Translate Adobe InDesign IDML files and create the final layout

An Adobe InDesign IDML file can be simply saved. The InDesign IDML file is used as an exchange format for the translation process, and can be imported into the CAT tool directly.

General information about Adobe InDesign®

Adobe InDesign® is the standard for sophisticated brochures and flyers with a high-quality layout. We know how to implement your layout perfectly, even in Russian, for example.

You will find valuable information regarding how to prepare and carry out follow-up work on an Adobe InDesign file so that the entire workflow for the technical translation with CAT tools is as cost-effective as possible.

We assume that the scenario is as follows:

  • One or more IDML files need to be translated
  • Graphics and screenshots are added as an external file as a reference
  • Graphics are language-neutral
  • Screenshots are marked with a language abbreviation at the end of the file name

Depending on the type of document, you will find software-independent notes concerning catalogs, user manuals, datasheets and fonts.

Checking Adobe InDesign files

Unlike Microsoft Word files, with Adobe InDesign files you can generally assume that the author has been well trained and knows their way around character, paragraph, table and object formats.

You should check this anyway, and for this purpose you can have the control characters displayed.

Show control characters

In InDesign, you can show the control characters using the menu option Text->Show hidden characters


Show Adobe InDesign control characters

The control characters in the screenshot above have the following meaning:

  1. Space
  2. Tabulator characters in the text
  3. Hyphenation
  4. Line break
  5. Indent to here
  6. Paragraph break
  7. End of text

Detecting errors in an Adobe InDesign file

Several unlinked text frames

Designers like to work with text frames in InDesign, with which you can place text in the exact location where it is supposed to appear.

This leads to problems if the translated text requires more room, see e.g. notes on space requirements for technical translations from German to French, whereas it is usually less critical with a translation from German to English.

Ensure that the text frames provide sufficient room for additional text:

Leave room in the text frame in Adobe InDesign files

Try to design the document so that you use as few text frames as possible, and they should also be meaningfully linked to each other if possible.

Indent to here

Adobe InDesign has a popular special function: Type->Add special characters->Other->Indent to here.

The character will appear in InDesign like this:

Adobe InDesign Indent to here

Do not use this special character! Most CAT tools import filters cannot interpret it correctly, which will lead to layout problems in the translated files.

Instead, define suitable paragraph formats which have the same functionality.

Formatting with spaces

This applies in the same way as with Adobe FrameMaker.

We will show you how to improve formatting in the following section.

Optimizing an Adobe InDesign file

Definition of paragraph formats for enumeration in InDesign

The example shown in section Determining errors in an Adobe InDesign file would lead to considerable formatting effort for the translated file.

A good formatting definition for enumeration looks like this:

Adobe InDesign paragraph format for enumeration

A first line indent (1) has been defined. Only the figure for the numbering is at the start of the line, followed by a tab.

A tab position (2) was defined that corresponds with the left indent (3) for the remaining text.

The translated text starts after the tab and then flows automatically to the correct position again.

The formatting is always the same, even if the translated text contains more or less lines than the original text.

Definition of paragraph formats for headings in the InDesign file

The settings for page breaks with Adobe InDesign can be found under Paragraph format options->Break options.

Adobe InDesign paragraph format options

  • Under “do not separate from the next xx lines“, you can specify the number of lines of the following paragraph with which the last line of the current paragraph always appears on a page for the selected paragraph format.
  • You can make further adjustments to the break behavior of the current paragraph format by putting a tick in the “Do not separate lines“ box

In this specific case, a paragraph formatted with “Heading1“ always wraps completely with the first two lines of the next paragraph. This prevents orphaned headings at the end of a page.

Use special characters

It is often desirable to keep certain character sequences in the same line. This applies to figures with units (e.g. 8 kg) as well as fixed expressions such as Adobe InDesign.

If you do not want DIN EN 15038-1 to appear on two different lines, you can insert non-breaking spaces and hyphens.

You can add a non-breaking space with Alt+Ctrl+X and a non-breaking hyphen with Alt+Ctrl+.

It will then look like this in InDesign:

Adobe InDesign DIN EN 15038

Advantage: these characters are retained in the translation. You therefore no longer need to check all occurrences of such character sequences for unwanted wrapping after translation.

Keep graphics language-neutral in the Adobe InDesign file

Graphics inserted in Adobe InDesign should not contain any language information whatsoever. The CAT tool cannot extract texts from inserted graphics, and these will not be translated.

Special treatment is given to screenshots. See screenshots below.

There are two ways of keeping graphics language-neutral:

Text frames

Remove the text from the graphic completely and insert a text frame in the same location in InDesign instead:

Adobe InDesign graphic with text frames


Insert reference points into the graphic files instead of the texts.

Adobe InDesign images with reference labelling

Repeat the reference points as a table next to or beneath the graphic in InDesign and insert the labelling there.

Choosing a suitable file format for screenshots

Screenshots usually have large areas with a uniform color value.File formats which provide good quality with high compression are:

  • Portable Network Graphics Format (*.png)
  • Graphics Interchange Format (*.gif)
  • Windows bitmap (*.bmp)
  • Tagged Image File (*.tif)

Do not chose the popular JPEG format under any circumstances. This is optimal for photos but can make screenshots illegible.

Naming screenshots in a language-dependent and consistent way

In order to differentiate between screenshots which have the same content but different languages and be able to assign them, we recommend that you use the same filename and add a suffix to identify the language:

  • Main_Screen_DE.tif
  • Main_Screen_EN.tif

Sending an Adobe InDesign file to PRODOC

We provide our customers all of the possibilities – from translation only up to complete layout processing by us.

Complete translation and layout service by PRODOC

If you would like us to take over the entire layout, then please compress all InDesign files, images, screenshots and fonts into a ZIP file that you can then send to us via ShareFile.

How this is done is described in our ShareFile instructions.

Always let us know which version of InDesign (CS4, CS5, CS5.5, CS6, CC) was used to create the file so that we can use the correct version to open the file.

Translation only at PRODOC – Layout at the customer’s

If you would like to do as much as possible yourself in order to cut down external costs, you can do the conversion into the Adobe InDesign *.idml exchange format and create the necessary PDF files yourself.

Files required for technical translation

PDF files

Our translators need to see the original text and graphics. PDF format can be used for this, since it can be created quickly, it is compact and it can be viewed by anyone using the freely-available Acrobat Reader. Generate a PDF file each from every Adobe InDesign file to be translated.

InDesign files

InDesign files have the file extension *.indd. If a large number of graphics are incorporated these files can become extremely big because they are stored together with a rough view of the graphics.

The *.indd  files cannot be imported directly into the CAT tool. We require *.idml files to do this.

These can be created easily using menu item File->Save As…:

Save Adobe InDesign file as IDML


If the file to be translated contains screenshots, these should be created before translation starts and given appropriate names. In any case, we require the screenshots as a reference for the technical translator even if you want to do the layout of the translated file yourself.

Send files

Pack all PDF and IDML files as well as the German and foreign language screenshots in a Zip file. If the ZIP file is smaller than 5MB, send it to us via email. If the ZIP file is bigger than 5MB, send the file to us via ShareFile.

Carrying out the layout of the translated InDesign file yourself

Store data

Copy original data

Copy the folder that contains your own source files for the technical translation, rename it and delete the InDesign files.

Rename and move every translated IDML file

To avoid having files with the same name with different contents in different folders, it is recommended to rename every translated IDML file.

Move the translated and renamed IDML files to the location of the original InDesign files and open them.

If screenshots which now have a foreign language version in the graphic folder were linked to the file, the following error message appears:

Open Adobe InDesign IDML file error message

Acknowledge the error message with OK and then open the linking window with shift+ctrl+D.

Double-click on the red question mark for each IDML file, and assign them to the correct screenshot.

Carrying out necessary corrections

Even if you have taken all the measures in advance in order to automate the layout of the translated text as far as possible, adjustments to the text and graphics are unavoidable due to differing text lengths.

Adapting page breaks

Depending on the formatting settings and text lengths, the following may occur:

  • Unwanted empty spaces
  • Texts that belong together divided between two pages.

Adapt the page break in accordance with your requirements. It is preferable to use the break options (Ctrl+Alt+K).

Adobe InDesign break options

Adjusting the line breaks

Even if the correct spell check dictionary is already selected after processing with the CAT tool, unwanted separations may have occurred due to selecting unsuitable separation specifications. Examine the ends of the lines in the document and correct any unwanted separations. The following may occur:

Line break errors Remedy
Separation of numbers and units Insert non-breaking separator (Alt+Ctrl+X)
Separation of two words which are connected with a hyphen Insert non-breaking hyphen (Alt+Ctrl+-)
Unwanted word separation Insert hard line break (shift+enter)

Adjust text frames

If several text boxes have been used per page, they may be too small.

It will then look like this:

Adobe InDesign text overflow

InDesign displays missing text with a red plus sign at the bottom right of the text frame.

Increase the size of the text frame until the entire text is displayed.

The same also applies to text frames that have been used for labelling graphics.