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  • Writer's pictureRick White - Director of Client Services

A Brief Introduction to Multilingual Desktop Publishing

Multilingual DTP Services

Multilingual desktop publishing (DTP) can best be described as an eclectic world populated with people who know too much about diacritical marks and how to punctuate temperatures in the Estonian language. It differs from standard DTP in many ways, but most obvious is the fact that it involves not only laying out content in an appealing and meaningful way, but also making sure content is correctly localized.

Early Desktop Publishing

Desktop publishing as a field began with the invention of the personal (desktop) computer. Early software programs enhanced the ease and speed with which brochures, magazines, and papers could be laid out and designed. Additionally, with the development of unicode fonts which support diacritical marks and special characters, multilingual desktop publishing was possible.

Desktop Publishing and Translation

Typically, the multilingual desktop publishing process begins with establishing project requirements and analyzing the files to determine the best course of action for preparing the files for translation. By ensuring that source files are properly internationalized, localized versions will have the same look and feel as the originals. To do this, file prep involves making lists of how certain content should be treated. Should standard measurements be replaced with metric, or be followed by the metric equivalent in parentheses? Do software terms need to be translated, or will any software screenshots remain in the source language? File prep also involves removing hidden content that will break up translation units. Soft returns are deleted, and any uneditable image text is transcribed for translation. Once the files are prepped and translated, the real fun begins. The objective of multilingual desktop publishing is to create appropriately localized versions of the original document. Fonts, line spacing, and pagination are all maintained as much as possible to create a translated document that is identical in layout and style to the original source document. Because many languages expand not only in length of words, but also word count, a real concern of multilingual DTP formatters is how to fit more text on the same number of pages. Occasionally, pages can be added to a document’s layout to accommodate language expansion, but in most cases other adjustments need to be made to preserve the original page count and layout.

Preparing Content for Multilingual Desktop Publishing

By properly preparing documents for translation, headaches can be avoided later on. It is important to keep several things in mind when creating content that is destined for translation.

  1. How will temperatures, measurements and the like be localized? Does the client have a preference?

  2. Allow for expansion of translated text by having sufficient white space in the source document. Tightly formatted source documents can restrict the formatting of translated content.

  3. If possible, use graphics that don’t require translation, or include the image text in the source file. Images that must be edited in a separate program increase the formatting time.

  4. Choose fonts that support a wide variety of special characters. “Fun” fonts generally are not able to correctly represent accented characters, so try to use unicode fonts whenever possible.

Here’s another take on DTP and Translation:

The 411 on Multilingual DTP Services: What You Should Know

What is multilingual DTP?

DTP is a technical service that your language vendor may provide in order to ensure that the integrity of your formatting is maintained after translation in order to best appeal to your global markets. During the DTP process, you as the client will provide your language vendor with the file you wish to be translated, complete with graphics, images, and icons, and your language vendor will then not only translate the file, but also handle the formatting. Imagine for instance you wish to translate your English brochure into German. Because German words are usually far lengthier, where an English word in the original document may have fit neatly inside a graphic, its German equivalent may not. This will result in a sloppy or even unreadable translated document. Another example is when translating into Arabic. Because this language reads from right to left, rather than left to right, the entire format of your document will need to be revised. This is where multilingual DTP comes in.

Why should I use multilingual DTP?

The most simple answer is that without it, your translated document may be at best, sloppy and at worst, unreadable to your target audience. Using DTP will maintain your company’s style across cultures and ensure your message’s integrity. If the DTP is done well, then it should appear to native speakers that the end product was originally created in their native tongue, for that specific market. Keep in mind that it’s always a better choice to take advantage of your language vendor’s DTP expertise rather than relying on your own design team. The process that many in-house designers follow includes manually copying and pasting translated text into a layout, which is extremely error prone. If a designer attempts to adjust layouts for text expansion or other issues when they do not speak the language or have experience with multilingual DTP, they could introduce errors, insert line breaks where they do not belong, or even accidentally leave out some text entirely. This could create problems and leave you with a less than desirable final product. It is always best to leave any sort of formatting to your language vendor during the translation process.

When should I use multilingual DTP services?

As a rule, DTP should be used anytime the look and style of a translated document is essential to its success. This typically includes any type of technical manual, advertisements, brochures, or even presentations. If you are unsure as to whether or not DTP is necessary for your project, check with your language vendor and they should be able to offer you some guidance.

What can I do to make the DTP process as quick and easy as possible?

Obviously you don’t want to sacrifice quality, but still would like translation to be quick and affordable. There are some things you can do on your end to expedite the DTP process and keep your translation costs down:

  1. Whenever possible, send native files. Sending scanned PDFs or converted files creates much unneeded hassle for your language vendor and could create avoidable costs for you.

  2. Send any company or brand specific guidelines for publishing. Likewise, making your language vendor aware of any locale specific guidelines ahead of time means that they won’t have to redo any of their work or deliver a product that will in turn be unmarketable to your target audience. If guidelines do not exist, speak with your language vendor about creating some based specifically on your needs.

  3. Send all necessary auxiliary files needed to produce a complete product. This includes images, fonts, and graphics. When your language vendor has these ahead of time, translation and DTP will be far more efficient.


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