Magazine Design With $0.00 Art Budget

I frequently starred in my own covers to save money
I frequently starred in my own covers to save money

I was the art director/production manager for a publishing company that produced several titles in English and Spanish. Profit was paramount so that meant expenses were to be kept low—or non-existent.

This can be a challenge in publication design, but not an insurmountable one. In fact, having such constraints can stretch the imagination and force the designers and editors to come up with cool ways to illustrate the issue while not spending any money doing so.

This is one example.

One of our titles was “Magazine Issues,” which we renamed from the original name: “Publishing Trade.” I came up with the name, because, well, magazines were issues and issues were magazines. Get it?

The cover story—Employee Wars—was written by the publisher and dealt with intra-office squabbling and back-stabbing. The challenge was how to illustrate “back-stabbing”?

Of course! As a fencer, this was obvious. I gathered my fencing equipment and got up on the conference table and faced off with—my sister! One of the sales reps shot some pix as we sparred on the table as our co-workers looked in staged horror (in between laughing).

The pix came out great and I asked my assistant art director to expand on the idea by creating pencil-sketch illustrations to be used as inside art for the article.

It would seem like my sister got the better of me and I was never to back-stab again.

This was a fun example of how the creative mind can come up with some clever ideas when constraints are in place. Also, keep in mind, this was just before the digital publishing revolution, so we couldn’t simply Photoshop our way out this or illegally grab some image off The Googler.

In addition to Magazine Issues, we published, and I was the art director for: Quick Printing, Southern Graphics, Printing Products International, Artes Gráficas, The Craftsmen Review, several Show Guides, and Direct Response Card decks.

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Open Source Graphic Design

open source graphic designI have been experimenting with Open Source Graphics alternatives to Adobe software. This post will detail my experiences and opinions.

 The Setup

I am using the following Open Source Graphics tools on a Linux laptop:
Asus laptop.
Replaced Windows7 with Ubuntu 16.04 LTS
Intel® Pentium(R) CPU B970 @ 2.30GHz × 2
Scribus Version 1.4.6
GIMP 2.8.16

For comparison, I timed the app launch time on my late 2012 MacBookPro, running El Capitan.
Adobe InDesign CC: 6min 16sec
Adobe Photoshop CC: 1min 10sec
Scribus (Version 1.5.1): 1min 16sec
GIMP: 1min 11sec

Launch time on Ubuntu (Open Source only):
Scribus: 4.3sec
GIMP: 2.7sec

I downloaded Blender. Blender is “a free and open source 3D creation suite.” I am going to try moving from the 2D world of Open Source Graphics Design to the 3D world. They have many tutorials on their site, which I am about to embark on. I installed it on my Mac, but will add it to my collection on Ubuntu as well. OK, here we go!

Opening an InDesign document in Scribus

I read a few blogs on this and tried one suggestion: create an .EPS from InDesign and open it as an editable file in Scribus. That did not work.

Another suggestion was to create an .IDML (an InDesign file that can be read by a previous version) document from InDesign and open that in Scribus. That worked much better. Here’s what I did and the result:

Business Card designed in Adobe InDesign CC

InDesign .IDML file opened in Scribus

Business Card File

This worked fairly well. The only issue I had was that the tracking (space between letters) was a bit off and the upside-down “J” I used to create the lower-case “f” in “Jeff” got flipped over. Otherwise, the styles and colors were all intact.

Book layout in InDesign

InDesign .IDML file of book opened in Scribus

Paginated Book File

The book conversion didn’t go as well. The main body of the text was OK, but the TOC, some drop caps and footers got messed up. Still, it is an editable document. One thing was, though, is that my blockquotes defaulted to Arial. It seems that in some cases there was a character style on top of the paragraph style that carried over from the original Word file. A simple fix, however.

Command-A in the Scribus file

This was interesting. I placed the cursor in the text and hit Command-A to select the entire text string. It highlighted one page. However, that wasn’t really true.

Deleted text in Scribus

When I deleted the highlighted text, it seems that the entire text string really was highlighted, as the whole thing got deleted. Then something even more interesting happened…

Command-Z in Scribus

I hit Command-Z to undo the delete. The text came back, but the formatting was now messed up.

Edit Scribus File in Text Editor

If you open a Scribus file in a text editor and open an InDesign file in a text editor, you will see that Scribus is very readable whereas, InDesign is not. You can make changes in both and save the file, but the results are quite different. Editing an InDesign file in a text editor (TextEdit on a Mac) renders the file useless.

InDesign error message

Editing a Scribus file produces better results. I edited a Scribus document on a Mac using TextEdit. This rendered the file useless, just like InDesign. But, then I tried it on my Linux Ubuntu machine, using Gedit, which I launched from the Command Line and, voilà, the file opens and the changes I made in Gedit were retained. How can this be useful? Say you are a printer and you receive a Scribus file. The client calls and says there is a small typo. Instead of getting a new file, open the Scribus file in Gedit and you should be good to go.

Scribus edited in Gedit on Linux

Scribus opens after Gedit changes

PDF Import in Scribus

I converted an InDesign doc to an .IDML so that I could plop in some PDFs. It seems Scribus is not as easy for this function like InDesign. However, after it failed, I simply converted my PDF imports to JPGs and imported them into Scribus. That worked great. I exported my document as a PDF but noticed that the files size was rather large. I’ll have to investigate that later.

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An ad in The American Spectator magazine that is not FF-RHP. Oh no!
An ad in The American Spectator magazine that is not FF-RHP. Oh no!


Anyone who has worked in publishing will be very familiar with this term. Advertisers will negotiate with the sales rep to ensure that their ad is placed in the publication far forward (usually first 50%) and on the right-hand page (on top if possible). The sales rep will come to the production manager or the art director with an insertion order with big, bold, underlined, italic Arial type with five exclamation points that reads:


The production manager will roll his eyes and tell the sales rep (almost convincingly) that he’ll “do his best” to make sure the ad appears where the customer demands. Usually, this request can be granted. The problem arises when the request is really a demand. Advertisers will use the fact that their ad did not appear where they commanded and refuse payment. Even if there is no guarantee and no premium paid, advertisers will often think that they are entitled to special placement.

It has been my experience that the 80/20 rule applies to this. 80% of the “problems” are caused by the bottom 20% of the advertisers. Here’s an example, based on years of production management:

Phil (not his real name), the ad rep has gotten a hot lead on the hook. He has convinced Widgets-R-Us (not a real company) to give the publication a try. They are willing to buy a one-time quarter-page square ad. In order to get Widgets-R-Us into the January issue of Widget World (not a real magazine), Phil has agreed to their demands. Their quarter-page ad must be far-forward, first 50%, right-hand page, opposite full edit, at least six pages from competitors, not across from any negative editorial. And, oh, by the way: we need to create the ad for them.

“We Need to Create the Ad for Them.”

Deadline approaches. Production manager chases after Phil to get the material in. “But I’ve emailed them twice today; they just don’t respond.” Then call them. “I have, but Mr. Big-Ad is away somewhere.” Uh-huh. “Well, if they do not have material in place by 5pm we’ll have to pull the ad and replace the space with a filler and charge them, since they signed a contract.”

“Whuhhh, no, we can’t do that,” Phil laments.

As if on cue, emails start pouring in at 4:59pm. There’s a Microsoft Publisher file with some unproofed text, then comes some low-resolution PNG files that the advertiser “just got off the Google.” Then a giant logo that needs to be converted to CMYK and re-sized (but first it must be unzipped).

As night approaches, an ad is quickly cobbled together. The Google images are replaced with images found right on the advertiser’s website, the text is proofed, and a PDF is sent to Phil so he can send it to Mr. Big-Ad.

Approved! Who knows if anyone really looked at it, but the returned email is all the proof we need!

Due to some shifting of editorial and some ads being moved around, Widgets-R-Us gets placed on a left-hand page, on page 66. Uh-oh.

The Tribunal of Publication Crimes

The magazines arrive and Phil walks in holding a magazine limply in his hand with a downcast look on his face. “What happened?” Welllll. Yes, this a mistake. A promise was made and not kept. Guilty as charged. However, there are a few things to use as a defense during the trial at the Tribunal of Publication Crimes:

There was no premium paid and Phil should never have agreed to any guarantees, especially for a one-time, quarter-page ad. OK, he did, we messed up. But, what does it really matter? Here’s what research has shown:

Leslie Tucker, writing for The Richards Group, cites a study conducted by VISTA:

An ad on a right-hand page is more effective than an ad on a left-hand page.

Answer: false. In terms of right- vs. left-page positioning, there’s virtually no difference in recall.”

And from Principles of Effective Print Advertising, [Word .doc file] a paper by Steve Blom at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville…

“While this seems to be overstating the obvious, there are still myths that placement has a direct effect on ad performance. “Right-hand page, Far forward” is a frequently heard request.

Unfortunately, it has virtually nothing to do with whether or not your ad will succeed. A well-designed ad will perform well wherever its location: front or back, left-hand page or right.”

There’s an Ad Stuck in My Eye!

This assumption comes from old newspaper “rules.” For some interesting reading on layout and how right and left play into it, see this post by by Chris Da Sie, writing for Creative Bloq. Chris describes the “Gutenberg Diagram,” a design guide developed by Edmund C. Arnold, that describes how people’s eyes “travel” across design. Jessie Lacey writes about it in The Dirigo Blog. It’s interesting reading.

So, next time Phil comes in with another FF-RHP ad, show him this research.

Thank you for reading.

—Jeff Macharyas, publication production and design for many years.

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