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Scribus desktop publishing: The Right Tool for the Job?

Most applications that create complex pdf documents are costly, resource hogs, and difficult to master. The alternative? Scribus.

The Job

Your company (like most companies) have multiple needs for various types of PDF documents. The problem? Most applications that create complex pdf documents are costly, resource hogs, and difficult to master. Because of the level of difficulty, many of these applications also require the hiring of employees with specific skill sets. This skill set will often bring the cost of ownership to a level most small businesses can not meet. An alternative is necessary. I have used one such alternative for many years with outstanding results. The alternative? Scribus.

The Tool

scribus

Scribus is an open source alternative to applications like Quark and Pagemaker. But don't let the price (or the open source license) fool you. Scribus is a serious application that can pull off serious tasks.

Scribus is available for Linux, Mac, and Windows and is currently enjoying release 1.3.3.11. It offers "press ready" output, has outstanding color management support, and an outstanding support community.

The beauty of this tool, however, is that it's far easier to use, demands far fewer resources, and costs nothing to own. But just how simple is this tool to use? As you can see in the related screenshot gallery, I created a multi-layered PDF document to find out exactly how simple Scribus is.

scribus

The Right Tool for the Job?

After using Scribus for many years, for many tasks (from 50+ page newsletters, to resumes, to book printing), I can assure you that this tool is up to just about any Desktop Publishing task you can throw at it. Whether you are a small company needing a newsletter or brochure or a print shop needing something a bit more serious, Scribus is the Right Tool for the job.

Read my comprehensive screenshot review of Scribus desktop publishing.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

40 comments
marques
marques

I can't even paste a simple Excel graph to it as a Picture (Metafile). Is there a way to do so?

sveinki
sveinki

Please, please, compare things that are comparable. Don't compare oranges to the trailer that moves (your) oranges to the market... Scribus is an DTP application, similar to InDesign and Quark. It produces high-quality PDF's meant to be handled by a professional printer for imposition and volume printing. Until recently Scribus didn't even do imposition (layout of pages onto sheets or spreads). DTP is about layout in fractions of millimeters, true color control and font handling. Word processors (MSWord, OpenOfficeWriter) are about text creation, spellchecking and basic formatting. They have a limited support for some kind of a basic DTP; just enough for a monthly flyer printed on an office laser printer. The intentions are not the same :-)

Jaqui
Jaqui

to be as capable as Illustrator or CorelDraw! are for DTP. Though it's limitations are consistent with the commercial DTP packages like Pagemaker. I have used CorelDraw! to make a multipage pdf file document, and done a much smaller one with Scribus, the one I did in CorelDraw! was much more complex in layout and was much easier to make. Now, if we could just get Corel to re-release CorelDraw! Suite version 9 for Linux, and have it run on a 2.6 kernel I would be willing to buy it. Their original release for Linux will not run on any kernel newer than 2.4 series.

Spiritusindomit
Spiritusindomit

So what basis are we using to disqualify indesign and pageflex from the evaluation metric for this, becuase it falls far short of doing 'almost everything' they do.

psinger1
psinger1

I've been trying for the last year to make my home P.C. completely MicroSoft free. Right now, there is but one application I have not yet moved to SLED: A simple, two column newsletter I publish for my Church. Nothing too complicated, just a couple of graphics on Page 1 and the last page (and in places in between). I would love to be able to stop using MS Publisher (which crashes every 10 minutes or so). When I did a search for Open Source alternatives, Scribus came up. I tried it. I wasted two weeks trying to get it to come close to working for me (and I've used three different applications on three different platforms for DTP over the last 15 years). It almost made me go out and look for a used Mac so I could use Pagemaker again. Right now I am trying our KWord. I haven't quite got all my layout the same, but I think I can make it work.

onthego
onthego

I look at Scribus occasionally (and haven't for some time). I'm surprised no one has mentioned about the klunky graphics handling. I have not adopted Scribus in my arsenal of tools, waiting on better graphics handling features. I don't understand why they are not vector based --> maybe even incorporate GIMP as a backend plugin for handling such features as resizing and dynamic editing. I'm not real thrilled that the software is in continual beta and not be able to lock down on a file format. That sniffs of bad design that is not able to be fixed throughout the life cycle of the software. Despite the price, the argument over opensource is better quality development due to the community support. Bad design shorts both the open and proprietary community alike, though gives the open community the black eye. When you pay the price for it, you just feel good over those upgrades and maintenance patches;-) For the one pager style document I've used the OpenOffice Draw (yes it is limited!). I've poked at the folks (in person with the folks that work in the StarOffice group) at Sun as to why they can't add the linked text objects feature into OOo/StarOffice. Their response was one of be-fuddlement over the thought. If they did that, it would displace the need for Scribus.

brian.sinclair-james
brian.sinclair-james

Good introduction. As a fed, though, I need to create documents that will be print ready, but _also_ section 508 accessible compliant for posting to the web. This has always been a complicated and time consuming process with Adobe Professional, but alternatives have seemed to fall flat, and a quick search on the Scribus site doesn't return any hits. Am I stuck with Indesign and Adobe forever?

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Here's a simple question: Can Scribus import .pub files from Publisher?

josephrot
josephrot

If you think Scribus is a good overall deal, at zero acquisition cost -- but at higher support and assistance and length of work costs -- just wait until you use a commercial wonder, at some cost to acquire and minimal support costs, called PagePlus X2 from a company called Serif. As pleasantly surprising Scribus may have been, PagePlus X2 is pleasantly stunning, even though for now, PagePlus X2 is available for one platform, but with tremendous PDF two-way support.

rb
rb

Given that they say on their site- This is beta software which is undergoing many code changes daily. While it is fairly stable and usable, caution is advised. It is not recommended yet for production use. The underlying file format is undergoing rapid changes and will not be finished until the 1.3.4 or 1.3.5 version is released. I will wait until stability rules.

The Rifleman
The Rifleman

Want to see a real Page Layout Editor? See www.PageStream.org. There's a reason you pay for software. Scribus is the only Page Layout Editor that ranks below Microsoft Publisher. Both are toys! In want for free software with Page Layout ability, The G.I.M.P. is a better free tool than Scribus!

j-mart
j-mart

With Scribus it is so easy to get great results. this tool does not require a large learning curve to get top results and will produce finished documents with ease.

jackintheback
jackintheback

scribus is a "sandbox where the "kids" can play" and since its "opensource", those with "god complexes" can "introduce new features" all for free(except for the price of the computer, electricity to run it and the roof over head, not to mention the food to nourish one to arrive at the dawn of reason)

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... Pages in iWork from Apple? A) Pages has templates for creating all kinds of documents, including newsletters and professional reports. B) Apple's OS X has PDF creation built-in to the printing process so that you may Save it in PDF format, Mail it through your email application or even FAX it directly from the machine as a PDF. My only problem is, I'm trying to adapt an associate's newsletter template in Publisher 98 and nothing I can find will let me turn his .pub file into a new template in any other application... including Pages.

markbreaux
markbreaux

Not necessarily forever brian. The awesome thing about open source is that it is always improving. If you emailed the tech support at scribus or went into the forums and posted your issue, I bet in the next release it will be there. If I ran my own business, we would be on all open source because there is not a program out there that can't be done in open source. Sadly, I work for a bank and the proprietary software we use is only for windows.

dford
dford

The simple answer is yes - if you write a plugin to do the job - this IS open source, remember.

bvolpone
bvolpone

I have yet to try Scribus, but I've used various versions of PagePlus and it has always been great. Serif is a good company. They do more than just DTP, and many of the older versions of their tools are free on their website. Once you buy PagePlus, upgrades are about $10.

flmagman
flmagman

I used Scribus to create a simple Christmas card. I've used GIMP to create single panel comics. It took me much less time to figure out Scribus than it did GIMP. I find both to have common 'open source' characteristics. These seem very different from the standard Windows interfaces, which is why some may find them more difficult to learn. I'm looking forward to learning how to create, easily, a multi-page document in Scribus. Do I want to spend money for one of the other packages mentioned? Maybe at work, if I had the need. But at home, where things are tried and discarded often, I won't bother. And trial period? Usually means I can't really use the program, only learn most of the things about it before having to pay. I'll stick with open source as much as I can.

jackintheback
jackintheback

it's not 3.1 (yet) or 2000 for the sake of diversity. that doesn't mean you can't participate unless there's some underlying competition. Tutorials. . .in a technical forum. . . please wait . . sir

sleech
sleech

What's your source for the claims that a) "Scribus is the only Page Layout Editor that ranks below Microsoft Publisher," b) PageStream is a better product than Scribus?

jlwallen
jlwallen

The GIMP for page layout? The GIMP is a graphics design tool not a DTP tool. Why do you say The GIMP is a DTP tool?

techrepublic
techrepublic

No mention of Vista that I could see in a brief visit to the site.

ron.miller2091
ron.miller2091

Then, the "simple answer" is actually "no," NOT "yes." The "hedged answer is "yes." Correct?

JKEngineer
JKEngineer

My experience with MS Publisher is that its native files are not compatible across versions. An update to MS applications meant that I could not import the older publisher files for revision or reuse.

The Rifleman
The Rifleman

Apparently you didn't checkout PageStream at the supplied link in my first post. This blows Scribus out of the water which, is why you pay for it. Even as a Linux User, I am not adverse to paying for software that does what it's author's claim it will do. Sure I used the G.I.M.P. to do *MY* necessary work in a time of little cash flow and still use the templates I created when I need to do something quick and dirty. However, for the real professional stuff, I now use PageStream. One look at the Scribus UI and I was done right there! - DELETE! At least Publisher has a better UI and a slightly more professional look. Because I use Linux on my main machine and currently use Windows Vista on my laptop, as that what's shipped with it, I need an application that runs out of the compressed file on both machines which, under Windows, Scribus does not do. It complained fiercely about not having all the required "other stuff". I have Python installed on my Vista Laptop and the G.I.M.P. runs fine. - But Scribus!! No!! PageStream runs great on both machines and so yes, I have no problem paying to get my work done.

The Rifleman
The Rifleman

Just click on the vertical or horizontal rulers and hold the mouse button down as you would in Scribus. While holding, drag down or across. You now have Layout Bars as you would in Scribus. I use the GIMP for fliers, brochures, and other similar types of printed media to promote my business and other things in involving my clubs and other activities requiring printed media. I even did my business cards in the GIMP!!! How's that for free and cool?!

jackintheback
jackintheback

I still use "MS Paint" but I'm ralising that it only goes so far, then I use "MS Wordpad" I can make T-shirt iron-ons, business cards, specials coupons (I hate them). but I'm realising that there is something to these programs. Though each have their UI (User Interface?), They are arranged to compile information for presentation, sure there is java and flash but i have no idea on programming yet and have an abundance of things to consider

tulherald
tulherald

or anything else other than my mother tungue for that matter. I passed French I after the third try. After years of listening to Bach Cantatas there is no hope for me.

sleepin'dawg
sleepin'dawg

and everyone elses pissing around with Vista even if your machine is running dual or quad core CPUs. When you decide to get serious about graphics or DTP, you'll wait for Windows 7 or run XP but a better alternative would be to run Linux or BSD. I'm outta here. I don't have time for kiddie crap like this

LawrencRJ
LawrencRJ

Compared to 99 per cent of writers whose native language is NOT English, your command of the language is excellent. It might be appropriate to state that you are Romanian, but there is no need to apologize in my opinion.

sleech
sleech

I followed the link. I really did. What a I saw was a bunch of self promotion stating that PageStream is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Since every product web site says that I took no notice. Where are the third-party reviews?

bnemec
bnemec

Rifleman-- In the time that it took you to write those 4 paragraphs you could of found out what is needed to install Scribus. The topic in question is if Scribus is the right tool for the job, not if it looks professional. The amount of time it took you to complain about all these thing you could of gotten the software to run on your computer and at least given some kind of useful review. Stop wasting other people's time if you're not going to stick to the topic.

anca_palt
anca_palt

When I tried to install a new version of Scribus I had the surprise to see that the application not works. But I applied a very well know trick - Run in compatibility mode for... I choose windows 2000 and voila Scribus work perfectly!! If you are the Linux user and you probably ;) need a little help for doing this you can try this link: http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/windows-vista/using-windows-vista-compatibility-mode/ Well I confess that Scribus became my favorite application after I read some tutorials. At the beginning seems to be difficult. But it is a DTP application and in this field doing more that GIMP. I learn to appreciate it when I need to write my master thesis in 2 languages -a work with many graphics and equations. In word all ?runs? and disappear. Here, in Scribus all remains in place, well positioned and I can save all in pdf (know that I have alternative to do this but in Scribus I do this directly) And due to this portability - Scribus has also a portable version I could work everywhere. Sincerely, it is good free program and I agree with this interface rather than GIMP interface (I consider GIMP a great tool too, but at the beginning I had some difficulties with these separate windows for tools and now it is the major reason for me to try other freeware alternative like a graphic tool) Sorry for my English I'm Rumanian.

ProperName
ProperName

Not to mention that the majority of those reviews were done by (Amiga) based entities, and that the page is referring to a version of the program that is 2 versions old (at least). Then you also see that the Quark Xpress version in question is also quite old (it's at 6 or 7) and one begins to wonder how seriously I should be taking this. At the very least they should be comparing current versions.....?

tlccomputers
tlccomputers

This website is self-promoting. Of course they will claim their product does everything but butter the toast for you. I would much prefer seeing an independent review and comparison of the products in question done by an outside entity, than accept any company's self-promotion of their own product.

The Rifleman
The Rifleman

It's not about tools or the lack there of. It's about a cartoonish and toy-like UI. PageStream has a real professional and easy to understand UI and it installs correctly the first time. Even M$ Publisher has a better looking and functional UI. Scribus looks like a Computer Code 101 School Project. On that level it's not bad. It also requires other programs to run on Windows Vista that it does not tell you about. If the Scribus installer can't tell me whatelse needs to be installed to get the full functionality and use of Scribus, I won't install it as I hate Blue Screens and hangs which, come from poorly installed programs and not from the OS itself. As I said before, I have Python and other programs required for the perfect operation of Open Source software installed on Vista. I downloaded the EXE file of the most current Scribus and the installer complained about required programs and never stated what they are to make Scribus run correctly. The Linux version which, would stand a better chance of running on my Linux box because of inherently native programs for such software, was equally difficult to install. When running it, it would just disappear and I would loose my work. I'm not a fan of recreating my work even with regular saves on a frequent basis. If Scribus ever grows up, I might try it again.

jlwallen
jlwallen

that's an interesting claim seeing as how the scribus layout is pretty much exactly like any other application.

Skeletorfw
Skeletorfw

GIMP is image editing software intended as a freeware open-source alternative to photoshop rather than a DTP. The GIMP can be used in conjunction with things such as Scribus to great effect, but on it's own, GIMP is hard to use for things such as documents. The native layered xcf format is pretty much uncompressed and so to store anything of a decent quality (especially in A3) requires a LOT of a hard drive space

Advs89
Advs89

Gimp is for Raster Image _editing_ - not image _creation_. Yes, there is a paintbrush and a text tool, but the paintbrush is for touch-ups and the text tool is for convenience. Use Inkscape or Scribus for DTP. Those are Vector graphics editing apps, designed to make it easy to make professional-looking publications. Gimp is designed to do professional-looking foreground extraction, image-touchup, color-mapping, extrapolation, scaling, etc. Not so much for making business cards.

sleech
sleech

Just because you use a graphics package to produce fliers, etc does not make it a DTP application. Most people who use DTP apps work on projects that are slightly more involved and complicated than business cards.

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