Scribus: Importing Images


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.

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(For more resources on Scribus, see here.)

Importing and exporting: The concepts

To begin with, remember that there are two kinds of graphics you can add to your layout. You can have photos, generally taken from a digital camera, downloaded, or bought on some website. Photos will generally be stored in JPEG files, but you can also find PNG, TIFF, or many other file formats. The second kind of graphics is vector drawings such as logos and maps. They are computer-made drawings and are stored as EPS or SVG files. You will certainly need to work with both in most of your documents.

Scribus 1.3.5 Beginner's Guide

The previous image shows the comparison between a photo on the left-hand side, and the same photo traced in vectors on the right-hand side. In the middle, see how the details of the photo are made up of square pixels that are sometimes difficult to handle to get good printing results.

The first difference is that with photos, you will need to place them in a frame. There are some tips to automatically add the frame, but anyway, a frame will be needed. Vector drawings are imported as shapes and can be manipulated in Scribus like any other Scribus object.

The second difference is that when working with photos, you will have to import them within Scribus. The term "import" is precise here. Most text processors don't import but insert images. In the case of "insert", the images are definitely stored in your document. So you can send this document to anyone via e-mail or can store it on any external storage device without caring about whether these images will still be present later. Scribus does it differently: it adds to the frame a reference to the imported file's own storage position. Scribus will look for the file each time it needs it, and if the file is not where it should be, problems may arise. Basically, the steps you go through while performing a DTP import and while performing a text processor insert are the same, but the global workflows are different because the professional needs to which they refer to are different. All the communication software, layout programs, website building software, as well as video editing software perform the same steps. Once you're used to it, it's really handy: it results in lighter and more adaptable files.

However, while teaching Scribus, I have many times received mails from students who have trouble with the images in their documents, just because they didn't take enough care of this little difference. Remembering it will really help you to work peacefully.

DTP versus text processors again
Here we are talking about the default behavior of the software. As text processors can now work with frames, they often import the image as a link. Scribus itself should be able to embed pictures in its next release. Will the difference between these two pieces software one day disappear?

The next difference is about the color space of the pictures. Cameras use RAW or JPEG (which are RGB documents). Offset printers, which everyone usually refers to, are based on the CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) model. Traditionally, most proprietary packages ask the users to convert RGB files into CMYK. With Scribus there is no need to do so. You can import your graphics as RGB and Scribus will export them all as desired at the end of the process (which most of the time is exporting to PDF). So, if you use GIMP, you shouldn't be embarrassed by its default lack of CMYK support.

If you really want to import CMYK photos into Scribus, you can use the GIMP Separate plugin to convert an RGB document to a CMYK. Batch converting can be easily done using the convert utility of ImageMagick. Consider using the new CMYKTool software too, which gives some nice color test tools and options, including ink coverage.

That said, we now have to see how it really works in Scribus.

Importing photos

To import photos, you simply have to:

  1. Create an Image Frame with the Insert Image Frame tool (I) or with a shape or polygon converted to an Image Frame.
  2. Go to File | Import | Get Image or use Ctrl + D.

This is the most common way to do it. On some systems, you can even drag the picture from your folder into the frame. The thing that you should never do is copy the photo (wherever it is) and paste it into your frame. When doing this, Scribus has no knowledge of the initial picture's storage location (because the copied image is placed in a special buffer shared among the applications), and that's what it needs.

Scribus 1.3.5 Beginner's Guide

There are other ways to import an image. You can use:

  1. The DirectImageImport script
  2. The Picture Browser on some very new and experimental Scribus versions

The DirectImageImport script is placed in the Script | Scribus Scripts menu. It will display a window waiting for you to specify which image to import. Once you validate, Scribus automatically creates the frame and places the image within. Some people find it useful because it seems that you can save one step this way. But, in fact, the frame size is a default based on the page width, so you will have to customize it. You might have to draw it directly with a good size and it should be as easy. But anyway, you'll choose the one you prefer. Always remember that each image needs a frame.

The image might be smaller or bigger than the frame. In the first case it won't fill it, and in the second case it will appear cropped. You can adapt the frame size as you want; the photo won't change at all. However, one thing you will certainly want to do is move the picture within the frame to select a better area. To do this, double-click on the frame to go into the Content Editing mode; you can now drag the picture inside to place it more precisely.

The contextual menu of the Image Frame will give you two menus that will help to make the size of the image the same as that of the frame:

  • Adjust Image to Frame will extend or reduce the photo so that it fills the frame but keeps the photo's height to width ratio
  • Adjust Frame to Image will modify the frame size so that it fits the image

In both cases, once applied, you can change the size of the frame as you need to and the photo will automatically be scaled to fit the frame size. Using such options is really interesting because it is fast and easy, but it is not without some risk.

When a frame shape is changed after the image is imported, the image itself doesn't change. For example, if you use any of the skew buttons in the Node window (Edit button of the Shape tab of PP) you'll see that the frame will be skewed but not the picture itself. Image changes have to be made in an image manipulation program.

Relinking photos

Once your photos have been imported and they fit perfectly in your page content, you may wish to stop for a day or show this to some other people. It's always a good idea to make your decisions later, as you'll see more weaknesses a few days later.

It is generally at this point that problems appear. If you send your Scribus .sla document for proofreading, the photos won't be displayed on the proofreader's screen as they are not embedded into the file.

The same issue arises if you decide to move or rename some folders or photos on your own computer. Since Scribus just saves the location of your files and loads them when necessary, it won't be able to find them anymore.

In this case, don't worry at all. Nothing is lost; it is just that Scribus has no idea of what you have done to your file—you will just need to tell it. At this point, you have two possibilities:

  • Import the photos that have disappeared, again, so that Scribus can save their new location.
  • Go to Extra | Manage Images. Show where the photos have gone by choosing the missing photo (shown with red diagonals crossing the image display area) and clicking on the Search button just below it.

Scribus 1.3.5 Beginner's Guide

When relinking, you can link to another image if you wish; these images just need to have the same name to make Scribus guess it's the good one. So it will be very important that you give unique names to your photos. You can define some naming rules, or keep the camera automatic numbering.

If you need to send your document to someone, you can either send a PDF that can't be modified, just annotated, or the whole Scribus document along with the photos. The best thing for this is not to compress the photo folder. It won't make the link into Scribus for they are absolute and the folder path name will differ on your reader's computer. They would need to relink every picture and that might take long for some documents. The best technique is to use the built-in File } Collect for Output window. It will ask you to create a new directory in which all the files needed for that document will be copied with relative paths, so that it will work everywhere. Compress this folder and send it.

Time for action – creating a postcard

As an example, let's create a postcard. It's an easy document that won't need many features and, therefore, we can concentrate on our image issues. We'll go through the dos and don'ts to let you experiment with the problems that you might have with a bad workflow.

  1. Let's create a two page, A6 landscape document with a small margin guide of 6mm.
  2. After creating the page, use Page | Manage Guides and add one vertical guide with a gap of 5mm and one horizontal guide with a gap of 20mm.
  3. In the first frame, import (File | Import | Get Image) the pict8-1.psd file. Notice that it is in a folder called Photos, with some other files that we will use in this document. When you're in the file selector, Scribus shows some file information: you can see the size in pixels (1552x2592), the resolution (72x72), and the colorspace (RGB).
  4. This image will look very big in the frame. Right-click and choose Adjust Image to Frame. It fits the height but not the width. Also we'd want the bottom of the flower image to be at the bottom of the frame. Open the Properties Palette and in the Image tab, select the Free Scaling option and change the X-scale and Y-scale up to 12 or a value close to it. Now it might be better.
  5. In the top right-hand side frame, import pict8-2.jpg and set it in the best way you can using the same procedure. Double-click on the frame and drag the picture to find the best placement.
  6. Then in the last frame of the first page, import the pict8-3.png file.
  7. You can add frame text and type something inside it, such as "Utopia through centuries", and set it nicely.
  8. On the second page we'll use one horizontal column without gap and one vertical column with a 5mm gap.
  9. On the right-hand part of the horizontal guide (use Page | Snap to Guides if you want to be sure) draw an horizontal line from one vertical to another bordering that one.
  10. Keep this line selected and go to Item | Multiple Duplicate. In the window, choose 4 copies, leave the next option selected, and define a 0.4 inch vertical gap. Here it is necessary to write the address.
  11. At the bottom left-hand corner of the same page, draw a new Image Frame in which you can import the pict8-4.tif file.
  12. In the Image properties, scale the image to the frame size and deselect Proportional so that the image fills the frame perfectly, even if it is distorted.
  13. Then in the XYZ tab of the PP, click on the Flip Horizontally button (the blue double arrow icon).
  14. We have now set our pages and the photos are placed correctly. Let's create some errors voluntarily. First, let's say we rename the Photos folder to PostcardPhotos. This must be done in your file browser; you cannot do it from Scribus.
  15. Go back to Scribus. Things might not have changed for now, but if you right-click on an image and choose Update Image you will see that it won't be displayed anymore.
  16. If you want everything to go well again, you can rename your folder again or go to Extras | Manage Images. You see there that each Image Frame of the document is listed and that they contain nothing because the photos are not found anymore. For each image selected in this window, you'll have to click on the Search button and specify which directory it has been moved into in the next window. Scribus will display the image found (image with a similar name only). Select one of the listed images and click on Select. Everything should go well now.

(Move the mouse over the image to enlarge.)

What just happened?

After having created our page, we placed our photos inside the frames. By renaming the folder we broke the link between Scribus and the image files. The Manage Images window lets us see what happened. The full paths to the pictures are displayed here. In our example, all the pictures are in the same folder, but you could have imported pictures from several directories. In this case, only those being included in the renamed folder would have disappeared from the Scribus frames.

By clicking on Search, we told Scribus what happened to those pictures and that those pictures still exist but somewhere else. Notice that if you deleted the photos they will be lost forever. The best advice would be to keep a copy of everything: the original as well as the modified photos. Notice that if your images are stored on an external device, it should be plugged and mounted.

In fact, renaming the folder is not the only reason why an image might disappear. It happens when:

  • We rename the image folder
  • We rename any parent folder of the image folder
  • We rename the picture
  • We delete the picture
  • We delete the whole folder containing the picture

Giving the documents and the pictures to someone else by an e-mail or an USB-key will certainly be similar to the second case. In the first three cases, using the Manage Images window will help you find the images (it's better to know where they are). In the last two cases, you should be ready to look for new pictures and import them into the frames.



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(For more resources on Scribus, see here.)

The Scribus paste special

What happens if you paste an image into a frame? Normally, nothing should happen and the frame should remain empty. If in any case it gets filled, you should not trust what you see. It's a good idea to go to Manage Images and check the path for each image. If a pasted image exists, there should be no name under the picture and the path should be wrong or empty.

On the other hand, if you imported a picture using the right method, you can copy-paste the frame without trouble.

We have already used another paste option while pasting the content onto more frames. This happens when you use Edit | Contents | Copy and Edit | Contents | Paste (Absolute) instead of the standard Edit | Copy and Edit | Paste. In this case, the same picture will be put inside the frames but each copy will have the same coordinates so that it would look as if the same image was going from one frame to another.

You could, alternatively, have chosen Edit | Contents | Paste. In this case, the copied image would have been put in this new frame but with local coordinates. Therefore, the left-hand corner of the picture would have been at the left-hand corner of the frame. It is interesting when you want to put the same image in some existing frames: generally some information icons or so.

Importing several pictures
In Scribus, it is actually impossible to import several pictures (as it can be done in InDesign) at once. This can be done with Scribus Python scripting. There are already some scripts for this on the Scribus wiki at Check for the script that suits your needs.

It's important to check if the frames aren't linked to each other. If you change the picture for one of these frames, the others won't be modified. If you want to change the picture of a frame that has been copied or duplicated and in which some settings, such as scaling or adjustment to frame, have been modified, the new picture of that frame will have these settings applied by default. Copying or duplicating an Image Frame can be a good way to save time when some properties have to be put on several frames.

Scribus 1.3.5 Beginner's Guide

Placing vector drawings

Vector drawings differ from photos in a way that instead of being a grid of pixels (colored points) they are geometrical formulas defining shapes and are constantly interpreted by the software to calculate their on-screen render on a page. Vector drawings are perfect for graphics that need to be used at several sizes, like logos. They are perfect for documents that need precise rendering such as maps. The trouble with photos is when they need to be resized, they lose their quality, especially when scaled up. So when it's possible (that is, when the graphic result is made up of shapes or lines with flat colors or simple gradients) we try to avoid them. Vector graphics cannot replace the photos because their rendering differs too much. The rule would be: use vector graphics where a photo is not needed.

There is no way to replace a photo by a vector drawing because their graphical qualities are different. Vector drawings are mostly done with simple shapes, flat colors, or gradients. In some killer use case they can have a realistic aspect, but it's not easy to create such drawings with vectors. Vectors are for precise drawings, but they can never be as detailed as a photo can be.

What are the specific things to remember about Scribus vector file handling?

  • Importing a vector file does not need any Image Frame. It can be imported directly.
  • If necessary, vector EPS or PDF files can be placed in an Image Frame. In this case, they will be rasterized at the time of export. The quality of the rasterization can be defined in the General tab of the PDF export window (File | Export | Save as PDF) as Resolution for EPS graphics, where 300 is the default value.
  • Scribus won't remember the original vector drawing file path. So, there will be no trouble with the linking, but there is no means to automatically update the file into Scribus when it is changed in another software. Imported vector drawings are not listed in the Manage Images window.
  • The imported drawing can be freely resized inside Scribus by using the handles around its select box, like a frame or frame group can be.
  • Vector files are made of geometrical shapes and Scribus imports those frames as a group. You can affect some of these by ungrouping.
  • The colors applied to the shapes of the imported drawings are automatically added to the file swatch and they appear in the color lists in the Color tab as well as in the Text tab of the PP.
  • If the colors are changed in the Scribus color window, the colors will be modified in the drawings that contain it. The color of the logo can be changed on each shape of the ungrouped drawing. It's very practical, for example, when you want to use the same color on text or inside the drawing.
  • These are the good things about Scribus vector support. But there are some issues too:

    • Actually, you can't import any SVG file into a frame, which makes a little difference in format processing and is always difficult to remember.
    • Some of the advanced vector functionalities like blurs are not interpreted by Scribus. So when a vector drawing is imported, a message box is displayed. Just validate and continue the import process by clicking on the page. See that the result in the page is good. If not, you can try another vector format or convert your vector to a raster image that will be imported in an Image Frame. Most of the vector drawing programs can do this. In Inkscape use File | Export as bitmap.

    About graphic file formats

    Choosing the right format for the right use case is one of the most important decisions that a designer has to take. The file format is not about which software to use, but about what will be saved by this software inside the picture so that you can use it later in Scribus or any other document. Many users don't care enough about this step and miss very nice possibilities and need to tweak around when it should be so easy.

    Mainly, we will have file formats for photos and other raster images, and formats for vector drawings. JPEG, PNG, PSD, or TIF are formats for photos and raster images, and EPS or SVG are formats for vector drawings. PDF is separate.


    JPEG (Joint Photographic Expert Group) is a well-known image format—maybe the best known. It doesn't steal its place. It has a lot of qualities: it can drastically decrease the size of a file by compressing with a very high-level algorithm that interprets the content of an image and compresses it using some kind of optical compliance. The bad side of JPEG is that whatever you can do, once you choose to save a file in JPEG, you lose some details. Generally, when printing a document, you want to get the best result at the end. I can remember a time when the print office was saying: "please, everything but JPEG". Of course, things have changed now and they can handle it easily, but I still feel unconfident with this format, at least for high quality prints.

    In fact, JPEG can sometimes be interesting: because the files are lightweight, and some processes of the printing workflow will go faster with it. The best thing is to ask your provider if it's a good idea to use it.

    In any case, JPEGs will be simple to handle if you use your own camera. Most cameras save your photos in this format. Some others save them as RAW, which is the very best but has a weight increased at least by ten. RAW formats, which are camera specific, cannot be imported into Scribus. Their purpose is to match exactly what the camera grabbed. They need some preprocessing in some dedicated software before being exported into a standard file type and being used in other software.

    RAW with UFRaw or digiKam
    There are many free software than can open and convert RAW files. UFRaw can be used as a standalone or with a GIMP plugin. digiKam is a very complete photo management program that includes tagging, editing, and other interesting functionality. Some other software, such as Rawstudio or darktable are simpler and very specialized. Do some tests and keep the one that is best for you.

    If you decide to use JPEGs in your layouts, you have to take care of the quality. JPEG is very good for photos, but can completely destroy a drawing or any line art document. When saving in JPEG, activate the preview if your photo-editing software can do it. Then you can decrease the quality until the result is nice, the file size will decrease too. Our way is to keep 100 percent of the quality each time, to keep as much as possible. It's a good idea to keep the original file or save your JPEG with a new name so that it doesn't replace the previous file. This way, you can go back to the original if the result is not as good as expected.


    PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics and is a World Wide Web Consortium ( recommendation. It is not as famous as JPEG but it is becoming popular in print offices since Mac OS has good support of it. PNG support has been very good in free software for many years.

    Scribus can use PNGs without trouble and any free or open-source photo editing program should support it.

    PNG files are generally bigger in size than JPEG files, but not always. However, they provide three benefits:

    • PNG save files with a lossless compression. It means that whatever the compression ratio you use, your image will remain exactly the same, as perfect as the first time you opened and saved it. If the file is a photo, don't use 8-bit PNG, as it can save only 256 colors (which is not enough to keep all the colors).
    • PNG doesn't modify the pixels and, therefore, the colors are not modified with the saving process. It is important if you want to import graphs or logos saved in that format, especially logos with blurs that could have been done in Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator, or any other vector drawing program.
    • PNG can have an alpha channel: it means that the background of the PNG file can be transparent, thus allowing some custom borders for the pictures.

    In the previous document we have imported a PNG file. Look at the blur around the lion. Move your frame above another and see how they mix perfectly thanks to the alpha information.


    TIFF (or TIF Tagged Image File Format) is a very old format created by Aldus, the company that created the first real layout program called PageMaker. This company was acquired by Adobe in the 90s. TIFF was explicitly made for high-quality image printing thanks to lossless compression. TIFF files are very heady but they can handle CMYK.

    In Scribus, we don't really need CMYK pictures because the software can be color managed. TIFF compression will not be better than PNG, and so we usually prefer the W3C standard when there is no special demand for using TIFF.

    You should notice that proprietary TIFFs, especially from Photoshop, can differ from the free format:

    • They can handle some alpha channels
    • They can handle layers

    Both are unsupported by Scribus. On the other hand, Scribus can perfectly use paths included in TIFF files. These paths are made within the image editing program, such as Photoshop or GIMP, and are saved within the file.


    PSD stands for Photoshop Document, and is the native format of Adobe Photoshop. Since it is the most commonly-used software in the print industry, it's file format became the de facto standard. The trouble with it is that it is not an open format. This legal issue results in the fact that free software can only implement PSD functionalities up to the seventh version of Adobe's software, which is now quite old. But even in this case, PSD does everything TIFF can do plus some other nice goodies.

    Mostly, there is no need to provide full access to Photoshop's functionalities, and even InDesign (Adobe's layout software) can import PSD, but with very weak handling capacities. So, the only thing you save in using a PSD file is just not using another one.

    But if you need to work in a workflow that uses PSD files, you'll have to do it carefully. Remember that Scribus can open standard layers and can handle them quite well (including layer blending modes even if the rendering can differ a little).

    image 7


    EPS is an evolution of the PostScript language. PostScript is THE language, created by Adobe, that made all the actual printing standard workflows happen. Without PostScript, the printing environment would have been very different. PostScript was born in 1981 and has been modified nearly every ten years to take into account new needs and possibilities. PostScript made vector happen in the printing process and typography.

    Print offices have got used to considering PostScript as the best format for everything because PostScript is the language that describes the way a page will be printed. Encapsulated PostScript then became one of the natural, default file formats.

    Unfortunately, or happily, things are changing:

    • Bases of PostScript are old and changes would be too important: it seems that PostScript is not going to be updated anymore.
    • PostScript has some weaknesses.
    • PostScript files require some special understanding of the print workflow that don't match actual print on demand or WYSIWYG user needs. If, in printing, what you get is never what you see on screen, users will have some bad results and it will take time in the workflow to avoid them.

    The EPS file you'll find now will certainly consist of logos or such drawings—nothing more. We used it to import tables from Calc passed through Draw, which was the EPS exporter. We already saw that the colors of the EPS were added to the document color list. Their name begins with FromEPS followed by hexadecimal values of the color. The colors are kept as RGB, CMYK, or spot.

    Inkscape has some nice options to define how text and effects will be exported. If the SVG drawing is not well imported into Scribus, try PDF or EPS and export text as outlines. Rasterize filter effects at a resolution around 300. But even the Inkscape team is not working hard on EPS support because it is not considered as the future and is more of a waste of time.


    Inkscape now prefers PDF to EPS. Remember that PDF has been created by Adobe to replace EPS and tries to avoid the weakness of the Encapsulated file format. But even now, after more than 15 years of existence, PDF is becoming difficult. Everyone knows it because there are many free-of-charge readers including Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is still the best, and some free software like Evince.

    However, very few people know the differences between the PDF versions because PDF is a container that has evolved a lot too. PDF can now contain video or 3D animations, which are really unnecessary in the printing world, and are kind of opposite in the color models. So yes, PDF is the final absolute file format that we use a lot, even in Scribus, but more as an export format. PDFs can be imported within Image Frames and in this case everything will be rasterized, which will result in a loss of quality, even if it's difficult to perceive for a standard reader. The Scribus team is actually working hard on better support, but very few pieces of software can actually do it, because PDF has always been considered by Adobe as everything but the overall saving format. PDF is made for final saving and keeps the result only. You should not consider your PDF file to be modified even if you or other people would sometimes like too.

    Adobe Illustrator AI format
    .ai files are actually a subset of PDF. So, Scribus can handle them as well as PDF. However, AI is a proprietary and closed format; so there might be an unknown amount of unsupported features. There may be difficulties with PDFs coming from many kinds of software, which have very specific features that can't be interpreted by others. Adobe Illustrator users may notice that their software can save in SVG too. So it can sometimes help to try with both formats and just keep the best.


    If you need to use vector drawings in your workflow using free software, you will certainly use SVG, the Scalable Vector Graphics recommendation of the W3C. It is an Inkscape default format, GIMP can handle it, and it is one of the formats of choice in Scribus too. SVG files are pure vector, even if they can contain pictures. Their source is an XML subset so that they can easily be edited and dynamically modified, while perfectly matching the open source and free software needs.

    If you run Inkscape to create your file, you should be advised that Inkscape has its own SVG tags. It is safer to save your document as plain SVG before importing it into Scribus.

    Apart from that, SVG is a very broad recommendation and no graphic editor can edit all the specifications at present. Inkscape is certainly the best but Adobe Illustrator can save and open SVG too. If we compare layout programs to them, they are a bit less packed with features, so there might be some loss of some functionality when importing. Scribus warns on that subject: it displays a message that invites you to control the imported result.

    The colors of the SVG are added to the document color list. Their name begins with FromSVG, followed by hexadecimal values of the color. SVG color can only be RGB. Scribus can interpret them as CMYK if there is a color profile defined and the color is described in the SVG with a five digit number. Unfortunately, Inkscape cannot do it by itself and we still have to add it manually, which makes this import functionality inefficient. The next SVG recommendation will certainly be compliant with more color models, including spot color, so we'll have to wait a bit.

    Scribus in particular can hardly support SVG transparencies, blurs, and primitive filters. When needing them in your layout, you should prefer a raster format like PNG, or may be PDF. Another trick is that SVG uses the system fonts. If the file you use has not been made on your own computer, text might be changed. Tell your graphic artist to convert text to outline before sending you the SVG or ask for a vectorized EPS (it can be done in the Inkscape EPS option dialog). SVG will clearly be more and more supported by free software, and even if you're not used to this format it's a good thing to keep an eye on it.


    In this article we've seen how to use images and drawings. We have dived deeper into some detail to help make your choice between the huge amount of possibilities and software that exist to prepare those photos and help you import the picture with the right settings. Specifically, we covered:

    • How to use bitmap or vector images
    • What format can be best used in Scribus
    • What advantage you get by using some of these formats in some particular use cases

    Further resources on this subject:

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