Getting started with Korean typesetting

Korean is the language of both South and North Korea, as well as being one of the two official languages in Yanbian Autonomous Prefecture in northeastern China. The script used for writing Korean is know as Hangul in South Korea and Chosongul in North Korea, although it is the same native script dating back to the 15th century. Unlike Chinese, each character expresses a sound, with the sounds combining to form words much like in European languages such as Italian. Korean uses spaces to separate words.

Many linguists have enthused over Hangul, describing it as “remarkable” and “the most perfect phonetic system devised”. Hangul has a partly featural design: that is, the shapes of the letters are related to the sounds they represent. Consonants are based on the shape of the mouth and tongue in the production of that sound. Vowels are built from vertical or horizontal lines so that they are easily distinguishable from consonants.

Korean typesetting in InDesign

In common with Chinese and Japanese, Korean usually needs special software to ensure correct composition. eg at the time of writing, Korean text characters will appear correctly in InDesign “out of the box”, but need a plugin or the “Far Eastern” version of InDesign for sentences to be composed and spaced correctly. Provided Unicode fonts are used throughout (and why wouldn’t they be), there should be no problems with getting the characters to appear correctly. For a wider range of fonts than the basic system ones, buy online or use a professional Korean typesetter.

Traditionally Korean was written vertically, but writing characters horizontally from left to right is now overwhelmingly prevalent. Korean typesetting fonts often fall into one of three styles: gungche (like a latin brushscript), batang (like a latin serif font), and dotum or gothic (like a latin sans serif font).

The Korean typesetting of a piece of text may run slightly longer than its English equivalent, but rarely enough to present any major design headaches.

Korean typesetting notes

  • Street addresses in Korean are written in the opposite order to the UK/US style. That is, they start with the city and postal code on the first line and work down to the recipicent’s name on the final line.
  • Korean uses “ten thousand” as its base for writing out large numbers unlike the English use of million as the building blocks. So for instance ten million is written as a thousand ten-thousand.
  • Since the Korean war, some differences have started to appear between North and South Korean. An obvious example in written text is that South Korean typesetting uses English-style quote marks while North Korean typesetting uses French-style guillemets.
  • 2 thoughts on “Getting started with Korean typesetting”

    1. World Tools Pro is one plug-in. I believe the manufacturers do warn that it doesn’t contain the full functionality of the CJK composer – that you get with the full CJK version of InDesign – but I doubt this will be a problem with Korean text. I think the cost of the plug in is about £110. As I mention above, you would need a font for any serious typesetting as the fonts with the system tend to be single weight. It’s worth checking on this before committing to any project as these can be expensive, and so only make sense for professional multilingual studios providing a lot of Korean typesetting. It’s an extreme case but DFK Gothic from Linotype is over £500 per weight!

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