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Contributor: David, Typesetting Manager

It’s not often that an InDesign file is created with the idea in mind that it will go into another language. But there are common production practices and design concepts that can make localizing (translating) the InDesign file a much smoother process. The process to geting your InDesign file translation-ready is an upfront investment that needs to be weighed against the benefit of not having to make corrections to the translated file. Usually, this trade-off becomes more apparent when there are multiple languages, but in any case, there are costs involved when an InDesign file intended for translation does not use good production practices, including using style sheets where possible, employing the software’s table features, and accounting for space considerations.


Tables should generally be set up in InDesign using the software’s table feature, not individual text boxes or by use of repeat tabs. Tables can be easily manipulated at once for expansive languages so that the table can be made to fit consistently throughout a document. Also, consider extra time it takes to manipulate the table layout, in case adjustments need to be made to accommodate more text. An InDesign file without a proper table format inevitably will be a more costly process to make fit for the translated content.

Design Tip 1:
If information needs to be presented in a logical grid, consider using a table
to ensure consistency and perfect alignment of your copy text
in both English and the target language.

Paragraph formatting

Sometimes it may seem easier to set up an InDesign file with tabs and spaces in order to get the look you want. This can lead to a lot of problems when replacing the English text with the translated text. To streamline the process, it’s better to use InDesign paragraph formatting features like hanging indents, balance ragged lines, and no break (to keep words together). Tabs and space bands shouldn’t be used to force line breaks, for instance. The tab character should primarily be used to break between clearly separate items, such as between columns where a table isn’t really necessary.  Using tab characters and extra space bands within a sentence will break up the English source copy, which makes the text less coherent for translation.

Example of poor formatting of indents:

[BULLET] space space [TEXT…….]

 until the line breaks, then

[space] [space] [space] [space] [TEXT…….] so the text on line two aligns with the first line.

Experience has taught us that, once translated, the position of these tabs will seldom work to get the line break or correct position of the indent on the next line. Either tabs will have to be added once the translation is in InDesign, or a better option is to work with the English copy and correct the alignment and indentation using special characters.

It’s also a good idea to turn off all hyphenation throughout the English version of the document. Whenever possible we avoid hyphenation of translated text due to complex rules for each language. Seeing your document in English without hyphens may help to understand potential problems in advance.

Soft returns vs. hard returns

Forced line breaks (soft returns) do not break up in our translation software and can be used if needed, but do include a manual process of adding these back in at the correct position in the translated content. It’s better to use the margins of the text box, or a text-wrap option to create natural breaks in the content.

Hard returns, however, break up the English source copy for translation. Sometimes, hard returns are needed (such as when breaking sub-heads from paragraphs), so a simple find/replace of hard returns for a soft return is not an option.

Multilingual graphic design

The effect of hard returns on the translation workflow.

Here is a sample of how a hard return breaks up the source text. Segment 124 – 125 – 126 would have been a 100% match from our Translation Memory, if not for the hard returns. Now, it requires either work on the front end in InDesign or the translator needs to go in and break up the translation. Another problem is that when the translation is broken up, it may not be the ideal place for the break to appear. You won’t know that until you get it back into InDesign.

Design Tip 2:
Any manual manipulation of text will need to be corrected for in translation.
If needed, soft returns are always a better option than
spaces or tabs for breaking text
in specific places.

Font support

Exotic fonts are less likely to include foreign language support. There are two main considerations for foreign language support:

  • Accented characters– the majority of fonts, particularly OpenType fonts, will support the accents used in most Western languages.
  • Extended character support– Cyrillic, Slavic, Asian, Arabic, Hebrew and etc. all need extended character support due to a different writing systems.

If there is no sufficient language support for a font, we may need to substitute.

  • Font style – should it match the original font closest or should it be most appropriate for the target market? The option to localize or regionalize over standardize is something that should probably be discussed ahead of time.
  • Font weights – the more font weight options you have, the more flexible you are in design. Consider also that in some languages, you generally don’t use italics (it’s uncommon in Chinese for instance). Therefore, you may need to add a bit of weight to the font for emphasis.

Design Tip 3:
Ask us about available fonts that have great language support and selection
of font weights and can be used consistently in all languages.


Copy Flow

Content can be linked logically or illogically. The more logically content is linked and placed in order of appearance, the more likely the translation process will go smoother. If there are a lot of items out of context, the order of appearance may be off when the translator works in the extracted text, populated by segments (see image above). In that case, pre-flight will need to take place in order to add additional context information, PDFs need to be referenced more thoroughly, or we see more edits during the review (Linguistic QA) of the final PDF.

Hidden layers are also not extracted, unless specified. However, hidden layers are an excellent way to eliminate items in the pasteboard or outside of the margins. Therefore, if you have a lot of content sitting outside of the margins, either remove this from the file for translation or make use of the hidden layer feature, as long as it is done correctly to identify only those layers that do not require translation.

Design Tip 4:
Use hidden layers consistently to eliminate copy that does not need translation.


Most Western languages expand by about 20%. Chinese, Japanese and Korean actually takes up less space, but usually take advantage of a larger type for legibility. The more flexible we are with margins, the better we can accommodate the typesetting of other languages. Consider that in certain industries there are regulations to keep the font size at 12 pt. or above (using Times New Roman as the standard). With 20% more text in the same copy block, there is only so much you can do with the text when there is no margin (white space) left for expansion.

Try to avoid narrow columns or sidebars with expansive languages.  Not only do many languages use more words, their words are usually far longer than the English. With narrow column formats, you may end up having to hyphenate, take up more vertical space or reduce font sizes to make this fit. Consider also that if copy elements interact and need to be aligned, a narrow column may throw off words and alignment to the point where more drastic adjustments need to be made to make copy fit.

Design Tip 5:
Consider having us Pseudo translate an InDesign file to see
how 20% more text translates to the design.

In conclusion: The typesetting approach

The standard approach to typesetting is to manipulate the fonts to fit the original design. Apart from the font size, we usually start with changing the leading and tighten tracking to get fonts to fit, as well as horizontal scaling. There comes a point when the only other option is to reduce the font size in order to make things fit.

A more drastic and undesirable approach is to start making changes to the design. This is not the job of the typesetter and should not be the objective during the translation process.

Therefore, we leave you with the Final Design Tip:
When planning to have your design go into another language, either ensure that you follow best practices
to make the design translation ready, or allow enough time and budget to address any
design issues ahead of time in order to get a desirable result.



 About David:

David has more than 30 years of experience in design and multilingual typesetting, with key expertise in Arabic, Hebrew and right-to-left layout in InDesign, Illustrator and Quark. David has been a part of the LSI team for over 10 years.

We use the latest software and vast library of fonts to supply clients with multilingual typesetting services in over 40 languages.