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You can check this out: Illustrator Variable Data - The EASY way! - YouTube
And get a script from here: https://github.com/Silly-V/Adobe-Illustrator/blob/master/Variable%20Importer/VariableImpor ter.jsx
This actually has been an obscure and not easily-accessible feature of Illustrator, but this script makes it easier.
Here is a good basic overview of using variable data in Illustrator using its built in variable panel features for data-driven graphics:
Quick Tip: Data-Driven Graphics with Illustrator's Variables
If you need/want to take that further then definitely look into Silly-V's Variable Importer script above.
Off Topic: Silly-V , when you gonna build a version of making Illustrator-friendly XML conversion into your script or sub script for offline use? ;-)
How does that differ from the online tools you linked to or the need for them, in case you wish to process XML as the initial input? I guess I was just confused why you referenced them?
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Oh, I see your question. For differences in use - VariableImporter allows you to pre-code your variable type inside the spreadsheet using "@" for image files, "#" for visibility and "%" for graph data files. So you get that speed advantage when importing spreadsheet-program-generated CSVs or TXTs. Plus, the presets features lets you save a preset file and destination, to speed it up a little bit on repetitive jobs. Oh, and it's accessible without a connection to the internet, after the script is copied to a local machine, of course.
For the purpose of why you'd ever need to keep an XML file, it depends on the workflow at hand, one place of business may have a person who does the converting and admin tasks and the designer has the job of binding the data inside the AI template. And still other technical places may actually have a use for the XML to be used in some kind of web application. For example, the XML may be sent to a server processing folder, where an online proof is generated based on the info inside the XML data. The customers could then edit this data (say,names on t-shirts) and use that web application to submit the changes. Then XML file is updated, or replaced or versioned such that when the proof is approved, the file is used to make approved merchandise.
As to why a link to other tools - that's simply so that anyone who wants to get prepared, send a quick file, or practice how data is converted, can do so without having Illustrator on their device. For practice and live demonstrations of just XML, it would be fastest to create a valid XML file with sample data using them.
Thanks for the response Silly-V. By the same token however some end users may not wish to push their data through a third party online converter due to sensitivity and disclosure of the data, etc.