4 Tips for Multilingual Desktop Publishing

A product catalog, a sales brochure, an annual report, an industry newsletter – all of these documents most likely required page formatting. Translating these documents into one or more languages can present special challenges. In this post, we share some tips that can help simplify multilingual desktop publishing.

Desktop publishing (DTP) describes the creation of documents using special page formatting software. It is referred to as “desktop” publishing because it is carried out on personal computer. Commonly used software includes Adobe InDesign, Pagemaker, and Framemaker, QuarkXPress.

In general, it is always simpler (and thus less costly) to plan in advance than fix and repair later. This is true for desktop publishing. It is best to account for translation right from the start, when formatting a document in the original source language. Here are the things that should be kept in mind when creating these documents:


Don’t crowd

When text is translated from one language to another, the length of the source text and the translation are likely to be different. Translating English text into Western European languages can result in up to 30% text expansion; translating English text into Slavic languages typically results in a 15% expansion. It is often the case that the shorter the source text, the larger the expansion. For example, the word “views” (as in how many times an image has been seen by users) translates as “visualizzazioni” in Italian. Besides text expansion/contraction, other issues include compound nouns (e.g., how to break the German word “Eingabeverarbeitungsfunktionen” for “input processing features”), character width (e.g., English “desktop” compared with Japanese “デスクトップ”), as well as character line and height. Your design should therefore be flexible enough take into account possible changes to the length, size and form of text.

Keep it simple

Translating a document is in many ways similar to recreating a document from scratch. Therefore, the more complicated the formatting, the more time and effort must be spent in recreating that formatting in the translation (see previous paragraph for why the translation requires formatting). Keep the formatting simple so that it can be quickly and easily reproduced.

Stick to Unicode and OpenType

A fancy font may look great in your brochure but it may not support the necessary characters of the target language. Opt for Unicode fonts, which offer a wide range of characters, letters, glyphs, etc. to cover all your target language needs. Similarly, choose OpenType fonts. This cross-platform format means that the same font will appear identically on both a PC and Mac.

Keep text and image separate

Avoid embedding text into an image (e.g., a callout box). Similarly, avoid using an image that features text that will require translation. Editing these kinds of images to replace the text can be extremely difficult and, in a worst-case scenario, may be impossible. If your picture is truly worth a thousand words, keep the words out of it!


We work with a number of highly-skilled desktop publishers who are accustomed to handling different languages. We would also be happy to work with your in-house staff or preferred vendor for desktop publishing. Get in touch with us to discuss your translation and DTP project.



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