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Desktop Publishing – A Critical Piece in the Localization Puzzle
by Terralíngua      Posted in  December 7, 2020

Desktop Publishing – A Critical Piece in the Localization PuzzleTranslation is the key part of the localization puzzle. Ensuring you have qualified translators with the correct industry experience is the first order of your localization strategy. However, people often stop solving once they have confirmed a translation partner’s background. They may not think to ask about a critical piece of the solution, the partner’s ability to recreate the layout with the same look and feel as the original. Localization is more than just translation. It is ensuring your target language audience has the same experience with the content as your source language audience.

Can your translation partner work with text in the layout to achieve this goal? How can you ensure you ask the right questions to ensure the translated material has the same look as the original?

People often request layout or formatting to achieve this goal. However, the industry term for this part of the localization solution is called multilingual desktop publishing, or DTP.

What is Desktop Publishing?

Desktop publishing takes your original document and changes the layout. The text and images adapt to the target language. It means the piece looks like an original and not an adapted version. This is often accomplished in a layout software such as InDesign or FrameMaker. However even Word can have layout issues with text fitting the same way in the format or embedded images with text, which would require desktop publishing (DTP).

Why is Desktop Publishing necessary?

The primary reason DTP is necessary is because of expansion and contraction. When you translate words from English into another language, the number of words can increase or decrease. This can make a text longer or shorter in the layout.

For example, you may have a sales brochure in English. The words and images go together seamlessly. The brochure is attractive and professional.

If you have the sales brochure translated into Arabic, because of the expansion factor the translated version could require the space for 200 additional words. What can you do?

You could cut out an image or two. However, removing images changes the experience of the reader and changes the design, which may make it less attractive.

You could change the size of the font and make the text smaller. The problem with this strategy is that it might make the brochure hard to read. The text may also look crammed into the space and untidy. The brochure could be to difficult to easily read the content, and end in the trash.

Another solution someone may employ would be to reduce the amount of white space. Removing white space means you have a block of text without any breaks in between sentences. However white space is necessary to make reading easier and allows people to skim the brochure. It has been documented that most readers will skim a document rather than read it in its entirety. People often read on electronic devices like tablets and phones.

Only experienced multi-lingual DTP designers know how to work with expansion, contraction, font differences, and compatibility issues to create a result as seamless to read as the source.

What Desktop Publishing Includes

  • Layout adaptation for expanding or contracting text.
  • Changing columns, graphs, and tables with translated content.
  • Changing layout direction if required. For example, Hebrew and Arabic languages read from right to left.
  • If source files are not available, recreating layouts from PDF files.
  • Localizing images with embedded text.
  • Ensuring the finished document is clearly read and professional.

Can I do anything to reduce DTP costs?

Yes, proper planning is important when localizing a document. Desktop publishing is charged by the hour or page based upon the level of difficulty to amend the layout. When you design your document, plan with translated text in mind.

  • Plan for contraction and expansion when placing text in a layout or in an image. Bear in mind that it might end up smaller or larger than your original.
  • Ensure your design is consistent. Review all images and aim to keep them a consistent size. Font sizes should be consistent as well.
  • Provide plenty of white space. Avoid cramming in text. If you use columns, leave space for additional words.
  • Implement style guides and templates to keep your layouts consistent.
  • Consider measurement requirements. You may require space for both imperial and metric equivalents, or additional space for metric-based amounts.

Planning or modifying your layout before translation begins, will reduce the amount of time required to produce a localized layout. Knowledge of this important piece of the localization puzzle will result in a better result not only for your end user, but also for your bottom line.


Terralingua is an ISO 9001, 17100, and 18587 certified full-service translation partner providing localization and multilingual desktop publishing service in over 40 different languages. If you have a translation or a desktop publishing project, please visit our website.

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