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Best Practices for the Translation of InDesign Files

The Translation of InDesign Files

Last updated on January 3rd, 2024 at 07:09 pm

Adobe InDesign is a standard design program used in the business world. From designing billboards to laying out magazines, InDesign’s functionality knows no single industry, and there is no single way to utilize its tools. Therefore, each file could have differences in its translation process

Here’s what you need to know about the general procedure to translate an InDesign file.

The Basics: What is InDesign?

InDesign is a desktop publishing software created by Adobe that allows you to create all kinds of documents. It is a valuable and powerful tool for marketers, graphic designers, publishers, journalists, and more worldwide. Anything that requires a custom layout can be made in InDesign.

The difference between document translation and InDesign file translation

InDesign is a specialty program with proprietary file extensions. Unlike Word documents, PDFs, JPEGs, or other common file types, InDesign’s default file type is incompatible with other programs. This file extension complicates the process of document translation services. While you can easily send a Word document or a PDF to your translation company  for them to work on, you have to take a few more steps to translate InDesign files.

Common Problems with Translating InDesign Files

The main roadblock companies encounter when working with InDesign is the file type.

InDesign uses a native file format called .indd. Not only is this file type not compatible with any other software, but the professional translator must have an ongoing subscription to Adobe to be able to convert the document to a more workable format- or even just to extract the text! InDesign’s .indd files also don’t have compatibility with free translation tools such as Google Translate, (and you wouldn’t want to trust your business messaging with Google Translate anyway.)

To use your InDesign document in other software or to translate InDesign files, you have to export it into a new file type.

Changing your file type in Adobe InDesign

Since the .indd file format is proprietary to InDesign, it can’t be opened in any other software. You have to export your document into a different file type; the InDesign Markup Language or .idml file. The .idml file is a legacy format that most software programs have compatibility with. The example, in this case, is, of course, a translation environment- software that uses data such as translation memory to assist in the consistency and efficiency of translation. Once that translation process is completed, the translated .idml file can be converted back into a .indd.

Changing the document type during your export is simple: click on File -> Save As. Under “file type” select the .idml file type. However, in many cases, it is best practice to provide your translator with the complete InDesign Package. You can create this by selecting File -> Package. A few prompts will guide you through any issues you might encounter while creating a Package folder.

Package folders are the preference for beginning the translation process in many cases, as they give the Translation company a more complete understanding of your document before translation. If there are linked images with text, or even linked documents, the translator or project manager can discuss your options for translation with you, saving you time and money in the long run. It also includes a PDF, which is always helpful for reference!

Understanding the steps you must take before sending an InDesign file to a translation company or even to translation software is essential. Outside of proper project scoping, some translation companies (Like ours!) offer desktop publishing services for your translated document. We can return formatted and print-ready files if you provide us with a proper InDesign package!

Best Practices to Translate InDesign Documents

Leave enough white space

Text expansion and contraction are expected in translation and depend on the language. If your file is already full of text and images, there will be nowhere for the newly translated text to fit if it takes more space. To avoid having your document look cramped or even reworked entirely, plan for text expansion in your translated file by including white space in your page layout. You can check out our blog on text expansion to see if your target language will cause expansion or contraction!

Create a design that’s easy to mirror

Languages like English and Spanish are read left to right. But other languages like Arabic or Farsi are read right to the left. If you know your document will be translated into a right-to-left language, create a design that is easy to flip to accommodate the new text.

Along similar lines, consider altering the size of your text frames rather than inserting a line break when possible. They are carried with the text into the translation environment and the final document and generally need to be moved or removed entirely. That causes extra work.

Use the tools in InDesign

One of the tools that can significantly change the amount of post-translation work is InDesign’s Paragraph Styles tool. If you have used them consistently throughout your file, entire swaths of text can be changed at once, particularly reducing the time spent adjusting things like font size or leading.

A common problem encountered while translating InDesign documents is tables made manually rather than with the table tool. Tables built by hand will likely require restructuring by hand for the translated piece, increasing the time spent on the final layout of the translated document.

Package the file

As mentioned previously, a packaged InDesign file is very useful to translation companies. Along with providing the .idml file (Allowing us to quickly get an idea of the base word count of your document), a PDF (For easy reference of the original document), and the linked files (So all of your text is translated), it also includes the fonts used in the file. The complete InDesign package is required for typesetting, but it is also helpful if you translate into languages that do not use the Latin script. If you are looking for Chinese or Arabic translation services, your fonts may not work correctly. We can advise you on other fonts that will work for the language request for your multilingual project.

Always have a final review

Before sending your InDesign package for translation, make sure these are your final reviewed version. Even with a translator’s and typesetter’s keen eyes on your file, they don’t know exactly what you intended for your file. Any mistakes in the content or design may make it through translation and typesetting. Ensuring everything is correct before the work begins prevents wasting time or money on reworking or re-translating your files!

Tips for keeping costs low when you translate InDesign files

Keep all text that needs to be translated within the InDesign files

While it is very convenient to take advantage of InDesign’s ability to link many file types, having text you need translated in the linked files requires extra work to extract, especially if it is from a specialty software application. If possible, add text to images within the InDesign file itself.

Format the Translated File In-House

If you have a native speaker who is InDesign savvy- or even is just available to proof your designer’s work-the translation company can deliver the translated files without any re-formatting. Your designer can take care of the layout changes the translation caused to your document. We do not recommend this for languages that you do not have a native speaker to proof the final design.

If you do not have the right resources in-house, work with a language company that offer multilingual desktop publishing services, and have years of experience working on translation of InDesign files.

Machine Translation of the Copy

If you have the copy for a document separate from the design, you can translate the text on its own using computer-assisted translation or a third-party translation tool. These tools work best for short texts with simple terms in common, similarly structured languages. Their use is not for complicated concepts, and trying to use them for longer pieces of copy will quickly reduce the translation quality. You will still need to handle the adjustment of the design afterward.

It’s important to remember that with machine-assisted translation, your message may be lost or mistranslated in the process. It is crucial to have machine translations proofed by a human translator to ensure your content is accurate and adequately resonates with your target audience. Computer translation tools are a great option, but you should never stake your company’s reputation on machine translation without evaluating it.

In Conclusion

Need to translate an InDesign file? It’s easy when you work with an experienced language translation company, with the software and a professional team to support the successful translation of InDesign Files.

At JR Language Translation Services, we go the extra mile to exceed your expectations at affordable prices with workable turnaround times. The right translation team simplifies the process and makes it easy to translate all of your InDesign files into every language your audience speaks. Contact us for an InDesign document translation quote today— we’d love to hear from you.

Victoria Wildow
Victoria Wildow
Since 2018, Victoria Wildow has put her problem-solving, technology-centered mind to use in her roles as a Translation Project Manager, Typesetter, and now Marketing Associate at JR Language. She is a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Media Arts and Technology program. Victoria helps ensure our clients' various designs maintain the same look and feel in their new languages while also managing projects in various media. She loves learning about new technologies and is currently developing websites in her free time.