In-Cat! – create database linked InDesign documents

Jo Hughesdesktop apps



As part of a recent client project I came across a fantastic tool that I think you, dear readers, may well appreciate too. Here’s the lowdown…

In-Cat!, by E-Spec, is an extension for Adobe InDesign that enables the user to generate automatic line sheets, storyboards, catalogs and graphical reports from any standard database. This could be taking images and data from a simple image database, a PLM system or even a combination of different databases, for example images and style data from PLM then sales volumes from a POS system.

So how does it work?

First up you will need a licence of Adobe InDesign. The user then builds a template InDesign document of their required layout using the standard InDesign tools, creating placeholders to hold images and data. Using the In-Cat! plugin, which is essentially like a standard window palette within InDesign, the user can then configure how they want the placeholders in their template populated with images and corresponding data from one or more databases.

Templates support a variety of different types of data mappings. These can range from an image and text through to tables created from delimited data and colour chips created using RGB or CMYK values. Section headers and page breaks between sections can be configured to automatically separate different products sets or groups. Timestamps can be created that automatically populate the date and time of when the document was generated.

Templates can be populated from one or more databases. The database administrator creates a virtual table or view, fed by their chosen database(s), to hold all the data that will be required. Using the In-Cat! plugin, each placeholder within the template document is then associated with one or more fields within the database view. Search criteria field sets can also be configured by selecting which fields from the database view you would like made available to users to search by. A variety of different databases are supported including MS-SQL, Oracle, MySQL, and PostgreSQL.

Once the configuration of the template and database mappings is complete, this schema can then be distributed to all the users in your organisation that you would like to be able to generate documents and reports from InDesign. The user simply needs to open InDesign and the In-Cat! plugin window, select a database connection and template layout, then fill in their chosen search criteria. The In-Cat! plugin allows them to browse through thumbnails of their search results and manually edit those results as necessary before they trigger the population of the template. Once the template has been populated with the images and data the user still has full control and can make any necessary adjustments to the layout or data. At any time the data within the document can be re-synced to show the latest values.

In regards to PLM, then most systems nowadays will automatically create and export a graphical Line sheet. However few do it with such ease and elegance of design that In-Cat! allows. But where In-Cat! really shines is in the creation of sales books and catalogs. Typically this is an incredibly time consuming and manual exercise to produce the quality of layout and design required for externally distributed sales document. With In-Cat! this process happens at the click of a button, producing catalogs that are no different in appearance to that of manually produced ones, yet have far more data integrity as data can be automatically re-synced at any time.

The uses for In-Cat! don’t stop at line sheets and catalogs. A recent client was using In-Cat! to create their wholesale stock report, exporting the style images from an image database and exporting sizes and corresponding stock levels from StyleMan.

To see a demo, take a look at the videos below or for more information visit

Jo Hughes on sablinkedin
Jo Hughes
With a background in fashion design, Jo has worked with many international retail and apparel companies, implementing solutions to help them work more efficiently to develop products.

She has a detailed understanding of the apparel product development process and the supporting systems including PLM, PDM, CAD and 3D garment design.