Identity

A Beginner's Guide to Making Zines

Every step of how to make tiny books, from coming up with what you want to say to stapling your finished product into existence.

by Sarah Burke
Oct 1 2018, 7:45pm

Photo via Katie Licht on Flickr. 

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I made my first zine in high school. It was just a folded eight-page booklet that I drew on with friends at a coffee shop, then made copies of on the Xerox machine in my mom’s office. All it had were our sketches, and perhaps a few provocative phrases that didn't really mean anything. But for us, it was a shareable snapshot of the creative friend group we had gathered and the ways we were mutually coping with teen angst.

My friends and I learned the medium because a cool older artist had shown us. We were immediately hooked on the idea of collaborating on cheap little books together. At the time, we weren't even really aware of the rich history behind zines and punk culture. I, at least, wasn’t thinking critically about the radical potential of self-publishing, or the capacity for zines to spread political resources, help start movements, or create subcultural communities across long-distances before the internet made that easy.

I'm OK with not having known all that then. Because despite all the way that zines allow us to resist, they can also just be an excuse to collaborate, or to put something that's entirely your own out into the world. For that reason, making your first zine can be a formative experience. It can be a reason to ask yourself: What do I have to say? And to give yourself the permission to say it.

The world of zine-making is endlessly vast. If you're just getting started, here's a guide—complete with illustrations by Ambar Del Moral—to help you out.

Decide what your zine is going to be about

Your zine doesn’t have to be the most brilliant publication ever, or even the piece of work you’re proudest of. Just make something that reflects how you’re feeling or what you’re thinking about at the moment.

If nothing immediately comes to mind, get together with friends (or not—making a zine solo is cool, too) and decide, first, what type of zine you want to make. The options are truly endless: It could be a poetry zine, a photo zine, a comic, a collage zine, a zine of essays, a fanzine dedicated to your favorite band or artist, or a political-manifesto-type zine. Alternatively, you can focus on a topic and go from there—perhaps you want to share recipes that remind you of home, or write about the microagressions you experience as a marginalized person, or make an informational zine about how to identify birds.

If you need some inspiration, look up whether there’s a bookstore near you that sells zines. Even better: Go to a zine fest if you can. There are also zine libraries at some colleges. Plus, a lot of zine makers are active on Tumblr and Instagram. Check out Unity Press, 3 Dot Zine, Brown Recluse Zine Distro, and RE/search to start.

Decide what format your zine is going to be

Zines can take all kinds of forms, some easier than others to make. There are stitch-bound zines, perfect-bound zines, accordion zines, tiny zines that come in matchboxes, large poster-sized zines that unfurl, and digital, online-only zines. There are two types of zines that I’d recommend as a place to start: eight-page folding mini zines and standard booklets made from folded printer paper.

If you decide you want to make an eight-page mini zine, all you need to do is start with one page of printer paper. Following the diagram above, fold it into eight rectangles and cut a horizontal slit down the center of the page between the four innermost rectangles. Each little rectangle on one side of the paper will be one page. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can decorate the other side so that once people are done reading, they can unfold the zine into a poster. For full folding instructions, check out this handy dandy video.

If you want to make a stapled zine, that means you will be using printer paper folded in half (so that the left and right sides touch) to make a booklet. More info on how to format, print, and staple those below!

Remember to format your pages correctly

If you’re creating a physical master copy of your zine, remember that each folded piece of paper is four different pages of your zine—and they are not all consecutive! The first page will be on the same piece of paper as the last page, for instance. (See the illustration above.) For that reason, all folded zines must have a page count that’s divisible by four. After you’ve decided the number of pages your booklet will have, fold your zine and number the pages with pencil before getting started. That way, you won’t get confused.

If you’re working digitally, you can create each page individually and save as a normal PDF. Your pages should each be 5.5” x 8.5” and your page count must still be divisible by four.

Start making the thing

Depending on what kinds of materials you’re most comfortable with, there are a lot of ways to design your zine.

The most traditional method is analog, through either collaging or drawing. That means handwriting and drawing whatever you want the content of your zine to be. It can also mean gathering archival photos, Xeroxing images from books, cutting stuff out from magazines, and printing out text (or using a typewriter), then pasting them all together onto the page.

If you’re more of a computer kid than crafty type, make it digitally. Use whatever software you prefer—Photoshop, Illustrator, inDesign or Microsoft Word. (If those are new to you but you want to try them, there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube.) Go wild. Remember: You can also use a mixture of all of these methods. (If you’re making a zine with a bunch of people, it may even be necessary, since different people will prefer to make their pages in different mediums.)

Once you’re done, save the file with a CMYK color profile so that it’s optimized for print rather than the internet. And a reminder: Like normal books, you don’t want your text to be too close to the edge of the page, because it won’t be legible once it’s bound!

Print!

Decide if you want different papers for the “guts” (the inside pages of the zine) and the cover. You may consider printing the insides on normal printing paper and the cover on a heavier-weight paper—people almost always judge books by their covers, even if they’re taught not to. You may want to use special paper for the insides, as well. (If you’re making a photo zine, for instance, you may want a relatively thick, or even glossy, paper for your guts.) If you want something nice for either, go to your local paper store. You’ll be overwhelmed by all the weights, textures, and colors available.

Decide how you’re going to print your zine. If it’s a small “run” (total copy count) and only a short zine, you may consider using your printer at home. If you’re printing a lot, though, that can get expensive. Alternatively, you can go to a copy store where you’ll pay per page and don’t have to worry about how much expensive laserjet ink you’re using up. Many public libraries have printers and copy machines you can use as well.

If you’re working from a physical master copy, you’ll need to copy each page, then feed the paper back into the printer and print onto the other side. (Do some tests to make sure you’re feeding the paper in with the correct sides up). Even better: Scan your physical copy and create a PDF. Then, like with other PDFs, print with the “booklet” setting. If the printer you’re using doesn’t have that setting, there are websites that can help you put the pages in the correct order.

If you’re making a large run of zines or printing a very colorful zine, you may consider getting it done professionally by a local press or an online printer. If you go this route, there is a higher starting cost, but the more copies you order, the more money you’ll save.

Finally, bind it

The last decision is how you want to bind it all together. Stapling is the easiest and most common way to go. To do that, order your pages, create a column of two or three staples vertically down the center of the pages, and fold them in half to make the booklet. A standard stapler won’t reach to the middle of the page, so buy a long-armed stapler from an art supply store or borrow one from an art studio.

Stitch-binding, where the book is sewn together at the spine with thread, is a little more work, but has a nice DIY look. To achieve it: Fold your zine in half to make a crease, poke three holes along the fold, and thread through the holes with a simple running stitch until it feels secure. You can either use normal sewing thread or thicker embroidery thread.

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Zines with more than 60 pages may be too thick to staple or sew. You'll need to bind those with glue like a book—a method called “perfect binding.” For this sort of thing, I recommend collaborating with a print shop that has the glue and binding machinery available. (It can be tough to do on your own.)

Once all your pages are together, you’re done! Go and trade your zine with your friends, send it to bookstores all over the country, and enter zine fests—or just keep it for yourself and feel proud that you made your own tiny book, out of your own big ideas.