Why Page Layout is Different from Word Processing
What can you do with Scribus – and what is a “page layout” program?
First, you should be aware that Scribus, like all advanced DTP programs, is very different from a word processor. Word processors are designed to quickly set up a page, most likely US Letter or A4 size, then immediately begin entering text. Scribus, on the other hand, is an application designed to do page layout, such applications are more commonly known as Desktop Publishing (DTP) programs.
These programs give users great flexibility in placing objects like photos, logos, text frames and shapes in an exact position and orientation with great precision. This page will cover some overall concepts of good, efficient page layout and design, but especially if you’re a first-time user, you are strongly encouraged to go through the Quick Start Guide to get a sense of what Scribus can do and how to avoid mistakes.
The Final Assembly Line
First-time users of page layout applications like Scribus can find starting out quite frustrating, since they expect to open a new document and immediately start typing, but a Scribus document is really just a space to work in, and there is no expectation that there will be any text at all.
You can compare a document that will be sent to a commercial printer or uploaded to the web to a car or a computer. Such a machine consists of thousands of parts, most of which haven’t even been produced by the car or computer manufacturer itself, but by suppliers.
If you don’t like the assembly line metaphor, then consider yourself the chef running a kitchen, in charge of turning a mixture of raw materials, pre-processed items, cooking some foods yourself, then assembling them with artful design to please the diners’ eyes, noses, and palates, not to mention satisfying their appetites!
What the manufacturer or chef does is assemble the parts into the final product, and that’s exactly the main purpose of a layout program: It’s the final assembly line of a document that is going to be published – most likely in print – hence the name “Desktop Publishing”.
Whether you’re a manufacturer, a chef, or doing page layout, in order to do your best work you must think ahead and plan what you wish to do. The whole process of planning, coordination and production is called workflow.
It doesn’t matter whether you want to build a complex machine or create a complex layout – in both cases it often starts, quite literally, at the drawing board. Many products, including cars, have been first “created” on a sheet of paper. Thus, in design, it’s often a good idea to switch off the computer and to use a sketch block to outline your future layout.
Since there are many inspiring designs for almost every purpose available, it’s quite easy to find examples to stimulate your imagination. However, learning from existing examples is something different than copying a layout – it’s actually hard work, because you need to analyze a layout, for example by using a ruler to determine page margins, dimensions etc. This isn’t to say that all that you see that is eye-grabbing is good design for all circumstances. Start with a sense of what you want to do, perhaps educate someone or show off some visual display or product. Your intended purpose can then help you look for good examples of design that do this well.
Learning from the masters in the art will probably help you further with becoming creative yourself than anything else. Later you may find that reading books on page layout, typography or color theory help advance your knowledge, and most of them are full of inspiring examples.
Once you think you have created a great layout on your drawing block, the analyzing doesn’t stop, quite the contrary! Part of the planning stage is to determine which parts of your layout are static and should become part of a Master Page. You also need to find out which elements will be repeatedly used in different places of your layout, as you can store all those elements in a single directory that can be used as a Scrapbook folder etc.
Layout considerations aside, there is another important aspect to your project planning, namely the other side of the assembly process, commercial printing. It is very important to know beforehand what kind of files (e.g. PDF versions) a printer can handle, and if you plan to use <a href="color1.html">spot colors</a>, you should know in advance which colors the printer can reliably reproduce. All this information will influence the next stages of production on your side. Even if you will be printing on your own local printer, you need to be aware of the capabilities and limitations of your printer.
Preparing Your Suppliers
Making all the materials yourself, such as text, images, and graphics, is certainly possible, but many who do page layout are coordinating and assembling these ingredients created or edited by others. Just like a manufacturer of machines is coordinating with its suppliers to avoid frictions and hiccups during the final assembly, you can avoid problems by providing guidelines to those who will produce the “components” or “ingredients” of your layout (and if you do everything yourself, you can make some mental notes to avoid hassles down the road). With experience, you will quickly see that altering the content can result in a need to extensively redesign the layout.
For writers it should be clear which file formats are acceptable. Ideally, only a single file format should be used, and if that’s impossible, perhaps due to different software tools available, plain text files can be used as the lowest common denominator. Writers should also be advised to use consistent spelling, quotes, dashes, etc.
As for graphics files, you should figure out which file formats work best for you and then ask contributors of graphics not to use anything else. You should also provide clear guidelines for the use of spot colors, image resolutions and color profiles.
Getting Ready to Work
From experience it can be said that the final layout should only be started when you have collected all the components you need, and that’s especially true for text. If an image needs color corrections it can be done with the layout in place, but changes to a text, like adding a line or even a paragraph, can result in a lot of extra work, as the placement of graphics or captions needs to be adjusted. Thus, make sure that no surprises will happen down the line.
As you start your work, it’s always good practice to collect all project files in a single project directory, with subdirectories for text, vector graphics, image files and other file types you need for your project. Files that you want to re-use often should be moved into a single Scrapbook directory for use in Scribus. Once you’ve done all this, you are ready to go ...
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