Los Angeles InDesign User Group

Right-to-Left Typesetting and Design in InDesign

Thursday, August 15, 2019

General Assembly, 1520 2nd Street, Santa Monica, California 90401

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By Alvin Takamori


Normally, the Los Angeles InDesign User Group meets every other month. However we held an extra meeting between months because a presenter and topic we had sought were both finally available.


And so it came to pass that Rachel Mendelson spoke on right-to-left typesetting at General Assembly in Santa Monica on Auguist 15, 2019. Rachel is a graphic designer who lived and worked in Israel before moving to Los Angeles, where she has continued to focus on bilingual projects.


She began by posing the following question, “Why study foreign language typesetting?”  It’s all around us even if we don’t immediately notice it. For example: on trash cans that seek separation of items, welcome signs, in political campaigns, medical forms and documents.


Then Rachel shared her extensive knowledge of Middle Eastern languages. She mentioned five languages: Hebrew, Arabic, Yiddish, Farsi and Urdu. In contrast to English, these are written from right to left.


Hebrew started out as a spoken-only language. It was never written. Aramaic was written. Biblical (written) Hebrew is different. Aramaic had an influence on the creation of written Hebrew – that was first used for writing down the Bible. Over time, the Biblical version was used less and less. To revive the language, a modern version was created in the 1930’s. Among the changes was the addition of punctuation and numbers. Numbers used to be spelled out, but the modern version allowed the use of actual numeric digits, which unlike the rest of the language, are read left to right.


So now there are five different writing styles for Hebrew. The Torah Style also called “STAM” which is an abbreviation for it’s three uses: Torah books (Sefarim), Tefilin, and Mezzuzot (doorpost prayer). The second is Rashi Style which is based on 15th century Sephardic semi-cursive handwriting which is only used in Bibles for commentary by Rashi and a few others. (although Rashi did not write this way) The third is Religious Style which is used in Jewish prayer books, ketuba and other religious documents like marriage certificates and invitations. Fourth is the Modern Print Style which is widely used for Hebrew printed communication, and fifth is the Modern Cursive Style which is the handwritten style of the Jewish world.


InDesign has a special Middle Eastern (ME) version for these languages. It looks and behaves exactly the same as regular InDesign except for a few added options that pop in a couple of places. For instance, under Type you have the option to Insert Special ME character. In the Paragraph Style window, you can choose Middle East Character and Right to Left for Character Direction.


When it comes to Hebrew fonts, apparently you get what you pay for. There is a free font called “David,” but Rachel did not like it. It doesn’t have any vowels, and the kerning is poor, so some diacritical marks run into characters. Hebrew has a lot of diacritical symbols. There are marks above the characters indicating pitch when reading texts for cantillation. There can also be dots below called Nikkud. These indicate vowels, which adults don’t need, but are added to help children read. All these marks add to the complexity of kerning Hebrew characters. This is also why a well-designed Hebrew font takes considerable effort to create. Of course, this effort is not cheap, so expect to pay for a good font.


Rachel recommended that if you use Middle Eastern languages 5% of the time or more, go ahead and acquire the ME version of InDesign. The Arabic fonts that come with InDesign are okay. However, if you need Hebrew, she highly recommends investing in good fonts. She likes Master Font and Font Bit as sources for Hebrew fonts. She showed us a few examples of font families she liked.


The talk concluded with a few questions and answers. After that, we had our usual raffle prize extravaganza.



Farthest Attendee Prize Winner


Mighty Deals—Lauren Hale



Raffle Prize Winners


Adobe Creative Cloud. 12 month subscription—Lucy Hawkins

Q2ID from Markzware. 12 month subscription—Lucy Hawkins

Expo Creative Asset Manager for Mac from Insider Software—DeShawn Burton

Suitcase Fusion 8 from Extensis. 12 month subscription—Meliva Koch

Font Agent Pro 8 from Insider SoftwareLucy Hawkins

InMotion Hosting. Web hosting and free domain—DeShawn Burton

DTP Tools Cloud for InDesign. 6 month subscription—Alan Gilbertson

Multi-Find/Change 3.0 from Automatication—Joanne Abensour

Adobe Stock. 15 image licenses—Joanne Abensour

LA Web Professionals Group meeting ticketsLucy Hawkins, Rachel Mendelson, Laurel, Paley


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