2017-01-18

Making a Zine on a Mac

So You Want to Make a Zine

There has to be templates and stuff out there, right? Something you could stick in whatever word processor you are using? A guide maybe on margins and such.

Nope. Not really. I mean, you'll find some stuff, but most of it is kind of vague and unhelpful, or quite dated, or really clunky to use (e.g. Word templates that have text boxes flowing in zine order, so that you are looking at two pages at a time, out of visual order, when you compose).  I have been on a surprisingly long journey to find a relatively painless way to slap together a zine without resorting to low-tech scissors and glue layout. I'll spare you the bulk of it and jump pretty quickly to the method I settled on.

But I do want to mention one "dead end:" Adobe InDesign. InDesign is a fine program. And for a long time I thought it was going to be the answer. Ultimately it proved to be too fiddly, and too damned expensive for long term use. For me, anyway. Your mileage may definitely vary. I expect it's a great tool for people who like to fiddle. At that point, though, I'm doing all the work of laying out a real book.

The answer, for me, turned out to be two simple and relatively cheap tools: Pages and the aptly if awkwardly named Create Booklet.

Making a Template

I am going to talk about Pages, but if you have a favorite word processor or have already decided Pages isn't your bag, here's the short version. Build a custom page size of 5.5" wide x 8.5" tall, slap .5" margins all around on it, and go to town. This way you can write and design your pages one page at a time, in order, and text flows as you expect. Don't try to write/design the zine with the pages in booklet order.

In case you don't know what that means, reading order for a 24-page zine is 1, 2, 3, ... 24, obviously. Booklet order, for printing is like 24, 1, 2, 23, 22, 3, 4, 21, etc.

Now you can skip to the next section, if you don't want instruction for Pages ver. 6.0.5.

You may know Pages, it comes with your Mac. It's a pretty touchy-feely word processor with a lot of its controls hidden in a way that is supposed to highlight its intuitiveness, but rarely does. Even so, it has exactly what you need.

First you have to set up a template. Open a blank document and navigate the menu through File and Page Setup. In the resulting dialogue box, click on the Paper Sizes menu and choose Manage Custom Sizes (all the way at the bottom). Click the '+' symbol (bottom left) to add a custom size and name it "Digest" (or whatever you want) by double-clicking on the Untitled entry you just added in the list. Set the Paper Size to 5.5 in wide and 8.5 in tall. For the Non-Printable Area, choose User Defined and set all four zones (left, right, top, bottom) to .5 in.

Now, go back to the menu. Choose View, Inspector, Document Setup. This gives you a pane in the right side of Pages where you can set the document margins. Again, I set them to .5 in all around. You can also choose your Header and Footer distances. Mine are set at .5 in for the Header and .6 for the Footer. I also like to tell it to Show Ruler and Show Layout under the View menu.

Now save it as a template (Menu, File, Save As Template).

While you could do a similar template in about any word processor, I just happen to like Pages. MS Word is so damn finicky. I saw this quote on social media a while back and it made me laugh heartily, and cringe ... because it's true.

Using Microsoft Word. *Moves image 1mm to the left.*All text and images shift. 4 new pages appear. In the distance, sirens.

Content & Design

From here it's just a matter of adding content and laying it out. I'll skip that part, you know how to do that, and if you don't I can't help you. There are some tricks for dealing with styles and images I might talk about in a future post, but I want to get to how you print up your zine, because you can't really do it straight from Pages, as far as I know.

Printing

This is where Create Booklet comes in. The app currently costs $9.99 and you can get it in the App Store or download a free trial at their website first. Using this software couldn't be simpler. Start by saving your project as a PDF from Pages. Open Create Booklet and choose to open the PDF you just created. At this point you are basically done except hitting the Command+P to print your zine! Create Booklet does all the work of figuring out which page goes where in the printing. You can also do stuff like adding page numbers in Create Booklet, but I prefer to handle all of that in Pages.

That's it. Well, except for folding and stapling. I assume your printer won't do that for you. You will need a long reach stapler. They currently run from $12-24 for a typical model.

Tips & Tricks

This is sort of like a FAQ, because I know you are going to get started and then want to do some fancier stuff or have questions. Here's what little I know to tell you.

  • Heavy paper makes the zine hard to fold and creates a more pronounced difference in the open edge. The cover is bent around all the pages in between, so it loses a fraction of an inch. Each successive middle page is wrapped around less material, loses less in the fold, and sticks out a little farther along the open edge of the zine as a result. The overall effect is a kind of steepled edge, with the middle-most pages sticking out the farthest. This makes it hard to "thumb through" the zine.
  • A lot of pages creates the same problem (hard to fold, steepled edge). 6 sheets of paper will make a 24 page zine, which is a very manageable size. Every added sheet after that adds 4 more pages. 8 sheets/32 pages is about as far as I want to go,  but you can easily try out different thicknesses on your own. Play with both number of pages and paper thickness.
  • For a really "pro" zine, you can use a block cutter to trim the outer edge flat. But ... eh ... it's not that big a deal unless the steepling is really pronounced.
  • Most people use cardstock for the cover, of course. When you go to print the interior pages, just tell Create Booklet to print a range of pages from 3 to n-2, where n is your total pages. For a 24 page zine, for instance, you would print pages 3 to 22. This leaves out pages 1 (cover), 2 (inside cover), 23 (inside back cover), and 24 (back cover), which you then print separately on the card stock. Or you could just create your cover in a separate file and print the whole run of your interior pages so that the covers aren't part of the page count. 
  • Staple, then fold. The staple will keep the pages from slipping around when you do fold them.
  • If you want to look at your zine with facing pages, you can either use Create Booklet and choose "straight order" or you can open your the PDF you created in your word processor and have your PDF viewer display facing pages/two pages at a time. If it doesn't put up your first page (the cover) by itself, everything will be off one. Temporarily adding a blank up front is one way to solve that problem.
  • If you want a continuous splash page in the middle; for instance, you want a drawing that goes right through the fold/staple. Leave blanks in the center-most pages of your document (pages 12-13 in a 24-page zine). Create a splash page template that is 11" wide by 8.5" tall with .5" margins all around. Design your splash page and save it as a PDF. Then use Create Booklet to set up your zine in booklet order and print to a PDF instead of directly to your printer. (You may want to do this anyway if you are sending your digital file off to print at a shop, rather than stealing paper and ink from your work. Not that anyone does that!) Once you have the printer's layout PDF from Create Booklet, replace the middle spread of the PDF with your full page spread. (Mac's Preview and Adobe Acrobat both allow you to swap in/out pages.)
  • If you want a continuous cover, do it basically the same way (see above).


How About You?

If you make a zine, link to yourself below and/or tell me about your process.