This is not a general ‘how to use Mail Merge’ post, it’s mostly a reminder for me for when I come to repeat this task next year and wish that this year’s me had written it down. This time, I made notes!
A mail merge involves importing a table of data (a spreadsheet in Excel form (“.xls(x)”), or as a tab- or comma-separated version in notepad) into a blank Word template so that the contents of each row in the spreadsheet is presented in label form.
You will need
- Word – open a new document, this is where you’ll make the labels
- Data file – Excel, notepad / text document, anything that has tabulated (columnar) data. Note that with Excel files with multiple tabs you can select which tab is used as the data source. Big fan of the text-based version though.
- Patience and determination
1a. Open Word: Mailings tab » Start Mail Merge » Labels (select option / OK)
1b. Click on the ‘Label products’ drop-down menu and select brand, then size, then OK. You can also create your own label page from scratch with the New label option.
(I used “Avery A4 and A5 sizes”, L7163 (which has 14 labels to a page, 99mm in length, 38mm in height.)
1c. Word will now automatically populate a single page with largely invisible labels (‘Select All’ / Ctrl+A to see them) all but the first containing the phrase “Next Record”.
2. Select Recipients » Use an Existing List… (navigate to your data file, usually Excel (see section on troubleshooting) or notepad / plain text). If invited to “Open Document in Workbook:” click on menu to select which workbook (tab) of the spreadsheet you want to use. You can also select a cell range within that.
3. The ‘Edit Labels’ pop-up invites you to Insert Merge Field – click on that and add the fields (column headings) you want included, eg First Name will look like «First_Name». You can decide on the order and layout a bit at this stage but you’ve more control in the next stage so add them in and press OK.
4. Using the Home tab adjust the layout and appearance of the first record (top left, the only one that doesn’t say «Next Record» with colour, font, size, positioning etc. Once happy click back into the Mailings tab, click Update Labels to copy your layout across all labels. Then click on “Finish & Merge” and choose Edit Individual Documents… A new Word document will open with the finished labels which you can check and amend individually if necessary.
5. If you need to make changes affecting all labels just close the finished labels without saving and amend the underlying label design before repeating the Finish & Merge step.
6. While you can re-use this label ‘template’ with a different file (restart process from (2)) it doesn’t always work well and to be honest I’d start fresh, but I only do this once or twice a year. You may work out a better system for your needs.
At point 1c you can stop if you only wanted to make a few labels manually, as you now have the basic template and can add in text and adjust layout, overwriting each «Next Record». For speed format the first label and copy to the rest by clicking the Update Labels button in the Mailings tab.
A friend sent me an Excel spreadsheet to make some labels and it misbehaved, giving me error messages when I tried to run the mail merge (it wanted me to download lots of unnecessary fonts). I completely solved that by selecting all the cells of the table and pasting into a blank notepad – it will keep the underlying formatting that lets it know where info in one column ends and the next column begins. It’s also a smaller file. Wikipedia has a good article on tab-separated data files.
On my Mac the Excel file wanted me to give it access to my keychain and I had to rebuff it a few times, also telling it not to download missing fonts. After clicking ‘deny’ and ‘no’ a few times it worked OK but it was quicker to paste the data into notepad and use that instead.
There’s an interim pop-up window if using a tab-separated notepad file where it asks what formatting it should use, for me it was a default Mac thing that worked (basically it asks ‘how should I read this file when transferring the contents to Word?’, with Excel it already knows as both are Microsoft products).
I had four lines of text using the following font sizes with Calibri or Arial.
FIRST_NAME – 36
SURNAME – 22 or 26
COMPANY – 14
DAY – 12 PHOTO OK – 12 (I’ve also written 14 in brackets in my notes).
This will depend on your printer but for mine it’s safer to print each page individually by selecting ‘print current page’ (the printers at work overenthusiastically default to double-sided!) and then feeding in the label sheet through the side tray, labels facing down but maintaining normal top to bottom (ie flipped only front and back).
Colouring in blocks or individual labels
Select labels to be coloured, right-click, borders and sharing, select colour and choose ‘apply to: Cell’ from the options then OK.