What are native files and why does your translator need them?

What are native files and why does your translator need them?

At Scriptis, we translate all sorts of content. However, not all file types are well-suited to our translation process. When a new client sends us source documents that mix images and text, such as brochures, ads, and catalogues, they often send a .pdf or an image file. Or they might send a screenshot of an image file. The project manager typically responds with a request: “Can you please send the native files?”

What are native files?

We call files “native” when their file type matches that of the program from which they originate. For example, an .xlsx file was created using Excel. It’s a “native” Excel file. With permission, anyone could use their own Excel program to manipulate it.

Unfortunately, our clients don’t always have native files handy. This is because they don’t usually need them. For example, when a marketing department contracts with an agency to create an advertisement, the designer will use Adobe InDesign or another specialized tool to create it. But the deliverable is usually a print ready .pdf or an image file.

Or, one department in an organization might use Microsoft Word or PowerPoint to create formatted documents, contracts, and other content, and share them with other departments as .pdfs.

For these uses, people want .pdfs because they can’t be easily changed. A .pdf, or “portable document format,” is lighter than a native file and it remains stable on transfer. It’s as though the content is “frozen” in place.

This “frozen” quality is precisely the reason .pdfs present difficulties when it’s time to translate them.

Why do translators need native files?

Translators use tools to organize the translation process and ensure consistency not only within a particular project, but across all the projects we do for a particular client. These computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools analyze the source file and render the text as a list of sentence-like chunks called “segments.” The translator then works in a two-column interface to enter a target translation for each source segment. Every segment and its translation can then be saved in a database called a translation memory.

If the same segment appears more than once in the same document, or if it has already been translated in a prior project for the same client, the tool will autofill that segment every time it appears. This makes the translation go more quickly. With each subsequent project, the project manager uses the tool to analyze the text and provide discounts for previously translated content. CAT tools can also be customized for the client’s approved style and terminology. CAT tools are essential to professional business translation because they reduce turnaround time and ensure consistency. Every ISO 17100-certified translation partner uses them.

For this conversation, the most important thing about CAT tools is their compatibility with many different native file types. When translation, proofreading, and quality assurance steps are finished, the translator can export a target translation with the same formatting and in the same file type as the source.

If the source content arrives as a .pdf or other “frozen” format like a screen shot, the project manager will need to convert it to extract the text and prepare a usable document. Then after translation, the deliverable will need to be completely reformatted in the target language. These extra steps take time and increase costs.

Clients should not try to save money by doing the reformatting themselves. Even if the person doing the reformatting is fluent enough in the target language to do it correctly, they might introduce errors of their own, and we can’t vouch for the final version.

What about the images?

If a source text is all words and numbers, and the .pdf was made from Word or Excel files, we can work with it because it can be converted back to its native file type. It does cost more, but we solve this problem all the time.

On the other hand, if a source text is a design-heavy brochure or catalog with special fonts and multiple images, the native files become far more important.

The “native files” for a project are typically sent as a zip file containing these building blocks:

  • A folder with the fonts used to create the project. This is especially important when the client uses custom fonts to reflect their brand. However, if the custom font does not provide accents and special characters for the target language, we will substitute a similar one that does.
  • A folder with all the separate image files (called “links” in Adobe InDesign).
  • The native design file. For an Adobe InDesign project, this would be both .indd and .idml files.
  • A .pdf of the source design for reference and comparison.

Because our CAT tools are compatible with .idml files, the translatable text can be extracted, analyzed, translated, proofread, run through quality assurance, and exported with the formatting intact. The design can then be re-assembled by our graphics department using the correct images and fonts. Some of our clients prefer to localize the images as well as the text. In that case they might include pictures of people and products that are specific to the target audience, with instructions to selectively swap them out.

We have found that InDesign is the most translation-friendly graphic design tool because of its compatibility with our CAT tools. Other Adobe tools, e.g., Illustrator and Photoshop, are less compatible and require extra preparation on the part of the project manager.

After translation, these types of projects always require desktop publishing services. For example, written French uses more characters than English, and translation will initially throw the design out of whack. However, this type of design issue isn’t hard to fix. Re-creating the entire design from scratch is not easy, and the extra time will significantly increase the cost to the client.

Moving forward

If your team is new to translation, small changes to how you source content can mean big savings in time and money. For example, if another department or an outside vendor creates content, ask that they add native files to the deliverables.  

As our clients gain more insight into the translation process, many will begin to take steps to create translation-friendly content. For more tips on reducing costs, contact our Customer Success Manager, Nancy Locke, at extension 147. She’ll be happy to help you get the most from your translation budget.