Screen capture localization is an arduous exercise that requires much more than pressing the “Print Screen” key. Yet if a picture tells a thousand words, just imagine the usefulness of screen capture-rich user documentation! Users love screen captures in user guides, because they make for a seamless transition from the User Interface (UI) to the written document. Screen captures are as a result widely published in software, automation controls and medical device documentation, any time there is a UI.

Back to screen capture localization and the head-scratching it can involve.  The hurdle can be jumped in different ways – we have listed the ones we use below, along with their pros and cons, to help you chose the method that works best for you. We assume in each case that you manage the screen captures in a CMS and the screen captures are linked, not embedded.

 1. Generate the screen captures in each language

This method is the cleanest: you generate the screen captures in each target language  and manage them in your CMS or file system. The beauty of this solution is that the screen captures in the guide match exactly the interface. There are no discrepancies in terminology, color or layout. There is one major drawback: the time and stringent process required to capture the screens. You need to identify, save, often translate the navigation scripts and set up a naming convention for the screen capture files (topic followed by language code for example). The screen captures in the target languages should ideally be generated in house by the Product Management team. The alternative is to outsource the capturing, to your localization company for example. Bear in mind that this requires providing the localized software (or the access to it if it is web-based), training the staff tasked with capturing the screens and creating appropriate language environments to host and execute the localized software: operating system, emulators and/or hardware.

Localizing screen captures with Hebrew and Arabic

Generating screen captures in each language is recommended when right-to-left languages are used.

  2. Reproduce the screen captures using a drawing or a mock-up tool

150414_vectorized screen capture_opt

An example of a screen capture reproduced using drawing software

In this scenario Microsoft Visio, Adobe Illustrator, InDesign or any other drawing tool can be used to create vector graphics that match the screen displays. The label texts, check-boxes, radio-texts, etc. are typed in vectorial text fields. Using either the original drawing tool or computer-aided translation tools, the translator accesses the text fields and overwrites the source language texts with the target language. There are two advantages to this method: localization can begin before the final build of the software, so you reduce time to market; you also save time as you generate only one series of screen captures. The flip side is that the target language terminology, colors, resolution or layout of the screen captures may not match the actual software screens. The software is translated independently from the screen captures, so you might read “disengage motor” on the software interface and “disable motor” in the user guide screen capture. You can maximize the efficiency of this method by supplying your localization provider with the software term bases for the current software release and freezing the software changes once captures are localized.

3. Leave the screen captures in the source language and translate the text in the body

This last method is the least time-consuming to localize screen captures: all it requires is saving them in the source language and linking them as images. The screen captures are translated either in a captions zone under the image, or straight in the instructions. For software that is regularly updated or where DTP workload is critical, it is the most practical method, as the screen captures are linked and updated once for all the target languages. The links don’t need to be updated or adapted to each locale. As far as the reader is concerned, it is unfortunately the least comfortable method, as his eye must navigate between his computer screen, the screen capture and the text body.

This is what localized instructions in French would look like for this screen capture :

Localization of screen capture Option 1: you translate the software into French:
Sous Verrouillé par (Locked by), sélectionner moi (me) ou autres (others).
Terminology consistency between the screen captures and the software can be insured if you provide the software term bases.
Option 2: you leave the software in the source language: Sous Locked By (verrouillé par), sélectionner me (moi) ou others (autres)


Whichever solution you opt for, there is no quick-and-easy way out of screen capture localization. What have your joys and frustrations been in managing it? Have you come up with other methods than these?