Creating data driven catalogs, Using Adobe InDesign

InDesign fundamentals for catalog production

Catalogs by nature are often large and complex documents. They require skilled users with specific expertise to create and maintain engaging, cost-effective and timely content to support an organisation’s sales & marketing strategy.

A majority of catalogs created today are made using Adobe InDesign – the fully featured desktop publishing application typically sold as part of an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription (alongside Photoshop, Illustrator and Acrobat).

Fortunately, InDesign includes many tools which can help. Most of these tools will save considerable time when used correctly. Your catalog project will work best when InDesign is used in a modular and repeatable fashion. 

Before you attempt to tackle the setup, design, management and updating of a large catalog we recommend you work your way through this list to ensure you are equipped to take on this challenge.

If there is an area you’re not familiar with, we suggest you undertake further research or consider some formal InDesign training (either class based or through an online service such as – e.g. For additional tips and tricks you may also like to refer to

Subject area Description Key points More info
Book files

Book files allow you to separate a large InDesign document into separate smaller documents.

Utilising a book file enhances your InDesign performance as you typically only have one smaller document open at once.

Page numbering, master pages and styles can be managed seamlessly across your book.

  • Separate your catalog project into multiple 20-30 page documents.
  • Regularly use the Synchronize Book function to keep your styles the same across your catalog.
Cell styles Cell styles allow you to save and re-use specific table cell formatting (e.g. text alignment, text inset distance, cell strokes).
  • Create cell styles for each different table cell design.
Character styles

Character styles allow you to save and re-use specific text formatting (e.g. font face or font colour).

Using a character styles allows you to customise specific text within a paragraph.

  • Create character styles to apply different fonts/colours to specific text within a paragraph.
  • Use character styles sparingly.
  • Never apply a character style to a whole paragraph (use a paragraph style instead).

Images add enormous value to the design of a catalog.

However, sourcing and maintaining a library of consistent, well organised images can be a challenge for many organisations.

  • Maintain images in a logical folder structure.
  • Ensure images are consistent in the way they present products.
  • Consider removing backgrounds/shadows from your images.
Master pages

Master pages allow you to save commonly used page layouts for re-use.

These page layouts typically include items placed on the master page itself to aid catalog navigation (e.g. coloured tabs).

  • Create master pages for each separate content type (or where a layout needs to change from once column to two columns).
  • Create separate master pages for navigation tabs and inherit these layouts from multiple master pages.
Paragraph styles Paragraph styles allow you to save and re-use specific text (e.g. font or size) and paragraph formatting (e.g. tabs, indents or paragraph spacing).
  • Create paragraph styles for each different application of a font or size.
  • Name your paragraph styles in a clear and consistent manner.
  • Keep your paragraph styles organised in folders and sorted by name.
Table of contents

InDesign’s automated table of contents feature allows you to create a detailed table of contents based on paragraph styles used within your catalog.

The table of contents can easily be refreshed to account for any layout changes, ensuring your page number references remain accurate.

  • Create separate paragraph styles for each document level.
  • Apply paragraph styles carefully within your document.
  • Map the styles you require within your table of contents using InDesign’s automated table of contents feature.
Table styles Table styles allow you to save and re-use overall table formatting (e.g. table border, table before/after spacing).
  • Create a table style for each different table design application.

Managing large and/or complex tables is a key part of many catalog production projects.

Knowing how to manage tables effectively fosters good catalog design and allows your catalog project to progress seamlessly.

  • Create overall table widths as well as specific column widths as a number (e.g. a whole number or a regular fraction).
  • Assign table header/data rows correctly.
  • Understand how to add/remove table borders.