Translating a PDF file: good practices and important rules

We get a lot of requests from clients for PDF files to be translated. In fact, PDF is one of the most common document formats we receive.

Clients who ask for PDFs to be translated are often first asked for the infamous ‘source file’. From a non-translation point of view, it may be a perplexing question – what difference does it make?

Here are just a few reasons why we ask for the source file before translating a PDF.

What is a PDF file?

PDF – short for Portable Document Format – was invented by Adobe to display and share documents securely, regardless of the software, hardware or operating system used.

To find out more, you can go to the Adobe website:

Why use this format? What are the advantages?

The main advantage to using PDF is that it is a universal format, meaning there is no specific software required to view its content. PDFs can be read in the free,downloadable software, Adobe Reader, which can be used on both Mac and PC. PDFs can, therefore, be viewed and read by everyone.

They come with the added advantage of document protection, i.e. a PDF can only be altered by its owner. This is an important factor when sending invoices, purchase orders or CVs for example.
When you save your document or image in PDF format, you can be sure it will look exactly how you want it to and how it was originally laid out. PDFs are pictures of a page or pages, where text, images, tables, etc. are together in a single file and cannot be moved around or edited. They can also be signed electronically.

A third interesting feature is the size of a PDF file. PDFs are much more compact than the files used to create them, meaning they are much more useful when it comes to sending and storing documents.

How can we handle PDF files for translation?

While PDFs cannot be modified, some minor alterations can be made using Acrobat or other editing software. To do so, PDFs must be sent in unprotected mode. That being said, this still isn’t enough for a document to be translated.

So, how can we translate a PDF?

In an ideal world, translators would work with the source file – i.e. the document in which the text, images or tables were initially created. If you do not have the source file, we can still work on your project by converting the PDF. There are numerous methods for converting PDF files, especially using Word 2016 or conversion software such as SolidConverter, PDFConverter, etc.

However, there are certain recurring problems that arise with conversion, as the text is not always converted correctly. Examples of common PDF conversion formatting errors include:

• differentiation between a capital ‘I’ (India), the number ‘1’ or a lower case ‘l’ (Lima);
• differentiation between a ‘0’ (zero) and an ‘O’ (Oscar);
• line breaks inserted at the end of each line instead of spaces, which splits sentences;
• tables transformed into poorly aligned individual text boxes.

However, if the PDF is a picture of a text, it cannot be converted. Here, the only option is to use OCR (Optical Character Recognition). This process involves scanning the pages, with the software recognising the characters. This process often leads to even more occurrences of the aforementioned problems.

Lastly, in some situations, the only option when translating a PDF is to type out the text in a Word document. This is the case when printing quality is particularly poor, and we know this from experience! It should also be noted that these steps are essential if the document is to be translated using computer-assisted translation tools. These processes can be time-consuming. They require considerable corrective work for the end result to be anywhere near the same visual quality as the original document.

And… time constraints and attention to detail aside, this service can, naturally, incur additional costs. So, there you have it, the reason why we ask for the file used to create the PDF – it’s worth repeating – is to save you time and money, and most importantly to guarantee quality!

If you have a PDF you would like to translate, we can help you find the best solution – just contact us!

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