As leading resellers of the product, we are asked time and time again to help people to try Adobe InDesign Server, and how to install the trial or licensed versions of the product. We have distilled simple instructions here for trying the latest version, and installing the licensed version once you’re certain you wish to buy it. We love this product and want others to enjoy it.

Steps to try Adobe InDesign Server, including Trial, Development, and Production installation

NOTE: as of June 2020, Adobe intends to change this process soon. We will upload instructions accordingly.

  1. Go to the InDesign Server from the Adobe Prerelease page. This gives you the free, feature-complete (but time-limited) trial. But what about the real version? Say you have bought it from us, or another reseller, and have a production key, this doubles as both the trial and the real product. Even though it installs as a time-limited trial without a key, applying a key (no second install required) will turn it into a watermarked development version or a production version depending on what sort of key it is.
  2. Choose Windows or Mac and download the version you selected.
  3. Run the installer.
  4. Download the Adobe Provisioning Toolkit Enterprise Edition by going here, searching for “Adobe Provisioning Toolkit” (it’s mid-way down the page), and downloading the appropriate version (don’t be scared if it says CC2017 but the product is CC2019: it tends to work).
  5. Install the Provisioning Toolkit and then open a command prompt and run the appropriate command below for your install type:
    TRIAL for CC 2020:
    adobe_prtk.exe --tool=StartTrial --leid=V7{}InDesignServer-15-Win-GM

    Or with Serial Number:
    adobe_prtk.exe --tool=Serialize --leid=V7{}InDesignServer-15-Win-GM --serial=Serial_Number --adobeid=Your_Adobe_ID

    Note: on a Mac, substitute “adobe_prtk.exe” with “adobe_prtk” and “Win” with “Mac” in the above commands.
  6. When the command is run, you need to make sure you get the following return:
    StartTrial Successful
     Return Code = 0
  7. Now, using the command prompt on Windows command prompt or the Mac Terminal, navigate to the InDesign Server folder in your program files.
  8. At the terminal command prompt run:
    1. Macintosh: ./InDesignServer -port 18383
    2. Windows: InDesignServer -port 18383

If InDesign Server shows it is running – mission accomplished!

The installation notes are here.

What is InDesign Server and Why?

We have rather unique insight into this product, and we’ve written What is Indesign Server, and about its origins here. Here’s a basic video:


We build solutions on top of it for online editing, workflow automation, and database publishing. We would be happy to demonstrate them to you.

Where is the InDesign Server Documentation?

You may have noticed that IDS by itself does nothing. You need to send it commands and script it with Adobe ExtendScript. And you may have looked for documentation and seen that much of it still says “CS6.”

You want to go here. From this page you can download what you need:

Adobe has updated the documentation for CC, but the CS documentation is certainly sufficient to get you started as the product is very mature and has not changed much at all. If you are serious and want the very latest documentation, you will want to click on the “InDesign Family SDK Access Program Application” link and apply for the pre-release program.

How far can you take InDesign Server?

Too far. Beware, once you learn how to make documents flow from this engine, you will be hooked. You won’t want to do anything but flow content in automated fashion. There is no going back.

You will find that data-generated documents are easy. Financial statements, catalogs, one-to-one marketing pieces, they not only can be automated with fine-grained precision, with rules for copy fitting, flowing text around objects, automatically placing random-shaped ads in available whitespace, resizing layouts between arbitrary aspect ratios, but without any sacrifice of print and imaging quality, just as Ole and Whitney envisioned long ago.

When you get into automation you will find that the beautiful document constructs of InDesign: Paragraph and Character Styles, Object Styles, Table Styles, Text on a Path, etc., are all available to you in the context of automation. The InDesign Snippet model is especially powerful, and parallels Web Components nicely in round-trip workflows.

You will find InDesign Server far and away the best back end for online editing solutions. Starting from InDesign and returning to native InDesign can not be beat. IDS plays nicely with the other Adobe tools and formats just as desktop InDesign does: just as with desktop, referenced assets can be native Illustrator and Photoshop files, and rendition intent is defined with standard Adobe job options known by print shops the world over. While ePub and HTML export are not as far along in the standard product as one may hope for (and, oddly, SVG support is still not back), the 100% complete exposure to automation means that you can ingest and export Web formats to the extent you can automate things. The limits are with your imagination, really, if you have basic programming skills.

One beauty of working with InDesign from start to finish is that post-processing can be done in the desktop. While lights out automation is often desirable, in certain workflows, the “final touch” of a designer is desirable. No matter what format (PDF, PNG, JPG, etc.)  you’re emitting from InDesign Server, there is always an InDesign document in memory and you can save out a native INDD or IDML file that can be given the finishing touches by a designer using the Creative Cloud applications that designers love: InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat. Returning to the desktop is certainly not needed in every workflow, but is essential to some (perhaps 25% or so, in our experience), thus the option is one more reason that InDesign Server has no competition.

With InDesign Server, anything you can dream, you can do.

Let us know if these notes are helpful or could be improved. Or of course when you’re ready to buy a production license.

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