Helpful Advice for Translating PDF Files

December 29th, 2015

We know that the process of translating webpages or Microsoft Office documents is straightforward, but what do we do when many of the documents we receive for translation are in PDF format?

Helpful Advice for Translating PDF Files | One Hour Translation

We know that the process of translating webpages or Microsoft Office documents is straightforward, but what do we do when many of the documents we receive for translation are in PDF format?

Below we’ve listed some tips that might be helpful when faced with converting PDF documents –

Ask Your Client for the Original Files

Let’s say your client has used InDesign to create an instruction manual, but now they want to distribute it on their website. The only people who would be able to open this file would be people with the InDesign program, so, in order to make it accessible to everyone, we need to publish it in PDF (Portable Document Format) to allow it to be opened on any PC; and on any Mac, Windows or Linux platform.

And while we know the distribution of PDF files is easy, a much larger challenge lies in extracting the translatable content. And this is why we suggest you ask your client to send the original files. However, if these files are not available, please see below for other alternatives.

Handling Customer Expectations

It’s important that you advise your client of the challenges translators face when converting PDF files; such as the extraction of text may be possible, but if the document has text boxes and columns the format may be partly lost. If the client advises that they suspect to receive their translated project in the same format, then you may require the services of DTP. The next question that arises is – is the customer prepared to pay extra for this service?

In addition, PDFs with multiple overlapping text stamps, coffee stains, tears or handwritten comments are almost impossible to convert, and will probably require a prior transcription of the text.

Selecting a Reliable PDF Converter

Translators will typically use third-party tools to convert PDF files into Excel, PowerPoint or Word. Some translators say they work perfectly, while others have tried and found them wanting because the formatting can be directly affected, or even lost.

Today, the good news is that the 2009 and 2011 versions of SDL Trados Studio are capable of supporting the reading some PDF files. Unfortunately, they have many limitations because they only work with PDF files whose text is editable. In addition, Foxit Reader and Acrobat Reader are free tools that allow you to open a PDF document, then save it as a text file. However, when you do this, an ‘enter’ will show at the end of each line, meaning it is incorrectly segmented for CAT tools.

You can always use free online tools such as, or alternatively you can obtain an OCR converter, like PDF Solid Converter or Abby Reader. PDF Solid converter only works with PDF files generated from software, while, for simple scanned documents you’ll find that Abby Reader is a good alternative.

So what all this means is that translators must always be well prepared, and it’s probably advisable to have two or more converters installed. As we all know, with PDFs, you never really know what you’re going to get.

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