Scribus In-Depth Tutorial by Donald Emmack

Scribus In-Depth Tutorial by Donald Emmack was reprinted from TUX Magazine issue number 16

In the May 2006 issue of TUX, I covered the basics of newsletter creation with Scribus. In this follow-up article, I dig deeper into Scribus and choose a couple topics to explore further. The last article attracted good publicity for this powerful desktop publishing program (DTP). So, based on that input, I decided to focus on the most frequent requests: fonts and PDF creation. Many personal and business users rely on .pdf files for document exchange. So, with this follow-up article, I take a detailed look at Scribus' portable document format (PDF) generation and ways to add fancy fonts to your publications. Choosing features to cover was a tough job, because Scribus has so many features. Fortunately, TUX readers sent in responses to suggest more topics for Scribus.

Scribus is an example of an application that should be widely accepted regardless of licensing. It is available not only for Linux, but Windows and Mac OS X as well, so availability should not be an obstacle. For open source to flourish, applications like Scribus must get the attention of existing Microsoft Windows users. In short, they must see open-source applications as an equivalent—or better—solution for personal computing. The availability of high-quality applications should drive users to Linux, as it did when Microsoft Windows first appeared.

The First for Linux

Let's step back and review. Scribus fills a unique need in the Linux community. Specifically, Scribus is one of the few applications providing press-ready output for commercial-quality printing. So, both home and business users count on Scribus DTP resources. Plus, it's open source, and the user community is active and helpful. So, shame on you if you haven't already installed it! If you're going to go for it now, please check out my article in the May 2006 issue of TUX for installation instructions and the repository locations.

Spice Up Your Documents with Fonts

Whether you are designing a form-filled .pdf or a .pdf presentation, selecting the right fonts will make your output shine. Beware—not all fonts are alike, and some look bad in print material and great on screen. Choosing the wrong font type for a .pdf form will make it nearly unreadable.

Most Linux distributions include a healthy set of font packages as well as instructions for adding more fonts. The Scribus Wiki ( and the Scribus site ( provide links to many font sites and detailed instructions for installation.

Manfred Klein at typOasis ( is my favorite place to look for fonts. You can sort through font styles grouped by decorative, historical and text and picture categories. As with other areas of Linux software, some fonts are designed only for noncommercial use. So, make sure to select ones suitable for your environment.

Take your time and look through the font sites to get good samples for your intended projects. After downloading, type mkdir .fonts in your home directory. The . in front of fonts tells Linux this is a hidden directory. Thus, you might need to adjust your file browser to display hidden folders. For Konqueror users, turn on View→Show Hidden Files before proceeding. Now, you should be able to see the .fonts directory. Afterwards, place the newly downloaded font files into this directory. Restart Scribus, and these new fonts will be available for use. To see the new fonts, go to Extras→Font Preview. Figure 1 shows the Fonts Preview window displaying the Cardo Regular font.

Figure 1. The Scribus font preview capability is available from the Extras menu option.

Using Style Fonts to Preserve Consistency

Good-looking publications (like TUX) have unique styles. Scribus' style editor is the tool to manage your tailored publishing look. Go to Edit→Paragraph Styles, and select New. A screen similar to the one shown in Figure 2 will appear on the screen. Next, I suggest you name the style by function. For example, create a heading font and call it page-heading or something similar.

Figure 2. Use Paragraph Styles to create a unique look for your document.

When you have added the styles necessary for your work, it's simple to keep documents looking uniform. While working with a Text Frame, press Ctrl-Y to open the Story Editor as shown in Figure 3. Next, select your style design from the paragraph drop-down box and update the Text Frame.

Figure 3. Use the Story Editor to apply styles to text frames.


Nearly all computer users are familiar with PDF documents. Portable documents can lessen form printing costs and dramatically improve readability for incoming documents. PDFs are platform-independent, and you can use them on the Web as well. In fancy language, this means a PDF is re-purposed to fit paper, Internet or presentations with little effort.

Scribus continues to lead the Linux community with PDF creation. Because Scribus works with PDF versions 1.2-6 and PDF-X and PDF-A, which one should you use for export? Each version has different improvements, but the higher version number might not be what you need.

The documentation Web site for Scribus provides an extended discussion on the differences between each PDF version and how it corresponds with Adobe Acrobat ( Most self-print and screen documents do not include transparency or need exact coloring. So, version 1.3 is a good choice for general compatibility.

The Scribus team even publishes a Scribus Pre-Press document ( You can give this to your local print shop to explain how well Scribus' output works. It clearly explains how Scribus meets commercial standards for publishing professionals.

What about PDF Readers?

Nearly all high-profile Linux distributions include some form of PDF document reader. Some work fast and do a good job at displaying PDFs. However, I recommend you download Adobe Acrobat and install the Firefox plugins.

You will find Adobe Acrobat at It's a polished reader and the industry standard for PDFs. Others, such as Kpdf, will not work for forms entry.

Sample PDF Project

The Scribus documentation Web site includes a tutorial on creating your first .pdf file ( Following the steps in this dialog will lead you through creating a simple PDF document for the Web. Although, nearly the same steps also apply for a print-based document. This guide explains how to open and set up the file and placement of boxes and check boxes for data input. Plus, there is a small section and some sample JavaScript code for sending the form over the Internet when it's complete.

Overall, it's a good tutorial and covers most areas of importance. However, there are a couple of explanations in the tutorial I want to describe in more detail. First, after adding a text box to your document, you need to adjust its properties. This means you need to tell Scribus what type of data users can enter in the text box. Scribus also lets you specify the format of the input.

The tutorial says to right-click and select Field Properties. Actually, you need to select PDF Options→Field Properties to get to the right place. Only a small difference, but I've seen people become confused and frustrated looking for Field Properties (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Accessing the Field Properties to Specify Input Format

Once you are at the Field Properties, you define whether it's a text box, check box or list box, as shown in Figure 5. If you select List Box, you must build the selection values into the .pdf file. With Text Box selected, press Ctrl-Y, or right-click and use Edit Text to open the Story Editor. Scribus saves each paragraph as a selection line for the final PDF.

Figure 5. Using the File Properties Dialog to Specify the Input Format

Once finished with the sample file, you're ready to export the final version. To prepare the file for wide use, the Scribus documentation recommends saving the file as version 1.3 PDF. Go to File→Export→Save As PDF, as shown in Figures 6 and 7. The tabs at the top of the window show several different document features. Review each to make sure your settings are correct.

Figure 6. Export Options Available from Scribus, Including PDF

Figure 7. Save as PDF options dialog—remember to review all options carefully.

Because we are using a font some computers may not have, it's good practice to embed the font in the export process. Figure 8 shows that I've made sure to include the Cardo font under the Fonts tab. When you're done, you should have a handsome PDF file with fields properly formatted for what you need.

Figure 8. To improve document portability use the Embedding fonts dialog.

Final Checks

Scribus has a Pre-Flight Verifier to examine your documents and look for problems before they reach the production line. With PDF files, I also recommend you put it to one more test. This is especially important for large production runs at a third-party print shop.

Scribus documentation and its Wiki suggest several on-line PDF-checking tools. I use PDF City at By using its pre-flight inspection system, you will gain clues to potential printing problems before the printer does. PDF City provides this as a free service and gives any error details in a user-friendly format.


Like any other software, it may take editing and publishing a few documents before you get familiar with the software design. Of course, it is nice to know that wiki support and in-program help features do an excellent job of explaining solutions to any problems or questions.

I'm impressed by this program. Being open source, it has room to grow with continued input and direction from users. The feature set is robust, and I feel confident recommending it to most small- to medium-size businesses with average to advanced publishing needs.

Donald Emmack is Managing Partner of The IntelliGents & Co. He works extensively as a writer and business consultant in North America.

Web Editor - Fri, 2020-09-08 11:56.

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Opened to the idea

I like the fact it is an open source project and I will have to give it a try and input but from what I can tell wiki has almost every bug and answer to every questions I ve had thus far. A real plus for being able to use it in all 3 major formats.

jessica (not verified) - M - , 2020-09-25 01:54.

Bad links

Thanks for the heads up. I fixed them


Keith Daniels - Wed, 2020-09-20 12:23.

Looks like the links in this

Looks like the links in this page are incorrectly plugged in. For example...


The "http//" needs to be removed.

An - ymous (not verified) - Tue, 2020-09-12 06:33.