My journey with Scribus and what is wrong with it

Previous topic - Next topic


My journey with Scribus and what is wrong with it
by Mikko-Pentti Einari Eronen

Hi! My name is Mikko-Pentti Einari Eronen and I am from Finland. I am a professional Adobe Indesign user who has worked for a national wide media company (PunaMusta Media oyj) for a little over 10 years. My perspective is naturally a bit biased due to heavy Indesign use, however I do understand that Scribus is not and it should never mimic Indesign.
  My usual workday contains creating advertisements for printed magazines, designing and creating print-ready materials of all kinds and for all sort of surfaces (paper, cloth, etc) and we work closely with our print department, digital banners, article formatting, scripting (Python, Indesign scripts etc), creating accessible document
  I have tried Scribus many times over the years but I am unable to get over and through the small things that prevent me from acquiring a smooth workflow with Scribus. The purpose of this post is NOT to mock or downplay Scribus in anyway. I have the highest respect to the developers and the software. You can be very proud of it. On technical side the software gets many, many things right. But most issues I have ran into are on user-experience side.

Lets make a simple business card!
For the purpose of this article and also because I need one, I decided to make a business card for myself using Scribus.

1.0. Creating a new document - New Document Dialog
So I have Scribus up and running, version provided by Arch Linux's Pacman. I open a New Document dialog. Here I find all the essential settings. However, one thing I find missing is the ability to add own custom Page Size presets. I also checked the preferences for the Page sizes and added all the common sizes, but even there option to add custom sizes is missing. Which is a small missing feature, but after creating a certain size documents every day for years, it can get tedious to set the document properties by hand every time. As size for my card I decided to use 86 mm x 54 mm. Bleeds at 3 mm and Margins 5 mm for all sides.

1.1. Setting pages and layers - Arrange Pages and Layers windows
After creating the document I realised I forgot to add another page for the backside. Of course I could have simply gone to Page -> Insert. But my brain wanted to check the "Arrange Pages" window first thinking that of course there would be also buttons to add and delete pages. It would be handy if you could perform all the operations found in the Page menu also right in the "Arrange Pages" window.

I create three layers. Background, Graphics and Texts. Layers window performs as expected, very well. Easy to rename layers, check-boxs are easy to understand and Blend Mode and Opacity is found easily.

1.2. Creating background - Properties/Context Properties window
I select to the Background layer and create a simple rectangle using the Shape tool. This was easy to find and simple to use. By default we usually get a rectangle with a black border with no fill color. So I open the Properties window. This window is a very big problem for me. It has so much information that it is divided in to expandable sub-sections, what makes it even worse is the fact that each sub-section can have scrolled content.

Lets go through the sections starting from the top.

X, Y, Z section
Most of the time I want to keep this one open open, so that is in logical place.

Drop shadow and Shape sections
It is a little odd that these are right after because they are not really all that commonly used dialogs. Yes I can simply keep them closed, but they do take up space.

Line section
This has most options that I usually need, but I failed to find the option to choose the direction line is drawn (inside, center or outside). By default it appears to draw the line centered which means towards both directions from the edge. Option to change direction would be great.
  Centered is a bit problematic since it expands in both directions, so if you put 6 mm as Line Width, you end up having 3 mm outside and 3 mm inside.
  It is also quite interesting that while the centered border changes also the visual size of the element (the outer expanding portion of the border), the values in X, Y, Z window state the original dimension, all good so far. The selection border however seems to be calculated around all the added geometry, including border, But clicking the outer border does nothing. The element only get selected when you click the actual original geometry. Slightly odd.

This view works as intended, however I wish there was a way to edit the colors right from this view. Just add a button that takes me to same place as Edit -> Colours and Fills does. That would help a lot.

This is logical and contains all that expected.

Quick Properties end words
While Properties window seems okay, it is extremely frustrating to navigate in a long run. If I had a Text frame, all the contextual settings are "hidden" within Text Properties window. I think it would be better if in Scribus we could lock various UI properties in place, just like in most other softwares. So we would always see and know where they are on the screen. Monitors are increasingly wider and bigger with lots of resolution to use. There is no reason to hide things under windows like this.

Defining Colours and Paragraph/Text Styles
Setting up styles and colours should have been done right at the beginning, before actually starting any actual layout work. But sometimes (quite often actually haha) we start working and then realise we should probably get them set up.

Colours and Fills
This is found from Edit -> Colours and Fills. The problem with colors is that in order to edit them, you first have to open this dialog, then select a color you want to edit and then press Edit putton. This will open yet another dialog that has actual color values. way too clumsy to use. Colours and Fills and Edit Colour windows should be merged together for easier access. I do like the Old and New color views.
I made myself two Solid Colours and two Gradients. While defining Gradients (adding and renaming), Scribus kept crashing multiple times with an error "Scribus crashes due to Signal #11".
  One thing that I like with colours in Scribus is that switching between gradients for example keeps the defined geometry for it. In Indesign switching gradients can reset the gradient geometry and it's a bit annoying.

Quick note about Page Margins etc
It is a slight bugger that I have set up Page Margins, but if I put a rectangle on my page I can't see the Margin guides anymore from under.

Here is a composed list of issues mentioned and some other issues I ran into while working

  • Would be nice to be able to add custom Document presets
  • Selection rectangle handles are not very intuitive to use, the are from within you are able to click the handle is way too small. Often end up moving the element instead of resizing it.
  • Scribus keeps crashing when editing Gradients, this crashing was quite consistent.
  • At some point selecting elements stopped working. This happaned multiple times. I had to reopen the document to "wake up" this functionality again.
  • Not being able to select elements from other layer by default is a bit annoying. I understand the idea behind this, but that's what locks are for. Usually people want to be able to select elements across the layers whild editing.
  • User-interface definetily could use some love. It's overally quite hard to navigate, too much jumping here and there. Dialogs are rather limited by functionalities and the rest more specific functions are hidden in top menus. For example it would make sense in Arrange Pages you could add and delete pages, but for this you have to travel all the way up and visit the Page menu.
  • Scribus crashed on multiple times while writing text in Text frames and using undo functionality.
  • Paragraph style kept resetting itself when pressing Enter while writing text on Text Frame.


I think the issue here is that you expect a FOSS software in version 1.5 to have the same user experience as a commercial software in version 15.

It is well known that the Scribus user interface could use a major overhaul, but being an Open Source project that would probably require someone to take the lead on such a project and coordinate efforts. There have been numerous suggestions about improvements to the user inteface, but very few of them end up being developed.


QuoteScribus crashed on multiple times while writing text in Text frames and using undo functionality.
QuoteParagraph style kept resetting itself when pressing Enter while writing text on Text Frame.

You should use the story or text editor for these tasks. I'm running the latest nightly build on macOS and never had a crash.