Status of Arabic text support in InDesign

Last December, I submitted an article for a Korean quarterly magazine published by the Journalists Association of Korean Language. In it, I included the native forms of a couple of names in Arabic and Persian in the original Arabic script in parentheses. Then I saw that the article had made it to print with the Arabic text completely jumbled, the isolated forms of the letters displayed from left to right as you can see in the image. When I contacted the editor, I was told that it must have happened when the document they sent to the printer was put into InDesign. Then they suggested that for the next volume, I could contribute an article talking about script direction in different writing systems, taking this unfortunate mishap as a jumping-off point (it's a language-themed magazine after all).

It has probably been around two decades since I had access to InDesign and at least a decade since I was active in online typography circles, but I seem to remember that back then InDesign had trouble handling Arabic text correctly out of the box (not that I ever used Arabic text in InDesign myself). But since then I had got used to writing for various media where I could insert Arabic text without worrying if it would be displayed incorrectly – just recently my article appeared in the proceedings of an academic conference which was probably prepared in Microsoft Word or something similar with Arabic text handled flawlessly.

From what I remember and can piece together from various sources on the web, Adobe began supporting an official MENA (Middle East and North African languages) edition for CS6 in 2012; before that, Arabic text support required outside software tools. Is that correct? Would RTL text not have been supported at all natively by InDesign before that?

Assuming that the printer was using a recent but non-MENA edition of InDesign, what would be the most likely reason for the error when copying and pasting from a word processor where the Arabic text was displaying correctly? Could it have been easily fixed by changing some settings without actually having to switch to the MENA edition? I am finding some information about the world-ready composer which would seem to be able to solve the problem, but would appreciate confirmation. I want to make sure I am describing the situation correctly and fairly to Adobe in the new article.

Lastly, I would appreciate any comments that would provide a wider context. Do we have similar issues with other RTL writing systems like Hebrew and Syriac? What about vertical scripts like traditional Mongolian? What is the situation in other Adobe products, or publishing/layout software from other vendors?


  • John Hudson
    John Hudson Posts: 3,017
    InDesign uses multiple layout engines, as well as having a few different versions with features for particular markets. It is possible to correctly display Arabic script within even the non-MENA version of InDesign by ensuring that the ‘World Ready Composer’ is active, but some features needed for text block and paragraph level RTL directionality require use of the MENA version.
  • Jongseong Park
    Thanks, that is what I suspected. For my example, applying the world-ready composer would probably have been enough to avoid the error without having to switch to the MENA edition. Would it be fair to say that this has been the case since CS6 in 2012?