Scribus: Managing Colors

Cedric Gemy

December 2010


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.
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(For more resources on Scribus, see here.)

Time for action – managing new colors

To define your own color set, you'll need to go to Edit | Colors. Here you will have several options. The most import will be the New button, which displays a window that will give you all that you need to define your color perfectly.

  1. Give a unique and meaningful name to your color; it will help you recognize it in the color lists later.
  2. For the color model, you'll need to choose between CMYK, RGB, or Web safe RGB. If you intend to print the document, choose CMYK. If you need to put it on a website, you can choose the RGB model. Web safe, will be more restricted but you'll be sure that the chosen colors will have a similar render on every kind of monitor.
  3. Old and New show an overview of the previous state of a color when editing an existing color and the state of the actual, chosen color. It's very practical to compare.
  4. To choose your color, everything is placed on the right-hand side. You can click in the color spectrum area, drag the primary sliders, or enter the value of each primary in the field if you already know exactly which color you want.
  5. The HSV Color Map on top is the setting that gives you the spectrum. If you choose another, you'll see predefined swatches. Most of them are RGB and should not be used directly for printed documents.
  6. Click on OK to validate it in the Edit Color window and in the Colors window too.

    (Move the mouse over the image to enlarge.)

  7. If no document is opened, the Colors window will have some more buttons that will be very helpful.
  8. The Current Color Set should be set to Scribus Basic, which is the simplest color set. You can choose any other set but they contain RGB colors only.
  9. Then you can add your own colors, if you haven't already done so.
  10. Click on Save Color Set and give it a name.
  11. Your set will now be listed in the list and will be available for every new document.

What just happened?

Creating colors is very simple and can be done in few steps. In fact, creating some colors is much faster than having to choose the same color from a long, default color list. My advice would be: don't lose your time looking for a color in a predefined swatch unless you really need this color (like a Pantone or any other spot). Consider the following points:

  • You should know the average color you need before looking for it
  • It will take some time to take a look at all the available colors
  • The color might not be in a predefined swatch
  • Don't use the set everybody uses, it will help you make your document recognizable

If no document is opened, the color will be added to the default swatch unless you create your own color name. If a Scribus document is open, even empty, the color will be saved in the document. Let's see how to reuse it if needed.

Reusing colors from other files

If you already have the colors somewhere, there might be a way to pick it without having to create it again.

If the color is defined in an imported vector (mainly EPS or SVG) file, the colors will automatically be added in the color list with a name beginning with FromEPS or FromSVG followed by hexadecimal values of the color. In an EPS, colors can be CMYK or spot, but in SVG they will be RGB.

CMYK between Inkscape and Scribus
Inkscape colors are RGB but this software is color managed, so you can have an accurate on screen-rendering and you can add a 5-digit color-profile value to the color style property. Actually, no software adds this automatically. Doing it manually in Inkscape through the XML editor will require some knowledge of SVG and CSS. It will be easier to simply get your RGB colors and then go, after import, to the Edit | Colors window and refine the colors by clicking on the Edit button.

If your color is in an imported picture or is placed somewhere else, you can use the Eye Dropper tool (the last icon of the toolbar). When you click on a color, you will be asked for a name and the color will be added as RGB in the color list. If you want to use it in CMYK, just edit the color and change the color model.

The last important use case is an internal Scribus case. The color list swatch defined in a document is available only in that document and saved within it. The bad point of this is that they won't automatically be available for future documents. But the good point is that you can send your file to anyone and your colors will still be there. You have several ways of doing this.

Time for action – importing from a Scribus document

We have already seen how to import style and master pages from other existing Scribus documents; importing colors will be very similar.

  1. The simplest method to reuse existing already defined colors is to go to Edit | Colors.
  2. Click on the Import button.
  3. Browse your directories to find the Scribus file that contains the colors you want and select it.
  4. All the colors of this document will be added to your new document swatch.
  5. If you don't need some colors, just select them in the Edit | Colors list and click on the Delete button.

Scribus will ask you which color will replace this deleted color. If this color is unused in your new document, it doesn't matter.

What just happened?

The Edit Colors window provides a simple way to import the colors from another Scribus document: if the colors are already set in it, you just have to choose it. But there are many other ways to do it, especially because colors are considered as frame options and can be imported with them.

In fact, if you really need the same colors, you certainly won't like importing them each time you create a new document. The best you can do is create a file with your master pages, styles, and colors defined and save it as a model. Each new document will be created from this model, so you'll get them easily each time. The same will happen if you use a scrapbook. Performing those steps can help you get in few seconds everything you have already defined in another similar document.

Finally, you may need to reuse those colors but not in the same kind of document. You can create a swatch in GIMP .gpl format or use any EPS or AI file. GIMP .gpl format is very simple but can be only RGB. Give the value of each RGB color. Press the Tab key and write the name of the color (for example, medium grey would be: 127 127 127 grey50). Each color has to be alone on its line. GPL, EPS, and AI files have to be placed in the Scribus swatch install directory (on Linux /usr/lib/scribus/swatches, on Macs Applications/Scribus/Contents/lib/scribus/swatches, and on Microsoft Windows Programs/scribus/lib/scribus/swatches).

When using an EPS file you might get too many colors. Create as many sample shapes as needed on a page and apply a color that you want to keep on each. Then go to Edit | Colors and click on Remove Unused. Then close this window and delete the shapes.

The best way will be the one you'll prefer. Test them all and maybe find your own.

        Read more about this book      

(For more resources on Scribus, see here.)

Spot colors

Another kind of color that we haven't already dealt with much is spot color. In Scribus, creating and using a spot color is really easy. To create a spot color, just do as you would do for any other color and select the Is Spot Color checkbox. If you use a color from a reference catalog like Pantone or other, the name of the color you define in Scribus should be the same as the name in the catalog.

In the color list, spot colors will be identified by a red circle and you can apply it as you would do for any other color.

So then what's the difference with other colors? When printing colors in CMYK, all the colors will be a composite of those primaries (we call that process colors). So printing a color document will necessarily need those four colors and the plates (in Offset) that go with it. There are few issues with this process:

  • You can't be sure you'll get the exact color you want at the end. Primaries will give a different result depending on the shapes, angle, or frequency of the dots as well as the temperature within the building, the paper type, and other parameters that are really difficult to handle and foresee.
  • If you need to print only in two colors, let's say black and orange, you'll need four plates or inks where you could use only two if you could directly deal with orange ink.
  • If you need to have metallic, fluorescent, varnish, or other kinds of weird colors, they can't be done with primaries.
  • Finally, the gamut you can reproduce with primaries is not large and some important documents (an art book for example) need more accurate printing. Having more inks can help extend the gamut.

If you have to manage one of these use cases, spot colors will be your friend. The colors defined as spot will be printed in pure inks. Orange will not be processed anymore but prepared in advanced and put as is on the paper. This is perfect or quite right. The trouble is that the more colors you'll need to use as primaries (let's say that spot is like a primary for easiness), the more expensive it will become. So, generally, using spot colors for a two-color document will reduce the price but a five-color document (CMYK+1 spot) will be more expensive.

The best is to know in advance:

  • How the document will be printed and choose the print office to talk about the possibilities
  • What spot colors you'll need to use

If you don't know the answers to these questions, and you are used to spot colors, make your document with them and if it happens that you can't print them as spot because of a technical or financial issue, you'll be able to transform all of your spot colors in CMYK when exporting your document in PDF before sending it.

If you are used to some specific spot color provider like Pantone, you should be advised that Scribus can't integrate them because of legal issues. If you have got them through Adobe software licensing, it will be OK. Know that Pantone (and some others too) provides standalone applications that store spot colors into EPS files. In Scribus, you can use them by simply importing them as explained in the previous section.

Converting swatches with Swatchbooker
Swatchbooker is a nice and easy-to-use application that can convert many swatch file formats to others. I often use it and you could have a try. Get it at:
If you need more information on Scribus and Pantone, have a look at this webpage too:

If you use spot colors, you'll have to take care of few things when exporting:

  • Before exporting, verify that you don't have too many spot colors or that the number of the inks you'll use will match the requested colors. If you're unsure, File | Print Preview will display a window that will show the inks. Read the next chapter if you want to know more on this functionality.
  • You'll need to export the PDF as Printer PDF, not Screen / Web PDF, in which all the colors will be converted to RGB, and neither Grayscale PDF where everything will become shades of black.
  • Verify if you need to select (or not) the Convert Spot Colors to Process Color checkbox.

Colors from an EPS file
EPS files are often used to save and share logos. Encapsulated PostScript format can handle CMYK and Spot Colors. When you import such a file, its colors are automatically added to your document swatch and are kept as CMYK or spot, as they are. It's a good idea to have a look at the swatch after import. It's not a good idea to have too many swatch colors in a document for they will be very expensive to print.

Time for action – replacing colors

Replacing colors is a very simple task because we often need to use it. You have three ways to replace colors in the document swatch:

  1. In Edit | Colors, click on the Delete button. You'll need to choose which color will be applied to the object having the deleted color.
  2. But you can also use the Replace Colors window as shown in the next screenshot.
  3. Create a document and import a vector file or logo.
  4. Go to Edit | Replace Colors where you will be able to define several replacements at once that Scribus will make just after you validate.
  5. Click on the Add button to display a new window that will let you choose the color you want to replace (Scribus shows only used colors): here we have chosen the CustomBlue color.
  6. Don't forget to mention which color will replace it, and which color you want to be applied to the objects; here we changed it to red.

What just happened?

The Replace Colors window is a very nice feature when you reach the end of your layout and some bad people inform you that the colors of the document will need to be changed for whatever the reason.

Notice that replacing the color in the swatch is the only way to automatically modify the color of several objects. There is no frame style that could allow it. But you still can use the Magic Wand tool to copy the properties of a frame to another.

Choosing colors that suit

If you need to define the color of the document yourself, and you don't feel comfortable doing so, Scribus has an old built-in plugin that can help you. This plugin is called Color Wheel and can be launched from the Extras menu.

The top part of the window lets you choose a base color.

  • It can be a color you will choose by dragging the red circle around the wheel. The chosen base color is displayed at the center of the wheel.
  • If you already know how the base color is processed, just go to a CMYK, RGB, or HSV tab and enter the values of each primary or setting.
  • If you have already added the base color to the document swatch, go to the last tab named Document and select it in the list. The red handle will be automatically placed at the right place on the wheel.

Then, choose one Color Scheme Method. Each scheme will give you different results from two to six colors. The colors are displayed on the right-hand side, in the Result Colors part, and below in the Preview part.

In the Result Colors list, you can click on each proposal and see the ink values at the bottom for CMYK, RGB, and HSV models. It will help you compare each one with some ink values that you already have or see if you can avoid the usage of some ink.

In the Preview, you can select a Preview mode that tries to simulate some usual color blindness on screen. This can help you choose your color by considering if they will give enough contrast and will be readable enough for everyone.

If some of the colors please you, click on the Merge button and they will be added to the document swatch. You can edit those colors from the Edit | Colors window to adapt them a bit and get better results if needed.

Color management

The color management system is a very advanced feature and is certainly why Scribus is getting popular. Of all the free software we use such as GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus, and some others, they all share the same color management process based on the famous Little CMS libraries.

For the user this is very handy:

  • All the software will have the same options. So if you know them in one, you know them for all and if you have set a certain color management in one application, it's easy to set the others.
  • The color result in the different software will be very similar.

But what is that made for. Isn't it enough to define colors and take care that they are CMYK? In some ways, yes. It depends on your needs and of the quality that you want.

We have already discussed about some printing issues: paper type and color, quality of the inks, and so on. There are so many possibilities and we generally use very little; so some standard presets have been defined. We call them profiles. Profiles will remember how a color is printed on some context. So you can tell your software which profile will be used by the print office. If you don't know, just ask them or use a standard like Fogra27 or Fogra29, which are Adobe's defaults.

But if you want to have the right colors displayed on your monitor, it gets more difficult because all monitors display colors differently. You'll need a profile for the rendering on screen, and that will be your own job. Scribus cannot create the profile for you. Some manufacturers give them on a CD or on their website. Just check for yours. But if you really need a perfect preview of the printed result, you'll need a custom profile of your screen because the way these colors are rendered vary in the peripherals life and even within a day. If you need such a custom profile, you can use Argyll with many colorimeters or spectrometers.

Profiling with Argyll
Argyll is a color management system that can create profiles of your monitors, scanners, and printers. To use Argyll you'll need a peripheral that can analyze the colors rendered on your screen or printer and compare it to a reference to know the difference that will be stored in the profile. Those measuring instruments can cost from 100 £ to several thousands, but you won't have as much choice as for your printers. Most of the cheapest color management systems can only profile the monitor and not the printers. It just depends on whether you need it.
Argyll is a command-line tool, but DispcalGui provides an easy and graphical way to create your profile. You can download them from and

Time for action – managing colors in Scribus

That said, how do you manage colors in Scribus?

  1. First of all, Scribus needs to know where the profiles are stored on your system. This will usually be:
    • /usr/share/color/icc on Linux.
    • spool/drivers/colors of your Microsoft Windows system folder.
    • Libray/ColorSync/Profiles on Mac.
    But you can store them where you want and tell Scribus where they are when you go to the General tab of the Preferences window and change the directory for the ICC profile. This can be done only if no document is opened.
  2. Then you need to configure the color management tools. You can do it from:
    • The monitor icon that is placed at the right-hand side of the status bar. Keeping the mouse button pressed on it will display the Configure CMS menu.
    • The File | Document Setup | Color Management pane to set it only for the current document.
    • The File | Preferences | Color Management pane to set it for all the following documents.

  3. In those windows you will need to give the best profile for each type of document input or output. The settings used in the screenshot are for CMYK printing on coated paper, and displayed on a DELL monitor, for which I have a custom profile named by the date dell2010_02_11. It is supposed that the inputs will be:
    • Photos interpreted with the sRGB profile, which is not the best but is still the most-commonly used. If you use your own photos from a known camera, check if you have a profile for it.
    • Photos in CMYK that have been modified in a photo editing software and are saved as CMYK. It can be Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, or any other software. Some vector applications, such as Adobe Illustrator or free SK1, can save as CMYK raster images. Personally, by using the CMYK profile to convert an image to CMYK, it makes it simple for me to specify which profile I have used in GIMP.
  4. Do the same for the solid colors that you will define in your Scribus swatch and use it in your document.
  5. Once you've done that, you have to set the rendering intent. The rendering intent will tell the color management system how it should adjust colors, especially what it should do with the gamut of colors. As industry standards are different in North America, Europe, and in Japan, it will be hard to specify what you need to use.

What just happened?

The hard part of the color management is that it is not made to be used with default values. It should be set exactly for your monitors, sources, and printing methods. Your print provider may have that last bit of information, and you can ask him.

Rendering intents are also important in modifying the result.

  • Perceptual: It preserves the smoothness between colors and tries to avoid color bands.
  • Saturation: It preserves the saturation and can be a good choice for drawings like logos or maps with solid colors.
  • Relative Colorimetric: In this, the gamut colors are shifted to the closest reproducible of the output color space and all the colors are shifted accordingly to preserve color relationship.
  • Absolute Colorimetric: It is similar to relative colorimetric except that the colors that fall inside the output gamut are not shifted.

Then, if you decide to activate color management, you will be likely to simulate the printer's result on screen. You will, for example, have non-reproducible colors displayed in pure green if the Mark Color out of Gamut checkbox is selected, so that you can easily see what part of the pictures will be modified by the color management adjustments. But don't worry, this green color is only an on-screen rendering and won't be present in the printed document.

Color management can't prevent errors, even human errors. Using color management is not a safe process in itself. You should not expect miracles from it. But if you have time to do it well, you will really get more accurate results. You will generally use the same settings. So you could define your needs in the preferences, and then activate and deactivate color management when needed by pressing the CMS icon of the status bar. Let Scribus do the calculation, and the rendering that you will get will match the printed result.


In this article we saw the following:

  • How to find colors that match
  • How to set the color management to get better printed colors

Further resources on this subject:

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Scribus 1.3.5: Beginner's Guide

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