8 Steps to Optimize InDesign Files for Translation

February 24, 2011

Adobe InDesign is a powerful and creative authoring tool. If you are creating an InDesign document that will only be released in English (or one language), you have tremendous freedom regarding the techniques you can use. When InDesign files are not translated, your content is relatively static and you do not need to give a great deal of thought to flexible layout or text expansion. When you are designing InDesign files that will go through document translation or graphic localization, however, you need to adhere to best practices in order to create documents with formatting and layout optimized for multilingual desktop publishing.

Intelligent use of white space in InDesign document layout

The biggest challenge in designing InDesign document templates for multilingual projects is creating page layout that will accommodate post-translation text expansion. It is not easy to create a source English document that has enough of white space or "breathing room" around text elements. Many languages (e.g. Russian, German, Italian, Latin American Spanish) can expand the line count by as much as 35%.

Language expansion is further magnified by narrow containers, e.g. side notes in the margin, table cells, indented text or boxed cautions and warnings. In addition, some eastern languages (e.g. Arabic, Farsi, Urdu) display text "right-to-left"; this requires right alignment and right-to-left layout modification. Text expansion and text direction require a flexible layout designed by professionals who understand the challenges of multilingual desktop publishing and graphic localization. Your translation company can be a great help in this regard.

Your translation agency or Language Service Provider (LSP) uses Desktop Publishing Specialists to provide corrective formatting to your InDesign document after translation. In extreme cases, this corrective formatting may almost constitute "document reconstruction."

Best practices to optimize your InDesign documents for translation

There are many best practices to optimize your InDesign documents for translation, but here are some of the top techniques to use:

1. Use lists appropriately

Lists: When creating a numbered list, have all items in the list number automatically by using the Numbered List option, instead of manually typing in numbers. This will ensure that the list will be correctly numbered after translation. In case of text expansion, when one item may be shifted to the next page, the risk of errors or different formatting for continued numbers is eliminated.

bullet in InDesign

2. Inline anchored frames

When using creative design elements in lists (e.g. white numbers grouped with black circles, see example below), make the graphic number an inline anchored frame that will paginate with the list item text. If graphic bullets or numbers are not anchored to their accompanying text items, a DTP specialist at your translation company has twice the number of elements to manually reposition on the page when text expansion occurs. Each "bullet" or "number" will have to be manually "nudged" to line up with the first line of each list item. This one feature can save hours in a project if your InDesign file is translated into dozens of languages.

numbered list

3. Use separate paragraphs for any distinct style changes

Translation company DTP staff frequently encounter documents formatted without using paragraph styles. Frequently, manual format overrides are not preserved by translation tools. Furthermore, some parameters (font size and color) may change during post-linguistic engineering preparation of files. The lack of distinct paragraph styles (which can be globally updated to accommodate text expansion) can substantially increase billable time from translation company DTP staff after translation. Using well-defined paragraph and character styles can be a huge advantage for projects with a large number of documents with a common layout. These styles can be reused, saving time and money each time a new document is created.

4. Use real tables in InDesign

Use real tables:InDesign has an excellent tables package. Many InDesign authors are in a hurry and create "fake" tables from individual text frames delineated by manually drawn boxes and horizontal/vertical rules. A six cell table with text expansion created in such a fashion has ten elements (text frames, boxes and rules) for your translation company's desktop publishing staff to manually resize. With real tables, all cells/containers and rules adjust themselves automatically to accommodate text expansion from translation. The screen capture below illustrates a case of "fake" tables in InDesign.

table in InDesign

5. Create layers in InDesign

It is very easy to add layers to InDesign documents which can contain a text box over one or two graphics. This simple step will save a great deal of time during post-linguistic desktop publishing (DTP) conducted by your translation company. Click the New Layer icon and then you can add your different elements to different layers. Be sure that you always name the layers properly, according to their purpose or content. This will make your intent obvious to the translation agency desktop publishing team who will provide the localized versions of the document.

6. Use style sheets in InDesign

Style sheets are one of the most useful tools in InDesign. They allow you to apply or update complicated formatting with just few steps. They make it easy to change formatting globally throughout a document. Style sheets also let you know exactly which fonts and styles you have used in your document. So it is always better for designers to use style sheets instead formatting text manually.

7. Group elements which should stay together

When a group of inline elements (graphics and/or text boxes) should stay in fixed positions in relation to one another, it's a good practice to group them. In this way you make sure grouped objects maintain their proper position when the text "moves" due to text expansion.

8. Link text frames when pagination should flow in InDesign

Sometimes, the layout of the page includes a graphic placed in between two paragraphs, for illustrating the text. The most common "solution" for this type of layout is to create two "unlinked" text frames, one above and one below the graphic or static element. When text expansion occurs after the file is translated, translation company DTP specialists will have to spend a considerable amount of time expanding the text boxes to make the text show, and adjusting the vertical position of the graphic and the second text box to accommodate the depth of the first text box. A better solution would be to place the graphic inline, in an empty paragraph, below the first paragraph. In this way, the graphic will move along with the text, and no adjustment will be necessary.

In the screen capture below, the image on the left shows the first scenario, where two disconnected text boxes are positioned above and below a graphic. In the image on the right, there is one text box with an anchored graphic between two paragraphs.

2 text frames and graphic

InDesign document translation and multilingual desktop publishing

After InDesign documents are created and approved by the client in the source language, clients usually submit these documents to their translation agency or translation partner to translate the documents into target languages.

The document translation and graphic localization process includes the following steps:

  • Preparation of source documents for analysis and export/import procedures (pre-document engineering).
  • Export of an InDesign file to INX format that can be accessed by translation memory applications.
  • Text Translation by the professional translators.
  • Import of the translated INX file into InDesign including links update.
  • Adjustment of the document's layout to match the source design look and feel:
    • Fixing the spaces and checking for any expanded text.
    • Selecting the language in the language menu for the localized text.
    • Selecting the proper font for the localization process, some languages would require different fonts like Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, etc,
    • Fixing the font, colors and line spaces.
    • Checking the links if any links are included.
    • For localized documents in Arabic or Farsi you will need to reverse the layout. InDesign-ME includes a reverse layout feature to revert the layout of a document when converting a Left to Right document (Roman) to a Right to Left one (Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi) or vice versa.
  • Implementing the final linguistic and desktop publishing QA.

Overall goal for InDesign documents being translated

In summary, if you adhere to these best practices when authoring documents in InDesign that will be translated into target languages, you can save a great deal of time and money on your translation projects. The steps recommended above will avoid "document reconstruction" after translation, and let over 90% of your InDesign content be correctly formatted after translation, without intervention from your translation company's DTP staff.

More resources regarding multilingual DTP

Globalization Partners International has extensive experience translating documentation in all common authoring products from Microsoft, Adobe and other vendors. You may also find some of our previous blogs on desktop publishing useful:

Please contact GPI at info@globalizationpartners.com or at 866-272-5874866-272-5874 with your specific questions about Microsoft Word and your project goals. A complimentary Translation Quote for your project is also available upon request.

Document Translation
Adobe, InDesign, DTP, translation, localization, technical

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  • SailaOn Mar 12, Saila said:
    Excellent article, thanks:-)
    I have only one question; I am using CS5 and converting into inx is no longer possible...So I presume there is no way that translation programmes such as Trados could now directly read my in design content?
  • Oana DiaconuOn Mar 17, Oana Diaconu said:

    Indeed, *.inx was eliminated as option for exporting an *.indd file, but still, there are solutions for translating an InDesign CS5 file. One option is to export the *.indd file as *.idml and use SDL Studio 2009 which supports *.idml file type. There are other CAT tools supporting *.idml file type.

    Another solution would be to export the InDesign CS5 *.indd file as *.idml, open the *.idml file in InDesign CS4 and export as *.inx so you can use TAgEditor.

    Since SDL released SDL Studio 2009, they have stopped upgrading Trados/TagEditor/SDLX. You may eventually have to switch to SDL Studio 2009, like most translators, since it’s the next step for those using Trados as main CAT tool.
  • Tim ColeOn Apr 03, Tim Cole said:
    The .inx format has been replaced by .idml, which is an updated xml file format for InDesign documents that's actually intended for use by third party solutions and tools. .inx wasn't created for that, but--because it was there--third party developers made it work.

    Our product, one2edit, enables a translator to export an InDesign translation job as XLIFF, or as a more optimized, proprietary XML format for use in Trados. It's much cleaner to work in (it hides unnecessary tags), and it provides a WYSIWYG collaborative workflow that enables translators, editors, and reviewers to work on the actual live InDesign documents in a web browser.
  • Gee RanasinhaOn Apr 08, Gee Ranasinha said:
    Great post.

    I would also expand on the correct application of fonts. Many times we see fonts from submitted DTP files with false bold or italicising, rather than using the Bold or Italic version of the font. This can present output issues depending on how the file is to be used (commercial print, for example).

    I would also caution against "grouping" objects (text or image boxes) when making your InDesign page, as some tools cannot extract text from grouped elements.

    Another solution to the process of localizing graphic arts file formats is a system such as QARTO (www.qarto.com). QARTO ingests native InDesign documents, as well as files from Illustrator and QuarkXPress. The system accepts the native InDesign file as it stands - there is no need to pre-convert it into another format.

    QARTO combines translation and page-building into a single process and centralizes project management, allowing project participants to work on the file collaboratively, in realtime, within a standard web browser.

    We are an SDL Trados Partner and are currently developing a process that will enable user-transparent job data sharing between the two environments.

    (Full disclosure: we are the developers of QARTO).
  • OzOn Apr 27, Oz said:
    Are you often working with InDesign docs? Here's a small hint how to increase speed and quality of your reviews, save time & money - have a look at this solution: http://bit.ly/fWMcjs
  • SathyanOn Jun 04, Sathyan said:
    I had trouble with some Indesign files where the formatting was not good and the converted RTF had lot of Character/Word breaks.
    We had to manually copy paste the text again and apply the correct styles to fix the errors.
    Anyone has a alternate solution for this?
  • Oana DiaconuOn Jun 06, Oana Diaconu said:
    Bad formatting of the source InDesign files is reason for extra time spent in preparing the files for translation.
    If you had character/word breaks, it is possible the InDesign files were the result of a file conversion from another format, and the appropriate InDesign formatting was not applied before the files were released.
    If the files are not too large, you could check/fix the text in Story Editor before exporting it for translation or, for larger files, do a quick check of the text by displaying the hidden characters (Alt+Ctrl+i).
  • Ole PresskornOn Jun 27, Ole Presskorn said:
    Regarding the steps, then there is also every time also a validation step, where the local office see the translated pdf and proofreads for use of right terms, technical meanings and so on.

    This step can be very time consuming in the "old fashioned" way, which is why we developed WeAllEdit (www.wealledit.com) which is especially made for this process.

    Upload your InDesign file, invite your validators, the editor through a web browser and see their changes immediately in the design, download the updated and approved InDesign file. You're done and have just saved a couple of hours!
  • LucaOn Jul 21, Luca said:
    SDL2009 is NOT the solution, if your IDML comes from the most updated InDesign release.

    I think it is a shame that after updating to SDL Trados Studio 2009 I am still prevented from translating an IDML file, because it has been produced by CS5.5, which has been on the market for quite some time already.

    Apparently CS4 INX is still the only safe option for translation.
  • Oana DiaconuOn Jul 21, Oana Diaconu said:
    Thank you, Luca, for your comment!
    SDL 2011 is on the way. Maybe it will solve some problems, including the compatibility with newer InDesign versions.
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