Sharing Text Between Two InDesign Documents

If you need to use the same text in two InDesign documents, it can be a hassle to keep the changes consistent. If you find a typo or need to add a paragraph, you have to make the change in two different places. To simplify editing, you can use the InCopy export options–and you don’t need to have InCopy to get this to work.

Being able to share text between two documents is especially important when you’re publishing to mobile devices. If you’re using the Digital Publishing Suite to create magazines for the iPad, you can create separate horizontal and vertical documents so that a different layout of the same content appears when the iPad is rotated.

Quick Summary: Export a linked InCopy (.icml) file from one file, and place it in the other file. When you want to edit the linked text, check out the linked story in one document, save the changes, check it in, and then update the other document.

Here are the detailed steps for sharing text between two InDesign documents.

1. In one of the InDesign documents, select a text frame or place your insertion point in the text frame.

2. Choose Edit > InCopy > Export > Selection.

Choosing this option exports the entire story, which is a set of threaded text frames.

3. Specify the name and location of the linked InCopy (.icml) file, and save it.

An icon in the text frame indicates a linked file.

4. Open the other InDesign document, and place the insertion point in the text frame where you want it to appear (delete the previous copy of the text, if necessary).

5. Choose File > Place, and double-click the exported .icml file. Add and edit threaded text frames if necessary.

Now the linked file appears in both documents. When you want to make changes, you can check the file out, make your edits, and check it back in.

6. Place the insertion point inside the linked story, and choose Edit > InCopy > Check Out.

An edit icon replaces the link icon.

7. Edit the text, save the document, and choose Edit > InCopy > Check In.

8. Open the other document, place the insertion point inside the linked text frame, and choose Edit > InCopy > Update.

With shared files, be careful about making formatting changes in one document that might make the other document look bad. For example, if you manually hyphenate a word in one document, it may appear as “concat- enate” in the other document. Use discretionary hyphens instead.

Special thanks to Colin Fleming for reminding me that InCopy isn’t necessary to share text files.

15 Responses to Sharing Text Between Two InDesign Documents

  1. Pingback: This Week in InDesign Articles, Number 47 | InDesignSecrets

  2. Alfred Mosskin says:

    Excellent tip!

    I always show my clients how to use linked doc/docx/rtf-files for these types of issues. But depending on the situation this can be even better, if the designer is in charge of the text. Since the editing can be done directly in InDesign.

    I too assumed you needed InCopy to do this kind of text sharing.

  3. Terri Stone says:

    Bob, this is excellent info. Thanks!

  4. fr says:


    Just a small notice, Stéphane Baril just released a small panel to “automate” this workaround.

    It’s a configurator panel which guides you step by step so you can easily share the two texts, check in/out one or many. It makes all this so easy !

  5. Bob, it is possible with object wrapping text to share indesign other document

  6. Michael McCormick says:

    Can the linked content be laid out differently, i.e. in the source document it is all in one text box but in the linked document it is divided up between multiple linked text boxes?

    And, can the same content link to more than one other document?

  7. Yes, linked content can be laid out differently. It’s only the contents of the text frame that is shared, not the text frames themselves.

    And yes, you can place the same ICML file in multiple INDD files, just like placing the same Photoshop artwork or Illustrator logo etc. in multiple layouts.

    You can edit the story (check it out) in any of the INDD files that has it, it doesn’t have to be the source/originating one. You have to remember though that doing so will cause an “out of date” icon in every other INDD file that has that story, and when the designer updates it, they see those changes.

    If you ever want to break the link, select the ICML file in the Links panel and choose Embed Link from the Links panel menu. That just breaks the link from that layout to the story, if you placed the ICML story in other INDD files, those links are still live and shared.

  8. amrp says:

    I would like to share text between two documents that will have different purposes so I need the font sizes to be different. Is it possible to update the content without updating the text attributes?

    • Bob Bringhurst says:

      I’ve gotten this to work by setting up a grandparent > parent > child link. The grandparent frame is the source text. The parent frame controls formatting.

  9. Jason Mohr says:

    I’m excited to finally find other who are using InDesign’s InCopy plugins in this manner. I setup a workflow for a group of publications that share content across multiple versions and keep them synced by linking all the text as InCopy files. We use conditional text for minor differences where necessary.

    One problem I’d love to have addressed however is using hyperlinks in these type of InDesign layouts and how to keep them synchronized happily from layout to layout.

    I found the hyperlinks have to be the “shared” type in order to show up in the layouts which share the InCopy content, but sometimes the hyperlinks will inexplicably break in one layout or another. I haven’t been able to narrow the behavior down to an identifiable problem but suspect one or all of the following:

    1. Must keep the originating layout open in order for other layouts to find the source of the “shared” hyperlinks

    2. Cannot copy a block of text from a secondary layout which is not the source of the original hyperlinks into a new layout… the block of text needs to be copied from the original layout… This can become nearly impossible to maintain and keep track of when a dozen different people are sharing/working on 20 different InDesign layouts sharing multiple ICML links.

    Do you have any experience using hyperlinks in ICML files shared across multiple INDD files?? Any resources for this type of workflow you can point me to?

    Thanks for the blog!

  10. Mitch says:

    Why can you just copy and paste? Why is his so taboo in indesign?