ScribusThe proprietary software world also offers many tools for desktop publishing (DTP) from entry-level programs such as Microsoft Publisher to high-end applications including Adobe’s InDesign and FrameMaker or Quark Xpress. Adobe’s product are aimed at related but subtly different markets. InDesign is the product of choice for graphics professionals creating print materials such as flyers and brochures; FrameMaker excels at processing longer documents such as technical references. The FOSS community has Scribus, a program that performs both of these tasks admirably.

There exist many tutorials that show you how to use Scribus to create newsletters or flyers, essentially becoming a replacement for InDesign. In this series, however, we’ll approach it from the other angle, and examine an example that might apply better to writers. We’ll use Scribus as a replacement for something like FrameMaker to layout a book.


Scribus is a cross-platform application that can be installed on Windows, Mac OS X, or various flavors of Linux via their native packaging systems. The Scribus web site has installation instructions, but to summarize:

  • Windows: Double-click the .exe files for Ghostscript, a font and layout package, as well as Scribus itself. Both are available via links from the Scribus web site – remember to install Ghostscript first.
  • Mac OS X: Download and install Scribus from the .dmg file.
  • Linux: Download and install Scribus and its dependencies from the site, or from your distribution’s repositories (Ubuntu users can simply apt-get install scribus).

Scribus Concepts

Once you’ve installed and started Scribus for the first time, clicking “OK” in the “New Document” dialog will leave you staring at a blank page. At this point, you are likely to be unimpressed: instead of a cursor, there is only vertical and horizontal rulers indicating your position on the page. Before you begin, there are a couple of concepts you need to know, and particularly how they relate to concepts in a word processor that might have identical names:

  • Frames: A “frame” is an area where you can put content, such as text or images. In Scribus, all text must be contained within a frame. The same is true of most word processors, the difference being that OpenOffice or MS Word will create a default frame that takes up the entire page. Scribus makes no such assumptions.
  • Styles: Like word processors, Scribus uses styles to describe text: its size, font, color, and emphasis such as bold or italics. Unlike most word processors, Scribus deals exclusively in paragraph styles. While text can be changed in terms of point size or font on a character basis, there is no equivalent to a “Character Style” (such as is found in OpenOffice) in Scribus.
  • Master Pages: A Master Page is a layout for a page, describing frames, their placement, links, and other elements such as headers and footers. This is the equivalent of a “Page Style” in OpenOffice.

Writing in Scribus

Unlike a word processor (which opens ready for writing), in order to enter words into your new document, you first need to create a frame to hold your text. Press “t,” or select “Insert > Text Frame” from the menu. Once you do so, the cursor will change to a crosshairs. Click-and-drag a region to create a frame.

Once your frame is in place, make sure it is highlighted by clicking on its border (it should be bordered in red). Now, press Ctrl+Y, or “Edit > Edit Text” from the menu. This will bring up the Story Editor, a sort of word processor “lite” built into Scribus. Now, finally, you can enter some of your content.

Next Steps

Whew! That was a lot of work to type a sentence into a file. But, Scribus wasn’t really designed to be the program in which you would do your writing. In upcoming installments, we’ll learn how to:

  • Import content drafted in other programs to be laid out in Scribus
  • Layout a page with frames, and link the frames together to flow text.
  • Create Master Pages that can be applied as templates
  • Produce PDF output that is ready for the press

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