[an error occurred while processing this directive]
The Digital Edge:
Packaging for a Flat World
- International Packaging Design (part 2 of 2)

by Gary Stafford, President, Lazer Incorporated

May 2007

Recommend this article
More Articles by Gary Stafford

In this special two-part edition of The Digital Edge, we’ll examine International Packaging Design. In the last edition we looked at how internationalization and localization affects package design. In this edition we’ll examine the technology necessary to design international packaging – software applications, fonts, operating systems, and keyboards.

International Packaging Design

In his 2005 best selling business book, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, author Thomas Friedman reminded us that all companies, big and small, have the ability to sell their products and services, globally. Companies like Microsoft, Gerber, PepsiCo, Sony, and Nestlé, market their products all over the world. In order to do so, these companies design unique localized packaging based on the region and its cultures.

Packaging Design Software

Designing packaging for many foreign markets requires the use of localized versions of software applications, fonts, operating systems, and keyboards. Purchasing, configuring, and correctly applying this combination of software and hardware can be complex and expensive.

Design Software

Adobe Illustrator CS2 has the ability to set Japanese characters vertically, from right-to-left. This example is shown in the English version of Illustrator CS2.

Many versions of popular software applications are designed for specific writing systems and languages. A writing system is a type of unique symbolic system used to represent elements or statements expressible in language. Examples of unique writing systems include Roman (or Latin), Cyrillic, Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, and East Asian, also known as CJK (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean), or CJKV (includes Vietnamese).

Language Support

WinSoft’s version of Adobe Illustrator CS2 ME is customized to support Middle Eastern writing systems with such features as right-to-left (RTL) text direction.

A language is a system of words and rules for their use in speaking, reading, and writing. Language uses a particular writing system. English, French, Italian, and Spanish, for example, are all based on the Latin writing system. Adobe currently markets numerous language-specific versions of many of its popular software applications, such as Illustrator and InDesign CS2. Localized versions include Universal English, Brazilian Portuguese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish, Traditional and Simplified Chinese, and Korean.

With support of its software development partner WinSoft SA (www.winsoft.eu), Adobe also markets a Central European (CE) version that supports the Cyrillic and Greek writing systems and a Middle Eastern (ME) version that supports the Arabic and Hebrew writing systems. The CE and ME versions support non-Roman letter spacing, justification, and bidirectional text flow from both right-to-left and left-to-right. Right-to-left text is a major difference between Roman and Middle Eastern writing systems.

Thanks to the universal nature of Adobe’s products, each localized version of the software generally can work with files created in other versions. So, a French version of InDesign can open a file created in an Italian version, and so forth. In addition, you can associate different areas of text within a single document with separate language dictionaries. A Universal English version of InDesign CS2,
could display, spell check, and properly hyphenate both Spanish and French, in addition to English, within the same file on a trilingual package. InDesign currently ships with 28 language dictionaries.


Fonts are similarly-styled alphabets of individual letters, numerals, and punctuation marks, also referred to as characters. Digital fonts store an electronic representation of each character in a standardized encoding format. Glyphs (or logograms), are specialized characters used in CJK writing systems. Unlike normal characters, glyphs represent syllables, sounds, ideas, words, or a combination of
these qualities.

Microsoft’s Arial Unicode MS font

Microsoft’s Arial Unicode MS font is 22 MB and contains more than 50,000 glyphs, including full fonts for Roman, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Arabic, and Hebrew, plus all the different symbols and character ranges.

Similar to software applications, most of the major digital font manufactures, such as Adobe, Bitstream, LinoType, and ITC, produce a variety of fonts for the major writing systems: Roman (Latin), Cyrillic, Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, and CJK. These fonts support both the Windows and Macintosh platforms, using a variety of font technologies: PostScript, TrueType, and OpenFace.

Modern fonts store character data in a single unified encoding system called Unicode. Unicode gives computers the ability to deal with the enormous amount of characters required to set copy in so many languages. Unicode as an industry standard designed to allow text and symbols from all of the writing systems of the world to be consistently represented and manipulated by computers. While some languages can be defined by a few hundred characters, others like the Japanese language, which is actually three separate languages, require many thousands of characters. Unicode has the potential to store more than one million individual characters.

Unicode-based fonts can contain characters for more than one writing system and language. Many of Adobe’s newest OpenType Pro fonts, for example, contain Roman, Cyrillic, and Greek characters, in addition to special accent characters for many Central and Eastern
European languages.

Operating System

The majority of designers use operating systems from Apple and Microsoft. According to Apple’s website, the current version of Apple’s Macintosh OS X Tiger operating system supports the Unicode 4.0 standard. Tiger ships with localized versions of 17 different languages with broad support for a dozen more. With all those choices, you don’t have to purchase separate copies of the operating system if you’re multilingual.

Likewise, Microsoft’s recently released operating system, Vista, with its Multilingual User Interface (MUI) and support for the new Unicode 5.0 standard, is fully multi-language capable with built-in enablement infrastructure for over 130 languages. MUI is a technology for providing localized user interface to international users. According to Microsoft, users of different languages can share the same workstation, and roaming users can move their localized user interface from one workstation to another.For instance, one user might choose to see system menus, dialog boxes, and other text in Japanese, while another user logging onto the same operating system might prefer Danish.

Input Method Editor Pad

Microsoft provides several helpful methods for inputting East Asian characters, including the Input Method Editor (IME) Pad.


In addition to localized versions of software, fonts, and operating systems, manufacturers also make languagespecific character keyboards and keytop labels. The keyboards or keytop labels are mapped to the computer operating system’s language-specific character layouts. The localized versions of design software and fonts are also mapped to the operating system. Everything works together – keyboard, operating system, application, and fonts.

input of East Asian characters

Similar to Microsoft, Apple’s operating system has many tools for the input of East Asian characters, including the Character Palette.

Getting Started

A professional translation service is a good place to start. They can often recommend the easiest way to work with multiple languages and translations on your computer. Many current computers and software applications are already multi-language capable and localized versions of software, fonts, and keyboards are not cheap. Do your research, get advice from the experts, and find out what
you need to produce packaging for your particular targeted foreign markets.


Gary Stafford is the President of Lazer Incorporated. As a premier graphic communications provider, Lazer specializes in digital imaging, design and mechanical layout, electronic prepress, catalog and packaging development, Digital Asset Management (DAM) and service, service, service.

Email: garys@lazerinc.com
Company Profile: Lazer Incorporated
Company URL: http://www.lazerinc.com



Back to Columns page




The adaptation of an object to a locality. A way to adapt products for non-native environments (source: www.reference.com).

The rendering of a text into another language (source: www.reference.com).

Writing System
A type of symbolic system used to represent elements or statements expressible in language (source:

There are many good resources available to learn more about
international packaging design:
Arial Unicode MS

Font World: Adobe CS2-ME Middle Eastern Software Center

Globalization Step-by-Step - Input Language: Keyboards and IMEs

InDesign and World Languages, Part 1 and Part 2

Multilingual Windows OEM,
Translation Software & language Keyboards

Mac OS X Tiger International Support

PackageDesign07 Conference & Exposition

Small World: Multilingual publishing with Adobe InDesign CS

WinSoft SA: Design, development, localization and publishing of global software

WorldLingo Language Translation Services

Search Albany, Buffalo, Hudson Valley, Rochester, Southern Tier, Syracuse Translation Services