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Does Sending Source Files Make That Much Difference?

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The Short Answer

It just may. You should consider certain factors when deciding how much effort to spend finding source files that aren’t readily available. You may save translation turn time and/or money by providing electronic source files if you have:

  1. Complex document formats, such as forms, brochures, indexed manuals
  2. Web site or other online files
  3. Editable text-containing graphics files
  4. Duplication benefiting from use of a translation memory tool

A little background will help you understand how the situation has changed significantly for most translation and localization vendors. Just five years ago, most client document files that were to be translated into English were sent to agencies in hardcopy or PDF only. With the limited ability of scanning software at the time, these files were either provided to the translators in the original format or a considerable amount of time was spent to create accurate electronic source files.

Complex Document Formats

If your project consists of 1) just a few documents that are 2) primarily straight text with little formatting and 3) few graphics and 4) you don’t care about the format of the translated file, skip to the next section. If, on the other hand, any of the above apply to your project, stick around.

  1. Saving even one hour of formatting time per document multiplied times dozens of documents can save hundreds or thousands of dollars.
  2. Although our Production Department loves desktop publishing (they really do), recreating forms, complex manuals or marketing material from scratch does take time. When a PDF is converted to an editable file all of the formatting is lost.
  3. See the section on editable graphics.
  4. Sometimes a document needs to be formatted like the original because it will be published or because the content requires formatting in order to be used—imagine an unformatted form.

Web Site or Other Online Files

To start with, sending organized source files can make a huge difference in how accurate the estimates are that you receive from various vendors. Unless your web site is small and very simple, there is information affecting the localization turn time and cost that can not be ascertained just from viewing the source code available online to the public. If you send extraneous or disorganized files, or don’t send source files, the estimates you receive from vendors may vary. You won’t be able to compare apples to apples, because each vendor will have to guess at what you want and what work will be involved.

Once assigned to a vendor, the original web developer who is familiar with the details of the site can organize the files to be sent for localization much more quickly than those new to it. When you have the option to involve your developer the following can be minimized or eliminated:

  1. Incomplete set of files sent to vendor
  2. Multiple versions of files
  3. Extraneous files sent causing it to be unclear what you want translated
  4. Proprietary file formats that can not be readily accessed by a vendor
  5. Unclear instructions regarding which content is to be localized

Files Containing Graphics with Editable Text

An editable graphic contains text that can be modified within the program that created it or another graphics program, or within a graphics feature of a document program. There are many different types of graphics programs, such as PhotoShop, Corel Draw, Ulead and Illustrator. You can save a file in one of those file formats, but usually graphics are exported to one of a few common graphics file types, such as JPG, GIF, TIF or BMP. These are not readily editable.

Using this example, let’s say your graphics were created in Illustrator, exported to JPG format, then inserted into a formatted document. For your translation vendor to quickly recreate translated graphics, they will need the original EPS or AI (Illustrator) files. Even if you outsourced the development of this document, your developer will probably send you the original graphics files if they still have them.

We can recreate text-containing graphics without editable graphics files, although there could be a multifold difference in the amount of time it takes. This is another one of those things that our desktop publishers love to do, but time is money so if there is a chance that someone can find and send those original files, it might be worth it to try.

Adapting To “Translation Memory”

Projects with significant content duplication are excellent candidates for the use of translation memory tools, reducing the cost of translation. Use of translation memory requires electronic source files. Some of the possible cost savings are lost when your vendor has to create editable electronic source files. The translation memory tool we use, TRADOS™, is able to create translated files retaining the format of the original in most major file formats.

Some evolution of our own common receivables and deliverables

5 years ago:

  • We received few editable source files
  • Most document custom format was done in MS Word
  • Many clients requested hardcopy only as deliverable
  • Graphics were often physically pasted into the hardcopy
  • Production staff were needed to prepare many files for translation


  • Most custom format deliverables arrive in editable source files
  • We receive more files in formats such as FrameMaker, Quark and HTML
  • Most clients receive electronic files only, complete with translated graphics
  • Graphics can now be rapidly extracted from PDFs and cleaned of source text
  • Fewer staff are required to produce more complex document and online files
Summary: How Sending Your Vendor Source Files Benefits You
  • Get faster, more accurate estimates
  • Take advantage of translation memory
  • Receive desktop published deliverables
  • Reduce project turn time

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