September 19, 2011

Integrating Google Docs content into Adobe InDesign using DocsFlow

For many years, companies have been using workflow management solutions like the vjoon K4 Publishing System to allow the editing of content within Adobe InCopy and then importing that content into Adobe InDesign. DocsFlow, a clever publishing workflow tool created by veteran developer Chris Ryland of Em Software, allows you to import documents directly from Google Docs into an Adobe InDesign layout file. Let’s take a look at some of the features and options offered within this application.


Figure 1: It is easy to install DocsFlow using the Adobe Extension Manager.

Installation of DocsFlow is a snap. A free DocsFlow demo is available for download. After downloading, the application is easily installed by loading the .zxp file into the Adobe Extension Manager. Adobe InDesign CS5 or CS5.5 needs to be installed on the machine in order for this plugin to work.

Once installed, all of the tools are accessible by going to File > DocsFlow. Connection to a Google Docs or Google Apps account can be made by using File > DocsFlow > Sign in to Google Docs.


Figure 2: DocsFlow is accessible in the Adobe InDesign interface through the File menu.

Importing a Google Docs document is a very easy process. Simply go to File > DocsFlow > Place from Google Docs and select the appropriate document from your Google Docs account. Within this window, you can specify whether to set import options, replace selected items, or to link directly to the document, allowing content to be synchronized as it is edited in Google Docs.

Figure 3: With DocsFlow, you can map Google Docs styles to Adobe InDesign styles.

There are also a number of import options available. Paragraph styles are automatically generated for the different typical HTML tags that are used within Google Docs for information like Header 1-6, p, etc. The attributes of these styles can then be modified using the paragraph styles panel. Alternatively, other paragraph and character styles can be mapped to these different tags to ensure content flows in properly. These mappings can even be saved as presets for future imports by saving it as a preset in the DocsFlow Import Options window.

Figure 4: DocsFlow integrates with the Links panel in Adobe InDesign so the designer can instantly know when content has been updated.


DocsFlow also integrates with the Links panel within Adobe InDesign. When you are logged in, DocsFlow creates a secure connection to the Google Docs server to download the content. If the content is in any way modified on the Google Docs server, an alert icon appears next to the content in the links panel much like it would if any other linked content was modified. Updating links will update the content on the page.

Google Docs Integration

As of this writing, the Google Docs integration within the Adobe InDesign CS5 and CS5.5 interfaces is somewhat limited. Document files are the only files supported. Any other document type such as a spreadsheet or an uploaded photo will not display in the import list from Google Docs. Content that is embedded into document files such as images or tables are imported into InDesign as anchored objects. Links will not import, although they will be restyled inline to be blue and underline. This character style is not modifiable.

Additionally, much of the document management side of Google Docs is not supported. Features such as collections, labels in Google Docs that simulate a folder, search or sorting based on date modified, are not available within the InDesign interface. The only option is to sort alphabetically. For users with large Google Docs accounts, this could quickly become tedious as thousands of documents are cumbersome to sift through.

Does This Replace Adobe InCopy?

In short: no. It does, however, open up a different market that Adobe InCopy and systems like the K4 Publishing System were never designed for: the small user group. Many small companies have been using Google Apps services to share content and collaborate. DocsFlow is a contender for small companies with tight budgets looking to further extend a Google Docs worfklow to separate editorial content from layout placement and design.

DocsFlow is by no means the solution for everyone, and is certainly not nearly as powerful for print production workflow as the K4 Publishing System. Seasoned Adobe InDesign and InCopy users are accustomed to “editing to fit,” something that DocsFlow is not designed to do. Because all of the content is imported as one block, this content would be best suited for layouts that are more book formatted. Additionally there is no XML support or two-way synchronization of content that is edited from within InDesign.


DocsFlow is a good first attempt at providing a bridge from Google Docs to Adobe InDesign. Though some of the functionality is basic, this could very well fit the needs of many small businesses looking for a method to easily edit documents like they would in Microsoft Word then swiftly place them into Adobe InDesign layouts.

Posted at 02:50 pm by Ben Vanderberg

Ben, thanks for the DocsFlow overview! Some quick clarifications and corrections, at least from our point of view as the creators:

  • We do support hyperlinks and they're imported properly (not sure what happened when you tried it), but don't yet support custom mapping of hyperlink styles. That's comng soon.
  • We realize that having no filtering when Placing can be a burden if you have hundreds or thousands of documents, and we'll be adding search filters of various kinds in a near-term release.
  • The "magic" of DocsFlow is not just that it gives you a dynamic link to your Google Docs from InDesign, but that it merges changes on both sides intelligently, giving you what we call "1.5-way" synchronization, though clearly not fully two-way. This is where the real value resides, and anyone reading this overview might miss that point.
  • Saying that DocsFlow is more suited for book-formatted publications is just plain wrong: each story in a newspaper- or magazine-formatted publication can be linked, as well, just as you would link to a normal static Word file. There's nothing about DocsFlow that makes it less powerful in those situations.
  • We're working on ways to give layout feedback to editors working in Google Docs, such as pushing a PDF of the resulting layout each time a merge is done. Clearly, this will never compete with layout-perfect editing to fit, but it might solve it effectively enough for many workflows.

Thanks again for your review. I hope these clarifications help round out the picture of what's a fairly new product. And we'd love to get further feedback as we improve the product.

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