How to Work with Scribus’s Graphical Document Layout

ScribusScribus is a great Open Source application — available for Windows, Mac and Linux — that’s used to lay out pages for brochures, calendars, books and professional-quality PDF documents. It’s a pretty impressive app, so I thought I’d give you the lowdown on putting it into action.

It’s a full-featured page layout program much like Adobe InDesign. It supports the concept of manipulating objects on the page, so there might be a slight learning curve for users who use word processing programs like LibreOffice for page layout. I’ve even used Scribus to produce a couple of full-color magazines using the HP Magcloud service, which requires a PDF file as input.

Before you download Scribus, save yourself some aggravation and make sure you have a modern, fast notebook with plenty of memory and a current version of a mainstream Linux distribution.

The easiest way to install Scribus is through your favorite package manager. Once you have it on your computer, bookmark its documentation as a handy reference. Scribus is available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Page Layout With Scribus

Start your graphical page by opening a new file using a document pop-up menu item located on the main tool bar.

Choose the single-page layout. Page layout programs perform operations on objects. You work and view the objects through frames. There are graphics frames, text frames, and so on.

Basic page layouts usually include placing images, text and shapes. Below I’ll take you through each of these.

Insert An Image Frame

Click the “insert” button on the main tool bar, and then select the “image frame” item. Drag a box over the spot where you want to place your image.

Immediately, right click and select “get image” on the menu. Select the directory and your desired graphic. Click OK to confirm.

After the graphic loads, right click to show the pop-up menu. Then click away on these items:

  • Select the “properties” item
  • Select the “image” tab
  • Click the “scale to frame size” radio button
  • Use the “proportional” radio button to keep the current height x width ratio.
  • Right click the image again, then click the “frame to image size” button. The red outline box will disappear.
  • Your images should now be completely visible and fit into the frame.

Buddy up to the properties box — it’s one of your best friends. You’ll use it constantly to adjust the image size, height and width, position on the page, border lines and colors, text and so on. Leave it displayed and the properties will shift to each new object as you select them.

Whenever you place objects on a page, you’ll need to use levels. In Scribus, levels act like layers in other graphics programs, like GIMP. Levels move objects up and down in the layer stack. Lower numbered objects appear in front and higher numbers move to the back, perhaps hiding them altogether.

Always use TIFF files for graphics. Avoid using JPG or other lossy formats whenever you can. The best bet is to convert JPGs to TIFFs using GIMP, which is available in nearly every Linux distribution. Artwork should be in SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) format.

Insert A Text Frame

Left click on the text frame button and drag a box into the area where you’d like your text to appear. Then double left click in the box to add your text. You can also right click the box and select the “edit text” menu item to display the “story editor” pop-up box.

Using the story editor, you can change any number of your text’s aspects. It’s the preferred method of editing because you can control text properties much better than when editing right on the page. The down side is that changes to fonts aren’t visible in the story editor, and won’t take effect on the page until the green “activation” check mark is highlighted.

Highlight the text in the story editor, then select the change you want to make. Don’t forget to hit the green check mark to save the changes. To make sure the changes have been made, review the text frame.

There are a couple of cool text effects in the story editor. The text outline is marked with an “O,” and the shadow is marked with an “S.” When you use these effects with large text sizes, 60 point and above, they make titles really stand out on the page.

Add Shapes And Lines

The “insert” button on the main tool bar includes selections for shapes, lines, tables, polygons and freehand lines.

Add shapes to your layout using the same process you did for adding graphics and text frames. The “shapes” button appears in the very middle of the top icon menu bar and is indicated with a picture of a square. Left click on the attached arrow to show the shape menu. You can choose squares, circles, arrows, triangles and so on.

Lines are drawn by left clicking the line button. Move the mouse to the starting position of the line, left click and hold the mouse button. Move the mouse to the line end position and release to complete the line creation process.

Finally, move and re-size images, shapes and lines using their handles. Access to the properties and level menus are facilitated through right clicking on the object.

Object Editing By The Numbers

As in other graphics programs, you position objects simply by grabbing and moving them to their new position. Scribus provides extremely precise positioning and sizing through the properties menu. In many cases, this is the preferred method of editing an object.

To bring up the menu, right click on the object. Then select “properties” to move or size objects in increments up to 4 decimal points. One great trick is to click on the appropriate value (like X-Pos), hold down the SHIFT button and spin the mouse wheel to change the value in 1/10th inch increments. Use CTRL and SHIFT together for 1/100th inch bumps.

Don’t forget to periodically save your work to an .SLA (default for Scribus) file.

Export your page using the “Export” then “Save As PDF” options under the main File tab.
Always use the “print preview” to find blank objects on your pages. Blank image and text frames frequently cause problems if you want to send your file to a service like Magcloud. Find and delete them.

Wrap Up

We’ve only scratched the surface of publishing with Scribus.

Some of the more exotic things you can do with Scribus include making images transparent, importing LibreOffice Draw files, inserting an image across a two-page layout and running user-defined scripts. One last tip: Take a look at “Manage Images” under the “Extras” tab. It helps you track your images and where they are used in your document.

You’ll want to spend a week or two exploring the capabilities of Scribus. GIMP, a common Linux-based graphics editor, also produces some great headings and accents that you can use to jazz up your pages even more.

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