PDF Translation: Best Practices and Essential Rules

PDF Translation Services

There are many requests from our customers for PDF translations. PDF format is indeed one of the most commonly addressed to us.

The ritual question of our project managers when you ask us to translate a PDF file is then asked: “Do you have the source file? “A question that can disturb the one that does not evolve in the world of translation – what difference does it make?

Here, in a few lines, why we always claim the source file before translating a PDF file.

Before we do PDF Translations, what is a PDF file?

The Portable Document Format (PDF) was created by Adobe Systems to present and exchange documents securely, regardless of the software, hardware, and operating system used.

For more information, please visit: https://acrobat.adobe.com/en/acrobat/capabilities.html

Why use PDF for translation? What are the advantages ?

The main advantage of a PDF file is its universal format: no need for specific software to visualize its contents. It is made readable by the free and downloadable Adobe Reader software, whether working on a Mac or PC. A PDF file can be viewed and read by everyone.

Its second advantage lies in the protection of the transmitted document: it can only be modified by its owner. A great advantage when it comes to sending invoices, purchase orders, CVs … When you save your document or your image in PDF format, you are sure to make it appear on the screen of the recipient exactly as you wanted and created it. The PDF is the image of a page or several pages where text, images, tables … are gathered in a single file, and are frozen. It may also be signed electronically.

Third interesting feature: the weight of the PDF file. The PDF is much less bulky than the files used to create it, making it possible to send and store documents much more conveniently.

Can I manipulate a PDF file for translation?

If a PDF file is not editable, however, there are limited editing possibilities with the Acrobat software or with other editors. However, the PDF must not be sent in protected mode. Nevertheless, these possibilities are insufficient to allow the translation of the document.

So how to deal with PDF translations?

Ideally, translators should be able to work directly in the source document, that is, in the document where the text, images, tables … were originally created. If you do not have this source file, we can still intervene by converting your PDF file. Many methods exist to convert a PDF file, especially using Word 2016 or conversion software like Smallpdf, SolidConverter, PDFConverter …

But it is certain that problems will arise because often the conversion does not render the text correctly. Common examples of transcription error include:

  • The differentiation between the capital ‘I’ (India), the number ‘1’ or the ‘l’ lower case (light),
  • The differentiation between 0 (zero) and the letter ‘O’ (Oscar),
  • A line break inserted at the end of each line instead of space, resulting in the division of sentences,
  • The tables transformed into misaligned text boxes.

Also, when the PDF file is the image of a text, it is impossible to perform a conversion. The only recourse is to use OCR (Optical Character Recognition). This process includes a digitization of the pages followed by a recognition of the characters again multiplying the identification problems mentioned above.

Finally, in some situations, rewriting text in Word may be the only possible solution for translation. This is the case when the print quality is poor. And it’s not anecdotal! It is also important to note that these steps are essential if you want to use the tools to help with translation. These treatments are time consuming. They undertake a non-negligible correction effort in order to obtain a faithful result and in accordance with the visual quality of the original document.

And … if these processes are greedy in time and attention, they involve additional costs. So when we ask you for the source file used to create a PDF file, you have to say it and say it again: it saves you time and money coupled with the guarantee of quality work !

Translating PDF: why it’s costing you much more than it needs to

We have a customer who has several PDF manuals they need to publish in several languages. Simple right? Not really. The problem is, those manuals are made up of several PDF files – and the client doesn’t have possession of the source files which were used to generate the PDFs they do have. So when it comes time for translation, not only are they paying for extra desktop-publishing costs for us to re-layout the manual, but they are not getting any use of Translation Memory. (More on this below.) These two issues will lead to a company spending double or triple what they should be spending on translation services.

PDF Translation Services


Why is this client in this situation to begin with?

This client, like many others in the manufacturing sector, buys aspects of their product, from other companies, repackages it and sells it as a different product. Take a car for example; Ford doesn’t actually make the glass for their windows, batteries for their hybrids, or radio’s for their dashboards. They buy these products from other companies and integrate them into their unique design as a Fusion, and sells them. So, in some cases, their service manuals would be simply a series of their OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer) manuals, compiled into one big manual. While this will work for English (or the source language that the manuals are in), when it comes time to translate the manuals into several languages – you’re facing a world of problems to get this done at a low cost.

Making things even worse, (and more expensive to deal with) many of these manuals could have been produced years ago, and today cannot be located. And not only do the source file not exist, but the PDF files could actually be a picture-scan of the text, instead of text that can be extracted manually. This means, that the text is not scanable, highlightable, or saveable by any means, except by using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) process, which is slow, expensive and still requires someone to proofread and edit the source text before you even start the translation process.

My Advice To You (If you are like this client)

1. Require OEMs to produce editable manuals

It stands to reason that if you are buying products from OEMs, you should be able to dictate in your purchase agreement that they need to provide you with editable, electronic source documents which comprise their manuals. If they refuse, perhaps you should look at buying from their competitors, because of the significant extra costs you will incur in translation of their manuals.

2. Pass on costs

If they can’t or won’t provide you with editable source manuals, then pass your surcharges in translation to them. This measure may get them to comply in the future.

3. Brute Force Method

If you can’t get source documents no matter what you say or do with your OEM, then there will be these surcharges in translation, regardless of which translation supplier you choose:

A. Optical Character Recognition scanning and editing
B. Re-Layout of Source Document
C. Graphics and Charts with text Redesign

A Word About Translation Memory

If these charges aren’t bad enough, consider how much money is wasted when you’re needing to update a previously translated version? In these common cases, where you are merely updating a translated manual instead of launching a new one, you will not be able to get any translation memory benefits from text that are exact matches, fuzzy matches, or repetitions. You are essentially being charged 100% for each word, because there is no recycling of previously translated assets.

Need to translate pdf documents? YBD cooperates with leading PDF Reader

YBD Translations has always been strong in providing IT-related Chinese language translation services. A leading PDF software solutions provider, Foxit,  recently contacted us to discuss a potential partnership in this respect. Their representative proposed that we serve as their backstage translation service supplier for their PDF software users who may have needs for translating PDF documents. The partnership works this way: there’s a feature embeded in the PDF reader called “language translation”, when the users click on it, they will be directed to the software company’s web page, where the details of language translation services are listed, the users, if interested, can finish the whole ordering process on their platform, and we, as the backstage translation services provider, will take care of their requested translations.

YBD is happy to partner with this market leader in the PDF reader segment, we understand that many documents that need translation come in the PDF format. This would be a very convenient way for our potential clients to reach us, no hassle, just a click away and you’ll get our professional and fluent translated documents.