Document format

When you create a document, its page dimensions are of paramount importance. This should be chosen according to the document's content – not just the amount, but its meaning, its structure and organization, and its target. From the menu, File > New brings up a dialog with various options, confusing for the beginner, yet still essential to the document's design. Not only does this need to anticipate the layout, but also the eventual output from the printing equipment.


For convenience, as well as efficiency, it is common to use proven standards of size based on ISO specifications. Worldwide, the most common standard is based on the A formats, especially the widely used A4 commonly used in your computer's local printer – US Letter is similar in size.

Principles of Imposition

Depending on the specifics of the commercial printing equipment, the printer may do an imposition, with assembly and arrangement of the pages to be printed on a paper size much larger than the finished document's pages, since this paper will be folded in order to create the final size. This not only saves the amount of paper handling involved, it easily allows printing to the edges of the page.

Below we see a scheme of imposition depicting the distribution of a 16 page document on 2 sides of a sheet of paper. When properly folded and then cut, the pages will be in the correct order on 4 smaller sheets of paper.

Imposition is facilitated by having paper sizes where there is a constant ratio of width to height, regardless of size. Throughout the A format series of papers, there is a relationship of width:height of 1:2 . Thus, one can subdivide 1 sheet of A0 paper into 16 sheets of A4.

Here we can appreciate the flexibility of the A format series – the A1 width is half the height of A0, A2 width half the height of A1, and so on, and thus this 1:2 ratio is maintained throughout the series.

When you look at the Size choices for the New Document dialog, you see that Scribus has a very large number of choices for you.


There are two choices for orientation:

  • Portrait, the most common, since we are accustomed to using paper taller than it is wide.
  • Landscape, utilized for special situations, when width of objects or lines needs to be large. Many brochures will have a landscape orientation.


The units of measurement are important, and are used throughout Scribus, for position and sizing of various elements of content, plus guides and margins, as well as the dimensions of the document itself.

The default units are points, a worldwide standard for typographical and printing measurements, A typical font which is 12 points in height is one-sixth of an inch.

A more generally used unit is the metric system, specifically millimeters for DTP. Since Scribus will automatically convert from one unit system to another, you can use whichever suits your purpose. Whatever page unit you use, you will see that your fonts, and font relationships, such as linespacing, will always be measured in points. It is recommended that you use or become familiar with a smaller unit, such points or millimeters, since these allow for greater precision when positioning and sizing objects.

In the New Document dialog, under Options, note the Default Unit which is set. Even if you forget to change this setting, you can change your units at any time. For convenience, go to File > Preferences > Document to change your default setting.

Document Layout

In the upper left corner of the New Document dialog, there is a setting for the page display on the canvas.

  • Single Page is commonly used in general, and for single sheet documents such as flyers or advertisements. This could also be used for a PDF available on the internet.
  • Double Sided is another commonly used display, since it conveniently displays the right and left pages of a book or periodical with their relative relationships while reading. Remember that imposition of the pages for printing is a separate step.
  • 3-fold and 4-fold displays would be analogous to the double sided where 3 or 4 pages will be seen side by side. Note that Scribus will save, export, and print these as individual pages. 
As was shown in the chapter Hands on, if you would be planning to make a folding brochure from an A4 or similar paper, start with Single Page A4 oriented in landscape, then use guides to help position your content.

    If you have some idea of the number of pages your document will have, you can create as many as you need under Options. If not, you can easily add or insert more pages later.

    As desired you may also create Automatic Text Frames, which will fill the page to the margins as each page is created, either at this stage or as you add pages later. Such frames will be automatically linked from one page to the next, and furthermore, you may specify the number of columns and gap between them.

    Margins and bleeds

    The use of margins is a personal preference, and mainly serves as a guide for placing your objects in the layout, maintaining a certain white space at the edges. For a Double Sided display, you have the choice of some standard margins, such as Gutenberg, Fibonacci, Golden Mean, or Nine Parts, which will of course be appropriately adjusted for right or left pages. If you are printing on your own printer attached to your computer, be sure not to exceed the printing area of your printer, and clicking Printer Margins... sets the margins for that purpose.

    Highlight your information

    At first glance, creating margins seems simple, yet consider that you are highlighting your text by the balance of white space around it. There may indeed be some elements which go to the paper's edge, like some background image or a swatch of color, but these are not the items you wish the reader to focus on. The focus should be placed on the text and any informational images you may have.

    Create margins

    Although you may be tempted to have identical margins around the page, and certainly there is a way to link the margins so that they are all the same, you would likely only want this for something like a newsletter or magazine.

    • Most books will probably have some scheme in which the top margin is narrower than the bottom, and the outer margin larger than the inner (near the binding).
    • Make sure that you have a minimum of 5mm (14.2 points) of inner margin, to allow for page area lost to the binding.
    • If you are using a Double Sided display, you will have a choice of some traditional proportioned margins under Preset LayoutsGutenberg, Fibonacci, Golden Mean, and Nine Parts.


    Bleed is an area at the margins of your page which will be trimmed away after printing. Whenever you wish an image, a color, or graphic to print to absolute edge of the paper, this will guarantee that in your finished product, since you will make sure the object extends slightly into that bleed area. It's also worth noting that the bleed width is added to the page dimensions you specified under Size, so that for example, an A4 with bleed will be trimmed to A4 size.

    Here we see a right page of a double sided display, with Gutenberg margins. The area outside the red rectangle is the bleed area.

    Editing a document's properties

    As was said about "the best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men", it does happen that after we have begun work on a layout, we then need to change its format.

    Fortunately, you are not stuck and need to start over. If you choose from the menu File > Document Setup > Document, you have the opportunity to make adjustments in the settings mentioned in this chapter. Alternatively, to change the current page, select from the menu Page > Page Properties to make whatever changes you wish.

    If you do change any current pages with content, this may result in a need to adjust your layout and position of content.

    Note that with Document Setup > Document, you have the choice of applying your changes to all pages, and there is a separate checkbox to apply new margin settings to all pages. You should learn quickly what sorts of changes and amount of changes are relatively simple and which require some substantial adjustments.