Mail merge

Apple brings direct mail back to pages

After nearly a decade, Apple has finally brought direct mail back to Pages. Apple removed the feature from the iWork suite as part of a fundamental rewrite of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote in 2013. A concept dating back at least four decades, mail merge lets you insert placeholders into a document template that are replaced by entries in a column of data in a spreadsheet or similar tabular format. It is commonly used to generate form letters, address labels and name labels.

Microsoft Word has always had mail merge, but it’s a lot more complicated than the last time I used it. I recently wrangled with Word to produce shipping labels for a Kickstarter project’s rewards, and every step was a pain, despite its built-in templates for Avery labels. (Avery is a major producer of printable labels in all varieties.) What I remember as a quick set of clicks and formatting in the 1990s and 2000s took hours of work to produce something that didn’t look like still not exactly what I wanted.

The other options are gone. I used BeLight’s Labels & Addresses app for years, but the company chose not to upgrade it to 64-bit compatibility, so it died with macOS 10.15 Catalina. To its credit, BeLight provided users with a free license for quick editor, its desktop publishing software, which has rudimentary tools for direct mail. But despite the effort BeLight put into the feature, I found it more of a pain than Word to use when merging from spreadsheet data. (It’s easier if you only want to merge from contacts.)

Apple’s relaunched Mail Merge in Pages is an absolute bliss, both on its own and when compared to Word and Swift Publisher. This is good news because many people do not have a license for either of these applications.

The bad news? You can merge “letters, cards, and envelopes,” according to Apple. That’s to say, page based documents. Pages does not yet support labels or placeholder blocks that would require inserting multiple records on a single page that would populate with the next item from the data source.

My ultimate solution for label printing after many, many hours of testing was Avery Design and Print Service (free account required), which is nifty but limited. If you print only your contact entries, Contacts app offers built-in label printing with selectable Avery and DYMO models. However, if you have page-based documents to merge, Pages has now become your best option.

Begin

Start mail merge in Pages by opening an existing document or creating a blank one. Keep the document in word processing mode; If you choose File> Convert to layout, direct mail becomes unavailable.

Click the Document icon on the far right of the toolbar to change page dimensions, such as envelope or note size. Once you’re set, in the document sidebar, click Mail Merge at the bottom to display the sidebar of mail merge options. (My examples here are with Pages for macOS, but Apple has also brought direct mail to Pages for iOS and iPadOS.)

You can merge with data from Contacts or from a spreadsheet, as I explain in the next two sections.

Merge from Contacts

In the Mail Merge pane on the right, you can populate your document with fields that will be replaced with data:

Merge and mail merge from contacts

  1. Position your cursor in the text where you want the field to go.
  2. Click Add Merge Field in the Mail Merge pane. (You can choose Insert > Mailing Field instead.)
  3. The fields listed are from the Contacts app. Choose an item from the list or from More Fields, which allows you to explore other contact fields. (Note that multi-line entries, such as an address, will insert hard returns at the end of lines, like the address line; see a tip below.)
    More fields
  4. When you’re done adding fields, click the Merge button at the top of the pane to open the Mail Merge dialog box.
    Mail merge dialog box
  5. You can pull your data from All contacts or filter by groups. (If the group you need doesn’t exist, go to the Contacts app, create it, and fill it in.)
  6. Click Preview to see what data will be populated for each merged entry. Click Close to exit the preview.
  7. If the preview looks correct, click Merge. Pages creates a new document with one page for each merged item.
  8. Save your merged document.
  9. You can now print the document as a series of pages, cards or envelopes.
    Printing a Mailing Envelope

A few tips related to the above:

Merge using a spreadsheet

Merging from your contacts is useful, but what about a spreadsheet? It’s pretty much child’s play too. Follow these steps:

  1. As with a contact-based merge, position your cursor in the text.
  2. Click Add Merge Field in the Mail Merge pane.
  3. Choose Add from Spreadsheet at the top of the menu.
  4. Select a Numbers document and click Open.
  5. Choose the desired source data table in the Table field, which displays a preview of the fields that will be imported. If the Numbers spreadsheet contains multiple sheets, Mail Merge lists them as sheet name:table name. (You can also switch to another worksheet by clicking Edit.)
    Choose a table in the mail merge
  6. Click Add as Fields.
  7. These fields now appear as items you can choose from the Add Merge Field menu in Step 3 of the previous instructions.
    Overview of merge fields

There is no filtering option: your Numbers document should contain only the entries you want to merge.

Room for improvement with the hope that it will happen

There’s a lot of room for improvement in direct mail, but I consider this a stellar return engagement. Apple has always paid modest attention to its productivity apps, especially in recent years, often adding features or cleaning up the edges.

What else would I like to see?

  • Support for labels (templates are already in Contacts!) and other repeated elements on the same page
  • Allow mail merge fields in layout documents
  • Combine numbers and pages so you can mark fields in Numbers and export to directly create a merged Pages document

What mail merge features would you like to see in Pages?