Typesetting 101

Back in the olden days, so-called sorts or types – which represented individual letters and symbols – were selected and placed in a form one by one to make up a page. The aptly named typesetters specialised in this onerous task.

With the advent of the digital era, the manual aspect of the job has gotten a bit simpler, however, this does not mean that anyone could do it. If you want the best results, you’ll need specialist typesetters!

What do typesetters do?

Typesetters, who nowadays are often called DTP or “desktop publishing” specialists, work with dedicated software used only for the purpose of arranging the text in its final layout and preparing the layout for publication. In the case of translated documents this would most often mean using the original layout and replacing the source language text with the target language text and making sure that everything is where it should be.

Working with a specialised typesetter

It may sound easy to simply take the source text and insert the corresponding target text, right? All you need is the software! Well, we would advise against this practice and would suggest only using professional typesetters for this task.

First of all, the typesetter would be able to advise on differences in how files would need to be prepared for digital and printed publications.

Then there is the question of language. Typesetters are often speakers of the target language and/or are knowledgeable when it comes to language-specific rules in layout. There are some languages that read from right to left (such as Arabic, for example), and sometimes the pages need to be flipped so that they read from “back” to “front” (again, Arabic is good example). An experienced and professional typesetter will know these and will know what setting need to be changed in the software to achieve these results.

Typesetters are also able to advise on appropriate fonts, for example when your preferred font is not available for a given language that uses another script or has special characters (e.g. Thai, Japanese or Russian), they can provide you with some guidance for finding a font type that has a similar look or has the same feel as the original.

Recipe for success

When you work with First Edition’s team, you can rest assured that the typeset document will be ready to go to the printers’ or be published online without you having to make further corrections or changes to it.

This is because we have a super recipe for success: our typesetters work closely with our translators, editors and proofreaders to ensure that the final text is in perfect shape. It might come as a surprise but the same text might take up more or less space in another language than in English. In those cases when we have some excess text, our typesetters can follow instructions from the translator who can reword the section in question without losing any information or changing the meaning to make sure that everything fits nicely.

Last but not least, our in-house Project Manager looking after your project also meticulously checks your documents for any inconsistencies before they are sent back to you.


We hope that this short introduction could answer some of your questions about typesetting. If you have any questions or would like to discuss a project with us, please do not hesitate to get in touch via email: translations@firstedit.co.uk.