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How to Choose the Right Font for Multilingual Projects

Choosing the right font for any project is certainly important, but it doesn't have to be difficult. While you may not think fonts are all that important when it comes to technical documents, the font you choose for a user manual, website, or spec sheet can impact readability and overall tone. When you add in the fact that a document will be translated into another (or several other) languages, the font you choose becomes even more important, and the reasons for choosing it become even more complex.


Here are a few key things to keep in mind when choosing a font for multilingual projects:

· Use a font that can portray all of the characters of your target languages. Otherwise, you will have to go through the process of replacing your current font with another that does. Not only is it more time consuming to choose a secondary font that complements the original, it could also potentially make a difference in the overall look and feel of the source and target texts.

NOTE: There are some languages that may require different specialized fonts in some circumstances. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic and Hebrew use different characters than those used in Latin-based languages, for example. Some fonts in these languages may even require special software in order to input the font into the document (or be read on your device).

· Size matters. Keep in mind that text can often expand in a translated file. What may only take five words to convey in English could take nine in Spanish. If your font is small to begin with and your text box is also small, you run the risk of either not being able to fit all of the text in the text box of the target file, or making it minute, and potentially, illegible.

· Don’t forget about font width. While a wider font may look great in English, it may expand and make the text appear too long when translated into German, as many nouns in German can be quite long. Conversely, if a tighter font looks appealing in your source text, it may look too cramped when translated into an Asian language that uses characters.

· If you are using multiple font types within the same document, use fonts that complement each other, both from a practical perspective, as well as from a design perspective.

· Not all devices are created equal. Assuming your user manual or other document will be viewed on a smart phone or computer, in addition to being printed, it is vital to choose a font that will read well across all devices and operating systems. There are certain fonts that will work on a Windows device, but not a Mac. The same rule applies to fonts read on an Android phone versus an iPhone. Look for OpenType (.otf file extension) fonts, as these were developed by both Adobe and Microsoft together and are formatted to work across platforms.

The task of choosing the proper fonts for multilingual projects doesn’t have to be daunting, so don’t hesitate to ask for help if you are unsure which fonts will work best for your project. If you aren’t sure whether something will work in the target language, your translation agency can most likely provide a desktop publishing solution to ensure your project is properly formatted for both source and target texts.