Why Translation Companies Ask for Source Files

As you can imagine, with over 20 years of service in the translation business we have seen all sorts of projects and complex project puzzles. Someone recently asked, what is the number one question or issue your project managers face. Without question, not receiving proper source files is the most common problem.

PDF technology is phenomenal, I would even suggest that it is one of the biggest catalysts in the huge reduction of printed marketing collateral in the marketplace. It is a small miracle that you can take a very large and intricately designed document and compress it down to a small file that can be easily shared by email and at the same time all attributes can be preserved perfectly.

The Couriers, FedEx, and UPS delivery people used to live in our office 20 years ago. We handled an incredible amount of paper proofs all those years ago. Now we simply get a link to a PDF.

The downside is that people tend to think a PDF is a production-ready file. It really isn’t it. Yes, you can export a PDF to an MS Word file and it sort of looks like the original. In some cases, it looks very much like the original. Here is the problem…the resulting MS Word file is full of hard returns in the middle of sentences, errant tags occurring as often as every letter in a word, and so on.

We can’t use that type of file in our translation memory system. In fact, it is irresponsible to do so. If we were to do a project in that format the resulting translation memory would be a mess (useless) and the resulting translation would likely have errors as well.

I overheard my colleague Michelle Christensen explain it to a client like this:

A PDF is like a picture. The negative is like the source file. In order to do anything with it, we need the negative (or the source file). A PDF is like a Polaroid. There is no negative, so we have to re-create it.

I really like this explanation. It gets right to the heart of the issue. In order for us to provide the best possible service, we need to get proper source files.  If we can’t get proper source files we actually need to have our designers recreate the source.


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