lenny - 2005-04-26

Welcome to Scribus, the opensource app that is on our radar this week, worth of tutorial release. This brief description explains by itself whats this app for and once you finish move to the primer tutorial at


Scribus Basics
Why DTP is different from Word Processing

What can you do with Scribus? What is a "page layout" program? Among other types of docs, you can create PDF documents like this one.

Fundamentally, Scribus is not a word processor. This is a very important concept to understand. Scribus belongs to the family of applications known as page layout programs or more commonly known as Desktop Publishing programs. Scribus gives users great flexibility in placing objects like images, logos etc. in the exact place where you want them. This short guide is meant to give a first time user a sense of what Scribus can do. It is not meant to cover every feature, just a simple over view to get you started and being productive.

With Scribus you can:

    * Create great looking documents including things like CD covers, greeting cards, company brochures, newsletters and posters.
    * Create files which will print easily at your commercial printer.
    * Create interactive PDF forms and presentation documents. What is interactive PDF? Your looking at one. Interactive PDFs have special features like hyperlinks, annotations or non-printing notes, bookmarks - a kind of an automatically created index for your PDF, as well as special navigation features - just like a web browser.
    * Create logo and drawings within Scribus using easy to use tools including the ability to create neat font effects.
    * Import photos and other artwork with high fidelity printing and precise color control.

First the Theory - The Right Approach

First time users of DTP applications like Scribus can be very frustrated at first. The interface seems approachable and familiar enough, but when you start out things do not quite work as expected. Do not make the mistake of launching Scribus, opening a new document and expect to start typing. Making the most of an application like Scribus, requires a bit of understanding of the concepts within "workflow" in the DTP world. It might seem a bit arcane at first, but will pay off in the end.

Part of the challenge of learning Scribus is you are often not just trying to learn a program, but learning DTP, which has its own little rules. There are subtle differences from word processors or other text editors. Fortunately, Scribus comes with its own built-in story editor. Using this instead of editing on the canvas, understanding the setup and application of styles will greatly enhance your productivity, as well as providing you with more consistent, easier to edit documents.

Workflow, means in the DTP world a way of assembling both the files to be used, but also some forethought on where and how your document will be printed or used. If for example, you were planning on creating a brochure for your business, you certainly would want to have it commercially printed. Thus, you would be sadly mistaken if you thought you could take the low resolution jpegs from your website and use them in Scribus directly. Web and print have two different objectives. Graphics used on a website are almost always unusable for commercial printing. You need much higher resolution graphics. File size should almost always be secondary to image quality when considering commercial print needs.

A Simple DTP Workflow:

   1. Make a simple sketch on paper of the basic layout.. This helps to visualize how to mix text, artwork and images.
   2. Get images collected as needed, preferably high 200dpi or more saved as TIFFs or PNG. Get your artwork (illustrations or line art in a suitable import format. SVG is usually the best option.
   3. Write out the text in a word processor or text editor. Spell check, double check grammar etc.
   4. Collect all these files in a project directory and start building your document in Scribus.

In a commercial setting, this might be far more complex. In my experience, using similar methods will allow the planning and structure tothe planning and structure make sense and greatly enhances productivity.

Lastly, Workflow similarly takes into consideration the many options when exporting PDF or printing. There are extensive notes about this in the chapter PDF Export. Scribus has many advanced printing features, which are atypical of desktop applications. Make sure Tool Tips are enabled, to get general guidance and/or read the Printing Section carefully to understand the options.

For first time users, I would encourage you to launch Scribus while looking through some of the latter parts of the documentation, especially some of the sections on more advanced topics. Read everything once thoroughly. Make notes on what you do not understand, then post your questions to the mailing list or IRC.

Before diving into a project, sometimes the best thing is to put the computer aside, get out a sketch pad and make a simple drawing how you want the doc to appear. I too have rediscovered pen and paper. On a recent vacation, lacking a computer at times, I discovered my lack of writing by hand has lead to very poor penmanship. Results, I wrote 8 complete pages in an afternoon, more than I might write in three nights. Why? Because, I could only concentrate on content. I suggest you do the same. Scribus's real magic is the ability to assemble all the bits at the end to create your masterpiece.

So, if text is going to be a big part of your document, start your favorite text editor or word processor and compose the text first. This way you can concentrate on content. This is where word processors sometimes work against you... Note how often you can be distracted by editing done to affect the look, instead of the content. (I'm guilty too.) I need not preach to the choir and explain the benefits of saving plain unformatted text. This, in the Unix/Linux world is a given, but for migrating Windows/Mac users may not be the usual habit. Save plain text, you will be happy about this some day. For now, this is the preferred method and more advanced importers are in the works as I write.

Next, you will need to consider drawings, photos, tables etc., which might be a part of your doc.

Bitmap Images like photos come from the GIMP, Corel Photopaint, Adobe Photoshop or similar. They could also be images from a digital camera or a scanner application like Xsane or Gphoto. Bitmap images are composed of pixels or dots, typically compressed in a file format like Jpeg, TIFF, PNG or bmp. For images in Scribus, I prefer and recommend either PNG for things like screen captures or TIFFs. TIFFs are generally very reliable in DTP and should be chosen of any kind of high resolution photos.

Vector Drawings or illustrations, come from applications like Inkscape, Sodipodi, Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, Sketch, or Xfig. These generate line drawings and other artwork which is kept in a vector format in ways which preserve their appearance at any scale. The preferred way to import them into Scribus is via EPS (Encapsulated Post Script) or via SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) The advantage of SVG is Scribus imports this into native editable objects and can re-edit almost every features in SVG. The importer can import almost every type of SVG from the W3C test suite, excepting multimedia features and scripted actions for Win32 plug-ins in a browser.

One other way you can import files into Scribus is via PDF. Scribus will use Ghostscript to create a high resolution image with a lower resolution file for preview on screen. This is more appropriate for drawings and images versus text. If you need just the text from a PDF, you can open in Adobe Acrobat Reader and copy and paste from the clipboard. Note: you can only import one page of a PDF at a time, and you cannot yet edit imported PDFsnor can you edit PDFs created with another application.

Once you have assembled all these bits, it is time to begin working in Scribus. For previous users of desktop publishing, launching Scribus for the first time will seem comfortable and familiar.