Answer Box: Print different labels on one sheet in Publisher

Answer Box

by Connie Miller

You want to print one sheet of labels with different information on each label. Sounds so simple, doesn't it? Find out why you're having problems and how to make it work.

Applies to
Microsoft® Office Publisher 2003

A question from your comments

My puppy, Ranger, is going to the kennel while we're on a trip. I want to make labels for each meal we're providing. The labels will all have Ranger's name on them and a cute little photo. But then each one will have a different date and feeding time. I tried making many label pages within my Publisher program but that just gives me more sheets of six. I don't need six labels for each dinner, know what I mean? So what do I do to get different information on each label on the same sheet?

Advice from the Answer Box

Maybe you aren't trying to label bags of dog food. Maybe your labels are for folders that you give to each Board member at the quarterly Board of Director's meeting. Or, maybe they're for announcements you're mailing to a select group of customers about a special sale event.

Whatever your labelling goal, you'll encounter the same problem: You won't be able to figure out how to open a label publication in Publisher 2003 and just type yourself a set of unique labels.

That doesn't mean that you can't create a sheet of labels where each label is unique. You most certainly can. We'll look at exactly how you go about doing that after we explore briefly why labels don't work the way you expect them to.

Tip     The pre-designed label publications in Publisher are set up to print a whole sheet of identical labels. That means that if you open a pre-designed label publication and type the content for a single label, when you print, that label content appears on every single label on your label sheet. Kind of a waste if you're only sending one item to one destination. So, if you want to print just one label or a small number of labels that you'll use one time only, you might consider using Microsoft Office Word instead of Publisher. Try one of these options:

    • Download one of the Word label templates from the Templates on Microsoft Office Online Web site. These templates give you the flexibility to type as many labels as you want wherever you want on the page. You can even search the Templates site by Avery product number.
    • Start Word and follow the steps for typing a few different labels on one label sheet and printing them as described toward the beginning of the column you can find here.

Why labels don't work the way you expect them to

When you open a pre-designed label publication, you see something like this (the size, shape, and manufacturer number reflect the specific pre-designed label you choose):

New label publication

You see one big label page with a text box on it containing sample text. Most likely, your first instinct is to replace that sample text with the text that belongs on the first label of your label sheet. Next, you would probably insert a new page so you can type the information for label two. And so on.

In this case, instinct leads you astray. The label you see when you open a label publication does not correspond to the first label on a label sheet. Instead, it's a kind of generic label that stands for all the potential labels in your set.

Because the label on your screen is a generic label, it no longer makes sense to replace its sample text with the information that you want to appear on a single label. What you need to do instead is replace this sample text with placeholders. When you print your labels, these placeholders will themselves be replaced by information unique to each label.

In a minute, we'll talk about how you get placeholders onto the generic label and where the unique information comes from that replaces those placeholders. Before we do that though, I want to explain why a generic label has advantages.

Why a generic label has advantages

If a label is really just a generic container for placeholders, then the information you want to add to labels has to be stored somewhere else. For example, you might store it in a Microsoft Office Excel worksheet, a table in Microsoft Office Word, or your Contacts list in Microsoft Office Outlook. There are two big advantages to storing information in a data file that is separate from the labels you want to create. You can:

Reuse the information

If you're going out of town for only six days or you have only eight Board members, it might seem a lot quicker to just type six or eight individual labels rather than having to store information in some other data file and then merge it onto labels.

But think about it. You seldom create a set of labels for just one single use. In other words, chances are you'll go out of town on another occasion and need another set of labels for Ranger's dog food. Board meetings happen every quarter and you'll need new folder labels for each meeting.

If you have the label information stored in a separate data file, you can add or modify information when necessary and generate a new set of labels whenever you need one.

Use the information for different purposes

If you type information directly onto a set of labels, there is no way that you can access that information for other purposes. For example, if you typed your Board members' names and affiliations directly onto folder labels, you'd just have to type that information all over again when it came time to mail the Board members your monthly newsletter.

On the other hand, if you store information in a separate little data file, you can use that information for a variety of purposes. For example:

  • If you create a data file that contains each Board members' name, affiliation, mailing address, and phone number, you can use that file to generate a set of folder labels with just names and affiliations on them. A few days later, you can use the same file to generate newsletters that include the Board members's names and mailing addresses.
  • You can create a Ranger data file that contains dates, feeding times, detailed instructions for preparing each meal, and the file name for his picture. You can use that same data file to generate labels for each bag of dog food and a detailed feeding instructions list that you can present to the kennel manager before you leave town.

Important note     If your data file includes numbers such as dates, times, prices, or percentages, click the Answer Box link in the See Also box to learn how to set up your data file so the numbers look right when you merge them onto your labels.

Set up a data file

Okay. Let's assume that I've convinced you that storing information in a data file is a good idea. What's the best way to set up that file and how do you use it to create a sheet of labels where each label is unique.

You can set up a data file using lots of different programs (for a complete list, click a link in the See Also box). Here's an example of what an Excel worksheet data file for Ranger's feeding plan might look like.

Sample data file

  1. Each column represents a category of information. The column headings correspond to placeholders (also called merge fields) that you add to the generic label publication.
  2. The information in each row corresponds to the information that will appear on one label in the label sheet.
  3. To include a picture on each label, place the picture file name in a column in the data file. If the picture file is not in the same folder as the data file, you'll need to include a path as well as a file name (for example C:\Documents and Settings\Username\My Documents\My Pictures\Ranger.bmp).

After your data file is set up, you're ready to create a sheet of unique labels by merging information from the data file onto the labels.

Create the labels

To get started, all you do is open a label publication the same way you did when you thought you were going to type a set of labels. But now you know that the label publication is a generic label just waiting for placeholders. Creating a set of printed labels involves four steps:

  1. Opening a label publication in Publisher.
  2. Connecting the label publication to the data file that contains the information you want on the labels.
  3. Adding placeholders to the label publication (the placeholders are fields that correspond to column headings in the data file), as well as any content that will be the same on each label.
  4. Previewing and printing the labels.

Step 1: Open a label publication

If you knew you were going to be creating labels, you've probably already been to the office supply store. You brought home a package of label sheets from Avery or another supplier. Each sheet is a certain size and contains a certain number of labels with specific dimensions. Usually, there is a product number associated with the package, such as 5160 or L7163. Pay attention to all this information as you'll need it during the process of opening a label publication.

Publisher includes a lot of different label configurations so, chances are, you'll be able to match the labels you purchased with one of these configurations. If it turns out that you can't match your labels to a configuration already set up in Publisher, it's still okay. You just have to make some adjustments to the dimensions and layout of the label publication so your labels will print properly on the sheets you have.

Opening a label publication is a two phase process. First, you choose a label design. Then, if necessary, you adjust the dimensions and layout.

To choose a label design
  1. Start Publisher. In the New Publications task pane, click Publications for print, and then click Labels.

A catalog of label publications appears on the right.

  1. Scroll through the label publications and click on a design that most closely matches the shape and purpose of the labels in your package. If you find a label design with a product number that exactly matches the number on your package, be sure to click that design.

Tip     If you don't see a publication number that exactly matches the number on your package, look at the package and the information that came with the labels carefully again. There might be other product numbers listed that are available in Publisher that are equivalent in size and layout to the labels in the package you bought. For example, to print to Avery 8763, you can select either Avery 5163 or 8163 in Publisher.

  1. If you see the Personal Information dialog box, click Cancel to close it.
To adjust the dimensions and layout (if necessary)
  1. If you didn't find a design with a product number that exactly matches a number from your labels package, on the File menu, click Page Setup. Take a moment to measure the dimensions of the labels on one of the sheets you bought. Note the number of labels on each sheet and how the labels are arranged in columns.
  2. On the Layout tab, under Publication type, click Label.
  3. Scroll through the list under Page size. More label product numbers are listed here than in the design catalog you looked at earlier. If you find a product number in the list that exactly matches the product number on your label package, click it. Go to step 5 below.

Tip     In the list, products are listed in ascending numerical order, and then in alphanumeric order. Avery product numbers that begin with the letter "J" are designed for ink jet printers. Product numbers that begin with the letter "L" are designed for laser printers.

  1. If you don't find a product in the list that matches the number on your label package, click each label with a description (for example, address or shipping) that matches the type of label you are creating . Notice that when you click a label in the list, you see the label's dimensions under Printing options and a picture of the label sheet under Preview. If you're lucky enough to find a label in the list that matches the dimensions and layout of the labels on the sheets you bought, go on to step 5.

If you can't find a label in the list that matches the dimensions and layout of the labels on the sheets you bought, you're going to have to do some adjusting. Click the label in the list that comes on a sheet with the same number of columns and rows as the sheets you bought, and then click Adjust Label Printing. In the Label Printing Options dialog box, type a name for the label (for example, Supplier X Address Labels). Using the guidelines on the right, change the margin and gap sizes to match those sizes on your label sheets. Click OK.

  1. Click OK to close the Page Layout dialog box. The label publication size may change. If it does, you'll have to rearrange or resize objects to make them fit the new size.

Tip     Remember, if you have to resize a picture, press SHIFT and drag a corner handle to resize it and still maintain its correct proportions.

Step 2: Connect the label publication to the data file

With your label publication open, you're ready to connect it to the file that contains the names and addresses that you want to add to the labels. After you establish the connection, you can merge information from each row in the data file onto one label in the label sheet. Here's how to establish the connection:

  1. On the Tools menu, point to Mail and Catalog Merge, and then click Mail and Catalog Merge Wizard.
  2. In the Mail and Catalog Merge task pane, make sure Mail Merge is selected. Click Next: Select data source.
  3. Under Select data source, make sure Use an existing list is selected, and then click Browse. Locate the data file you created that contains the information that you want to add to the labels, and then click OK.
  4. The Select Table dialog box opens. Click the name of the table that contains the information you want to merge onto your labels or envelopes. If the first row in your data file contains values instead of column headers, uncheck First row of data contains column headers. Click OK.
  5. The Mail Merge Recipients dialog box opens. If you want to use all the information the way it is, click OK. If you want to narrow or sort the information, you can do some or all of these things before you click OK.
    • If you don't want the information in one particular row to appear on a label, click the check box at the beginning of the row to clear it.
    • To sort the rows according to the ascending or descending order of information in a particular column, click the column heading.
    • To narrow the list of rows according to specific criteria, click the arrow next to a column heading.

Step 3: Add placeholders (merge fields) and consistent information to the label publication

  1. In the task pane, under Use an existing list, your data file is now listed. Click Next: Create your publication at the bottom of the task pane.
  2. If there is sample text on the label, click it. Otherwise, click in the top left corner of the label. Type any information that you want to appear on every label in the set. For Ranger's labels for example, you might type "Ranger".
  3. In a box in the bottom half of the task pane, the column headings from your data file are listed. You can add those headings to your label as information placeholders (fields). For example:
    • Make sure the cursor is at the place in the label publication where you want to add a placeholder. Point to the Date or Feeding time field in the list, click the arrow on the right, and then click Insert as Text to add a Date or Feeding time placeholder to the label as text.
      Data file column headings listed in Mail Merge task pane
    • Click outside the label to make sure that the label text box is not selected. Then, point to the Photo field, click the arrow on the right, and click Insert as Picture to add a picture placeholder to the label. The placeholder is a frame with handles around it. Place the pointer over the picture placeholder. When the pointer changes to a four-headed arrow Move pointer, drag the placeholder to the approximate location on the label where you want the picture to appear. Press SHIFT and drag a corner handle to resize the placeholder proportionally until it fits on the label the way you want.

Here is how a label for Ranger's dog food bags might look after you typed content and added placeholders (notice that the placeholder fields are always surrounded by chevrons (« »):

Label with information placeholders

  1. Ranger's name, which you typed on the label publication. This will appear on each label you print.
  2. Placeholder for a picture of Ranger. This will appear on each label you print because the same picture file name is listed in each row in the data file. If you wanted a different picture on each label, you could list a different file name in each row.
  3. Placeholder for a date. This will be different on each label you print because the date in each row of the data file is unique.
  4. Placeholder for feeding time. This will be different on each label you print because the feeding time in each row of the data file is unique.

 Tip   If you don't particularly like the font for the text in the label publication or you want your label text to be colored, now is the time to make changes. When you format the placeholder fields (including the chevrons (« ») surrounding the fields) in the label publication, the formatting appears on every merged label.

Step 4: Preview and print the labels

Now you're ready to merge information from the data file into the label publication. This will create a new label for each row of information that you've chosen to merge.

  1. At the bottom of the task pane, click Next: Preview your publication.

Here is how one merged label for Ranger might look:

Information merged onto a label

  1. Use the buttons in the task pane to page through and preview all of the merged labels.
    • If you see problems with the labels, click Previous: Create your publication at the bottom of the task pane to return to the previous step so you can fix the problems.
    • If you're satisfied with the previews, click Next: Complete the merge.
  2. Now you're ready to print. To make sure that the label information will line up properly when you print on your label sheet, on the File menu click Print Preview. If you need to make some adjustments, in the print preview window, click Adjust Label Printing. Make the necessary margin and gap changes in the Label Printing Options dialog box, and then click OK. Close the print preview window.

Note     In the print preview window, it will look like a whole page of the same label. Have faith. This is just a quirk of the print preview window. There will be different information on each label when you actually print.

  1. In the Mail and Catalog Merge task pane, click Print. Choose the printing options you want, and then click OK.

Very important note     Do not click Create new publication or Add to existing publication in the Mail and Catalog Merge task pane. If you create a new publication or add the labels to an existing publication, you'll get a whole sheet of labels for each recipient rather than just one label for each.

  1. On the File menu, click Save to save the label publication.

 Note   Keep in mind that what you're saving here isn't the set of labels you just printed. It's the label publication with its connection to your data file and its placeholder fields in place.

When you need another set of labels

If you saved the label publication after you generated the first set of labels, you can quickly create another set. The label publication remembers which data file you connected it to so you can jump ahead to the previewing step.

  1. Open the saved label publication. You'll see an alert box that says opening the publication will access data from the data file. Click Yes. You'll see your label publication with text and placeholder fields already in place.
  2. On the Tools menu, point to Mail and Catalog Merge, and then click Show Merge Results. The Mail and Catalog Merge task pane opens at the preview step. If the merged labels look good when you preview them, you can just quickly complete the merge. If you updated the information in the data file since the first time you ran a set of labels, the new information will show up on the labels. You can even switch to a different data file altogether. To learn how, click a link in the See Also box.

Wishing you much happy labelling,

Connie, the Publisher Answer Box monitor

About the Author

Connie Miller, a writer on the Microsoft Office User Assistance team, collects and responds to questions and suggestions you submit to the Publisher Answer Box. To submit a detailed question of your own that we may be able to respond to, click Feedback.

Applies to:
Publisher 2003