Two Solutions to Translating Text in Graphics

Two Solutions to Translating Text in Graphics

One question that we Smartlings hear a lot is how to translate text embedded in images, whether it be on websites or apps.

The Problem

The difficulty in translating text in graphics is that no parsing system—not even Smartling—can recognize and extrapolate text, or change images so that the text within them appears in another language. It just can’t be done (at least not right now).

In practice, the problem arises in different forms. You may, for example, have:

  • Buttons in which the button and text are combined in a single image.
  • GIFs that display things like news items or announcements—items that are, in their nature, changed quite often.
  • Text incorporated as a graphic in the permanent parts of your site—a slogan or tagline in your main banner, perhaps, that will be meaningless if it remains in the original language.
  • Images, with or without text, that while perfect for one market, are less than ideal for another.

The Solutions

Faced with these issues, you can either:

  1. Rework the image itself and create an entirely new image file with text in the appropriate language.
  2. Discard the images in your original site that incorporate text, and replace them with non-textual images overlaid with live (and parsable) text.

If you change to live text:

  • Changing to live text is a one-time and generally fairly straightforward change in your site design. In most cases the visual difference will be imperceptible.
  • Once done, you can translate your site into as many languages as you like, and the navigation buttons and other former graphics will show up in the Smartling workflow for translation along with all other site content.
  • Your text will finally be readable by search engines.

The Exceptions

Changing everything to live text is, most of the time, a no-brainer. It certainly is for those graphical menu buttons. But there are times when it may not be, including:

  • When you want complete control over the font. You can’t achieve this control with HTML, but you can in a graphic.
  • When you want to deliver a different image. SurveyMonkey, for example, chose not to use live text for the copy that appears in the graphic on its home page, because it wanted to use localized images for some markets.

If you do stick with graphics…

  • You’ll need to create a new set of all text-containing graphics for each of your new language sites – that’s laborious. And if (like GoPro did) you decide to launch 6 new language sites in 3 weeks, it is mountainous.
  • The new graphics need to be uploaded—a new set for each translated site—and each translated site needs to be told how and where to access them (Smartling can do this, but in most cases it isn’t the most elegant solution.)
  • Every time you change an image on the original site, you have to change the corresponding images for all translated sites – quite an undertaking for sites numbering in the double digits.

About Team Smartling

Smartling is a software company with the mission to make the world’s content multilingual.


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