Case Study: a Data-to InDesign Workflow in which Smart Catalog Lite Excels

Update 10/4/11: I’ve been in communication with Mark Haden and Ian White of 65Bit, and they’ve informed me that while the Lite version of EasyCatalog, which costs $300, does not support the Pagination Module, it does include simplified pagination options. To quote from Ian’s message to me:

Instead of the spreadsheet-style view of the data you see in the full version, you essentially get the ‘Record Viewer’ panel view of the data and a basic pagination called ‘Copy and Repeat’.  Using this, into a text box you insert your fields were required.  Then, select all of the text and use ‘Copy and Repeat’.  This will copy the selected text for each of the records shown in the panel (and you can filter the results shown in the panel so that you just paginate what you need).  One of the major advantages of using Lite is that any document produced using it can be opened and worked on in the full version and should the user find that they outgrow the Lite version they can upgrade penalty-free (the upgrade to the full version is $999, so they actually save a dollar!).

The XML and ODBC modules are also compatible with the Lite version, so if the user also finds that they later need to get data in from a database or XML file then this is achievable using these additional modules.

The ‘Copy and Repeat’ function is also available in the full version of EasyCatalog from the Record Viewer panel’s pop-out menu.

Thanks again for your review of EasyCatalog, if you need anything further from us please don’t hesitate to ask.

Thanks for the input, Mark & Ian! I’ll see if I can do a better test of the Lite versions against each other in the near future.

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In Part 1 of my research into database-to-InDesign workflows I reviewed three popular third-party plugins. In this case study I’d like to pay a little more attention to Smart Catalog, and in particular, the $300 version, as opposed to the Pro version with its $1200 price tag.

Scenario

Consider the following scenario: A company anticipates receiving in excess of 500 Excel files containing price listings for “widgets.” The bulk of the data consists of categories, items, and prices. The company can tell their customers exactly how to format these Excel files, and even provide a template for their customers to use. Then the company will convert the Excel files to CSV and import the CSV quickly into an InDesign template. What would be the best plugin to use for this workflow?

Plugin Selection

Based on my research so far, I’m ready to consider two possibilities for this sort of scenario: Smart Catalog and EasyCatalog with its Pagination Module. There are certainly other options out there, but as I’ve not worked with them I’m not in a position to recommend them. Let’s discuss these two in more detail.

Smart Catalog. Smart Catalog comes it two flavors: Pro, for $1200, and Lite, for $300. Pro gives you ODBC connectivity and several other bundled Woodwing plugins (Smart Styles, Smart Layout, and the Robot Scripting Module). However, this particular project does not require any of those extra features. Thus, for the requirements of this project, the $300 Smart Catalog Lite will suffice (if I understand its capabilities correctly; I’ve asked Woodwing for clarification and am still waiting for an answer).

EasyCatalog.  While EasyCatalog has a Lite version, only the Pro version supports the pagination module (according to their website, I’ve asked 65bit to clarify), which this project requires. This means that the price tag for the EasyCatalog solution for this project would come in at $1800.

Conclusions

Although I may have concluded previously that EasyCatalog may be the most powerful and adaptable of the database-to-InDesign plugins, it is also the most expensive. The purpose of this case study is to demonstrate that in some situations companies may wish to consider options that might suit their needs and better fit their budgets. While EasyCatalog with its Pagination Module can do accomplish the task outlined in this scenario plus a whole lot more for $1800, if the client can get the job done for $300, and if they have no other data needs, then there really is no need for the extra investment. Smart Catalog is great software, especially considering its $300 version can do some amazing things that the competition can’t come close to, for the price.

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One Response to Case Study: a Data-to InDesign Workflow in which Smart Catalog Lite Excels

  1. Jörg Oyen September 24, 2011 at 2:58 am #

    Thanks for your assesment.

    Processing Excel data with a tool that cost 1 / 3 more than MS Excel itself is a fair offer and good starting point to get in to the Database Publishing World.

    Will you review and/or update the tool program systems provider too?

    If so, I can prepare an working list, like market overview for your basic needs.

    regards

    Jörg

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