a base PDF that you can then script to with PHP or somesuch and automatically pre-fill then print? Then you're doing the hard bits with a PDF, which is an open standard and there are loads of pre-written modules out there that you can use.
posted by annathea at 2:05 PM on December 11, 2007

My print shop is way too small to implement it, but you might ask your vendor about JDFs.

As I understand it, you can embed client data in your PDF. The printing company's workflow is (theoretically) capable of parsing the client data out of that PDF in order to automatically set up a job ticket/prepresss workflow/proof/purchase order, etc.
posted by lekvar at 2:05 PM on December 11, 2007

twistedonion nailed it btw, I forgot about Automator. I haven't tried it, but what twistedonion says should work.
posted by annathea at 2:06 PM on December 11, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far - as for the PDF I asked and it sounds like InDesign is preferred (there might be wiggle room - I asked because I had the same thought) because of spot color printing(?). I'm not as familiar with print, but am with XML, light scripting, etc. So I'm asking for our print guys who know the print but not the other.
posted by unsigned at 2:15 PM on December 11, 2007

I'm not suggesting that you submit a PDF for printing purposes. I'm a printer and I hate PDFs and always prefer native files. But you can submit a PDF with JDF data embedded in addition to the InDesign file. If your printer has the right software, the JDF data will be used to automate a considerable amount of the process on the printer's end. I use the RAMPage workflow, which does accept JDF data, but my shop is small enough that we haven't bothered to implement it.
posted by lekvar at 3:02 PM on December 11, 2007

I do a whole lot of InDesign scripting at my job. This sort of thing would be so flexible, it's almost difficult to say what would be the best way of doing it. No third party people needed. Completely free and ready out of the box.

OS X or Windows? Adobe InDesign Scripting forum is where you want to go. The people there are knowledgeable (as in: they wrote the scripting code in InDesign) and friendly (they might just post an example script) and can help you out immensely.
posted by Brainy at 6:12 PM on December 11, 2007


I'm a printer and I like PDFs, if they're ones that I set up. And this is a relatively trivial problem to solve.

1) Create the business card template. Make sure that there is plenty of space for long names, and that there is space for the ascenders and descenders. Take out the text fields that you're going to have your end user fill in. Export this to PDF. Shoot it off to your printer and ask him/her if it's good to print without any hassle or prepress fees.

2) Once the PDF is verified, open up the blank template in Acrobat Pro. Add user-fillable forms. Note that some typefaces are not embeddable, and some are embeddable but not editable. I know, however, that all the faces in Adobe FontFolios 10 & 11 are both embeddable and editable. Make sure to verify that you're using a typeface with the correct (i.e., no) editing restrictions.

3) Magic stuff that I don't know how to do: create a web form that will fill in those fields and send you an email with the filled-in PDF. (I'll get back to this).

4) Send the PDF straight off to your printer. Viola: once this is set up, you will have to do viretually no work to typeset 1 or 100 cards - it puts the work in your customers hands, and prevents you from making typesetting errors.

As for that web form magic, I don't know who you'd ask to do this. PagePath has a system that does exactly what you're asking for, but I have no idea about the price or scale.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:35 PM on December 11, 2007


1) Have your customer or whomever send over a tab-delimited spreadsheet with the data on the various cards. The first row needs the name of the entries (firstname, lastname, phonenumber, faxnumber, etc) and each column has the various strings in them. You can leave any or all fields blank.

2) Set up your template using InDesign CS3's Data Merge.

3) Merge the data.

4) You or your printer can then either print directly from the resulting .indd file or link the individual pages from that file into a new .indd that's 12-up or 24-up or whatever.

If you have questions about either method, email me at I do this sort of thing all the time.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:39 PM on December 11, 2007

I bow to Optimus Chyme's superior Printer-Fu.
posted by lekvar at 9:32 AM on December 12, 2007

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