4 Tools to Avoid When Translating an InDesign document

by Stefano Bernardi

In your life as an InDesign user, sooner or later you’ll find yourself working on a multilingual project.

Chances are that you subscribed to this blog exactly because you struggled with this very task.

The first step you should take is making your InDesign document translation-friendly – I summarized a few tips in this post for InDesignSecrets. Only after reading it should you look for the right tools to use.

It’s true – you can always send your InDesign document to your translators and wait for it to be returned back to you in all the required languages. But that might be as inconvenient as outsourcing the entire design of your documents.

I dug up the pros and cons of this choice in this other post. You should check it out before you keep reading.

Learning the right tools

As professionals, we are always looking for ways to improve our productivity. We look at the tasks that take too much time, and we find ways to simplify them.

For years I’ve been testing many different solutions because I wanted to create an easy workflow and speed up the creation and editing of catalogs and user manuals.

The right workflow and the right tools have a big impact on your productivity. For example, I am never late when making a catalog because I have a tried and tested workflow and because I learned the tools I need. One of my favorite InDesign features is data merge (check out this very simple tutorial, especially if you’ve never heard of it before).

Of course, during this learning process, I made so many mistakes that I am almost shocked I’ve never been fired.

This post is to share with you my experience – and my mistakes – so that you can improve your productivity while avoiding risks.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

1. Copy / Paste

Many InDesign users – especially those who rely on colleagues or in-house translators for the production of the translated text – still copy and paste sentences back and forth from Word / Excel files to InDesign.

They usually create a Word document with two columns. In the first one, they copy the source language, while the second one is for the translator to fill-up with the translated text.

Once they have the Word document back, they copy and paste the translated text into the place of the original text inside the InDesign document.

If you fit into this group, you should know that I am not concerned about the time it takes. Spending time is OK if the result is great. My concern though, is whether you are actually achieving the quality you desire.

Such a repetitive task like copying / pasting sentences from a document to another has a high risk of error!

Have you ever found a user manual or a catalog where there was a sentence that was not translated? Or with the same sentence repeated two times in a row?

Those are just a couple of examples of the mistakes that might happen. And trust me, if you pay attention to the documents you are reading from now on, you’ll see that those mistakes are not that uncommon.

Copy / Paste is time-consuming, expensive, and inaccurate.

2. Using scripts

This is the reason I said above that I am still shocked I’ve never been fired.

I’ve done that. One time I had to work very late (11ish PM) for a week to fix the mess of a badly written script. Other times, I had to do long sessions of copy-paste because some parts were not translated.

I love scripts. I love them so much that I probably made the most complete list of InDesign scripts in the entire web.

However the translation of a document is not a simple task that can be achieved with a scriptit’s a workflow. It’s made up of many tasks, and many people take part in it.

InDesign is so powerful, and its files so complex and rich in features – that a script hardly covers them all.

Also, the developer doesn’t have access to any data to understand the script’s performance or where it fails.

In the few cases I mentioned, some parts of my user manuals were not exported. The text I sent to my translators was incomplete. And when I imported the text, that part was left off.

Also, the Table of Contents was not translated in the settings. So, when I updated the TOC, the headings were left in Italian.

Luckily, I was the one facing these issues, and not my translators. I had a way out to the hole I had dug myself into.

Scripts are great for many things. But you can find yourself dealing with issues that you cannot solve or don’t even understand.

3. Plugins

Plugins are great and can solve tasks that scripts can’t. Check this list about the best 40+ InDesign plugins and utilities to get an idea of what they can do.

Unfortunately, though, they lack some basic features that you want to have when translating a file (like Translation Memories, import/export of TMs, basic collaboration features, etc.), they might be discontinued, and they might stop working with a new version of InDesign.

This last point is quite important if you consider how frequently Adobe updates the CC suite.

If you find yourself dealing with an issue, the developer doesn’t have access to your system and your files, so support can be very difficult and time-consuming.

4. InCopy

InCopy is another common tool wrongly used in InDesign multilingual projects.

Being a tool for copywriters, and not a translation tool, it lacks basic features that can make it uncomfortable, messy, and imprecise when working on a translation project.

Sentences that are not translated are not indicated, so you might miss some parts. You cannot mark a translation as a draft. And it lacks Translation Memories support (this has a huge impact on translation times and cost).

InCopy also needs a fair amount of training to get started with and needs to be installed in each workstation.

The functionalities you need

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

TM - Translation Memories

Translation memory is a database that stores text that has previously been translated.

Translation memory is a powerful tool. It speeds you up and saves you money by reducing the amount of work the translators have to do.

And most importantly, it increases translation quality and consistency by making sure you’ll be using the same translations in your projects.

TM import / export

Importing existing translations (TM) is mandatory. It allows you to keep the consistency of previously translated documents and speeds up the integration of the new tool into your workflow.

TM export

The export of TMs is a must-have feature. You might decide to change tools or hire a new translation agency, so you want to own and have control over your TMs. Make sure the tools you use support the TMX standard so that you can easily work with other parties.


When working on a multilingual project, the deadlines are always tight.

If you are using a tool to speed up your process, you want to be sure that the company who provides the tool offers a great support experience.

Dealing with updates and content changes

Last-minute updates and changes happen. Dealing with a single document is fine, but you should consider that when translating a file you are multiplying it by the number of target languages.

If you have 2 documents translated into 10 languages, then you have 20 documents to update. How long would that take to make a change to the common parts?

Make sure the tool you are using allows you to quickly update all the different languages without having to translate the entire document all over again.

This was one of the first issues we tackled at Redokun.

Right now updating an already translated document takes a couple of seconds with Redokun: Uploading a new revision - Redokun.

Try Redokun for free. Start your 14-day free trial

Stefano Bernardi
Stefano Bernardi

Stefano has worked on numerous mid to large–sized InDesign projects for Alstom, DeLonghi, Philips, and many others before starting Redokun in 2015.
As Redokun’s Co-Founder, Stefano spends most of his time helping customers to optimize their InDesign work-flow. He also holds in-house InDesign courses for companies in the Venice, Italy area.

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