SolutionBase: Linux gets a desktop publishing solution with Scribus

Desktop publishing has long been an area where Linux lacked decent applications. This article describes how to use Scribus to handle desktop publishing tasks in Linux.

Until recently, desktop publishing applications for the Linux desktop were almost nonexistent. Most Linux users were stuck trying to make Quark Express or Adobe PageMaker work with WINE, or they had to rely on a dual-boot system, performing their DTP chores in Windows.

Scribus (pronounced skry-bus) is the first open-source desktop publishing application for Linux capable of producing press-ready results. If you need a good DTP solution for Linux that provides a lot of features, you should look at Scribus.

Scribus' features

Scribus can run on Linux, HP-UX, Solaris, BSD, and soon Mac OSX. A version running on KDE-Cygwin is currently being tested. Some of Scribus' most important features include:

  • Unicode support for right-to-left scripts.
  • Exportable CMYK separations.
  • Press-ready PDFs, including PDF 1.4 features such as transparency.
  • Interactive PDF forms, presentation effects, and encrypted PDF.
  • ICC color management through the littlecms Color Management System.
  • Exportable SVG and EPS.
  • XML native file format.

You can automate Scribus tasks and call external applications by using the Python scripting language.

Getting and installing Scribus

You can download Scribus from the Scribus Web site. For this article, I used scribus-1.2-0.fdr.1.2.rpm and ran the package on Red Hat Fedora Core 2. Some additional packages are also required to use Scribus.

You first need to install the Little Color Management System (littlecms). Scribus requires this package for ICC color compatibility. You can download the correct version of littlecms from the Little CMS Web site. Some Linux releases will also include littlecms. Look for the package named lcms-<version-number|.rpm.

You'll also need the correct version of tkinter and tklib. To ensure you have versions that are compatible with your Linux release, install these packages directly from your installation CD, or download them from your vendor's Web site.

Install the tkinter, tklib, and littlecms packages, and then install the Scribus RPM package. If you install from source, run the following commands:

tar -zxvf scribus-<version-number|.tar.gz

Enter the directory that's created when the source package is unpacked, and then run the following command as root:

./configure && makeï¿? && make install

The default location for the Scribus executable is /usr/bin. The install will also create an icon under the Office submenu on the KDE desktop. To run Scribus, click on the icon or run the following command from a command prompt:


Scribus will open with the screen shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Scribus' opening screen

To create your first document, click on File | New to open the dialog box shown in Figure B.

Figure B

The New Document dialog box

This dialog box sets up the parameters for how you'll use the white space in your new document. All of the common default paper sizes are available, as are portrait and landscape orientation. Scribus allows you to define a custom paper size with considerable precision. If you want to produce a newsletter or magazine, click on Facing Pages to view pages side-by-side. Enter the margin guides to define the actual printing area on the paper. Click OK to view the blank document.

For more control over how elements are placed in a document, click on View | Show Grid to place a grid over the blank document. After the page parameters are established, you're ready to add images and text to your document.

Adding elements to a Scribus document

To add an image or text to a Scribus document, you first create a frame that will contain the element, and then add the element to the frame. To add text to your document, use the following steps:

  1. Click on the Add Text Frame button on the Scribus toolbar.
  2. Place the cursor in the spot where you want the upper-left corner of the text frame to appear.
  3. Hold down the left mouse button and drag the cursor to size the picture frame.
  4. To add text to the frame from a text file, right-click on the text frame and select Get Text.
  5. Select the text file to be added to the frame, and click Open. The text file will now be added to the text frame.

Adding an image to a Scribus document requires almost the same procedure:

  1. Click on the Add Picture button on the toolbar.
  2. Place the cursor in the spot where you want the upper-left corner of the picture frame.
  3. Hold down the left mouse button and drag the cursor to size the picture frame.
  4. To add an image to the frame, right-click on the frame and select Get Picture.
  5. Select the image to add to the frame and click Open.
  6. To resize the frame to fit the picture, right-click on the frame and select Adjust Frame To Picture.
  7. To edit the image, right-click on the frame and select Edit Picture. This opens the GIMP Image Editor and allows the picture to be edited.
  8. To keep the image at its current size, right-click and select Lock Object Size. You can also lock a frame in place by right-clicking on the appropriate frame and selecting Lock.

The Properties dialog box

The Properties dialog box, shown in Figure C, controls all the characteristics of any frame in your document. This includes the base point used to position the frame, the position of the frame relative to the base point, the font used for text in the frame to precisely position the selected frame, any shading used within the frame, the position of images within the frame, and the characteristics used in the frame.

Figure C

The Properties dialog box

Creating PDF documents and forms with Scribus

In addition to its DTP functions, Scribus produces high-quality PDF documents and forms and is also capable of digitally signing your PDF documents. To use the PDF toolbar, click on Settings | PDF Tools. PDF elements that can be added to a document include buttons, text fields, check boxes, combo boxes, list boxes, text, and links.

An important feature is the ability to save documents in various PDF formats. The default for pre-press is PDF/X-3. To save a document in this format, click on the PDF button next to the PDF toolbar. The screen that opens will provide the options necessary to save the PDF document for pre-press, printer, or the Web.

Who needs Windows for DTP?

Linux needed a good desktop publishing application, and Scribus goes a long way toward addressing that need. Scribus is a great tool for anyone trying to avoid the cost of purchasing desktop publishing software. It also provides an easy way to learn the basics of desktop publishing.