Make Variable Artwork for Magazines and Newsletters with Adobe InDesign

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Make Variable Artwork for Magazines and Newsletters with Adobe InDesign

Adobe InDesign is the kingpin of layout software. One feature I adore is the ability to create a company newsletter or product catalog with sections of variable information or artwork. Let me show you how.

Adobe InDesign is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud professional design package. It is available as a subscription and comes with Adobe Acrobat Pro, Photoshop, Illustrator and many other programs. For me, life without Adobe is unthinkable.

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One feature I adore is the ability to create a company newsletter or product catalogue with sections of variable information or artwork. Why would you want that?

Why use variable information in InDesign artwork?

If the reason for doing this isn’t immediately obvious, here are some examples.

Multiple locations

If you operate in more than one location, having a quality newsletter/brochure with different sections that carry different addresses or specialities is very useful.

You might also have a different set of services that you offer in each place. In that case, you might like to promote these services, but only to the customers in that area.

Different customer segments

You might generate a regular company newsletter but want to speak more directly to different customer groups.

For example, if you provide podiatry services, you might have client marketing lists that include childhood issues, senior men, pregnant women, and marathon runners. You can run content in your print edition that targets all of these groups, or only one of them.

You might like to email interactive PDF brochures with your podiatry-related articles alongside recommendations for services and products that are targeted to each user group.

Here is another example.  Your Health is a General Practice patient newsletter that is distributed to around 200 medical centres throughout Australia. It is a four-page A3 fold to A4 newsletter digitally printed in bespoke print runs of between 50 and 500 copies per clinic. (Disclaimer: I have been a co-worker on this product.) This craftsmanship is the genius of Dr Julian Hooper, founder of Fluidic, the medical and scientific marketing agency.

The great thing about Your Health is that each medical centre gets quality medical articles as well as sections to customise. These are used to include not only branding elements but practice information that allows them to comply with RACGP accreditation criteria.  Addresses and contact information, opening hours, consultation prices, medical services, points of difference, after-hours emergencies, and available doctors are generally included.

How to create the variable artwork? Layers

For a regular piece of marketing communication, you would likely have logos and page numbers, and background items set up in the Adobe InDesign master pages.

InDesign is the industry best graphic design software. 

Next, we create the artwork for the areas of the newsletter that will be standard across every version. This might include an article, a CEO statement, and contact information. Put this content onto its own base layer. Name it ‘Base’ in the Layers Palette.

For every variation, create a new Layer in InDesign and name it accordingly e.g. Kids, Pregnancy, Athletes, Seniors. Use the eyeball to turn the layer off and on. This way you will see the Base layer of the document and whatever is visible (with the eyeball) showing an individual layer.

Making the final artwork: Scripts

When you are ready to finalise the document, you will need to use the excellent Scripts features in Adobe InDesign. Scripts are an advanced InDesign feature that allows you to install, or write your own, javascript to perform different functions.

The function we want is available and is called Page Exporter Utility. A fantastic article by David and Anne-Marie at InDesign Secrets expands on this script and how to use it. (It also has a direct download link to the zip file containing the scripts that you will need to install.) There are many options inside, but it is really easy once you get started.

Finally, we create a PDF with your print specification, using every layer of the InDesign document as a separate PDF file, or one mega file for digital printing. Depending on your quantities and the print process (offset or digital), you would generate one final PDF with every layer as a spread, or every layer as a separate file.

I hope this article helps and gives you the imagination to consider all your options. Let me know what you’re using InDesign for. It’s great to play and push the boundaries of what is possible.