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Top Tips for Successful Japanese Desktop Publishing

Japanese is one of the most requested Asian languages for translation. Though many companies contact their preferred language provider for the Japanese translation, they often attempt to complete the desktop publishing (formatting) by their internal marketing or design teams, usually as a cost-savings measure. Often these teams do not speak Japanese, nor do they fully understand the typesetting requirements of the language. In the end, the client spends more time and money trying to get the Japanese right. In this blog, I talk about some of the formatting challenges in Japanese and provide a few tips to ensure a successful Japanese desktop publishing project.


Plan Ahead
  • When planning a project in Japanese, it is important to have the right resources for the job, including a team of experienced desktop publishers (artists) who are knowledgeable in the language and the software.
  • When translating from English into Japanese, the text will contract instead of expand unlike some European languages. It is important to keep this in mind when you are designing your document.
  • It is important to consider the fonts that you are using in the design. Does the layout contain unique, stylized English fonts? You may not get the same affect with a Japanese font. It is recommended that you review the available Japanese fonts and choose suitable fonts for the project. Make sure that they are properly installed on your system.
After Translation
  • Carefully review the overall layout of the Japanese document for improper line breaks, widows or orphans. (In typesettingwidows and orphans are words or text strings at the beginning or end of a paragraph, which are left dangling at the top or bottom of a column, separated from the rest of the paragraph. Source:
    • Line breaks are particularly challenging in Japanese as some of the characters cannot appear in the beginning of the line. These include:

      1. The following is an example of incorrect placement of the long dash.
        It is incorrect to put long dashes at the beginning of lines as circled below.
        p1.2The correct way is to move the long dash to the end of the previous line. Alternatively, you can bring down a character from the previous line to make the long dash appear as the second character in that line.
      2. The following are examples of using smaller hiragana or katakana characters.
        It is incorrect to put these smaller characters like at the beginning of the lines.

        You can adjust the kerning to move these characters to the previous line, or add soft returns to move the characters down from the previous line. Samples of correct usage follow.



    • Like Chinese and other Asian languages, widows and orphans are not permitted in Japanese layouts. Please see the sample below. When this happens, you can adjust the kerning or the size of the text box to correct the issue.
p2.7 Changes to >> p2.8
  • For English and European languages, you can simply press B or type Ctrl + B to apply the bold style to text. However for Japanese, it doesn’t give you a real bold effect if you apply the same technique. It actually makes the selected characters appear twice with a slight shift, just like making a same color shadow behind it. Therefore it is suggested that you use a Japanese font with a heavier weight to achieve the real bold effect.
  • It is common practice for an artist to use the same type size as the original English text in the localized Japanese version. The Japanese characters however tend to be bigger than the English even in the same type size. There is not a tremendous difference in the body copy, but for larger headings or titles, the difference can be considerable. You may want to go ahead and use a smaller type size in this case for the Japanese.

You may also find our previous blog on multilingual fonts useful: How to Choose the Right Fonts for Multilingual Documents.