Five Tips for Translation-Friendly InDesign Files

Category: Global Design, Marketing Translation

As your company expands overseas and begins to market to consumers in languages other than English, your design teams will be faced with the challenge of creating multilingual assets.

If they learn early on to build InDesign files that are “translation-friendly”, or optimized for the translation process, they will save big on both production time and translation spend. Here are five tips to help them achieve that goal.

1/ Separate text and images on separate layers

The most basic way to optimize your design file for translation is to keep images and text on separate layers. Maintaining your English text on its own layer ensures that your translation and publishing teams can:

  • Easily access, extract and place the content for translation.
  • Lock other design elements so that only the text layer is editable.
  • Organize the graphic and textual elements on layers so that it’s clear what needs to be activated for each individual output (such as JPGs or interactive PDFs).
  • Create one master art file for all outputs with separate text layers for each language, allowing for easy editing and navigation between them.

2/ Add buffer space in text boxes

Your translated text will more than likely take up at least 20% more space than your English. Rather than have your translation partner deal with the design implications of text expansion, you can build buffer space into your text box from the outset so that no matter the language, the content fits neatly into your design. This will ensure that your German, French or Arabic brochure is as clean, readable and aesthetically-pleasing as your English version. Tight designs with lots of space constraints do not fare well in translation so regardless of your target market, it’s a good practice to add extra breathing room to your creative.


3/ Build a document size that will work in most of your target markets

Letter size is very western-centric. The U.S., Canada, Mexico and a host of South American countries employ this paper size, but most of the world beyond the western hemisphere uses ISO 216 paper sizes. The most common of these is A4. If you’d like your marketing materials to be agile and easily updateable in all languages, you can build one source file for multiple markets. To do so, you’ll want to start with the smallest paper size to create your design and then add guides to see how other paper sizes will turn out.

4/ Know when to outline text and when to leave it editable

It’s tempting to create text outlines when finalizing a design to clean up and align elements and embed fonts for the printer. When it comes to translation, however, outlined or flattened text is no longer extractable or editable, making re-creation necessary. This step can be quite costly. Also, when text is outlined, publishing teams can’t reproduce the font or formatting so they end up approximating the look and feel of your design. It’s best to only outline elements that you’d like to “protect” from translation and localization, such as taglines in a logo or a product name that will remain the same across languages.


5/ Plan your fonts carefully.

The best fonts to use for global creative are Open Type. These fonts are generally friendly on both the MAC and WIN platform and because of this, they travel better. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Be mindful that some designer fonts do not allow many of the extended characters used in foreign languages. It’s a good idea to check if your font supports the usual suspects: é, ü, ñ, ç. Of course, there are many more, but if the font you are using can render these characters, chances are it can render the others. Eastern European languages as well as Vietnamese employ more rare or complex extended characters, and font substitution may need to be made in these cases.
  • Remember that for character-based Asian languages, the fonts will need to be replaced. If there are designer fonts in your document, your translation partner may need to do some consulting on various fonts to ensure they meet your corporate branding needs.
We hope this article helped you with your multilingual documentation planning efforts. We’ve also got some technical document translation tips, too!