Scribus: Creating a Layout

Cedric Gemy

January 2011


Scribus 1.3.5: Beginner's Guide

Scribus 1.3.5: Beginner's Guide

Create optimum page layouts for your documents using productive tools of Scribus.

  • Master desktop publishing with Scribus
  • Create professional-looking documents with ease
  • Enhance the readability of your documents using powerful layout tools of Scribus
  • Packed with interesting examples and screenshots that show you the most important Scribus tools to create and publish your documents.
        Read more about this book      

(For more resources on Scribus, see here.)

Creating a new layout

Creating a layout in Scribus means dealing with the New Document window. It is not a complex window but be aware that many things you'll set here will be considered definitive. If these settings look simple or evident, you should consider all these settings as important. Some of them like the page size mean that you already have an idea of the final document, or atleast that you've already made some choices that won't change after it is created. Of course, Scribus will let you change this later if you change your mind, but many things you will have done in the meantime will simply have to be done again.

Time for action – setting page size and paper size and margins

This window is the first that opens when you launch Scribus or when you go to the File | New menu. It contains several options that need to be set.

  1. First among these options will certainly be the page size. In our case, people usually use 54x85mm (USA: 51×89mm). When you type the measurements in the Width and Height fields, the Size option, which contains the common size presets, is automatically switched to Custom.

    Scribus 1.3.5

  2. If you want to use a different system unit, just change the Default Unit value placed below. Usually, we prefer Millimeters (mm), which is quite precise without having too many significant decimals.
  3. Then, you can set the margin for your document. Professional printers are very different from desktop printers as they can print without margins. In fact, consider margins as helpers to place objects. For a small document like a business card, having small 4mm margins will be good.

What just happened?

Some common page sizes are: the series (the ISO standards biggest starting with A0 841x1189, that is 1m², and halving at each half step), the US formats, especially letter (216x279mm), legal (216x356mm), and tabloid (approximately 279x432mm, 11x17in), commonly used in the UK for newspapers.

The best business card size
When choosing the size for the business card, you'll consider the existing size often used. Is ISO 54x85.6mm better than the US 2x3.5in, or the European 55x85mm, or the Australian 55x90mm, when only a few millimeters divide them? Best is certainly to match the most commonly-used size in your country. Remember one thing: a business card must have to be easily stored and sorted. Grabbing an uncommon format can just lead to the fact that no one will be able to put your card in their wallet.

Presets will be useful if you want to print locally, but don't forget that your print company crops the paper to the size you want. So don't mind being creative and do some testing. For example, you might print on an A3 size paper for your final document or in an A3+ real printing size so that you'll be able to use bleeds, as we'll explain in the following sections.

Here we're talking about the page size and not the paper size, which can be double if the Document Layout is set to any option but Single Page. For all the folded documents, the page size differs from the paper size—keep that in mind.

For now choose 54x85.6 in landscape: just set 54 as the height or change the orientation button if you haven't.

The other setting that might interest you is the margin . In Scribus, consider the margin as a helper. In fact nobody in the professional print process will need margins. It is useful for desktop printers, which can't print up to the sheet border. As our example is much smaller than the usual paper size, we won't have any trouble with it.

Scribus has some presets for margins that are available only when a layout other than Single Page is selected. For our model, 4mm to each side will be fine. If you want to set all the fields at once, just click on the chain button at the right-hand side of the margin fields. But actually, we can consider that we won't have much to write and that it would be nice if our margins could help position the text. So let's define the margins as follows:

  • Left: 10mm
  • Right: 40mm
  • Top: 30mm
  • Bottom: 2mm

Choosing a layout

We've already talked about this option several times but here we are again. What kind of layout would you choose? Single page will simulate what you might have in a text processor. You can have as many pages as you want but it will be printed page after page. You'll get its result when printing with your desktop printer:

  • Double-sided will be the option you'll use when you'll need a folded document. This is useful for magazines, newsletters, books, or such documents. In this layout, the reader will see two pages side by side at once, and you can easily manage elements that will overlap both pages. The fold will be in the exact middle. Usually, unless you have a small document size like A5 or smaller, this layout is intended to be printed by a professional.
  • 3-Fold and 4-Fold are more for commercial little brochures. Usually, you won't use it in Scribus and will prefer a Single Page layout that you'll divide later into three or four parts. Why? Because with the folded out, Scribus will consider each "fold" as a page and will print each of them on a separate sheet—a bit tricky.

You can see that for a business card, where no fold is needed, the Single Page layout will be our choice.

(Move the mouse over the image to enlarge.)

For the moment we won't need other options, so you can click on OK. You'll get a white rectangle on a greyish workspace. The red outline is the selection indicator for the selected page. It shows the borders of the page. The blue rectangle shows where the margins are placed.

Save the document as often as possible

"Save the document as often as possible"—this is the first commandment of a software user, but in Scribus this is much more important for several reasons:

  • First of all, apologies, Scribus is a very nice piece of software but still not perfect (but which one is?). It can crash sometimes, slightly more than you'd wish, and never at a time you would expect or appreciate. Saving often will help you save a lot of time doing again what you've already achieved during the day.
  • The Scribus undo system acts on layout options but not on text manipulations. Saving often can be helpful if you make mistakes that you can't undo.

In Scribus, we will use File | Save As (or Ctrl + Shift + S) to set the document name and format. It's very simple because you have no other choice than Scribus Documents *.sla. In the list, you will see sla.gz that will be used when the Compress File checkbox will be selected. Usually, a Scribus file is not that large in size and there is no real need to compress it. Of course, if the file already exists, Scribus asks whether you want to overwrite the previous one.

Scribus 1.3.5

Scribus file version
Each Scribus release has enhanced the file format to be able to store the new possibilities in the file. But when saving, you cannot choose a version: Scribus will always use the current one. Every document can be opened in future Scribus releases but not in the older ones. So be careful when you need to send the file to someone or else when you're working on several computers.

Once you've used Saved As, you'll just have to simply save (File | Save) or more magically use Ctrl + S, and the modifications will automatically be added to the saved document. The extra Save as Template menu will store the actual file in a special Scribus folder. When you want to create a new document with the same global aspect, you can go to the New from Template menu and grab it from the list. There are some default templates available here, but yours might be better. Saving as a template might not be the usual saving process; this is done at the end when the basics of your layout have been made. Saving as template must happen only once for a template. So we'll use it at the end of our tutorial.

Basic frames for text and images

The biggest part of a design job is adding frames, setting their visual aspect, and importing content into them. In our business card we'll need a logo, name, and other information. You may add a photo.

Time for action – adding the logo

They are several types of graphic elements in a layout. The logo is of course one of the most important. Generally, we prefer using vector logos in SVG or EPS. Let's import a logo.

  1. In the File menu choose File | Import | Get Vector File.
  2. The cursor has now been changed, and you can click on the page where you want to place the logo. Try to click at the upper-left corner of the margins. It will certainly not be correctly placed and the logo may be too big. We'll soon see how to change it.
  3. A warning will appear and inform you that some SVG features will not be supported. There is no option other than clicking on OK, and everything should be good.

What just happened?

The logo is the master piece of the card. It helps recognize the origin of the contact. In some ways, it is the most important recognition for a company. Usually, a logo is the only graphical element on the card. It can be put anywhere you want, but generally the upper left-hand side corner is the place of choice.

Scribus 1.3.5


        Read more about this book      

(For more resources on Scribus, see here.)

Time for action – adding the text

For now, let's add the text. Since there is not much to write, we will do it directly in the frame. But if you're working for a big company, you would consider writing a script that gets the names of each employee and produces the corresponding card.

  1. Let's pick the Insert Text Frame tool in the toolbar (or T shortcut), place the mouse at the top-left corner of the margins, press the left button of the mouse, drag the cursor and draw a rectangle area that will contain the text. Release it when you've reached the bottom-right corner.

    Automatic frame size Shift
    If you press the key while clicking in an area, Scribus will automatically create a frame filling this area. An area is defined by the surrounding page borders, guides, and margins. So it should work here. Once the frame is created, double-click on it and you'll see the text insertion beam blinking on top left of the frame.

  2. Type some text, as follows:

Scribus 1.3.5

What just happened?

It's important to remember here that you cannot enter text immediately. In Scribus, two kinds of action are done: importing and setting content (that is, text, photos, or graphical elements) and placing them onto the pages. Just clicking on a frame will enable you to change the frame position and setting (what we call the Layout mode). Double-clicking on a frame activates the "Content mode" and sets the text or the picture's properties.

The little square at the bottom right of the Text Frame indicates that the content is fully displayed. The size of the frame does not match the current text content; we'll work on it soon.

Maybe you have noticed that the text is displayed above the logo. Scribus places every new object on top of the existing ones.

Time for action – adding and setting the color of a shape

You'll use shapes when you need a decorative graphical element that is simple enough and is not worth using specific software for, and when this shape doesn't have to receive any content.

The basic shape element of a layout is the rectangle.

  1. Pick the Insert Shape tool in the toolbar or press the S key. Draw a rectangle so that it covers the bottom half of the card. You can draw on the card if you want —remember the card will be cropped.

    Scribus 1.3.5

    Shortcuts and Text Frame
    Scribus uses simple keys (such as T, S, and I when not in Edit mode.
    When you're using keyboard shortcuts, verify that you're not in Content Edit mode. Otherwise, the key you'll press will be added to the frame content. One deselect simple tip is to click on an empty place of the layout to everything or pick the Select Item tool (arrow in the toolbar) before performing the shortcut key sequence.

  2. Select the shape by clicking on it with the Select Item tool.
  3. Open the Properties Palette by pressing F2 (or going to Windows | Properties).
  4. Go to the Colors tab at the bottom of the palette.
  5. Click on the "bucket fill" button to specify that you want to set the internal color of the shape.
  6. Click on the color named FromSVG#FF8080 from the list.
  7. Every shape is drawn with a thin black border that we don't need. Click on the Edit Line Color Properties button (the pencil icon) next to the bucket, and choose the color None in the list.

What just happened?

In this case, changing the color is very simple because we will use one of the logo colors so that we won't have to define it or look for it. The easiest way to do it is to use the Properties Palette (F2). The colors of a vector drawing are automatically added to color list when being imported. It really helps us reuse the color very easily even if the color name is not really meaningful. But for those who have already worked on websites, the hexadecimal notation that follows the # should be clear: two numbers for the amount of each primary Red, Blue, and Green.

Scribus 1.3.5

Changing the stack of objects

The pink shape is the last object that we've added, so it has been placed on top of the others. We will need to change the stack and move this object to the background.

Activate the Properties Palette by pressing F2 and have a look at the XYZ tab. This tab has some interesting information: we will go through some of them right now. Presently, the most interesting information is the little number displayed at the right-hand side of the green bold arrows in the Level category. If inline icons are inactive, click on the shape to be sure that you have the right information.

Scribus 1.3.5

The number 7 means that there are six objects below this one. Since we have only three objects on the business card (logo, Text Frame, and this shape), you may wonder where this 7 comes from. The logo is composed of four shapes, which Scribus keeps grouped together.

How can we send the shape to the background? We have four actions and three ways to apply them: the buttons in the Properties Palette, the context menu, and keyboard shortcuts.

Scribus 1.3.5

In our example, we will lower the pink rectangle to the bottom. Take a look at the difference :

Scribus 1.3.5

The left-hand side of the rectangle has been lowered only by one level. The example on the right-hand side shows the correct result with the rectangle lowered to the bottom.

Moving objects and exact positioning

Now that each object has been imported, drawn, or written we still need to work on the graphical aspect of the card. As of now:

  • The logo is too big and overlaps the shape
  • The text is not nicely formatted
  • Shapes and frames have been manually placed: the missing precision is bad for such an important document that may get printed in the thousands

Placing with snapping options

Basically, moving an object is as easy as selecting it with the Select Item tool C, and dragging it by keeping the left mouse button pressed. But once again the position will be quite approximated. For more precision we will use the Page | Snap to Guides menu. Now move the pink shape again and try to make the top border of it match the top margin. Of course, you don't see where you go so you can temporarily use the Colors tab of the PP (Properties Palette F2 ), click on the Edit Fill Color button and temporarily set 50 as the opacity of the shape. Move the shape again as described previously and you'll see that the frame will snap to the margin. Release when it's correctly placed and set the opacity back to 100%.

The snapping works with any kind of guide. Here, we've used the margins we've defined in the New Document window, but we could have created a custom guide, too. To create a vertical guide, press the mouse button when you're on the ruler at the left-hand side of the workspace, and drag onto the page. A dashed vertical line will appear under the cursor. Release the mouse button when the guide is correctly placed. Once again, this method is still not precise enough. The best way to create the guides is to use the Page | Manage Guides option.

Setting the coordinates

Another way to place the object is by setting its coordinates. This is the most precise way. Using coordinates is very handy if you have a very precise idea of what you want to achieve and have already made some sketches that help you estimate the distances. Most of the time, this is one of the things that is defined in a graphic charter.

Time for action – use X and Y properties

Let's say we'd like the logo to be place exactly at 4mm from the top and 10mm from the left-hand side.

  1. Select the logo by clicking on it with the Select Item tool C.
  2. Display the PP if it is not active using F2.
  3. Go to the XYZ tab and have a look at the X-pos and Y-pos field. X-pos is the distance from the left-hand side and Y-pos is the distance to the top border.

What just happened?

If the values don't match what you need, just type the correct value in the field. If you have selected a different unit than millimeters, there is no need for any conversion. If you write 4mm, Scribus will convert it for you. In the current unit, if you happen to be working in mm, you may try to enter "0.4cm" in the Y-pos field.

Now the position is correct. Try with the Text Frame and it will be perfect.

Basic text properties

After having improved the general aspect of our business card, it already looks much nicer, and it's time to work on the text. First of all, we need to know what should be kept the most visible to our contact: probably the e-mail address or the phone number. So let's keep that in mind when we define the aspect of the text.

You can download this font at or and you can read the SIL license at

Time for action – formatting text

Now it's time to use Scribus.

  1. Select the address frame and double-click on it to enter the Edit mode.
  2. Launch the PP (F2) if it's not active.
  3. Select all the text by pressing Ctrl + A in the Text tab of the PP:
    • Choose the font you want to use in the first select box.
    • Reduce the font size until you can see all the text and have some extra space around it. After having set it to 8pt we notice that the line spacing has not changed. Just set it to 9pt.
    • Click on the Color & Effects expander and change the fill color from Black to White.
  4. The biggest part is done. Let's work on some details:
    • Select the name and set its font size to 13pt.
    • Increase the Fixed Linespacing to 12pt.
    • Select the phone number and set it to 13pt, too, with 15pt linespacing. Leaving some space around the phone number will make it more attractive.
  5. Select the first line of the address and change the linespacing to 11pt to improve the result.

    Scribus 1.3.5

Missing glyphs
If you've used Radis Sans like I have, you can see that the numbers are replaced by squares. This is not your fault: it's due to the fact that the type designer did not make a glyph for them. Here you have three choices:

  1. Choose another font for the whole business card that I have created by choosing OpenDIN, which you can download from many places including
  2. Choose another font only for numbers.
  3. Edit the font in fontforge if you have the sources and if the license allows it.


What just happened?

Most of the settings depend on the print process. Should we print in full color, with two colors, or with only one? Which would be the cheapest? In our case, since we want to keep the colors of the logo, we will need at least two colors. If we want to stick with them, we have two choices for the text: white (the color of the paper) or dark red.

We have much more freedom for the other settings like the font family or the font size. We will try to keep the address as small as possible and play with bold for the phone number and the name. As the logo is made with round shapes, I prefer a font that resembles it, for example, Okolaks or Radis Sans, which are released under the SIL license.

Do you like it? Feel free to play with the settings until you find what you like. Try to be as simple as possible; don't use too many fonts or colors.


In this article we've practiced and learned the basics of the Scribus tools and workflow. We have tried to show the relationship between the tools and the Properties Palette.

In the next article, Scribus: Manipulate and Place Objects in a Layout, we will go deep into transforming the objects we've inserted.

Further resources on this subject:

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Scribus 1.3.5: Beginner's Guide

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