Automate a Google Slides Yearbook with Autocrat

When educators realize that their students can use Google Slides to create their yearbook instead of an expensive yearbook company, their first response is WOW! Their second or third response is typically the following question:

What about the individual student portrait section?

The idea that yearbook students would have to manually insert student portraits with names is daunting, to say the least. This is true with 100 students or 1000 students.

In the past, I recommended creating an individual portrait layout and then replacing the image. But the problem with this method is that it does not take into account new students. If we completed the entire section and a new student arrives, we would have to manually insert all of those images again OR add them to the end. Ugh.

But what if I told you that we can now automate the student directory images?

Why the change?

Compton Jr. High School students have created their yearbooks in Google Apps since 2014. Why didn't we come up with this solution sooner? Because we didn't have to. Our photography company sent us really old software to create those pages. The software is so old, in fact, that it doesn't work on Windows 10 unless you select the XP Service Pack3 option (or something like that). But the software worked (and still does). Our needs were met.

Necessity creates innovation. This year, four Compton Jr. High School students will create the official Spring CUE 2019 yearbook. While we don't believe all 5,000 attendees will submit their individual portraits, we do recognize the need to automate the process as much as possible. The students should rightfully focus on design rather than manual labor that we can automate.

For this reason, I reached out to the Autocrat community where I found the incredible Joe Schmidt, aka Flubaroo Joe, who helped me create this process. To find Joe or to learn more about the Autocrat community, please visit their G+ Community (use your school Google account) or explore the New Visions website.

What are we using to automate individual portraits?



Experience the power of Autocrat!

Before I get into the extremely technical language with formulas, I would like you to experience the power of Autocrat. This way, when I drone on about formulas, you will have a visual of what you can create.

  1. Make a copy of the #CUE19 Portrait Template created by #ComptonJHS #teamBCSD yearbook students. Select Use template.
  2. Make a copy of the example Google Sheets directory. We are skipping the Google Forms entry at this time. Select Use template.
  3. Look at the bottom of the Google Sheets. You will see four tabs/sheets. Select the fourth tab called Use for merge.
  4. Install Autocrat if you don't already have it.

5. Select Add-ons -> Autocrat -> Open.

6. Click on the pencil to edit and the Next button. Select From Drive and the Google Slides template you copied in step 1.

7. Select the SAVE button and then click the Run button (the arrow). This process will take over a minute to complete. For the purpose of the gif, I edited out the wait time.

8. Click on one link in the column AI. If you would like a different layout on each slide, select Layout and the design of your choice.

The Google Form

What about the Google Form? How do I collect the photos? You can have yearbook staff manually submit the photos or, better yet, ask students to submit their own portrait.

  1. Make a copy of this Google Sheets.
  2. Click on Form -> Go to live form.
  3. Change question 3 from Multiple choice to Upload.
  4. Optional: only allow images to be uploaded.
  5. Delete the example image I provided for you.
Click to enlarge


I was tempted to include the formulas in this blog post, but I recognize that it is a great deal of information. So, I wrote a separate post that you can read here.

The good news is that you don't need to understand any of the formulas. All you have to do is use the example Google Sheets and Google SlidesYearbook template. One day, these formulas will turn into an add-on, which will make a yearbook in Google Slides even easier to design.