Multilingual Design – typesetting Arabic translations
(and other right-to-left languages)

Multilingual Design – typesetting Arabic translations </br>(and other right-to-left languages)

Arabic is probably the most widely translated right-to-left (RTL) language (the other major ones include Urdu, Hebrew, Farsi and Kurdish), Arabic is an official language in 26 countries and spoken by over 420 million people, so it should be no surprise if your international clients require translation and right-to-left typesetting at some point.

As we shared in our recent blog post on multilingual typesetting, handling right-to-left typesetting can add a few extra hurdles to the process. It’s not just a simple question of translating text into Arabic, inserting it into your design and clicking “align right”. Without the right software setup, your text could appear backwards, jumbled, or even corrupted.

Here, we share a few tips to consider before sending your text for translation into Arabic.


Your translation service provider will reverse your publication to create a mirror image of your original leaflet. This means that the spine of the booklet will be on the right-hand side, columns will run from right-to-left and images will be moved to the opposite side of each page to produce a mirror image of the layout and text direction.

Tip: If you require elements to stay exactly as they are in the English – for example, the position of logos on the cover to match your branding guidelines – let your translation service provider know so that they can take this into account before reversing the design.


Arabic is written from right-to-left using Naskh style script. If your original document is created using a specialist font, it may not support right-to-left languages and therefore must be replaced with an Arabic font — licences for this may need to be purchased separately.

Many commonly used fonts such as Helvetica Neue and Frutiger have Arabic equivalents – but as with every font in Latin script, they all have a different feel depending on the font chosen.

Standard Microsoft fonts such as Times, Arial and Calibri will work fine with Arabic as long as you have Arabic support enabled on your system.

Arabic Numerals

Although Arabic text is read from right to left, the figures are read from left to right, even if they are in the middle of a paragraph. If your document is not set up properly, you may end up with mixed-up numbers that could have serious ramifications — for example, a medicine dosage written as 51 ml instead of 15 ml.

Right phone number: 0203 112 334
Wrong phone number: 224 211 0203

Just to make matters more confusing, the digits we use in English are called Arabic digits, and digits that look like Arabic digits are called Hindi digits. You also have the third option of Farsi digits.

Tip: Make sure to double check the figures on the final product to be safe!

We’re here to help

If you haven’t had any previous experience of right-to-left typesetting it probably sounds like a daunting task. We’d say that it’s an exciting journey of discovery, learning about different writing styles and exploring the intricacies of typesetting, but that’s just us!

We appreciate that you might not have time to become an expert overnight, especially if you only have occasional right-to-left typesetting needs, so keep these tips in mind as you prepare your documents, and then let us handle the tricky bits!

, , ,

Back to top