Book Review - Scribus Beginners Guide

Scribus is an open source desktop publishing tool that helps you create professionally laid out documents, from simple documents to full blown magazines, corporate brochures or even books. Desktop publishing tools are not a replacement for word processors, instead they give you the freedom to create uniquely designed documents and help you manage large sets of text and graphic content. Scribus is similar to Adobe InDesign or Quarq Xpress and gives you a wide range of tools to layout content in either print or digital media form. Scribus is pretty easy to get to grips with and has good documentaton on the project website. The Scribus 1.3.5 beginners guide is a really handy guide through the workflow of desktop publishing and helps you clearly understand how to create professional looking results.

The book includes a simple comparison between Scribus and other desktop publsihing tools such as InDesign, Quark Express and Microsoft publisher, setting expectations clearly as to what you can get from Scribus and the kind of interoperability between desktop publishing tools (its a little limited, but the Scribus project is trying and is the most open).

The book begins by covering some theory behind desktop publishing, using the metaphor - What you see is what you mean - to get you thinking about the overal design that would appeal to your audience, whilst also considering the resource and media constraints you have. As with developing software, knowing the needs of your audience is an important factor in the layout of your documents. Knowing the limitations of what you can print out effectively or deliver as other media is an important set of constraints to consider.

An important concept to understand is the graphic workflow for desktop publishing. The first chapter therefore covers the use of Inkscape, Gimp and LibreOffice (open office) to create and manage your content (text and images) and then using Scribus to pull that content together in an appealing and productive layout. Also covered is the idea of using Inkscape as a tool for mock-up designs. I see Scribus as kind of the the big brother to Inkscape (review) in that Inkscape works with a single page document, whereas Scribus can manage content across a multiple page document. You can assemble some very intricate documents using Scribus that would take a lot of time and effort to do using Inkscape and word processors such as Libre office and Microsoft office.

Next is the overview of the Scribus workspace, including details of the menus and tool bars for which there are many. This overview is very easy to understand, especially for someone who has little or no experience. The coverage of the text, graphics and page layout options are very detailed and nicey sprinkled with mini-tutorials to help you get to grips with Scribus quickly. The first tutorial guides you through the creation of a simple business card, so you get a nice gentle start whilst still being practical.

Due to the good layout and extensive use of screenshots its easy for an advanced user to skip through to the parts of the workspace you want to learn about.

Once the Scribus workstation is covered, the book goes on to detail how to create your own layouts for desktop publishing using all the features of Scribus. Again you are guided step-by-step through the various options for choosing a document layout and managing the structure of your documents, using frames for importing and managing text and graphics, changing colours and styles, stacking and layers to manage the presentation, distorting shapes using resizing, rotating / scaling frames, alignment and distribution of objects. There are a lot of layout options in Scribus and the book does a good job of introducing each aspect. Again this is done using a step by step tutorial style and the odd pop-quiz that helps you quickly gain confidence with the tool.

There is good coverage of the how Scribus handles advanced colour features. Using shading, gradient fills, pattern fills and transparency of images and the use of layers, its shown how to create eye-catching effects to enhance your documents. Support for CMYK and colour profiles is covered when talking about profiling with the Argyll plugin for Scribus.

As printing documents is full of pitfalls, in part due to the wide range of printing hardware out there, there is a whole chapter on this topic. Scribus has a pre-flight verifier to check the quality of your document output and can give you a lot of information and highlight any errors in PDF generation. Using the print preview you can see examples of colour separation and ink coverage, all very important for print media. There is also some very useful information for book production, marks and bleeds, security for pdf’s and all the various standards for pdf documents.

In Summary

Overall the book gives a complete coverage of all the typical layout techniques you will need for your desktop publishing efforts the book. By the time you reach the end of the book you will know how to produce an Adobe portable document file (pdf) that is suitable for your print or online distribution.

Scribus has recently moved to a new file format its documents and the book referes to the Scribus version which uses this new file format. Documents created with older versions of Scribus are supported in all newer versions, but document created in 1.3.5 onwards are not backwards compatible. On Debian based system, both the older version of Scribus and newer version Scribus-NG can be run side by side.

The Scribus beginers guide book has a well presented layout with content nicely spaced through the books 348 pages, making it comfortable to read both in book and ebook form. Althought there is plenty of information online, the book is a great way to get started and give you confidence in your approach and use of Scribus, so you can make use of the reference materials online.

There are several books available for Scribus, however the Scribus 1.3.5 beginners guide is the most up to date, covering all the latest features of this evolving tool. This book makes a nice addition to the online reference documentation and the community resources available for Scribus.

Thank you.

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