What is Desktop Publishing?



In this blog article, we will focus on what desktop publishing is, what it’s used for, and what it has to do with translations. At the same time, we’ll also provide some practical tips to consider when you order layout work for a translation. 

What is DTP and what is it used for?

Desktop publishing involves adapting and laying out the elements of a publication, such as a brochure or a PowerPoint presentation, in an attractive format. The purpose of layout work is to make a publication as attractive and easy-to-use as possible. The same principle is applied to publications that are printed by a printer and printing press, and digital publications.

DTP assignments actually exist everywhere in our daily lives. Layout work is needed for the advertising leaflets we receive in the mail. It is used in the books we read to relax or learn. The texts and visual elements of a carton of juice in our refrigerator have been positioned with care and consideration. This also applies to the billboards that we pass in the street that either manage or fail to catch our interest.

We also should not forget that desktop publishing is needed in the same way in digital environments. A PowerPoint presentation or an eBook also needs layout work, so the reader remains interested until the end of the presentation or the book.

DTP is not limited to adapting and laying out various elements. Text also holds a significant role in layout work. Do the headings stand out enough, is there too little or too much text? Font and font size are highly relevant for the whole package.

For instance, think of an instruction manual that has no illustrations at all but an enormous amount of text, with headings are that are hard to distinguish from the body text. It is unlikely that many people will read such a manual from cover to cover. Even if the content is difficult to read, layout work helps to adapt it into a more easy-to-read format to make the instruction manual more useful. It’s a great pity if content that took time and effort to produce isn’t used because the content isn’t presented well.

Desktop publishing

What purposes does desktop publishing serve?

We have explained the most important and obvious benefit derived from DTP above. When printed or digital content is accessible, the message it includes can be transmitted more efficiently. This can hardly be overemphasized. The layout attracts attention and makes the reader interested in the content. At best, layout is like the light shining in the dark that draws people to the content.

Desktop publishing is also an essential part of a company’s visual appearance. Layout work alone is not a separate module but a part of a larger package. For a company, it is important that printed and visual content, for example, are in line with each other. Otherwise, it can be difficult to recognize the company and its communications.

For example, if you can easily recognize a company from the packaging of a product or the cover of a leaflet without mentioning the company name, layout work and communication have been successful.


Why is desktop publishing needed in translation projects?

What does DTP have to do with translations? A great deal. When content is translated, the equivalent content produced in the target language can differ significantly from the original text. The translation probably contains a different number of characters and words, and possibly different sentence structures. The number of characters and words can increase so much that the content translated into the target language can no longer fit on one A4 page, for instance. The situation may also be the opposite: the text translated into the target language can be significantly shorter than the original, leaving a lot of empty space in the document.

If the project involves a product catalog translated into another language, it is highly likely that layout work will be needed. There is a limited amount of space for product details and presentation texts, especially in brochures with a large number of products.

Other examples of content that requires layout work are company annual reports, instruction manuals and user guides. Annual reports contain diagrams with explanatory text. Instruction manuals and user guides include pictures to illustrate the text content. All these elements must be taken into account once the content has been translated and layout work on the content in the target language begins. Should the font be reduced? Can the size of a picture be increased, so the caption can fit it better? These are common questions in the context of layout work.

Translated content is rarely directly copied and pasted, because the number of characters and words changes for every language pair. Major editing of composition and layout is almost always needed.

We can use this blog text as an example. In the original Finnish, this article contains 1,451 words and 11,629 characters.

  • This English version has 2,230 words and 11,225 characters.
  • The Swedish version contains 2,061 words and 11,574 characters.
  • The Danish version includes 1,788 words and 10,397 characters.

What added value does a translation agency's desktop publishing service provide?

Few organizations that order translations have in-house layout expertise at their disposal. Even if they employ graphic designers, they are probably tied up with other projects and may be unable to handle urgent composition and layout assignments. This is why offering desktop publishing services alongside translation services is quite natural.

Besides the resources perspective, another benefit is that both professional translators and layout professionals can be found under one roof. Ordering a translation and layout work for it in one go saves time, as there is no need to deliver the materials to different experts. When you order a translation with layout service and the project is finished, you will receive content that is ready for publication. If necessary, layout experts can cooperate with the translator and request that they perform a final inspection of the content with the finalized layout. This ensures that any hyphenation of words and line breaks, for example, are correct. This opportunity is particularly valuable in cases where the person ordering a translation is not very familiar with the target language.

When the context of the project is clear, the translator can provide tips or point out any elements that are culturally problematic. If, for instance, the translated material uses pictures or colors that are problematic in the culture of the target country, it is easy to adapt this during the production phase.

Layout services are not limited exclusively to translation projects. Acolad’s experts can design and compose layouts based on the guidelines you provide. Read more about our DTP services here.

The most common types of content that use desktop publishing

The list below includes the most common types of content for which layout work is requested, in addition to translation:

  • Instruction manuals and user guides for both internal and external use
  • Product packaging that contains plenty of text
  • Brochures and product catalogs
  • Communication documents, such as annual and interim reports, and other official documents for use in multiple languages

The list shows that layout work can be applicable for almost every industry. Layout work is needed in industry, medicine, law, commerce, and technology. Documents requiring layout work are needed for both internal and external use. The person who benefits is always the reader, whether they are an employee, partner, media representative or end customer.

Expert tips for DTP translation projects

We also promised to provide tips on how to make the desktop publishing process smoother. To get these tips, we interviewed four layout experts at Acolad: Marie-Sophie Petit, Christer Saltin, Jouni Jakonen and Ilja Patrikainen.

PDF files are extremely common documents that require post-translation processing. With these files, it is often enough to have the translated text follow the same layout as in the original document.

When a customer orders a translation of a PDF file, the project manager should be provided with instructions about the desired end result. Is it only necessary to have the content translated? If so, the text is “detached” from the original file, translated and delivered to the client. If the PDF file will be published, you should mention whether it is intended for internal or external use.

It’s good to keep in mind that, without the original work files, it is impossible to produce a PDF file with a level of quality that’s equivalent to the original file. If the content is published for external use, delivering the original, high-quality pictures with the text content helps to achieve better results.

If the translation and layout project is urgent, the materials should be delivered in an editable format. Although text can be quickly detached from a PDF file with OCR tools, it is still a phase that can be avoided.

Providing the original work files is also good because the layout and structure of the document may be broken when files are converted from one format into another.

Examples of DTP

This picture shows an example of how converting a PDF file into a Word document broke the original layout. In the box on the left, the text layout is the original.

When you deliver a DTP file that needs to be translated, you should also provide all the elements used in the file, such as pictures, links and any special fonts. This way, the layout work can be done soon after the translation, and the project will not come to a halt due to any missing materials. The best quality and outcome can be achieved by using the original materials.

Our experts recommend using the original files when you place a translation order. The content can be produced with Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, FrameMaker or Photoshop, or some other software. The key thing to keep in mind is to use the original work files.

For texts that need to be translated, the tip that is easiest to adopt is to avoid putting hard line breaks within paragraphs. In other words, avoid hitting the Enter key, which enters what is known as a “hard return” into the text. This has more to do with translation memories than layout work. When a hard return is used within a paragraph, a translation memory can incorrectly interpret translated segments. The problem is that the translation saved in the translation memory cannot be utilized as it is in future translation projects. If the content does not require entering a hard return within a paragraph, please avoid doing so. This lets us take advantage of the efficiency and cost benefits of a translation memory. More information about translation memories is available here.

Try to take the space the translation needs into account when creating the laid-out file. During translation of the content, the amount of text can increase by 10–30 percent, depending on the language pair. If a document requiring layout work has a limited amount of space for text, the translation can make the situation very challenging. Font sizes can be reduced to a limited extent only, because readability deteriorates if the font is too small. You should also reserve space in cases where the target language is Arabic or a language that uses the Cyrillic alphabet.

As for every project, the key to success is efficient communication. When a translation project that requires desktop publishing has clear objectives, expectations can be met more effectively. This creates an understanding of what it takes to achieve the best outcome. Whether it be a post-translation inspection by the translator or delivery of the original work files, effective communication will make things clearer.


  • A PDF file cannot be produced as a version of equivalent quality to the original file without the original work files. Please tell us how you plan to use any PDF file, so we can process it in the way that is best suited for the purpose.
  • Avoid line breaks within a paragraph, if possible. A solid translation memory produces savings in the long term.
  • Reserve space for the text to be translated. The amount of text can increase by 10–30 percent, depending on the language pair. The layout of a text is easier to edit than the actual content.
  • The best results are achieved through effective communication.

A good layout is a treat for the eyes and catches the reader's interest

The results of desktop publishing are a part of our everyday lives, in one way or another. Publications that are laid out and positioned in an attractive way are available everywhere. We are so accustomed to seeing good layouts that we may not pay much attention to them. We do, however, notice if an instruction manual is full of text with no illustrations, or if the pictures are of poor quality or don’t match the text.

Content is created for readers, and DTP ensures that the content is in a format that is attractive and accessible. Desktop publishing helps bring content that’s intended for publication to life. This principle can be applied to all publications, from printed material to a company’s official annual report.

Do you have a translation project that requires layout work? Do you need advice on projects that call for layout work? Give us a call and our experts will be happy to help you with your desktop publishing projects.

Learn more about our desktop publishing services