23 Things to Consider When Preparing an InDesign File for Translation

You may already be familiar with how to create localization-ready templates in MS Word from our previous post.

A lot of the same principles apply to InDesign files, but InDesign files are more complex and require additional preparation to be translation-ready.

InDesign is capable of a higher level of design than MS Word, and you may have an on-staff or contracted graphic designer who has designed the publication for you.

Similarly, it is important to have experienced, professional multilingual desktop publishing (DTP) specialists work on your translations so your carefully curated design is maintained in the translated versions.

Here are 23 things to consider when preparing an InDesign file for translation.

Getting Started

1. Files

Keep your InDesign package all in one location for easy transfer to your Language Service Provider (LSP).

An InDesign package includes:

  • InDesign file (.indd format and/or .idml format)
  • Fonts used in your project
  • Links (Images used in the InDesign file)
  • PDF proof of the final publication

Here is some helpful information on how to prepare and export an InDesign package.

2. Versioning

Create an organized system for tracking versions of your files. Use it consistently across all languages, including English.

Do not delete old versions! Your LSP may need to refer to a past version of the file when making updates to translations in the future.


3. Font Selection

One of the most appealing features of InDesign is its seemingly limitless options for fonts. It is a designer’s dream!

But don’t get too invested in a particular font, because many fonts are made with English in mind, and do not support other languages.

Use basic Unicode fonts to increase compatibility across languages.

4. Font Size

Oftentimes, translated text takes up more physical space than its English equivalent.

Use a font size which is 1-2 points larger than the minimum size you can accept.

This will enable the DTP team to decrease the size in the translation to allow for text expansion without making the text too small to read.

This is especially important in footers, where font sizes are often at their smallest.

5. Outlines

Do not convert text to outline format. This makes the text uneditable and difficult to work with.

Links (AKA images used in your InDesign file)

6. Text

Instead of embedding text into your images, making it uneditable, incorporate text in your images as layers on top of the image.

Uneditable text in an image is difficult (and more expensive!) to translate + format.

Don’t forget to allow space for text expansion!

7. PDFs

If your publication includes links to PDFs, don’t forget to provide the source files for those too.

Otherwise, they behave like uneditable images.

8. Culturally appropriate images

Give some thought to your target audience which you’re trying to reach with your translations.

You may want to prepare images to swap out in order to be culturally appropriate for your target audience, or you can carefully pick images that are universally acceptable across cultures.

9. Image quality

Make sure that the images (links) you use are of the desired resolution.

If you plan to print, high resolution images are key to good quality.

10. Rights

Whether your images are proprietary, stock photos, or other, make sure you have the rights to use them in your publication.


11. Clean files

Do not leave extra text in the gray space outside of the main document space.

Clean up your file before sending to your LSP so those extra words don’t sneak into your billable word count when you don’t need them translated.

12. White space

Leave enough blank space around text to allow for text expansion in the translated text, as well as leaving ample room between lines for accents above and below the characters.

13. Right-to-left languages

If translating into a right-to-left language, consider that your text and formatting will be flipped in the translations.

If your translation is a printed book, for example, you need to have enough margin space on both sides of the text for binding so it works in left-to-right and right-to-left texts.

14. Color palettes

Use color palettes so the DTP team can easily find your preferred colors.

Also, keep in mind that RBG palettes are recommended for online use only, while CMYK colors can be used for online and printing.

When in doubt, use CMYK!

15. Arrows

If possible, avoid arrows pointing to/from text.

During translation, due to text expansion, words/paragraphs will move, which will impact the placement of the arrow, making DTP more difficult.

16. Style sheets

Using style sheets may be beneficial for creating similar future content in English, but it is great for translation, too, because it ensures that formatting is consistent and manual formatting overrides are not lost.

17. Table packages

If your publication requires tables to impart information, you should consider using the InDesign tables package to create your tables, instead of using individual text frames to manually create the appearance of a table.

If you use the tables package, the cells in your table will automatically adjust to allow for text expansion in the translated text, leading to decreased DTP time and saved costs!


18. Threading

Use the threading feature to create a flowing text segment even when parts of the phrase end up on different lines. This often happens in headings, slogans, or titles.

Leaving them separate will mean that the translation memory tool will treat them as individual strings, and when they’re put back together in the final translation, they may not make sense together, because they were translated separately.

19. Formatting + alignment tools

Use margins, soft returns, and alignment to format your text instead of a paragraph or line break.

20. Indents and lists

Use lists and paragraph styles to create indents and bulleted lists instead of tabs and spaces.


21. Printing requirements

Let your LSP know if you have special printing requirements so they can customize your print-ready PDF proofs with the bleeds and crops you need.

22. Text expansion

When accommodating text expansion in translations, if not enough white space has been left, your multilingual DTP team will have to choose how to make room for the translated text.

They can decrease font size, decrease margins, or increase the number of pages.

Let your LSP know your first choice so they can get it right the first time.

23. Font swaps

Let your LSP know your font preferences for non-Latin scripts, or be prepared for them to substitute with their default standard.

Need assistance with InDesign translation?

Let’s discuss your specific needs. Contact us.


Working with InDesign files for your translation project requires planning, preparation, and some know-how.

But the extra effort is worth it in the end to ensure that your project goes smoothly and looks great.

Understanding InDesign and desktop publishing from a translation standpoint is an acquired skill.

We hope that this article has been helpful starting you on your way.

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