How to create a Zine on Linux

Like many serious photographers today, we want to see our work printed, regardless of whether we are serious amateurs or professionals.

I am old fashioned perhaps, but pixels on a screen just does not seem the same as a printed book or sleeved photo album. As an analogue shooter, when I get back from a holiday, I’ll usually get all the negatives printed even just as 6×5″ prints and I put them in an album, despite having them scanned too. Why? Because there’s nothing better or more nostalgic than sitting down with family or close friends and flicking through an album from a few years ago.

However, it is true that that mechanism is quite expensive. These days though, you can have really great quality “photo books” or “zines” produced by companies like Magcloud for not a lot of money. My most recent zine “London By Night” which is a small collection of some of my better London at night photography is printed and posted for a little shy of £30. And the quality is really nice. Is it as good as a series of darkroom prints? No.  Is it as good as a series of 20 Giclee prints done by my pro lab. No. But is there much between them? No – not enough to justify a price fold of probably 4 or 5.

And whilst this article will be of limited appeal because most photographers today use digital and\or Windows operating systems combined with Adobe Lightroom or similar commercial products, there are those of us who shoot film and use Linux. And those photographers may be wondering “How do I create a Zine or Photobook on Linux?“.

I will share my experience. Very recently I had about 180 high resolution scanned images of medium format film from my “Our Family in Coronavirus Quarantine” project. I wanted to use the 12″ square MagCloud template for this, which is basically a square formatted document file that the user populates with photographs and text and then saves (exports) as a PDF, which s\he then uploads to MagCloud. This is simple enough for a few photos. However, things get awkward when you have many dozen, or even hundreds.

Why is this? Well many readers will know that the office suite on Linux is the superb LibreOffice (also available on Mac OS and Windows by the way). It’s an amazing suite that I have used for over 15 years for writing letters to my MSc thesis. The equivalent to Microsoft Word is LibreOffice Writer, which is what I use the most. But, Writer, sadly, does not have the most blossoming reputation for handling lots of embedded objects, especially if they are all on the same page. Alignment is awkward but more critically the scrolling is horrid once you have 5 or 6 large picture files embedded in one page, or page after page. And I have a powerful PC!

So I sought an alternative means for creating my zine. I resorted to the very famous desktop publishing tool called “Scribus“. With Scribus, it is easy to recreate the template as required by MagCloud, enter your objects at pace and then export as PDF. After all, it is a desktop publishing tool! Best of all, it is available Linux, OSX and Windows too, just like LibreOffice is. I show you how to use it to create a zine below.

  1. Install Scribus at the terminal (or you can use your package manager GUI) : sudo apt-get install scribus
  2. Launch Scribus from the menu or via terminal
  3. When you are invited to create a new document, choose “Custom” in the “Size“, set the size values to suit the desired template requirement. So if it is a 12″ square page that you require, setting the width and height to 882 pt should equate roughly to 12” square (I checked this by uploading a two page template to MagCloud and it all looked great and got green ticks, though please check this yourself before going to any effort!). Also set the margins for left, right top and bottom, noting that the left margin needs to be around 45pt, with the others being 27 each. UPDATE : If you look in the “Options” window, middle right, you can change the units in “Default Unit” from “Points” to mm, cm, inches, or whatever you prefer. So better to choose “inches” and then set width and height to 12″ (or whatever your required size is).  You can also change this globally for an entire document later on via “File –> Document Setup“, “Apply settings to :” and then tick “All Document Pages”.
Creating new Scribus document to suit MagCloud 12

Creating new Scribus document to suit MagCloud 12″ square template

You can also the edit page layout afterwards via the “Page” and then “Properties” menu option :

Scribus page width and height for Magcloud 12

Scribus page width and height for Magcloud 12″ template

4. Now you have a square page with margins that comply with the MagCloud template requirement. The next step is to decide on your picture layout. One photo per page? 4 photos per page? Two photos per page? And so on. I decided that most of my pages would hold 4 square images, with the odd page containing one large square image. So I then inserted one “Image Frame” which you can access either via “Insert –> Insert Image Frame” or by pressing ‘I’. What you need to do then is make it the size you want, and if you are using lots of images, you can then copy and paste. For example, I wanted each of my images to be 380 pt square. So in the properties for my first image frame, I made 380pt wide and 380pt high. I then positioned it top left. I then copied it (by selecting it and then just doing Ctrl +C)  and pasted it 3 times, which stacks the copy on top of the original. I then just drag the top one to the right. The next one bottom left. And the next one bottom right, so that I now have one page with 4 image frames that are waiting for images as follows :

Scribus page with 4 image frames

Scribus page with 4 image frames

5. The next step is to roughly work out how many pages of 4 images you will need. So if you have 84 finished images that you have selected for your album, simply divide 84 by 4 = 21. So, next step is copy your base page another 20 times, so you have a 21 page layout. This is easily done. Go to “Page –> Copy” and it comes up with a smart dialog window that tells you from which page you want to start the copy FROM, and the HOW MANY times. So just enter “20” in the field and hit go.

Duplicate a page easily in Scribus

Duplicate a page easily in Scribus

So now your 12″ square page, with margins, and with 4 image frames of a specific size, all suitably positioned has been copied 20 times. Now all you have to do is insert your images into each frame. Again, this is easy.

6. Simply left click each frame one at a time, press “Ctrl + I” (or right click and choose ‘Get Image‘), navigate to your image and click OK. Scribus will remember the location of your last inserted image too, which is helpful if all your images are in the same folder. By default, the image will be sized larger than your image frame. Simply now right click the frame and choose “Adjust Image to Frame“, and Scribus will re-size your image to the frame. Note it does not resize the original image on disk; it just scales it non-destructively within your view of the document of Scribus. And when you come to export it, it copies the image on disk to RAM and resizes it into the PDF. This is why your Scribus file (sla) will be very small even when you have dozens of 10Mb JPEG images “in it”! This step is where it is important to think through your design before you start. If all your images are 35mm rectangular images, you don’t want to use square frames. So make sure you size your frames to start with the correct size for your image format. As I shoot with a Hasselblad 6×6, all my images are square. So this method works will for me. It might not be right for you. Think before you build!

Then you can add some text fields if you want and all the usual trimmings. And of course you can always delete any blocks of 4 image frames and replace with just one big one, so long as the image DPI resolution is sufficiently high enough to render at least 150dpi when printed 12″ square.

7. Then simply export as PDF, choosing whatever compression options you may want. MagCloud has a 300Mb upload limit, so I use the lowest compression I can get away with without breaching that 300Mb limit. Then just login to MagCloud, create a new project and upload your PDF. Simples.

8. UPDATED ADDITION : My zine was 1.7Gb, even with compression. So I resorted to using Blurb (which I think are integrated\merged\owned (?) with Magcloud) who have a 2Gb limit instead. Upon uploading, they warn about using Scribus due to fonts but when you export your PDF from Scribus, in the “Fonts” tab there are some fields and buttons to embed your used fonts and also to outline them. So use those, then export the PDF. You’ll still get the warnings from Blurb, but Blurb accepted by 12″ square zine and it is ready to print. 

There you have it – how to create a Zine on Linux efficiently, easily, quickly, and for free. There are other ways of course, but I can’t be bothered to write about them all! This was just one method that works for me, but I will be happy to hear other suggestions from you, dear reader, if you have the time and inclination to comment below.

Finished zine ready for export from Scribus