In this article:

Automate Document Creation (Easiest Way in 2024)

In this article, we explain how to automate document creation with Google Sheets. Simply follow the steps below!

Automate Document Creation

Being able to automate document creation streamlines the process for businesses of creating invoices, reports, and letters based on customer or business data. 

This automation saves time, reduces manual entry errors, and ensures consistency across documents. It's particularly useful for businesses and individuals who frequently generate documents with similar structures but varying content.

For this solution Lido merges your data from Google Sheets into a template created in Google Docs and then saves a PDF version of it on your Google Drive. If you’d prefer a Google Doc instead of a PDF, there are instructions below to do this as well. 

1. Prepare your Google Sheet

First, we need to get all of our data that we want merged into a Google Doc template into the right format in our Google Sheet. In this example, we're going to generate one Google Doc per Google Sheet row. To make sure everything works properly, make sure your Google Sheet data conforms to these formatting rules:

1. Your column headers must be in the first row of your sheet.

2. Column headers cannot contain special characters, like quotes or brackets.

3. No empty columns or rows separating your spreadsheet data. Double check for things like empty grouped or hidden rows and columns, since these can cause problems

Example of a correctly formatted Google Sheet. The column headers are in Row 1, and there are no empty columns or rows.

If your data is coming from a Google Form, your data is stored in a Google Sheet, so these instructions are for you as well.

2. Create a Google Doc template

First, we'll need to make the Google Doc template that will get populated with Google Sheets data to automate document creation. You can either start from scratch, or adapt an existing template that you have.

We'll designate which parts of the document will be replaced by Google sheets data by using the {{Column Name}} syntax.

Make sure there are no spaces between the curly braces and letters!

The key here is that whatever is inside of the curly brackets {{ }} must exactly match the name of the column header in your Google Sheet, including the same capitalization and spaces. So for example, if in our Google Sheet we have a column for First Name, then everywhere we want that value to be inserted into the template we'll need to put {{First Name}}.

The contents of your Google Doc template

3. Connect your Google Forms Sheet to Lido

We will use Lido, a new spreadsheet built to automate repetitive tasks, to automate document creation and merge our Google Sheet data into the Google Doc template to create a new PDF. There is a free tier with paid plans as well. You can create a new account here:

Step 1: From the Lido Files page, click Create a new file

Step 2: Then click Connect Data and select Google Sheets.

Next, paste in your Google Sheet URL. If it's your first time connecting a Google Sheet to Lido, you'll need to authenticate into a Google account that has access to the sheet you're trying to connect.

Select all of the columns that you want to connect to Lido. Make sure to connect all of the columns that are referenced as variables in your Google Doc template.

Click Add Data.

Your Lido spreadsheet should now have connected data from your Google Sheet. It will look like this:

Add the CREATEPDF Formula

Now we need to add the formula to create the PDFs with our spreadsheet data. The formula looks like this: 

=CREATEPDF(<drive-credential>,<template file>,<file name>,<status cell>)

Drive Credential - if it's your first time, you'll need to add a credential to give Lido access to reading your Google Doc template and saving a PDF to your drive.

Template file - use the file picker for Google Drive and choose your Google Doc template file.

File Name - name of the new PDF that is being created. You can make dynamic file names such as: "Application Form for " & B2

Status Cell - when the PDF is generated successfully, the full path to the new PDF will be put in this cell. Usually, it's the next column over from CREATEPDF. For example:

Step 1: Create a Computed Column in your spreadsheet table.
  • Hover your mouse over the green table of records from your Google Sheets. You'll see a "+" sign.
  • Choose "Add Computed Column".
  • Name the Column "Create PDF?" (or whatever)
  • Start Typing the =CREATEPDF() formula in the second row.

A Computed Column in Lido copies the same formula down to every row and grows as your data grows.

Step 2: Add a Google Drive credential.

You can do so by choosing "Add Credential" in the first argument of CREATEPDF. Follow the prompts.

Step 3: Finish out the CREATEPDF formula.

Choose your Google Doc template

Specify name of PDF that will be created. Include something dynamic such as "Grant Application for: " & B2 (where B2 holds the name of applicant for that row of data).

Include the status cell (in this case, the next column over - F2 if you're in the 2nd row.

Step 4: Create a new Linked Column called "Status".

A Linked Column needs to tie itself to another column with unique values in your Google Sheet Data (a "Unique ID column"). Use the Timestamp column as the unique id from your Google Sheet.

Create a Linked column for Status

Linked Column

A Linked Column in Lido lets you add notes to external data - and stays linked to your source data (such as records in Google Sheets) by tying itself to a column in the source data that has unique values. Timestamp, ID columns, or email can be good "ID Columns" for a Linked Column.

Create a Google Doc

If you want to create a Google Doc instead of (or in addition to) a PDF, you can use the =CREATEGOOGLEDOC() formula in place of =CREATEPDF(). It takes in the same formula inputs.

Note: After you create the Status column, you'll need to reset the 4th argument of CREATEPDF to make sure it's the correct column (it'll get pushed over one column).

Run a Test

Run a test of any of THE CREATEPDF action formulas and review the generated PDF. In the same cell as the CREATEPDF choose "Run Action" from the cell action menu.

Run the Column

To run the whole column of actions, choose "Run Column Now" from the "Create PDF" column menu. This will run all CREATEPDF cells in the column - and automatically generate PDFs for each record in the table. 

You can run this column manually to generate your new PDFs.

However, if you'd like to automate document creation and create a PDF whenever a new row is added to your Google Sheet, then read on.

Automatically Create PDFs

To automate the creation of a PDF when a new row is added to a Google Sheet, we'll create an automation on the "Create PDF?" column where the CREATEPDF action formula is.

Step 1. Make sure to only create a PDF if one hasn't already been created.

We only want to generate a document if we haven't already created one for that row of data. In other words, only if the Status column (column F) is blank.

We do this by using a regular spreadsheet IF formula, and only show CREATEPDF if our criteria is met. In this case, by making sure the Status field is still blank. If a new record is added to Sheets, this will evaluate to TRUE.  Otherwise, it will show FALSE.

=IF(F2 ="",CREATEPDF(<credential>,<path to template>,<file name>,<status>))

Example of only showing CREATEPDF if the Status column is empty
Step 2. Automate the "Create PDF?" column

Choose "Run Column on a Schedule" from the column menu for the "Create PDF?" column. Choose the interval that makes sense, daily, hourly, etc.

At the time you specify Lido will fetch the latest data from Google Sheets, evaluate the Lido spreadsheet, and any action formulas will be run (CREATEPDF is an action formula)

Run the Create PDF? column on a schedule by creating an automation

Key Takeaways

Let's review what we covered!

1. Lido connects "live" to your Google Sheets data.

2. Lido uses an action formula, CREATEPDF, to generate a new PDF for each row based on a Google Doc template. If you would like to generate a Google Doc instead, follow the same steps but use CREATEGOOGLEDOC.

3. You can set up an automation to regularly check for new spreadsheet rows and automatically create a PDF for each one.


Can I choose a different template depending on the values in my spreadsheet?

Yes! A template is just the URL to your actual Google Doc template file. So you can set up a spreadsheet formula to check other values and change the template accordingly. You can use this formula directly inside of CREATEPDF, or in its own column and refer to it in CREATEPDF.

=IF(B2="Professional Package","<path template #1>,<path to template #2>)

Schedule a free automation consult
Learn more

Level up your Google Sheets skills with our free Google Sheets automation guide

Wasting too much time doing things manually in spreadsheets? Want to spend more time doing what you love? Our 100% free, 27-page Google Sheets automation guide is full of new tips and tricks that will save you time and money!