Working with Colors in Scribus

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.)

Applying colors in detail

Applying color is as basic as creating a frame or writing text.

In this article we will often give color values. Each time we need to, we will use the first letter of the color followed by its value. For example, C75 will mean 75 percent of cyan. K will be used for black and B for blue.

There are five main things you could apply colors to:

  • Frame or Shape fill
  • Frame or Shape border
  • Line
  • Text
  • Text border

You'd like to colorize pictures too. It's a very different method, using duotone or any equivalent image effect.

Applying a color to a frame means that you will use the Colors tab of the PP, whereas applying color to text will require you to go to the Color & Effects expander in the Text tab. In both cases you'll find what's needed to apply color to the fill and the border, but the user interfaces are a bit different.

(Move the mouse over the image to enlarge.)

Time for action – applying colors to a Text Frame's text

Colors on frames will use the same color list. Let's follow some steps to see how this is done.

  1. Draw a Text Frame where you want it on a page.
  2. Type some text inside like "colors of the world" or use Insert | Sample Text.
  3. Go to the Colors tab of the PP (F2). Click on the second button placed above the color list to specify that you want to apply the changes to the fill.
  4. Then click on the color you want in the list below, for example, Magenta.
  5. Click on the paintbrush button, and apply a black color that will be applied to the border (we could call it stroke too).
  6. Don't forget that applying a stroke color will need some border refinements in the Line tab to set the width and style of the border. If you need more information about these options.
  7. Now, you can select the text or some part of it and go to the Colors & Effects expander of the Text tab.
  8. Here you will again see the same icon we used previously. Each has its own color list. Let's choose Yellow for the text color.

The stroke color cannot be changed. To change this, click on the Shadow button placed below, and now choose black as the stroke color. The text shadow should be black.

What just happened?

Color on text is quicker than frame colors in some ways because each has its own list. So, there is no need to click on any button, and you can see both at a glance. Just remember that text has no stroke color activated when setting it first. You need to add the stroke or shadow to a selection to activate the border color for that selection.

Quick apply in story editor
If, like me, you like the Story Editor (Edit | Edit Text), notice that colors can be applied from there. They are not displayed in the editor but will be displayed when the changes will be applied to the layout. This is much faster, but you need to know exactly what you're doing and need to be precise in your selection.

If you need to apply the same color setting to a word in the overall document, you can alternatively use the Edit | Search/Replace window. You can set there the word you're looking for in the first field, and in the right-hand side, replace with the same word, and choose the Fill and Stroke color that you want to apply. Of course, it would be nice if this window could let us apply character styles to make future changes easier.

The Scribus new document receives a default color list, which is the same all over your document. In this article, we will deal with many ways of adapting existing colors or creating new ones.

Applying shade or transparency

Shade and transparency are two ways of setting more precisely how a specific color will be applied on your items. Shades and transparencies are fake effects that will be interpreted by some later elements of the printing workflow, such as Raster Image Processors, to know how the set color can be rendered with pure colors. This is the key point of reproducing colors: if you want a gray, you'll generally have a black color for that. In offset printing which is the reference, the size of the point will vary relatively to the darkness of the black you chose. This will be optically interpreted by the reader.

Using shades

Each color property has a Shade value. The default is set to 100 percent, meaning that the color will be printed fully saturated. Reducing the shade value will produce a lighter color. When at 0 percent, the color, whatever it may be, will be interpreted as white.

On a pure color item like any primary or spot, changing the shade won't affect the color composition. However, on processed colors that are made by mixing several primary colors, modifying the shade will proportionally change the amount of each ink used in the process. Our C75 M49 Y7 K12 at a 50 percent shade value will become a C37 M25 Y4 K6 color in the final PDF. Less color means less ink on the paper and more white (or paper color), which results in a lighter color.

You should remember that Shade is a frame property and not a color property. So, if you apply a new color to the frame, the shade value will be kept and applied immediately.

To change the shade of the color applied to some characters, it will be a bit different: we don't have a field to fill but a drop-down list with predefined values of 10 percent increments. If you need another value, just choose Other to display a window in which you'll add the amount that you exactly need. You can do the same in the Text Editor.

Using transparency

While shade is used to lighten a color, the Opacity value will tell you how the color will be less solid. Once again, the range goes from 0%, meaning the object is completely transparent and invisible, to 100% to make it opaque.

The latter value is the default. When two objects overlap, the top object hides the bottom object. But when Opacity is decreased, the object at the bottom will become more and more visible.

One difference to notice is that Opacity won't affect only the color rendering but the content too (if there is some).

As for Shade, Opacity too is applied separately to the fill and to the stroke. So you'll need to set both if needed. One important aspect is that Shade and Opacity can both be applied on the frame and a value 50% of each will give a lighter color than if only one was used. Several opacity values applied to objects show how they can act and add to each other:

The background for the text in the title, in the following screenshot, is done in the same color as the background at the top of the page. Using transparency or shade can help create this background and decrease the number of used colors.

Time for action – transparency and layers

Let's now use transparency and layers to create some custom effects over a picture, as can often be done for covers.

  1. Create a new document and display the Layers window from the Windows menu.
  2. This window will already contain a line called Background. You can add a layer by clicking on the + button at the bottom left-hand side of the window: it will be called New Layer 1. You can rename it by double-clicking on its name.
  3. On the first page of it, add an Image Frame that covers the entire page.
  4. Then draw a rectangular shape that covers almost half of the page height.
  5. Duplicate this layer by clicking on the middle button placed at the bottom of the Layers window.
  6. Select the visibility checkbox (it is the first column headed with an eye icon) of this layer to hide it.
  7. We'll modify the transparency of each object. Click on New Layer 1 to specify that you want to work on this layer; otherwise you won't be able to select its frames.
  8. The frames or shapes you'll create from now on will be added to this layer called New Layer 1.
  9. Select the black shape and decrease the Opacity value of the Colors tab of the PP to 50%. Do the same for the Image Frame.
  10. Now, hide this layer by clicking on its visibility icon and show the top layer.
  11. In the Layers window, verify if this layer is selected and decrease its opacity.

What just happened?

If there is a need to make several objects transparent at once, an idea would be to put them on a layer and set the layer Opacity. This way, the same amount of transparency will be applied to the whole. You can open the Layer window from the Window menu.

When working with layers, it's important to have the right layer selected to work on it. Basically, any new layer will be added at the top of the stack and will be activated once created.

When a layer is selected, you can change the Opacity of this layer by using the field on the top right-hand side of the Layer window. Since it is applied to the layer itself, all the objects placed on it will be affected, but their own opacity values won't be changed. If you look at the differences between the two layers we have made, you'll see that the area in the first black rectangle explicitly becomes transparent by itself because you can see the photo through it. This is not seen in the second.

So using layer, as we have seen, can help us work faster when we need to apply the same opacity setting to several objects, but we have to take care, because the result is slightly different.

Using layers to blend colors
More rarely, layers can be used to mix colors. Blend Mode is originally set to Normal, which does no blending. But if you use any other mode on a layer, its colors will be mixed with colors of the item placed on a lower layer, relatively to the chosen mode. This can be very creative. If you need a more precise action, Blend Mode can be set to Single Object from the Colors tab of the PP. Just give it a try.
Layers are still most commonly used to organize a document: a layer for text, a layer for images, a layer for each language for a multi-lingual document, and so on. They are a smart way to work, but are not necessary in your documents and really we can work without them in a layout program.

        Read more about this book      

(For more resources on Scribus, see here.)

Gradients and pattern fill

Even if most of the layout objects are filled with flat and well chosen colors, it happens that we need more complex visual effects. Gradients that can be of two- or n-color and pattern fills that can be made of very complex shapes are some of the options that Scribus provides.

Applying gradients

Of course, flat colors are not the only fill that you can add. We generally use flat colors, but gradients are used in some cases too. The problem with gradients is that they are not easy to print and readability can be worse. Beginners often use gradients to fill areas and backgrounds. Of course, it is possible, but where another solution could be used, it should be used.

In Scribus, gradients will be made of swatch colors from the document color list. Unfortunately, gradients cannot be added to this list. So, if you need to use the same gradients several times you should consider:

  • Seeing if the gradient cannot be part of a master page
  • Adding the frame with the gradient applied in the Scrapbook
  • Copying and pasting a frame containing the gradient

Of course, you can keep the composition of your gradient somewhere to be able to use it later without duplicating old frames. It will be easy for a simple two-color gradient but difficult with a more complex gradient.

There is no special tool to apply a gradient manually. Everything is done from the Colors tab of the PP. This means gradients cannot be applied to text unless they are converted to polygons or frames. In the drop-down list above the color swatch, you'll specify which gradient type you need. From now on, something new will be displayed in the window that gives you everything needed to customize the gradient. The little triangles below the gradients are color handles. They can be dragged and new colors can be applied to them when they are selected. If a color uses transparency or shade, it will be used for that stop color too. So it's quite easy to get a gradient going from a solid color to a completely transparent one. You can use gradients of identical, partially-transparent colors to have a custom-color fill, instead of using the standard opacity setting to prevent content from being affected.


The Free linear Gradient or Free radial Gradient types will add a Move Vector button. Clicking on it will make some new pink handles appear. It will be possible to drag them inside or outside the frame using the right mouse button (to specify in which direction the gradient needs exactly to go) or, instead of dragging, using the Gradient Vector window to place them precisely. Other types are predefined.

Using patterns

Not only gradient and solid colors but patterns too can be applied to the frames. If solid colors are the most commonly used, patterns are certainly the least. Patterns make background fills very complex and can drastically decrease the readability of a document. Using patterns will mean taking a lot of care and doing tests, not only on screen but in print too, to be sure that contrasts and colors are correct on paper.

If you want to use patterns to fill a frame or shape, you'll need to use the drop-down list at the top of the Colors tab, as for gradients, and choose Pattern from here. It will be available if there is an existing pattern. Scribus has no built-in patterns to begin with so you'll have to create your own pattern.

It will be very easy to create your own patterns. Just select the frame or frame group you want to use as pattern. Right-click on it and choose Send to Pattern. Now Pattern will be available in the fill type of the Colors tab in the PP. Select it to display the list of available patterns. Click on the pattern to apply it. You can then set the scaling of the applied pattern as well as its rotation and beginning point.

Time for action – using patterns and gradients in a layout

It's time to make something out of these nice features. We will try to layout a page that will be graphically based on a checkerboard pattern, and we will add gradients here and there. We won't care too much about texts and images; we will just focus on what is most important for us right now. So let's first have a look at the result and then go on to the steps involved.

  1. On an A5 page, begin by creating a 1 inch square: activate the Insert Shape tool and click to display a window in which you can specify the width and the height.
  2. Go to Item | Multiple Duplicate. Specify that you need only one copy, and set Shift Created Item By at 1 both horizontally and vertically. Validate and you'll have a new square at the bottom-right corner of the first.
  3. Select them both and group them with Ctrl + G.
  4. Right-click on the group and choose Send to Patterns. You'll be prompted to give a name to your pattern: just type a name (for example, checkerboard) and go on.
  5. Now that the pattern is done, let's build the page. First, delete the shapes or drag them outside the page.
  6. At the top of the page draw a rectangle that fills it from left to right. The height of this rectangle will be around 1.5 inches and can be set afterwards in the XYZ tab of the PP.
  7. Give it a yellow color and then copy and paste (Ctrl + C then Ctrl + V). This yellow will fill the spaces between the black squares of our checkerboard.
  8. The top rectangle is created last. Keep it selected and in the Colors tab of the PP, change the Normal fill to a Pattern fill. Click on the pattern preview that you want to use below (there should be only one at this point).
  9. Decrease the X-scaling and Y-scaling by about 25%. The amount can be different if the size of your pattern is not 2 inches—set the size you prefer.
  10. Now add a rectangle shape and text on top of it and set it nicely. We kept the color as simple as possible: black, white, and yellow.
  11. Let's go on with the morning schedule. First, draw a Text Frame and write Morning inside it. Choose a nice font, set the size, and add some effects. Here we used a white Armalite Rifle ( uppercase font (at 92 pt, with default black outline and shadow) and the Appendix3 font, which is free (
  12. Now draw a rectangle to its left-hand side and one at its right-hand side. Try to make the height of your rectangles fit the height of the text.
  13. Apply the pattern to them and set the scaling to 5% or 6%. You can then duplicate this set of frames, twice, and move the copies downward.
  14. It's OK with the pattern now. Let's go on with the gradients. Draw a 0.23in by 1.12in rectangle under the Morning first letter.
  15. In the Colors tab of the PP, choose Vertical Gradient. You'll get a completely black gradient from the beginning to the end.
  16. In the gradient editing part of the tab, click on the left-hand triangle handle. If your cursor is a black arrow, it means that you will create a color stop if you click. If you added a stop by error, just drag it outside the editing area to delete it. A double white arrow is what the cursor should look like when it is on select mode.

  17. Change the Shade of this stop color to 70%. You can immediately see the result on the page. We've added a SVG graphic at the bottom of the gradient to make things nicer and simulate a gauge.
  18. Let's now add the text for some events: draw a Text Frame at the right-hand side of this and write some event title and description. You may use paragraph styles for this purpose.
  19. We will now add bullets to each event. Draw a little circle and in the Colors tab of the PP, choose Free radial Gradient.
  20. Select the left-hand handle and give it a white color to create a specular highlight.
  21. Place the mouse between the two gradient handles to add a stop there. Give it a black 50% shaded color and drag it the left-hand side until its position is around 20%.
  22. Now, click on the Move Vector button and drag the left-hand side pink handle with the right mouse button to position the highlight a bit inside of the sphere.

  23. Resize the circle to the size of your event title, copy it, select the Text Frame, and place the text cursor before an event and paste. Do the same everywhere you need a bullet.
  24. The first part of our flyer is done; you just need to go on and do the same with the rest.

What just happened?

Patterns and gradients are more complex fill options that can be used instead of a flat color. Gradients are the easiest to handle. They can be added to any shape by turning the Normal option list to a gradient type and then choosing the color for each stop triangle that represents the gradient stops.

Patterns will need more to get prepared. You'll first have to draw the shapes that will be the basis of your patterns—the shapes you exactly want to repeat. Then after selecting them all you can send them to patterns with the right-click option. To apply your new pattern on a frame, you'll just have to select that frame, choose Pattern as fill type in the same Normal options list that we changed for gradients, then choose your pattern in the pattern list that appears, and set it for the current object.

When repeated on several objects, gradients, and patterns can really modify the visual aspect of a page.

Have a go hero – gradients, transparencies, and patterns for creativity

Layouts are usually a simple combination of simple objects. But with all the advanced features Scribus is giving you, you could have a try and use it as a very creative software to generate visual effects. Try to reproduce the following geometrical picture by using:

  • One pattern
  • One gradient
  • One transparency effect (Opacity or Blend mode)

We have made non-overlapping areas to give you clues on how it is made. Good luck!


In this article, we've seen how to use simple and advanced color features to improve the workflow and the printed results. Specifically, we covered:

  • How to create custom CMYK colors and spot colors
  • How to apply patterns or gradients
  • How to use some transparency effects like Opacity or Blending mode

In the next article, Scribus: Managing Colors, we will see color management.

Further resources on this subject:



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