Seven Rules for Graphics in Technical Communications

452217709Graphics and images form a crucial part of almost all communication materials, especially in technical documentation where the use of complex engineering diagrams is common. In this blog, Welocalize DTP Consultants Elaine Abbott and Sue Rigby share their seven golden rules and tips on how you can optimize source graphic files for localization in technical communications.

Humans recognize images better than text. Text and image excite different parts of the brain. A good image aids the memory to visualize. It is easier to depict a complex process or technical procedure using a flowchart or detailed graphic. Good technical authors will include graphics in their communication materials and these graphics will need to be localized for global distribution. One basic rule is to create graphics with localization in mind.

Seven Considerations for Developing and Localizing Graphics

1. Graphic Preparation

Technical manuals and documents contain many complex graphics and those graphics may require the insertion of translated text to complete the illustration. Provision of these original graphics is very important. Graphics such as flowcharts and diagrams may have been obtained from a variety of sources within an organization or from previous documents. Over time, it is quite common for the original source files to be untraceable. Graphic files may have been converted to .jpg or .tif format and simply inserted into the document. This can cause challenges in the localization process as the graphics then cannot be edited.

Providing access to text layers in the original graphic file format will increase cost savings and time required. For example, in order to localize a .gif or .jpg file, the original Photoshop (.psd) or Adobe Illustrator source file is needed along with overall style guides that were used to create the original graphic: color information, preferred fonts, design specifications and export or save settings.

If the original graphic is not available and you have to supply a non-editable file, then your language service provider (LSP) can create a new text box; overlay it onto the original graphic thereby covering the original text. This is possible if the original text is on a white or solid background; however, more difficult if the background is not uniform, such as the gradient background in the illustration shown:

gradient example

Challenges with graphics in the source language files will be multiplied by the number of languages being translated into for the project.

2. Text Expansion

When you translate from English into another language, the translated text will take up more space. Most languages are longer than English by about 15% and languages such as Russian can be up to 40% longer. Once the text in the graphic is translated, text expansion can cause problems with the original layout of the graphic.


source content example


frech translation example

Minimize issues by using numbered call-outs instead and allowing for text expansion in the source.

call-outs example


3. Use of CAT tools

Localization of graphics is usually carried out with the use of computer assisted translation (CAT) tools, such as SDL Trados. There is software available that allows LSPs, like Welocalize, to automate the extraction and insertion of text from graphics created in some packages such as Illustrator or CorelDraw into .rtf format for use with this CAT tools. Other graphic formats may require a more manual labor intensive copy and paste approach.

Try to avoid any text in graphics in the first place and create the text in the main documentation itself. This ensures that the text will appear “in sequence” to the translator and also allows for the text to be incorporated more easily into Translation Memory (TM). If the text must be adjacent to graphic elements, try to position it in such a way that there is some horizontal space for text expansion. Ensure that the text is in a text box and that no hard returns are contained within the paragraph. When the TM tools analyze segments, the text is usually segmented at a logical break such as a hard return. As an example, inserting a hard return into a paragraph so that a long sentence description can fit into a narrow text box can negate the benefits of using CAT tools. It may also simply mean your LSP takes longer at the file preparation stage, having to spend time (and money) deleting the hard returns ready for the TM analysis.

4. Build Terminology Glossaries and Translation Memories (TMs)

Building glossaries and TMs means your team of translators will become familiar with products and standard documents and manuals, which is important when localizing technical publications. Using a consistent team will mean you will establish a library of graphics that can be quickly and efficiently localized.

5. Provide a List of Graphics

When supplying source files to your LSP, provide a list of all graphics along with their respective formats and information relating to each graphic. For example, which graphics do not have translatable text, graphics that do include text and where the respective pages and files can be located.

6. Localizing Screenshots

If you pictorially display screenshots as graphics, localized versions of the software must be made available so new screenshots can be taken. These are especially important as a source of reference for the translator to ensure exactly the correct terms used in the software are used in the translation.

7. Keep Graphics Culturally Generic

Take into consideration the culture or religion of the country. Each culture has different value systems, varying beliefs and interpretations of non-verbal communication. For example, in China the color red and the number eight are considered lucky. In Japan, black and the numbers four and nine are considered unlucky.

Elaine Abbott and Sue Rigby are both Senior DTP Consultants at Welocalize and are based in the UK.