Choosing a Typeface When Designing for Translation

Written by Tim Kaney, Marketing Coordinator/Multilingual Designer at The Geo Group.

Introducing translation into a design project can create pitfalls that are hard to avoid, but problems can be kept to a minimum if some forethought is applied. As a smart designer, you should always plan ahead by researching which languages your piece will be translated into and which character sets will be needed. Once you know this, find out which typefaces or font families are compatible with all of your required languages and character sets.

When it comes to choosing a typeface or font family, many designers have the initial instinct to choose what I like to call a “designer font.” A designer font includes only the most basic character set because the manual labor involved in creating the entire character set was too costly. Because these designer fonts do not contain a fully developed set of numerals, symbols, and punctuation, they cannot be considered true typefaces.

If a designer chooses this type of font, it can lead to many problems when introducing the translated text into the designed piece. Punctuation might not appear properly, special characters or certain accented letters may not exist at all, and the original design may start to fall apart because its effectiveness resides solely in the choice of typeface. Sometimes, there are so few characters in a designer font that the font must be changed throughout the entire document to ensure accuracy and consistency in appearance. This emergency solution can cost time and money for both your company and your translation agency.

The open type versions of these three fonts are the most versatile and functional for translation purposes:

  1. Arial Unicode MS (Sans Serif)
  2. Myriad Pro (Sans Serif)
  3. Times New Roman (Serif)

I know what you’re thinking—ONLY THREE?


These three font families contain thousands of weight, size, and symbol combinations to choose from. While they may be archenemies from design school, they will be your loyal friends if you work for a company that requires translation. Because these fonts can be used in many different programs across multiple platforms, they can go a long way to help ease the pain of multilingual formatting…and they might just bring a smile to a multilingual typesetter’s “typeface”!

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