Apple Brings Mail Merge Back to Pages

Originally published at: Apple Brings Mail Merge Back to Pages - TidBITS

Years after removing the feature in a major rewrite, Apple has returned mail merge to Pages so you can use data from Contacts or a spreadsheet to customize letters, envelopes, or cards.


Thank goodness for this, I’d a pretty lousy workaround using spreadsheets for my students.

It’s about damn time, Apple! I have had clients asking me for this for YEARS. Thank you, Glenn, for the excellent instructions. I will gratefully direct my clients to your guide.


I am rather pleased that Apple brought back basic mail merge features to Pages. Perhaps they will add label support in a future release.

FYI, there is a metric ton of free Linux / FreeBSD open source software to print labels that run perfectly fine on macOS. Not exactly user friendly to setup as much of it is command line based. But if you have a need to frequently print sheets of labels there are a myriad of tools available to build a solution. Some support multiple fonts and image insertion and can work with text input files such as CSV as well as databases.

It comes down to how frequently you run such a job and if it is consistent over time. If that is the case, you can automate it quite effectively. But if you are changing things up every time, well that’s going to be rather frustrating and time consuming. The amount of automation effort required is only practical if the resulting output is large and consistent long term.

I’ve created such automation for business many times over the years cobbling many different tools together and using scripts like glue. Pulling data from databases or text files. But realistically, snail mail isn’t what it used to be and everything has mostly moved online or to mobile Apps.

I too am looking for a decent and reasonable way to print labels. I find Contacts version a pain in the neck, like Word itself the Word effort is impossible (as per Glenn’s original article), and the Avery online process is not all that great. I loved the BeLight’s original program, and I enjoy their Swift Publisher (which I use quite a bit) it is laborious.

What I would like is a simple program that would allow me to create labels from my Contact list or a simple text file (or formatted table) from Nisus Writer Pro, and to be able to print to partial mail label sheets so I’m not wasting labels because a sheet is not full of actual label content.

Hard to believe we had that simple ability back when computers included a starting crank on the front like a good Model A lol.

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I haven’t had to print mailing labels for a long time, but the last time I did, I use a FileMaker database. One database record per person and a report format designed to align with the label sheet.

It took a bit of time to set up, but once completed, it was easy enough to just load the file and print another batch in the future.

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It’s baffling to me—I just assume that most people outside of businesses no longer have the need for it to the extent that software hasn’t had to include it as a feature. The Avery tool is just good enough that it probably takes some air out of the tires.

Labels & Addresses wasn’t perfect, but if I could run it in Mojave emulation, I would! But I no longer have an Intel machine.

I found a QR code printing app that does sheets of QR code labels imported from spreadsheet data, and I’m trying to convince the developer to add Avery labels and addresses…


Also weird that Numbers lacks any kind of merge-printing capability. You’d think that it would be an easy thing (in relative terms) to take the Avery templates for Contacts and cross them with a table-selection option in Numbers!


I’ve got FileMaker 16 but I am so out of touch with it that I’m not sure I could even start. But I well remember that trial and error to get the labels to match up with the program and it was a pain.

Glenn, let us know if you get the developer to include Avery labels! One use I have for label printing was for name tags but it has been awhile since those were needed - lost to COVID crowd limitations grrrrr.

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Here’s a help article for how to do it with FMP 16

The layout needs to be customized based on your printer. You first select the printer, and then use a guided set of dialogs to create the initial layout, either based on a standard label type (I think this includes many of the popular Avery types) or by providing measurements.

But yes, you often need to tweak it afterward. I would do that by printing a single sheet on plain paper and then align that sheet against a sheet of labels. I can usually tweak the settings after one or two attempts. Not enough to be perfect, but enough so that every address ends up on its own label with no overlapping.

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I’ve got FileMaker 16 but I am so out of touch with it that I’m not sure I could even start. But I well remember that trial and error to get the labels to match up with the program and it was a pain.

FileMaker is gradually getting better about those horrible label problems you describe – they were much worse in FileMaker 11 or 12 than they are in FileMaker 18. If you actually want to control the database as opposed to just printing labels, it’s probably the best answer available.

But the price is ridiculously high. Ever since Apple got rid of FileMaker Advanced, the basic version is treated like a developer program, which makes it pretty much out of the question for simple things like this. (And I say this as someone who has used FileMaker every day for the last couple of decades!) This was what Bento was supposed to supply – until Apple killed it.

LibreOffice’s database module might be an alternative, but it’s pretty feeble.

I have another technique that I also use that might be less expensive, depending on the software you already have. It requires two pieces of software, NisusWriter (which is not expensive) and a page layout program (which is, but you might have one already). I use Quark XPress, because, well, it isn’t by Adobe :-), but it should be possible to make it work with InDesign also. It takes a little research to set up, but once you’ve done the work once, it should continue to work.

As I typed this up, I realized that it sounds insanely complex. It isn’t – if you know how your page layout program works and how to use regular expressions. A big if. :-( But since I typed it up, I’m going to post it, because it might be useful to somebody. :-) I use this quite regularly.

You start with the page layout program and create a master page (not a regular page, a MASTER page) in the label format you need – 30-up labels or whatever. (Such may well be available with the program.) Each label should be its own text box. Then you link the boxes into a continuous chain. So you now have a page that can take any number of sets of label data and convert them into formatted labels.

If you don’t need any formatting on the labels, you can just take your text, make sure each entry has the right number of lines, and dump it into the label document. But suppose you need some formatting – e.g. the first line has to be in bold or something. At this point you need to get tricky.

In the layout document, you need to define style sheets (character or paragraph, as required) for each different format in the label. So you might have a style $firstline; for the first lines of each label and $otherlines; for the rest.

Now you take your label data and mung it a little in NisusWriter or some other program. (The advantage of NisusWriter is that you can assemble all your changes into a macro to let you do this repeatedly.) Quark has a formatting language called Quark Tags that let you format text as you import it into the program; InDesign’s equivalent is InDesign Markup Language (I think. As I say, I don’t use InDesign). A few global changes should let you convert your label text into Quark Tags or IDML. Import into the label program and you have your labels.

Here is what the file looks like in XPress Tags (note: ignore all the bolds and colors in what follows I didn’t put them there! It seem to be something the content system is imposing on me):

@FirstLine:Your First Name Here
@LastLine:And a street address
And a city, state, zip

@FirstLine:Jane Smith
@LastLine:1234 Easy Street
Nowheresville, California 98765

@FirstLine:Somebody Else
@LastLine:Who lives somewhere
In a city far, far away
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I have long disliked Pages because it did’t do mail merge. As a result, I have an old iMac still running OS X 10.6.8(!!) to use that with Word and Excel (Office 2004). I don’t have those on my current computer; I use LibreOffice when I need to read or save MS format files. LibreOffice does do mail merge but it is about as convoluted as the new Pages sounds. At least it also does labels. Without labels I really have no need for mail merge; I use it primarily to send out Christmas cards and notices about family gatherings. It may seem antediluvian, but it gets the job done in the easiest manner. At least I can use the iMac from my current computer.

FWIW, the Avery web site includes templates for the labels they sell. The templates are available in Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, PDF and Apple Pages format.

I’ve used their Word templates. It is basically a single page containing a table of fixed-size cells, which are positioned and sized to align with the labels on the sheet. For one-off runs, you can simply copy/paste address text into these cells. Not mail merge, but for small runs, may be good enough.

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There has long been an AppleScript-based app by Sal Soghoian that does mail merge with Pages and Numbers. I don’t know if it does anything better than the new built-in feature, but it might be an option if you can’t use the latest Pages.

The website mentions Mojave; a quick test appears to work in Monterey. (I haven’t tested any further because I’ve never had a use for mail merge.)

Sal doesn’t support it any more and it’s very finicky — not his fault.

I could really use a “save as separate files” option when I have a mail-merged letter to send via email to individuals.

An Apple Mail integration (Share button?) would be nice for emailing mail merged documents to their intended recipients.

Why not also add Apple Mail merge while they’re at it? I use a weird app called SerialMailer for customized emails.

Way back in the early years of the Mac and MS Word, I used to send holiday letters to a dozen close friends where most of the letter would be identical, but a few sentences, paragraphs, or graphic elements different for each recipient. Can the new Pages mail merge do this: for example, could I use a separate Pages document as the source for the custom elements in the body of the document, or perhaps a numbers spreadsheet for those custom fields (and I guess all the other fields, too). For that to work, the Numbers spreadsheet would have to include style formatting of individual glyphs

Just think… maybe someday Pages, Keynote and Numbers will be as good as they were in 2008!

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Recall that the original article also pointed out that Word’s mail merge had gotten worse. We could also wish that Word was as good as it was in 2008 – or 1990 :-) There is an interesting problem here: Why do big companies make their products so much worse over time?

@waltzmn and @Shamino Thank you both for your responses. I will give FileMaker a look again. Have to dig out my WD40 to remove the rust from my brain first lol. Thanks again.