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Translating graphics with Paint.NET

Published: December 10, 2009
(Page 1 of 8)

One smart person once said that "a picture is worth a thousand words". As a translator, I can say that this was an exaggeration. I guess it should be something like "on average, a picture is worth a hundred words". Regardless of the actual word count, however, even a few words on a picture are a big challenge for a translator because the translation process is entirely different from translation of a text document.

In this article, you will learn how to use a free image editor called Paint.NET to translate graphics - regular image files (JPEG, PNG, GIF, etc), images in PDF files, and graphics embedded in other documents (e.g. Microsoft Word documents, etc). It will also teach you the principles you can apply with any other image editing software.

Alternatives to using an image editor

One of the common methods of translating graphics is to use your word processor directly. In summary, you create text boxes with the translated text and position them over the original text. This method has several advantages: you use only one tool (i.e. the word processor) and you can easily correct mistakes in the text at any point. However, there are disadvantages: text is difficult to position precisely, it is very difficult to match background color of the text to the color on the original image, there are issues with grouping objects together, etc.

For those of you who are happy using the above approach, bear with me: I hope that after you finish reading this article, you will be able to use both approaches depending on the situation. For those of you who have never tried the above approach or think it is difficult, you should find image editors a lot of fun. And hey, you will also learn how to create a postcard or what not!

Selecting the right tool

Selecting the right image editor is very important. For the purpose of this article, I selected a free program called 'Paint.NET'. Although this program is free, it is very sophisticated and mature and is equally suited for simple and very complex image editing tasks. If you are interested in other tools, check out a comparison matrix at the end of the article.

To install Paint.NET, download a latest version from the program's website. The installer will automatically download and install a correct version of Microsoft .NET Framework which is required by the program. If you want to install Paint.NET on a computer with an unreliable or non-existent internet connection, you will need to download Microsoft .NET Framework separately (the download link is provided in the System Requirements section).

Translation workflow

We will use the following workflow to translate graphics:

  1. Extract image from the document (skip this if you already have a file in a graphical format, e.g. JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, BMP, etc.) and open it in Paint.NET;
  2. Create 2 new layers - one for hiding the original text (we'll call it the mask layer), and another one to hold all translated text (the text layer);
  3. Insert translation into the text layer;
  4. Modify the mask layer to hide the original text and match the original text background;
  5. Save the file in a graphical format and, optionally, Paint.NET native format (pdn);
  6. Insert the file in the word processor, etc. (skip this step if the original file was already in a graphical format, e.g. JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, BMP, etc.)
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