Skip to content

Multilingual documents: InDesign or Illustrator?

Should your designer be working in InDesign or Illustrator?

Many designers love Adobe Illustrator for its flexibility and creativity. However, when creating multilingual documents — ie. documents that you intend to translate into one or more languages, either immediately, or at some later stage — Adobe InDesign (or other layout-based software, like Word) is by far the better option. Let us settle the InDesign or Illustrator question once and for all!

The translation process

The first thing to bear in mind is that nobody translates directly in Word, InDesign or Illustrator, nor any other DTP software. There are very few graphic designers who are also translators, these are two entirely different skills. Professional translators use Computer Assisted Translation — CAT tools — that enable a translator to work more quickly and efficiently.

CAT tools extract the text from a document, and organise it into “segments”. A segment is a unit of text, eg. a sentence or a title. Segments can be viewed in context (as a paragraph) or isolated. For example, a Catalogue usually has repeated subheadings for each product — such as “Product Specifications”, “Delivery” or “Installation”. With CAT tools, a translator can isolate all the repeated segments (every instance of that subheading) and translate them all simultaneously. This is much faster, of course, and also ensures the translation is consistent throughout the document.

The first step is to import your copy in our CAT tools. Next, the project manager:

  1. Analyses it against the Translation Memory (TM) database. If you are a regular client of ours, we will create a specific TM for your company. That means the software will ‘remember’ how each segment of text was translated. If the same segment appears again in future projects, the TM will offer the ‘remembered’ translation as a suggestion. Saving you money on re-used copy, and new versions of existing documents.
  2. Translation.
  3. Review (our reviewers work within our CAT tools, and we can provide an RTF file for your internal reviewer).
  4. The translated text is exported back into the original file — ie. each segment is returned to the same place in the document.
  5. Finally, your project manager updates your TM for future use.

Layout-based apps such as InDesign (or Word) are are best suited, as they are optimised for working with copy; they have standard interfaces with other applications, including professional translation software. Applications designed with graphics as the priority, complicate the process. Creating your document in Illustrator, or Photoshop, will considerably increase the time and cost of the process. In fact, it can often be quicker to recreate the entire document in a more suitable format. (And you will have a fully formatted, editable version to ready to update next year.)

The benefits of InDesign

From InDesign we export to an .idml file: An “InDesign Markup Language” file is a compressed package that stores several directories and .XML files that comprise a complete InDesign document. After translation, we re-export back to an idml, which can be opened, edited and saved as an .indd file.

  • Text flow: English takes up a smaller amount of space in comparison to most other languages. Translating from English to Spanish will result in around 30% more words. In InDesign all text is within text boxes which can be easily re-sized, furthermore text boxes can be linked across pages to allow text to flow easily.
  • Paragraph styles: A fully formatted InDesign file, will return to you with all the formatting complete. This means, if you apply a Paragraph Style, or a Character Style for bold text, these styles will remain applied to the correct words post-translation.
  • Find/Change: The marketing manager decides that “Especificaciones del producto” is too long, and a simple “Especificaciones” will suffice. With Find/Change this amendment can be completed in seconds. Without it… the change must be applied page by page.
  • GREP (REGEX) coding: A GREP is a simple code that applies a rule to all text, or to specific styles. For example, you’ll want to ensure ® always appears in superscript; you may want all product names to be in bold; or that your company name is never split over two lines. A GREP code applied to the Paragraph Style will do this.
  • GREP Find/Change: For example, if you’re translating from English to a European language, every decimal point (1.0) must be changed to a decimal comma (1,0) — without, of course, making any changes to the text! Using code, a GREP Find/Change can identify only the points/commas that need to be changed and do this (and much more) in seconds.
  • InDesign offers auto-generated tables of contents, bookmarks, hyperlinks, cross-references, and index markers. All of which can be translated smoothly and re-generated via CAT tools and InDesign.

Find out more: Preparing Layouts for Translation

The problem(s) with Illustrator

When it comes to producing multilingual documentation, designing in Illustrator can create a number of problems. In terms of text handling, in fact, it is a bit of a nightmare. Firstly, text cannot normally be extracted from Illustrator in a useful way:

  • Often the text has been outlined, or ‘traced’, in order to reduce the possibility of errors when it goes to print. Designers frequently outline text in order to ‘fix’ the format and prevent it from being changed accidentally by the printers’ software. In this case, a translation agency will have to re-type the text which can take a long time.
  • The formatting in Illustrator is more complex: even if the text has not been outlined, it often extracts into broken segments, which don’t flow. For example, if a heading has been broken over two lines, this will be extracted as two separate segments. Text placed directly (ie. not in a type area box) may not export in the correct sequence. This makes it difficult for the translator to easily see the context of the segment they are translating.
  • Text does not always automatically re-insert into Illustrator with formatting. Often we have to copy and paste the translated text back into the document. And, of course, re-insert all the appropriate line breaks, bold and other formatting.
  • Illustrator has no option to apply style guides, use find/change or to apply formatting codes.
  • Illustrator does not offer auto-generated tables of contents, bookmarks, cross-references, nor index markers.

Put simply Illustrator, unlike InDesign (or Word), has no straightforward interface which allows the source text to be extracted, translated and replaced. Instead, this process must be carried out manually which takes about four times longer, and inevitably results in a totally avoidable increase in costs.

Integrated design and translation

We offer integrated translation and DTP. Simply put, you send us your InDesign (or Illustrator) files and we return them to you translated and ready to deploy. We will supply PDF files suitable for emailing — with bookmarked indexes, cross-references and hyperlinks in place. If you’re printing, we supply high-resolution, print-ready PDFs (desktop or offset) that you can send direct to your printer.

Thinking of translation and desktop publishing (DTP) as two sides of the same coin is the most cost-effective approach to ensuring high-quality multilingual documentation. Furthermore, as well as taking responsibility for the layout and formatting; we integrate the whole process into a workflow that offers our customers improved efficiency by reducing the translation cycle.

Benefits to you

  • Reducing time-to-market — as soon as the translations are ready, you can deploy your document or campaign. No more to-ing and fro-ing between designers, translators and project managers.
  • Reducing costs — you do not need to pay a graphic designer for each language version or annual update.
  • Considerably reducing the hassle! Simply send us the document, and we’ll send it back… finished!

Contact us for more information

Related Posts