Choosing the Right Page Layout Application

by Larry Pilotto

If you are authoring documents that you intend to translate, this article will help you select the most appropriate word processing or page layout software to use.

Your selection will have an impact on the ease and cost of translation.

In this article, we'll consider two common types of documents and compare typical authoring programs you might use:

large documents with multiple chapters, tables of contents, and indexes comparing:

  • Adobe FrameMaker
  • Microsoft Word

smaller (one to twelve page) layouts (i.e. product data sheets, corporate brochures, etc.) comparing:

  • QuarkXpress
  • Adobe PageMaker
  • Adobe InDesign

Each program has advantages when preparing English layout files, but some have clear disadvantages when the files need to be translated. Yes, you could layout a 500-page user manual in QuarkXpress, but QuarkXpress doesn't lend itself to that many pages as well as FrameMaker or Word does. The reverse is also true. You could lay out a two-page product data sheet in FrameMaker, but it would probably be faster to use InDesign or QuarkXpress.

There is an "engineering" component involved in moving layout files from one computer to another. At Interpro, the first thing we do when we receive files from a client is to try to duplicate the original layout's authoring environment on our systems. This is usually as simple as making sure no fonts are substituted, and that we have all external files that are linked into the layout file. To determine cost, I typically consider the layout's authoring software and its support for the target languages, together with the ease with which the original environment can be duplicated and maintained across languages.

Before we look at the specifics, let us first review how we establish the cost of desktop publishing (DTP) a translated document:

  • Ensure that we have all necessary files (graphics, fonts, text insets, any other linked files) and their authoring applications.
  • Gather basic statistics (page count, number of graphics that require localization, and number of screen captures).
  • Layout files are checked against source PDF if available, to make sure nothing shifted in the layout and that fonts weren't substituted.
  • Files are checked for consistent use of styles, missing fonts, missing graphics, number of layout files, and room for text expansion when applicable (typically, target languages need 30% more room than source English text). This especially becomes an issue for documents that cannot repaginate (i.e. a 2 page product data sheet that must remain as 2 pages; a company brochure that must stay the same length so as not to increase printing costs, etc...).
  • The choice of layout application is checked for compatibility against the target languages and final outputs that are required.

After we analyze these statistics, we arrive at the time required to localize and format the file after translation. The numbers vary based on individual project requirements, but typical DTP average productivity cycles are:

Adobe FrameMaker: 15 pages per hour

Microsoft Word: 10 pages per hour

QuarkXpress: 2 pages per hour

Adobe InDesign: 4 pages per hour

These are somewhat misleading if taken in isolation. You cannot expect a small 1/2 page of text in QuarkXpress to take only 15 minutes - economy of scale plays a part. Also, at some point, every file is checked against the above criteria to make sure we can proceed with the job, which adds time. There is also the "engineering" component - the easier it is for us to duplicate and maintain the environment the files were authored in, the lower the job cost, and this in turn depends on the tools provided by the layout application.

Large Documents: Word and FrameMaker

Let's start with large documents and manuals. The two most common applications we see used to layout these types of documents are Microsoft Word and Adobe FrameMaker. These documents typically have high page counts, contain graphics and screen captures, together with auto-generated tables of contents, indexes, and cross-references. Why is Word more time-consuming (only 10 pages per hour vs. FrameMaker's 15)?

  • We typically receive Word manuals as one single file containing all the chapters, front matter, etc. We almost always need to split the file to allow multiple translators to work on it. That in turn means we need to re-assemble the translated pieces after translation, and fix anything that may have broken as a result of splitting the file. FrameMaker documents are generally already authored in separate files per section or chapter.
  • Word's layout is not as stable as FrameMaker. What do I mean? How many of you have had numbered or bulleted lists in a large Word file that wouldn't work? Or opened a Word file on another computer only to see that your styles look different because some were set to automatically update? At this point everyone should be raising his or her hands!
  • Word offers no real automatic tools for re-creating and maintaining the original authoring environment. How do you know if a font has been substituted or a graphic is missing? In Word you need to check manually. How do you update a graphic? You usually need to do it manually (although it can and should be designed to be automatic, in most cases it is not).

FrameMaker has the advantage over Word on these issues. If a font or graphic is missing, you'll know it as soon as you open the file. There is almost no chance that formatting will change from one computer to another, since there is no equivalent reliance on Word's normal.dot master template. All FrameMaker style sheets are self-contained within the file, and no external variables or automatic updating are going to change them.

Word does have some advantages. It supports Arabic, Hebrew, and Indian languages. Although you can force FrameMaker to work in those languages, it is too cumbersome to be practical in large files. FrameMaker can work well with most other languages, though. The learning curve is somewhat steeper for FrameMaker. However, the extra time initially spent learning FrameMaker makes up for itself once you start troubleshooting problems in Word.

The bottom line is that from a translation standpoint, FrameMaker wins. For one, FrameMaker makes it easier to re-create and maintain the authoring environment. Secondly, it forces you to work more appropriately with documents. By that I mean it is more work to set up a file incorrectly, whereas in Word it is more work to set it up correctly. And who isn't going to take the path of least resistance when you have a deadline looming?

Smaller Documents: QuarkXpress, PageMaker and InDesign

Every designer has a preference which for the most part is moot, since QuarkXpress, PageMaker and InDesign share many of the same features. The biggest issue that separates them is language support. InDesign leads the pack with its ability to work in multiple languages out of the box, enhanced PDF support, better XML support, and tighter integration with other Adobe applications, such as PhotoShop and Illustrator.

QuarkXpress and PageMaker are not localization friendly. Since PageMaker is an end-of-life product, I'll limit my comparisons to QuarkXpress and InDesign, and note exceptions where applicable along the way.

Let's take as an example a QuarkXpress file that we're going to localize into Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and French.

To be able to use the Italian and French hyphenation dictionaries, you need QuarkXpress Passport ($1,795.00 at the QuarkStore) because QuarkXpress' hyphenation dictionary is English only; Passport includes other European language (non-English) hyphenation dictionaries. You can still set Latin-based type in QuarkXpress, but if you want to use hyphenation and justification settings, you'll need to spend the extra money to get QuarkXpress Passport. If you outsource printing to a printing company, your printer will need Passport as well since the standard version of QuarkXpress can't open QuarkXpress Passport files. In this respect, PageMaker has an advantage in that it will support hyphenation for the core western European languages in the English version.

If you want to set Simplified Chinese type, you'll need the Simplified Chinese version of QuarkXpress ($1,945.00 for version 4.1, version 6 is unavailable as of this writing), and again, your printing company will need it too, since QuarkXpress won't open Simplified Chinese version files. If you want to set Traditional Chinese type, you'll need the Traditional Chinese version of QuarkXpress ($1,945.00 for version 4.1, version 6 is unavailable as of this writing), and again, your printing company will need it too, since QuarkXpress won't open the Traditional Chinese version files. The same is true for Japanese. If you want to set Japanese type in QuarkXpress, you and your printing company will need the Japanese version ($2,499.00 for version 6) to work with the files. This is a significant investment (a total of $8,184.00 per seat to work in 5 languages, on top of the $945.00 already spent on QuarkXpress).

There are extensions that allow you to set type in languages not supported by QuarkXpress (like Japanese, Chinese and Arabic), but at this time, they are not all available for the latest version of QuarkXpress. (An extension is similar to a plug-in: you install it and it gives QuarkXpress additional functionality.) The main problem with extensions is that they usually need to be rewritten for each major update of QuarkXpress. This lag means there could potentially be a time when we would not be able to work on a client's files. If you start using QuarkXpress 6 and need a file localized into Japanese, you are out of luck if the plug-in is not updated to work in version 6.

Given the cost, typical work-arounds are:

  • Do not use hyphenation for Latin-based languages, or manually hyphenate where needed. Manual hyphenation becomes problematic because you could miss a manually-hyphenated word if the text reflows after linguistic quality assurance. Therefore, except in the case of German, we recommend not hyphenating. German is an exception where you should use hyphenation because of its use of long words.
  • Set Asian language type in a vector drawing program, such as Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia Freehand, turn the text to outlines, and import the outlined text back into QuarkXpress as graphics for output.

The extra steps and applications involved with QuarkXpress increase cost greatly. InDesign on the other hand costs $699.00, and can set type in all the languages from the example above right out of the box. To me, InDesign is a clear winner.

I should point out that these QuarkXpress issues are typically an American problem. End users and service bureaus in the US generally buy QuarkXpress. End users and service bureaus throughout Europe generally buy QuarkXpress Passport.

So how can I keep my localization costs down?

Localization cost is influenced by a few main factors - the support of a given layout application for the target language, and the ease with which it allows us to re-create and maintain the original authoring environment. This article is not meant to tell you which applications to use, but rather to give you an idea how it may impact translation costs.

It may very well be more cost-effective to use QuarkXpress to lay out a 2-page product data sheet that will be translated into Japanese, especially if it is a one-time job and you already own QuarkXpress. You are more likely to own and use Microsoft Word for your manuals. Again, economies of scale apply. You would not see a return by investing in InDesign or FrameMaker for a single job. You will, however, see a significant impact on multiple language/multiple document projects.

Larry Pilotto

"No two days are ever the same at Interpro. Every job has different technical requirements, deals with different source content, and is translated into different languages. The wide range of combinations these factors produce definitely keeps things interesting."