Troubleshooting Multilingual Layouts: Working With International Fonts

The experts from the Rennert Translation Group explain the techniques of working with international fonts in translated documents.

Know the Challenges

Working with international fonts during translation projects can be a tricky undertaking.

Most widely-used fonts support the special characters used in Western European and other Romance languages for both the Mac and Windows operating systems. However, some Eastern European languages, such as Czech, Turkish, Slovak and Polish, aren't compatible with non-standard fonts. If you work with Word for Windows, we suggest using Arial or Times New Roman with languages such as Czech, Turkish, Slovak and Polish. These popular fonts contain the extended character sets needed for these languages. On the Mac, any Open Type Pro font can be used for these languages.

If you want to use a specialized font, check it first it by comparing a test file to a file using one of the "safe" standard Windows fonts. For example, Tempest is a font that does not support accented characters. In order to use Tempest with accented characters, you have to make the accent on a space character in a font that does work, and then kern it until it is over the letter. This can add a lot of time and effort to the translation and layout process.

Know Your Software

Accents are a BIG issue with Illustrator. If the Illustrator file was originally created on a Windows computer, then you must use Windows Illustrator to work with the translated file. If you work with the original file in Mac Illustrator and then open it in Windows Illustrator, the accents and accented letters always seem to change to a different character. The same thing happens if you open a file in Mac Illustrator that was originally created in Windows Illustrator. The letters and accents will change on the Mac.

However, Quark, InDesign and Pagemaker usually seem to handle the accents correctly when opening the files on platforms other than the one on which they were originally created. An InDesign file created on a Mac will open just fine in Windows InDesign, as long as you have the appropriate font on both platforms.

Using Unicode Fonts

Use Open Type Pro fonts when working with Eastern European languages such as Czech, Polish, and Russian. These are also known as Unicode fonts. These fonts contain all the characters for the normal European languages, plus individual character sets for the languages mentioned above. Some Open Type Pro fonts have more character sets then others. The Adobe website is the best place to look to see if a Pro font contains the character set you need. Another bonus with Open type fonts is that they work on both Windows and Mac operating systems. You don't need a specialized Windows or Macintosh version of the font.. Be aware there are Open type fonts that are NOT Pro fonts. The Open Type Pro fonts will have the word "Pro" at the end. If it is not a Pro font, then the extended character set does not exist in that font.

FrameMaker can be used with these languages as well, although Adobe's website states that FrameMaker is not a Unicode program. In addition to possessing the Open Type Pro fonts, the program you are using must be Unicode aware. Right now, InDesign is the only DTP program that is Unicode-friendly. Quark 7 (to be released later this year) will be as well. Illustrator and Photoshop, starting with CS versions, also support Unicode. FrameMaker can be used with these languages as well, although Adobe's website states that FrameMaker is not a Unicode program.

The Chinese and Japanese languages work well with InDesign, even if you are using an English-language version of the program. The hard part is tracking down and dealing with Asian fonts, which can be expensive and difficult to install and troubleshoot. Continued advances in Unicode adaptation means that publishing software will continue to grow more user-friendly for the multilingual computer user.

Next, learn what diacritics are and why they are important when you are working with translated documents and in international desktop publishing (DTP).