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How to prepare InDesign files for translation

How to prepare InDesign files for translation
Home » Blog » Multilingual DTP » How to prepare InDesign files for translation

Translating InDesign files is a straight forward task for a professional translation agency. But there are a few ground rules that can smooth the process.

Of course ensuring the over-all look and feel of an InDesign file in multiple languages is paramount. The Indesign files must remain consistent across languages and true to the original design. This is a skill that is confidently handled by translation agencies with specialist multilingual typesetting knowledge.

As a design agency there are a few things you can do to help streamline the process. Working with a professional translation agency will certainly help, but what can you do to ensure that your InDesign file is ready to be translated?

To help you prepare your InDesign files for translation, we’ve outlined some of the useful things you can do.

Make use of InDesign styles

InDesign styles are an extremely useful tool. When applied correctly Indesign styles significantly decrease time spent on multilingual typesetting, and ensures greater consistency across languages. They allow you to adjust the text size, leading and tracking and many other variables across the whole document in one go. As translated text can expand by over 30% this is an invaluable tool in helping to fit the text to the layout. When you think you may have to do this for each language, it is a great timesaver that prevents you from having to manually format each block of text – a task which can be incredibly time-intensive. And of course time equals money, so good use of InDesign styles will ultimately keep your costs trim.

Here are our top InDesign stylesheet tips for streamlined multilingual typesetting and artwork.

  1. Create styles for each major text element, such as body, headers, subheads etc and assign short cuts.
  2. Make sure related styles are based on the main style, for example, make the body text style the main style and base the “bullet” style sheet on this, so a change in the body text will be reflected in the bullet text.
  3. Make sure the styles are actually assigned to each element of text, otherwise they will have to be assigned after translation.
  4. Pre-empt the text expansion by adjusting (reducing in most cases) the text size/leading/tracking before translation, this mean less work afterwards.
  5. Turn off auto hyphenation in each style sheet, it really doesn’t improve foreign language typesetting unless it’s specifically set for each language.


Design for translation

If you are planning on getting a new document designed, we strongly suggest designing with translation in mind.

We often translate documents which have been entirely designed around the English text. What happens then is for example, the headline of the document looks great in English. But, when the two or three English words are translated into, French it can turn into four or five words. When translated into German it translates into three typically very long words. All of a sudden the design does not look quite as hot!

The same can be said for body text if the English text fits the layout exactly – remember that other languages can overrun by as much as 30%. The only way to fit the text in these instances is to reduce point size, leading or tracking. Often done in varying proportions to retain the original design, it is quite frankly a time-consuming faff, (time equals money!) and can be most unsatisfactory to the original designer’s eye, unless done very carefully.

All elements of a document need to be designed with translation in mind, whether it is body text, titles, diagrams or image captions to make sure the original design looks good in all languages.

One question we’re often asked is: “Can we (the translation agency) edit text to fit?”. The answer is yes. But it will increase the translation cost and will take more time. If you try reducing the original English copy by 30%, it is basically a rewrite of the original copy. It is clearly a pretty good option for shorter pieces of text such as captions. However as a translation agency we are not allowed to change text without strict guidance from our clients, and it can be a timely and costly process to get the permissions and signoffs.

But in the end it is your call, what is more important to you, retaining the brand message, meaning and intent of the original text or the design? All of the above more than likely. Fear not though, if you haven’t designed with translation in mind, a good translation agency (such as Brightlines of course) will still be able work the magic on your foreign language InDesign files.

Top foreign language design tips

  1. Design all elements with text expansion in mind.
  2. Leave plenty, I mean plenty of white space, the more the better.  
  3. Make sure the point size is not too small, and that the leading and tracking are not too tight. This allows plenty of scope for foreign language typesetters to craft the text.
  4. Make sure column widths are not too narrow, especially if you are translating into German. German words are notoriously long.
  5. Add extra dummy text to all elements to see what it could look like when translated. But don’t forget to remove it before sending the files to be translated!


Choose the right font

Many new fonts have all the necessary diacritics for many languages, but not all. Modern fonts will retain all the diacritics for most European languages, but check with the translation agency before submitting the document. It’s useful to know that most agencies can help in altering fonts to include diacritics not present.

If you are translating into a Cyrillic script such as Russian or Bulgarian, check whether there is a version of your font that supports these, there are font foundries that specialise in creating Cyrillic versions of well-known fonts. If in doubt, ask a translation agency skilled in foreign language DTP.

The majority of fonts will not have versions for languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Arabic scripts, so these will need to be chosen visually, to match the brand style.

TOP TIP: Ask the translation agency to source alternative fonts and provide samples before translation to make sure they are acceptable to your brand manager.

Soft and hard returns

Most translation agencies now use CAT (Computer Aided Translation) software to speed up translation and increase consistency. When an InDesign file (or any other file type) is fed into a CAT system it divides the text into “segments”, either by sentence or in some cases, like heavy marketing text, by paragraph.

So ideally a sentence should not be split by either a soft or hard return.

For example this sentence should be presented to the translator as one segment, not as two if it had a hard return.

Below is a screenshot from a CAT tool of the above sentences, showing what happens when there is a soft or hard return inserted into the text.

The soft returns are shown by the blue “tag” characters. When the translator translates these segments they have to make sure the tag is in the same place. As the word order and length of text will be different when translated the soft return will also be in the wrong place in the translated InDesign file. Where it was at the end of the line in English, it could be in the middle of a line in the translated text, which means more work and time after translation. Time costs money!

Similarly, the hard return in the last sentence has divided one sentence into two segments (5 & 6). When the translator comes to this segment s/he will have to juggle words between each segment to make it read correctly in the translation. Again, in the InDesign file it will have to be corrected as the hard return will be in the wrong place. More time, more effort, and if it is not corrected before translation it may have to be done on each translated document! Obviously this multiplies the amount of work by the number of languages.

In summary! Before submitting a document that needs foreign language typesetting make sure that sentences, titles and captions are not split by soft or hard returns. Resist entering soft returns to enhance English text visually before translation as they will just have to be removed!

Last word…

If you have finalised your document and have now found you have not followed any of the tips and tricks above, and the entire document is littered with soft and hard returns, woolly styling and text that is shoe horned onto the page, don’t panic just give Brightlines a call and we will magic the document into shape for you.

Talk to a professional translation agency

A translation agency like Brightlines can help advise you on designing for languages and foreign language typesetting. We help brands produce documents in multiple languages which carry the brand message and vision consistently across languages. To find out more about how we can help you with your InDesign files, get in touch today.