Preparing Your Digital PDF with Scribus

Jeff Montgomery -

This tutorial will offer you some advice on how to use Scribus to prepare an optimized digital edition PDF book.

Though Scribus is wonderful free software, we will not be updating tutorials for Scribus. We will be moving toward the Affinity suite which is low cost, easier for beginners to manage and robust enough for professionals. This tutorial will remain available, but will not be updated.


The new Mac OS update, Catalina, will no longer support 32-bit programs (64 bit only) rendering the current, stable build of Scribus unusable. However, the development version of Scribus is compatible with Mac's new OS. If you are using a Mac and have updated to Catalina, you will have to update your Scribus software to continue to use it.

The Tutorial is Broken up into Sections:

1. Setting Up Your Scribus Document

2. Adding Cover Images and Setting Up Pagination

3. Adding Bookmarks

4. Adding Hyperlinks

5. Exporting Your Scribus File as a Digital PDF

6. Tips and Things to Remember

7. What Do I Do Next?

8. I Need More Help!

What Do I Need?

This tutorial will have you use Scribus to layout and directly export a PDF at a resolution appropriate for viewing on computers and devices.

The screenshots shown in the tutorial use Scribus 1.4.0.rc2 for Mac. If you are using different versions of the software, some of the instructions and screenshots will be slightly different, but hopefully you can find the right feature in your software version.

How Do I Get This Software?

Scribus is available for free at Scribus is an Open Source program that brings professional page layout to Linux/UNIX, Mac OS X, OS/2 Warp 4/eComStation and Windows desktops.


1. Setting Up Your Scribus Document

Setting up your file is nearly identical to setting up a book for print but the specifications are much looser. If you plan to produce both print and digital editions, you should set up your book files to print specs and then produce a digital book from the same files.

For more information about the mechanics of setting up a Scribus file for print, see Preparing Your Book For Print with Scribus

For your convenience, we have created template files for to make your layout work easier. You can download Scribus book templates here.

Open Scribus. Then in the File pull-down menu, open the template. Make sure you are using the right template for your book size.

The Anatomy of a Digital Book Page

  • Red line: This is the edge of the page. It’s called the “trim” or “trim line.” Art and text should not go past it.
  • Blue line: This is called the “safe area,” which is a convention followed in books prepared for press. Text, and art that doesn’t “bleed” to the edge of the page, and any other important elements are placed inside this area of the page. In print book production, this safe area must be followed, but with digital book, the size of this margin is more of a suggestion, so it can be adjusted if needed.



2. Adding Cover Images and Setting Up Pagination

Before you begin any method of PDF export described, make sure your front and back cover files are the first and last pages of your digital PDF.

You can add a page to the beginning and end of your interior text file document, and then place your cover images on those pages. Then, you will want to change the pagination of the cover pages to Roman numerals (i, ii) so the cover pages won’t interfere with the books pagination and the page numbers will still match the Table of Contents.

To add pages to your Scribus document, pull down the Pages menu at the top of your screen. The Insert Page dialog box will open. In the Insert Page(s) field, add 1 before the first page. Click OK. Then repeat this at the end of the book for the last page.



Next you need to set up your page numbers. Pull down the File menu from the top of your screen, then select and open Document Setup. The Document Setup dialog box will open. From the list at the left-hand side of the box, scroll down to and select Sections. Click the Add button at the bottom of the box to add a new section. You may have to click through an error or warning box to add one. This is okay.


Manually change the row 0 to reflect From page 1 and To page 2, then pull down to the Style pull-down menu to choose Roman numerals (i, ii, iii). Then manually change row 1 to reflect from page 1 according to the Table of Contents to whatever the last page before the cover is, then pull down the Style drop-down menu to choose Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3). Click Apply, then OK.


Now if you check your Document Pages in your Arrange Pages palette, you can see that the correct pagination is in effect.


Now, place your cover images. Just follow the instructions in this tutorial under Adding Art and/or Adding and Formatting Text.


3. Adding Bookmarks

To make navigating through a large PDF book easier, bookmarks can be made in your Scribus document, which can be exported and used in your final PDF digital edition. A good use of bookmarking is to place one at the first page of every chapter in your book, so readers can jump straight to the chapter of the book where they last left it.

There are a few things about bookmarks in Scribus you should know before you begin. The first is that bookmarks can only be made using text frames. The second is that bookmarks are not listed in the order they occur in the document, but rather by the order they were created. You will want to review the order of your bookmarks before you export your final PDF and rearrange them as needed.

First, make sure your Bookmark palette is open. Expand the Windows menu at the top of your screen. If Bookmarks is checked, your palette is open somewhere. If it’s not checked, select it to open it now.



Now right-click on the text box you would like to set as a bookmark. A contextual menu will open. Navigate to PDF Options, then select Is PDF Bookmark. Repeat this action on every text box in your document that you would like to bookmark.



Now check your Bookmarks palette. You will see a list of Bookmarks you have made. As you can see below, when compared to my TOC to the right, my bookmarks order.


This is easily corrected, just drag and drop your bookmarks to rearrange them.

The screenshot to the below illustrates that you can nest a bookmark underneath another bookmark, creating sub-levels.


Remember to test the bookmarks in your final exported PDF to make sure the page destinations you have established are all correct.


4. Adding Hyperlinks

In some digital books, you may want to add links between pages that occur in your document, such as links from the entries in your Table of Contents to your chapter starts, or links to destinations outside your document, such as a web URL. Scribus can do these! If you choose to add interactivity to your digital edition, make sure to test each created link in your final PDF after export.

Adding links between pages

To add a link from one page to another, first make sure that your PDF Tools bar is open. To find this, expand the Windows pull-down menu and make sure PDF Tools is checked.


Find the PDF Tools bar. It looks like this screenshot below. Click the Insert Link Annotation button. It looks like footprints.


Now draw a box around your source area, then right-click on it to expand a contextual menu. Navigate down to PDF Options and choose Annotation Properties.



The Annotation Properties dialog box will open. From the Type drop-down menu, choose Link.

Then set your Destination details. Choose the correct page number in the Page field, either by clicking through using the arrows or by directly typing the page number into the field.

A thumbnail of your selected page will display in the window to the right. Your cursor will turn into cross-hairs when you hover over this thumbnail image. Click on the part of the page in the thumbnail you would like to set as your link destination. The X and Y coordinates of that location will automatically calculate. Click OK.


Adding links to destinations outside your document

To set an external destination, such as a web link, begin the same way. Select the Insert Link Annotation button from the PDF Tools bar and draw a box over your source area. Right-click to expand the contextual menu, navigate down to PDF Options, and choose Annotation Properties.

Now, choose External Web-Link from the Type menu. In the Destination field, type or paste the web URL you intend to use. (Don’t forget to include the “http://” part of the address!)



5. Exporting Your Scribus File as digital PDF

Now that you’ve completed setting up your book, exporting it as a digital PDF is easy!

1. Export a PDF directly from Scribus, adjusting your PDF export settings to make them appropriate for viewing on a computer, a tablet or other mobile device.

Once you have inserted your cover images and corrected your pagination, pull down the File menu, navigate down to Print. Then select Save as PDF.16_Book_HowToSCRIBUS-Digital.jpg


A print dialog box will open. The General Tab should be the first of six tabs you will see. In the Output to File field, change the name of your PDF to make sure you don’t overwrite any previous versions.


After you have saved your file with a new name, start by making these changes in the General Tab.

  • File Options - Compatability: PDF 1.5 (Acrobat 6)
  • File Options - Check Include Bookmarks if your file has Bookmarks.
  • Compression Method: Automatic
  • Compression Quality: High
  • Maximum Image Resolution: 150 dpi



Under the Fonts Tab, a list of available fonts should be listed. Click Embed All at the right to include all the document fonts in your PDF file.



Under the Viewer Tab, make sure the Single Page radio button is checked under Document Layout, and Use Viewers Defaults under Visual Appearance.


Please do not use any Security settings in your digital edition export. The ability to copy/paste or print the digital edition can be managed on out site under the File Security settings in your Product File information when you upload the book. Any security settings imposed on your uploaded digital edition will hinder our automatic watermarking process during customer check-out.


Under the Color Tab, make sure the Output Intended For drop-down menu is set to Screen/Web.



Under the Pre-Press Tab, make sure your document bleed is set to 0 inches all around.



When you’ve finished adjusting your export settings, click Save to export your digital edition PDF.


You may wish to check your final PDF on multiple computers or tablets before uploading it to your Publisher Account. This ensures that your digital book looks the way you want across many different devices and that no export errors were inadvertently made. It gives you a chance to correct any settings and fix any problems before the book goes live for sale.

6. Tips and Things to Remember


Although exporting your PDF using the methods provided will take care of most of the specifications required of a digital PDF, there are a few things that are important enough to bring to your attention again. These points are listed in DriveThru’s Quick Specs document and Checklist for Digital Books, both of which can be found Digital PDF's.

  • DO NOT use JPEG2000 compression in any linked or embedded JPEG art files, even if it reduces your file size.
    Tablets and phones cannot always display images using JPEG2000 compression.
  • DO NOT use PDF/A profile compliance for your exported PDF.
  • DO NOT use transparency in your document or images.
    Tablets and phones also have problems displaying PDFs with transparency attributes.
  • DO NOT lock or use security settings in your exported PDF. This includes imposing password protection as well as turning off the ability to copy/paste or print from the PDF.
    These options can be managed under the File Security settings in your Product File information on the DriveThru site when you upload your book. Any security settings imposed on your uploaded digital edition will cause errors during the automatic watermarking process.


7. What Do I Do Next?

Once you have finished producing and testing your digital PDF, you’re ready to upload!

If you have any questions about how to proceed with creating a title listing, see SET UP A NEW TITLE & EDIT A TITLE

After a successful upload, you can choose to activate your title for live sale! How exciting!


8. I Need More Help!

Your publisher service rep is not really an expert on digital layout, so chances are slim that he or she will be able to answer questions not answered in this tutorial. However, please do email us your questions anyway so we can help find an answer if we can and also so that we can improve this tutorial so it answers more questions for everyone.

If you have decided that you don’t care to do your own file layout, you can find people with professional skills and contract them to create your print files. The cost of this work depends on how much of the work you do yourself before handing it over. You can find freelance layout professionals at sites like

We can also recommend someone for layout if you would like. Please contact Publisher Services for details.









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