Document DDF versus Named DDF, how to choose

This article describes the difference between using a DesignMerge Document DDF and using a Named DDF so you can determine which type is most appropriate for your workflow. The Document DDF is the default configuration for DesignMerge Pro, and the Named DDF is the default for DesignMerge Catalog software.


A Data Source Definition (or DDF for short) is a file that holds all of the DesignMerge settings for your variable data job. This includes all of your data setup information (field names, etc.) as well as all of your Variable Link and Rule definitions. DDF's can be exported for backup purposes, and can be imported for jobs that use similar settings. DesignMerge uses two different methods for managing DDF settings, the Document DDF and the Named DDF. Each are described below.


DesignMerge Pro software utilizes a special kind of DDF that is called the Document DDF. When this option is enabled, all of the DDF settings are stored and travel with the InDesign document.

The Document DDF automatically loads the DDF settings that were last used on a document as soon as you open it. This ensures you are using the latest settings that were applied to that document the last time it was saved. If you open a different document, the settings automatically change to match those stored with that one. This allows each document to have it's own set of unique DDF settings.

The advantage of using a Document DDF for variable data jobs is that all of the settings are stored with the document. You just open the document, and everything is ready to go. You can also import the DDF settings from an existing document to save time on setup. The only disadvantage to this approach is if you need to change the same DDF setting across many documents (such as a catalog workflow, where all of the documents are related and share common DDF settings). In a workflow like this where you have many documents that need to share identical settings, then using a Named DDF may be a better option.


DesignMerge Catalog software utilizes the original DDF format, which we refer to as a Named  DDF or Global DDF. The Named DDF provides a way to share a common set of DDF settings across many documents. This feature works well for applications like catalogs, where all of the InDesign documents that comprise the catalog generally need to share common DDF settings.

You can create up to 100 Named DDF's, and choose one to use by selecting it in the DDF dropdown menu. The DDF's are stored locally on your workstation, but the entire DDF Set can be exported and imported onto other workstations. This is required in order to sync the Named DDF settings across multiple workstations.

The advantage of using a Named DDF is that if you need to change any of the settings, you do so only to the Named DDF. All other documents automatically pick up the settings stored with the Named DDF when they are opened for processing. This is possible because the documents all share the common DDF settings stored with the Named DDF.

Contrast this approach to a Document DDF. With a Document DDF, you would need to change the settings for every single document in order to achieve the same effect (because each document stores it's own DDF settings and those settings are not shared with other documents).


In general, the following guidelines apply depending upon which software product and application you are interested in.

DesignMerge Pro

General Variable Data and Personalization (Document DDF): For the majority of variable data/personalization jobs, typically these will utilize setup information that is unique to that one job. Therefore using the Document DDF (which is the default configuration for DesignMerge Pro) generally works best as all of the setup information is stored with the InDesign document, and there is no need to share those job settings with other documents. In the cases where you do need to share settings, you can always import the settings from one document to another.

Store Signage, ID Badges with Common Data Layout (Named DDF): Occasionally, we have seen clients with specific variable data/personalization jobs that all use a common set of data fields, rules, etc. One example would be with Store Signage and ID Badges. The client has dozens of templates prepared with DesignMerge software, and the data files being processed always have the identical field ordering. Many times with these applications the clients utilize the DesignMerge Build Document feature to produce the output. In these specific DesignMerge Pro cases, it may be more efficient to use a Named DDF approach instead.

 DesignMerge Catalog

Catalog and Retail Applications (Named DDF): With catalog and retail applications, you are commonly working with dozens if not hundreds of documents at a time. Typically there is a single data file that holds the pricing information, descriptive copy, etc. that applies to all of the documents that comprise the catalog or publication. In this case using a Named DDF is more efficient as it allows you to automatically share the same DDF settings across all documents. If you make a change to a Named DDF, that change will be picked up automatically by any documents that use the same Named DDF the next time those document are updated.


There is a DesignMerge Preference checkbox item titled Always Use Doc DDF. When this checkbox is enabled (default for DesignMerge Pro), then you are using the Document DDF by default. If this checkbox is unchecked (default for DesignMerge Catalog), then you are using the Named DDF feature.


The steps required to create a Named DDF are identical to those for creating a Document DDF. The only difference is that you enter a specific name for the DDF you wish to create instead of using Document as the name. To create a Named DDF, follow the steps below:

  1. First, be sure to uncheck the DesignMerge preference item Always Use Doc DDF.
  2. Select DesignMerge > Setup > Data Source Definitions...
  3. Click the New button and enter a name for your DDF.
  4. Click OK to create the DDF.
  5. Now you are ready to run Setup on your newly created DDF.

When operating with a Named DDF, as soon as you open a document the name of the DDF last stored with the document will be selected as the Current DDF. The document automatically imports the settings from the Named DDF and makes those available for immediate use.


You can import/export a Single DDF, or an entire DDF Set. Basic instructions for this are provided below. For more details, please see the article How to import, export and backup your DDF settings.

Export a Single DDF

To export a single DDF, just save an InDesign document while the DDF settings that you want are active. This is true for both Document DDF and Named DDF. The document will always store a copy of the DDF that was in effect when the document was saved.

Import a Single DDF

To import a Single DDF from another document, follow these steps:

  1. Select DesignMerge > Setup > Data Source Definitions...
  2. Click the Import DDF. button.
  3. Navigate to and select the InDesign document that has the settings you wish to import confirm the import.

Your document will now have access to all of the same settings as the selected document.

Shortcut Method

There is a shortcut method for importing a single DDF from an InDesign document. Use the flyout menu on the DesignMerge panel and choose the Import Setup from Document... option. This will prompt you to select the Adobe InDesign document in the same fashion described above.


Export a DDF Set

If you are using Named DDF's, then often you will have several of them defined. To make it easy to export these DDF's for backup or for syncing with another workstation, you can export the entire DDF Set.

  1. Select DesignMerge > Utilities > Data Source > Export DDF Set...
  2. You will be prompted to save a file.
  3. Save the file anywhere you would like (we recommend using a .ddf filename extension).

Import a DDF Set

To import a DDF Set backup from a file, please follow these steps.

  1. Select DesignMerge > Utilities > Data Source > Import DDF Set...
  2. You will be prompted to select a file.
  3. Navigate to and select a DDF Set file that you previously saved.
  4. The entire set of DDF's will be imported, replacing the existing set on your workstation.

Pro Tip: Any time you are prompted to import a DDF or a DDF Set, you can select either a DDF Set file, or an Adobe InDesign document. If you select a DDF Set file, then all of the DDF's within that set are imported. If you select an Adobe InDesign document, then only the single DDF stored with that document will be imported.