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How to create a magazine layout using free desktop publishing software

Updated on June 29, 2017
Design a magazine
Design a magazine

Want to create your own magazine?

Making a magazine can be a great way to share passion for your hobbies or interests. This type of publication can also be a great component of a lifestyle marketing campaign. Whatever your reasons for wanting to create a magazine, with a limited budget, there are lots of tools to help.

Never designed a magazine before? don't worry there are tips here for you too.

This hub is based on my personal experience of trying to design a brochure without access to premium desktop publishing products. I am not an expert in either tool but I have learnt a lot in the process of using them.

Lots of people want to know how to design a magazine. As such I hope this hub will be useful for school students, teachers, as well as small businesses with limited budgets for software.

Create your own magazines
Create your own magazines | Source

Before you get started

This hub is based solely on information about how to lay out your magazine design and get files ready for print or publication on the web.

Prior to creating your layout using desktop publishing software, you must already have the information and content ready. Although desktop publishing is an important component of your finished print/digital product it is only a part of it. It is great images and fantastic writing that will enable you to create a great finish publication.

What is desktop publishing? Why use free desktop publishing tools?

Desktop publishing is used for arranging design and content elements on a document, using digital tools. Users typically produce files to send to a professional printer. These are usually in PDF format.

There are also a wide range of online platforms where you can share documents produced using desktop publishing. The most exciting of these include page turning technology; giving an authentic experience of reading a real magazine. One example of this is Issuu.

The most famous desktop publishing software is by far Adobe InDesign. It has quickly become an Industry standard, most large companies will use software Adobe InDesign or similar. It is used to create catalogues, brochures and maybe even magazines. It is a cool and powerful bit software software.

Unfortunately for a hobbyist Adobe Indesign is prohibitively expensive; likewise a small business might also find it hard to justify this purchase . Free software does have limitations, however with Adobe InDesign costing over £20 a month, it can be useful to consider other options.

In this hub I will go into details of useful free alternatives and how to use them to create your own magazine.

To get started read on to see suggestions on software packages to use.


In this first section I will talk about using the online tool Canva, why use it and how to use it to create a magazine.

Screen shot of Canva's magazine designer
Screen shot of Canva's magazine designer

Why make a magazine in Canva?

Producing graphic design publications can be prohibitively difficult for a non designer. Canva is an online tool which makes the barrier to entry lower. It is filled with ready to use drag and drop templates it also has a great user experience interface.

It makes magazine designing easier than it has ever been before. That said, even professional graphic designers can us this free tool to produce products that are suitable for clients.

Also note Canva is great for designing other layouts, for print and web. Click here to read a hub with a synopsis of all the reasons Canva is great.

Here I have listed some of the pros and cons of using Canva to produce a magazine

Canva Cons

  • Lack of pixel precise control
  • Lack of variety in page size, only outputs A4 magazines
  • Can only use previous designs as templates with an upgraded account
  • Can't import your own fonts

Please note despite the cons it is an incredible bit of kit for free!!!

Canva Pros

  • Create your own layout from scratch
  • Or use their ready made templates
  • Easy for everyone to use
  • Wide range of fonts ready to use
  • Lots of free images
  • Outputs print ready PDF with crop and bleed marks

Tips on making a magazine in Canva and exporting it for print

I am reluctant to write a step-by-step guide on how to use canva to create a magazine because it is as easy as 1-2-3. Also I think through trial and error you are able to create something that is unique and individual to you.

That said it is incredibly straightforward and easy to use. Simply sign up for an account, and then to practice choose one of their ready-made template. You can click and edit any of the content to replace it with your own, including images and text. Once you have trialled this you will be quickly ready to produce your own designs.

The Canva site has some great FAQs and information on how to create a product for print. It is worth noting though if you plan to print your product, when you come to you export your completed design from canvas, you want to export it with print and crop marks. This is because this is something that all professional printers typically require.


In this second section I will talk about using the Open Source Software Scribus, why use it and how to use it to create a magazine.

Why make a magazine in Scribus?

I am a keen supporter of open Source software and in particular gimp and Inkscape. So when I Began looking for a way so to create a magazine style layout I immediately looked at the Open Source software options. This that lead me to trial Scribus.

If you do not have experience using graphic design software, such as Photoshop or illustrator, I recommend Canva for your magazine layout. However if you are looking for something that will challenge you, and is more along the lines to InDesign I highly recommend you trial Scribus.

I believe it is particularly useful for students who are unable to afford the Adobe suite, but need a great introduction into the way this type of professional desktop publishing software works.

Scribus Cons

  • Have to download and install it
  • No ready to use templates
  • Changing fonts, font sizes and colours is tricky
  • Exporting to print ready PDF is a bit confusing

Please note once again: amazing bit of kit for free!

Scribus Pros

  • Full range of professional DTP tools
  • mm precise measurement
  • Complete control of layout and design
  • Download and use any font
  • Private and offline

Tips on creating a magazine in Scribus

Because Scribus has a steep learning curve, I do you recommend you get started by looking at their wiki page. You may also be able to find it interesting tutorials on YouTube.

Unlike Canva you may not be able to create a magazine immediately, but the power of the tool will allow you to create designs and set up any size document. This can be beneficial because smaller documents can be a lot cheaper to print. Also to reinforce a previous point, it will teach you the tools that are in professional desktop publishing software such as InDesign. Any experienced graphic design software user will be able to grasp how to use Scribus efficiently.

The print service i use insist that you have a PDF made available in PDF/1xa and I did find it a little tricky to work out how to export this. You must go into the document set up tab and activate colour management, this will add PDF 1xa to the the list of pdf types that you can export from the PDF tab.

Get started!

I highly recommend both of these free magazine design tools, I hope you enjoy trialing. I will look forward to hearing in the comments if you have trialled any other free desktop publishing programs.


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