Scribus 1.4.0 in a nutshell

Scribus 1.4.0 in a nutshell

The somewhat belated release of Scribus 1.4.0 is finally done. That's over 4 years of work, hundreds of bugfixes and quite a lot of anticipation compressed in a download that surprisingly small for a desktop publishing application.

With the amount of release candidates stretched across all of 2011 it's somewhat unlikely that anything in the final 1.4.0 release would come as a shock to actual users of the app. Even so an overview of the most important changes wouldn't come amiss.

The review focuses on substantial changes and deliberately drops some of the new features. For a more complete list of changes please refer to the official release notes.

Working with text

There are quite a few key improvements here, starting with editing text directly in text frames. As crazy as it sounds, with the former stable version it was simply impossible to do that, because even simple selection of characters didn't work as expected on many systems. So now you can always easily select, cut, paste and type your text without going for the Story Editor.

The other important feature is revamped actions history engine that now records a lot more changes. While its coverage spans across more tools and frames than just text, being able to undo and redo what you typed in is quite handy. Unfortunately not all changes can be tracked yet. For example, Scribus won't track formatting text with styles.

Speaking of which, Scribus now has symbol styles to help you easily and consistently format selections of text. E.g. you can create a symbol style that uses a small caps font to format all acronyms and suchlike.

Small caps via symbol styles in Scribus

The other new thing is optical margins. If you are not familiar with the concept, it's about making borders of text looking really aligned by means of respacing lines. That results in punctuation marks going a wee bit outside the line's border.

Since punctuation is typically a less visible feature, this compensates for the perceived broken justification of text. So here is optical margins disabled. Note that perceived justification is broken in two places:

Broken justification

Let's enable optical margins (via Properties palette or text styles), and here is what we get:

Lines respaced for optical margins

Zoom out to see the overall effect:

The overall effect of optical margins

There are even more changes in the text engine like glyph expansion and word tracking available in the Properties palette. Use them wisely :)

Render frame

There seems to be a lot of excitement regarding introduction of the Render frame which is an object that contains arbitrary code to be rendered to PS, PDF or PNG by an external application. That makes it possible to add equations or musical score to your layouts.

Every time you edit this code, Scribus calls that external renderer and updates the image. Here is what it looks like for LaTeX:

An equation via Render Frame and LaTeX in Scribus

The other options are:

  • Lilypond, for score engraving
  • Gnuplot, for visualization of data
  • Graphviz, for diagrams
  • POV-Ray, for 3D rendering

While the concept of render frames sounds like fun, in my experience, its execution is quite far from being fun.

For instance, when it comes to inline objects like equations (copy the render frame and paste it inside the text frame), you have very little further control over the inline copy of the frame. That is, you can copy, cut and paste it, but what you automatically get is this:

The broken vertical alignment can be manually tweaked by selecting the inline copy and changing baseline offset in properties palette, but doing that for every object is rather tiresome.

Besides, you can't even run the source editor for that inline object. So if you want to be able to edit such a render frame in the future, keep the original in a separate layer and make that layer non-printable.

An even more depressing part is that Scribus wants a bitmap in all render frames. This is fine for POV-Ray frames and more or less OK for Gnuplot frames, but it doesn't make a terrible lot of sense for either LaTeX, Lilypond or Graphviz. You get bitmaps with hardcoded dpi and you can't even scale those frames with the selection tool.

All in all, if you really need extra objects, render them to EPS or SVG outside of Scribus and then import. You lose the tweakability of the original, but then again you don't mess with bitmaps anymore.

Pre-press features

The new version has a non-geeky control over bleeds which you can define them in the beginning, when you create a new Scribus document:

Setting bleeds for a new document

You can also override those settings during exporting to PDF on the Pre-Press tab. That's where you can also enable rendering of crop and registration marks, color bars etc.

Printer marks for PDF exporting

Exporting PDF 1.5 (with layers) and PDF/X-3 is another major change here, with support for PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-4 and PDF/E presumably coming in Scribus 1.5.0.

File formats

My guess is that not a terrible lot of people are going to drop their jaws when they find out that Scribus now reads Calamus and XFig files.

Being able to use EPS and AI files as sources of swatches is, however, an entirely different thing. After all, this makes it possible to use Pantone palettes legally, albeit downloading them is up to you.

Imported Pantone palette

Additionally Scribus now ships over 150 swatches including those from various paint vendors from around the world.

The other new feature is support for clipping paths in PSD and TIFF files, including multiple clips:

Reading clips from TIFF and PSD

For PSD the list of supported features goes as far as layers (with blending modes and opacity) and Duo, Tri and Quadtone modes. By the way, image effects, the other new feature, among other things allows adding a duotone effect to any bitmap, and you can use a Pantone color there.

Duotone effect in Scribus

Suddenly you are not missing lack of native duotone support in GIMP, eh?

Documentation

The old help system wasn't of much use as it mostly consisted of a series of articles that had little to do with each other and often contained information that was considerably out of date or barely appropriate.

The new help system is something I personally consider a major improvement. While it's not as complete as the team's own user guide available in hard copy, it's a huge step in the right direction.

The documentation now contains an updated quick start guide, information on each type of frames and styles, explains how to work with colors and export to PDF. It's also available in French, German and Italian languages.

What to expect in the future

Over the nearly 5 years that it took the team to go from the former stable version to stable 1.4 the project lost part of its user base due to lack of essential features, productivity issues and slow rendering. Recapturing their attention isn't going to be easy.

Scribus 1.4.0 partially fixes rendering issues and simplifies use of various tools. Above all, some of the lacking essential features are already part of the future 1.5.0 release. Still there's quite a lot of things that either aren't implemented or need a lot of polish and rethinking.

For typesetting the most substantial change that has to be done is a full support for OpenType features and complex writing systems. Some of that work has already been done in 2010 as part of OIF project, but not all of the code is usable. So for 1.5.0 the team would like to have another go at the text engine. The scope of that rewrite is yet to be agreed on.

The current unstable 1.5.0 branch already has various user interface improvements, a new tool for creating and editing tables, support for mesh gradients and better gradients editing.

There are even more changes in the upcoming v1.5.0, but let's wait for it to stabilize first before encouraging to try it. As for newly released 1.4.0, expect only bugfixes, translation and documentation updates and new resources.

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14 Comments

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  1. You can expect also such new features in 1.5 as cross references, foot/endnotes, anchors for frames positioning, working shortcuts for text styles, character styles for drop caps, hyphenation control for paragraph styles, drop caps control for selected paragraphs (overriding style setting) and more, more, more. Work is in high progress…

  2. Alexandre Prokoudine 04 January 2012 at 10:23 am

    At this point I’m rather in “I believe it when I see it” mood :), but that’s good news indeed. Thanks for pointing out!

  3. Looks GREAT! i’m upgrading scribus now! from RC3 to stable version. Thank for information about scribus :D

  4. Excellent!

  5. Want to use Scribus,but can’t because not support Thai language…

  6. Alex, you can be sure about that all in 2012. I can promise this for you as almost of these features are working for me already in my local code (except these based on makers/anchors, but work is in deep progress; I know what I wrote because I am writing that code).
    1.6 stable will be major enhancement in 1.x tree. Lets hope it will be much faster released.

  7. Scribus 1.4.0 looks amazing. Congratulations to the developers, and looking forward to the next stable version. I’ll be sure to give it a try.
    Alexandre: I want to know if I’m able to do a magazine for print in Scribus. I’ve been searching for tutorials or templates for this, but with no luck. Thanks in advance.
    (Sorry for my bad english)

  8. What about portable Windows version?
    Maybe in collaboration with PortableApps.com?

  9. Perfect software working with it WOW. (Also with indesign). Okay no measure at all but you can make wonderful things with it. Just struggling to create a page flip. somebody have a tip for it with Scribus or…?

    Alexandre. thanks for your review(s). Love your site. Till now daily visitor I am.

    DigiDio

  10. It looks very interesting to me, but it’s just som damn hard to use.

  11. Can someone point me to some basic tutorials to really get an idea of the potential of this tool? It looks impressive but complicated. I work mostly in digital but will need to do some more print work soon.I am falling behind..

  12. Impressive program. It seems very useful for some folks. Are you the only developer?

  13. Great post as usual. I appreciate the time you spent in blogging to reach out to more viewers and to educate while sharing your knowledge and point of view in life. Do check us out too :)
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  14. Thanks for the great post! The new version looks fantastic! So amped to use it.

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