Creating a Book Interior with Scribus

ScribusProfessional layout software like Adobe's InDesign can be an expensive proposition for new authors, but fortunately there is some great open-source software out there that can do a fantastic job of layout for your picture book.  My personal favourite is Scribus.

This article is intended for authors of picture books.  It is designed to help you understand how to best use Scribus to layout your book, and produce a CreateSpace compatible PDF interior.


Download the Software

  1. Download and install the latest version of Scribus.
  2. Download and install the latest version of GhostScript.

New Document

  1. Open Scribus to create a new document.
  2. Select Double-Sided.
  3. Change the Default Unit to inches.
  4. Set Size to Custom, and then enter your trim size, e.g. 8" x 10" (DO NOT include the bleed at this step).
  5. Set the Margin Guides to appropriate values.  E.g. Inside 0.375", Outside 0.25", Top 0.25", Bottom 0.25". The inside margin will depend on the number of pages in your book.  See the documentation on CreateSpace for more details.
  6. Click the Bleeds tab to enter bleeds (if required).  Inside 0, Outside 0.125", Top 0.125", Bottom 0.125". You need to click the locking icon next to the bleeds so that you can enter a different value (0) for the inside bleed.
  7. Enter the Number of Pages.  You can always add and remove pages later, so just an estimate is fine.

Adding Images

If you have images that are always (or almost always) in the same position on each page (or spread) then the best way to work is to create an image placeholder and copy it to each page where it is needed.  You should make sure the image placeholder is in exactly the right position and with the exact width and height that you want.

  1. Go to Insert > Insert Image Frame.
  2. Click and drag to create an image frame.
  3. Press F2 to show the properties, and enter the exact position and size.  For example, for an 8" x 10" full bleed image on the right hand page, you would want to position it at X-Pos 0", Y-Pos -0.125", Width 8.125", Height 10.25".
  4. Close the properties dialog.
  5. Press Ctrl+C to copy the image frame.
  6. Go to the next page where you want an image of this size, and press Ctrl+V to paste the image frame.
  7. Repeat as needed.
  8. Go to each image and press Ctrl+I to select an image.  Select the desired image from the dialog.
  9. Repeat for all images.

You may also want to lock the images to prevent them from being accidentally moved (Ctrl+L).  If in doubt check the properties (F2) to make sure they have stayed in the correct position.

Scribus also does a great job on spreads.  You can place a double-width image on the left hand page, and it will flow across to the right.  When outputting to PDF this will be correctly split into two pages.

Adding Text

  • As with adding images, you may find it helpful to set up one text frame and then copy and paste to the pages where you want it.
  • To keep your layout consistent, use the properties dialog (F2) to make sure that text is positioned exactly where you want it to be.
  • Use the Style Manager to edit the default styles and add your own.  By applying styles to your text you can quickly and easily change the style later without having to edit every single text frame.
  • Applying a grid can also help with "eye-balling" positions in the layout.  I find that a 1" major grid, with 1/4" subdivisions works well.

Exporting to PDF

  1. Go to File > Export > Save as PDF.
  2. Under File Options : Compatibility select PDF 1.3 (Acrobat 4). Other versions may work, but I found this to be compatible with CreateSpace, so I'm sticking to it.
  3. Open the Fonts tab, and click [Embed All].
  4. If you are using bleeds, then open the Pre-press tab, and click Use document bleeds. This is very important!  If you don't do this the PDF will be the trim size without bleeds, and CreateSpace will try to resize your content.  This is bad, because you lose more of your image than intended, and your content is unnecessarily scaled.  It can also lead to other unintended side-effects.
  5. Click the [Save] button.

Check the PDF

  1. Open the PDF and make sure the content is as expected.  Full bleed images  should go to the edges of the pages.  Text should be in the safe area.  Reread all text to make sure it is correct, and if possible ask a friend to check it for you too.
  2. Move the cursor to the lower left in Acrobat Reader to show the page size.  It should be the correct size including bleed (e.g. 8.125" x 10.25" for an 8" x 10" trim). If it is not you may have missed step 4 above.

Submit to CreateSpace

Once you are happy with it you can submit to CreateSpace.  It takes up to 24 hours for review.  When it passes review, use the Digital Proofer, and download a PDF proof to make sure everything has rendered correctly.   If it's all good, order a physical proof to check.


Some things to check of the digital proof looks wrong...

  • Check the PDF that you uploaded.  Is it the correct size, including bleeds?
  • Make sure absolutely ALL TEXT is within the safe zone.  CreateSpace my try moving or resizing elements to force them to have the text in the safe zone, and the results can be horrible!
  • If everything looks okay, try asking for help in the CreateSpace community.  They are awesome!
  • If you are absolutely sure it's all correct, try just submitting again.  I've had times where submitting an unchanged PDF gave different results!

I hope you'll find this information a useful resource for creating book interiors.  Please feel free to leave relevant comments!