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  • coreyhenson

Design an Adobe InDesign Document for Different Language Versions

Updated: May 3, 2021

Language selection knob over stacks of printed literature

Congratulations on having a project big enough to distribute in multiple languages! It’s very exciting to be able to produce your brochure, spec sheet, or training materials for sharing around the world.

Your first step is to hire a professional translation company. Do not use Google Translate, as tempting as it is. It’s a great (and free!) tool to quickly handle an email, but you want your professionally-produced materials to read, well, professionally. A translation company has many resources in addition to its bilingual employees. They maintain databases that help with region-specific dialects as well as industry-specific terminology, to ensure that your message is received perfectly clearly by your audience and doesn’t contain any embarrassing mistakes.

Next is the fun part: the design and layout! A very strong word of advice: when laying out your first language version (English, perhaps?), be sure to allow plenty of flexibility in the text areas. I can guarantee that if you carefully align specific lines of text just so, your next language version will frustrate you to no end. There is zero chance of the different languages following the same word count and filling the exact same space. I have produced materials in French, Portuguese, and Spanish, and every one of those languages is certain to require considerably more space for text than the English version.

If your space is really tight, you may have to resort to altering the font size, but ideally, you should have enough room to adjust your text boxes as needed so that all materials in all languages contain identical fonts, should they ever be viewed side by side. While that scenario may sound unlikely, consider that perhaps your brochure is available in English and Spanish, but a Portuguese-speaking customer would like to see it. They may want both language versions to be sure they’re comprehending your intended message as correctly as possible. Your job is to ensure that any layout differences between the two are not jarring, and preferably, not even noticeable.

Here are the tweaks that are my go-to tricks in a tight text squeeze:

  • Allow more white space around your English text than the other language text, a change that is not as noticeable as a font or leading size change.

  • Something as simple as changing your text’s kerning setting from “optical” to “metrics” or vice versa can make the “almost there” copy fit while blending seamlessly with the rest of the piece and matching the other versions.

InDesign font kerning setting
InDesign font kerning setting
  • If your font offers regular and light weight variations, the light version will take up slightly less space, but be sure to use it throughout the document for consistency. It would be ideal to use the same font weight on all language versions, so if changing one version’s font to light works, then change them all.

InDesign font weight setting
InDesign font weight setting
  • Still sweating the squeeze? These are never my first choices, but in a pinch, I downsize my font size by a fraction (try reducing it by 0.25pt but no more than 0.5pt for body text), and likewise tighten the leading by the same fraction.

  • If you’re still desperately trying to fit the text, combine methods. Slightly increase the text box size, change the kerning, downsize your font by a fraction, tighten the leading by the same fraction, and change your font weight. If each of the changes is only a small amount, they can still add up to enough breathing room to fit your text, while not looking obviously different from other language versions of your document.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer, just as there is no one-size-fits-all text box, so play around with the various options until you find the right solution. Just remember to keep it visually consistent—across the document and between documents. Magicians never reveal their tricks!

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