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Introduction to the DTP Application Scribus: Overview of the Free Open Source DTP Page Layout Software

Graphic Designers need a range of software applications to allow them to carry out a range of different tasks and Desktop Publishing (DTP) software has an important role as many jobs require a design application suitable for page layout. Scribus is a free open source DTP application that offers a powerful software option for Graphic Designers.

For many years Quark Xpress dominated the market and was the undoubted industry standard application for DTP, despite its high price tag and disappointingly slow feature progression until the more recent versions.

In 1999, however, Adobe offered the first sign of genuine competition with the launch of Indesign, which offered promise that Pagemaker never had. Indesign developed at a rate that embarrassed earlier versions of Xpress and is arguably the industry standard now, helped by its close integration with the other applications in Adobe’s Creative Suite.

Now the open source community has its own champion in the DTP arena.

Scribus Interface

As with many open source applications, Scribus’ biggest weakness is its user interface which looks a little naïve compared to Adobe and Quark’s offerings. Scribus has a strong feature set, but the presentation of the various tools lacks the flair shown by Indesign, however, after a little time the interface becomes very familiar and quite natural.


As well as the main menu items, the primary tools are presented in a row at the top of the window and other palettes can be opened or closed via the ‘Windows’ menu.

Scribus Features

While not costing anything to download and install, Scribus is not feature light and is offered as a genuine alternative to commercial DTP software, which can be used by professional Graphic Designers to produce commercial quality work for print reproduction.

Scribus has color management options, a pre-flight option to confirm colors and images, and the ability to customize the settings for saving PDFs so that file size and file quality can be balanced depending on whether the pdf is for proofing or production.

Users can also add javascript code to add functionality to PDFs, such as navigation and print buttons


Being an open source application that is still in development, there can be significant changes from one version of the software to the next, and on occasion features maybe removed from some versions. Scripting is one powerful feature that occasionally disappears depending on version or operating system, but when present this can be very exciting.

It is essentially a plug-in system that allows users to add third party Python scripts that can undertake all sorts of tasks automatically that would often take a Graphic Designer significantly longer to achieve. Many different scripts can be found by typing ‘Scribus scripts’ into Google.

Scribus Compatability

Scribus’s native file format is .sla and this isn’t compatible with other applications, but Scribus can export files in other formats, including SVG and EPS, as well PDF which is a suitable format for press quality reproduction with the correct settings.

Scribus can be downloaded from the Scribus website and for any Graphic Designers needing a DTP application just occasionally or who do not want to pay for Indesign or Xpress, Scribus is well worth looking into


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