20 December 2006

How to make Zines

I’ve just finished writing my first draft for my booklet on making zines. I wanted to post it here to get feedback and for people to point out any mistakes etc. Keep in mind it’s a very fresh first draft. I’m thinking of looking for a free photocopier printing up as many as I can and donating them to libraries, especially High school libraries. No doubt they have strict rules for submitting books. Let me know what you think either way…



“Why did you write this book on zines”

I saw my first zine in a café around 1997, it was a collection of short stories and musings. I am not really sure if I had heard much about zines before that, but seeing what this person had done it inspired me to try and put my own zine/book together. Under a year later I had drawn a collection of short comic strips and put them out as a book in the same café. At first I was reluctant to use a photocopier to put the book together fearing that it would be of substandard quality, but I quickly learned that the resulting prints actually came out really good.
Since then I have released over 30 zines and publications of various sizes and formats and since become involved in publishing similar material on the internet with blog sites. This made me realise that there was whole new generation of people publishing material on the internet who had never heard of zine making.
Zine making comes out of a strong desire to communicate with other like minded people so with the presence of the internet and the ease at which you can connect and find like minded people then it makes zine making obsolete and ineffective.
But I still think there is a place for zine making and sure enough there are still many people, new and old, who continue to make zines.
This guide is written for the beginner, and assumes that the reader has little to no knowledge of what zines are and how to make them. It is designed to be read in short snippets and not become an overwhelming amount of information. I have tried to write it in the most simple and clear language possible whilst not talking down to the audience. Hopefully upon reading it you will have had a sufficient enough introduction into the world of zines and that you continue to research this topic.

Why Print?

‘Why should I pay to get something printed when I can publish on the internet for free?”

The internet is a great way to distribute your ideas whether it be drawings, photographs, comics, or writing. But the internet is only a temporary medium. Even if you do have a static website it usually requires an annual fee, are you going to pay this year after year even if you have a lot of new work to replace it? The internet can only be read from one fixed location , that is a computer, which also costs money to buy and upkeep.
A book lasts longer, if taken care of properly, long after it has initially been read and it is portable and doesn’t need constant upkeep in the form of memory or energy, like batteries.
A book can also be bought sold, traded or even donated to a library.
Books and the internet both have their benefits and pit falls, but they can work together to compliment each other.

How do I start?

“Making a book sounds complicated, don’t you have to hire a designer or printer to help you put it together?”

No, it is not necessary to seek outside help to put together your own books. Once you understand the basic concept of putting together a book you can take it from there. The hardest thing to figure out is how to make a double sided photocopy and that is not even that hard. Many photocopiers have a double sided printing button (ask for assistance if you can’t see it) it’s a standard feature of a photocopier as not to waste paper. If you can not find the button then it’s as easy as flipping the paper over and putting back through the photocopier.

What the?

“Who makes books and who would even see it/care?”

Zines have a long history gong right back to the 1930’s As long as there has been access to cheap reproduction technology people have self published a wide variety of material. Any one can and does makes books about any and all subjects that the imagination can think of. Also anyone who reads, would possibly be interested in reading your book, it is especially refreshing to read something that doesn’t come from mainstream media and has more of a personal voice.
There are many stores and distribution centres that specialize in zines and their distribution and or sale around the world. Also if you look in your local area you may come across bookstores, cafes, and record stores that may be willing to stock or sell you zine. Alternatively a zine can also be something with a small print run of 5-10 that is made just for your friends or family.

Putting it together.

“Don’t I need special computer programs to lay out a zine?”

Although you may use a special layout program like ‘Adobe Indesign‘’ or ‘Quark‘’ if you know how to, it is not necessary. In zines 70 plus years of history it is only recently that people have started using these programs due to higher rate of availability and people using them. Before computers and even today people still use the tried and true method of paper, scissors, and glue. If you need to resize anything (image or text) just use a photocopier.


“I don’t really think I have anything important to say or that would be as good as other published material out there”

Doing a zine is a personal experience usually so if it is a bit rough around the edges and not all there it makes it all the more interesting. However I think it’s best to make your zine with your best efforts whatever they may be.
Also you may think your life is dull and uninteresting but to someone on the other side of the world they may find it completely fascinating or even relate to your thoughts. I believe every one has something they can contribute to the world if they want to. It might not be for everyone, but no doubt there someone out there that would appreciate the courage and effort it took for you to put together your book and enjoy reading it.


“My handwriting’s not great, can I type up my text?”

People use all sorts of ways to make text. The best option is what is easiest for you to produce. Many people have used typewriters as they are cheap and accessible. A typewriter effectively prints as it types as opposed to a computer which require another whole step and possible cost for printing. Many people have also cut up newspaper headlines to create text, which has become well known due to the punk culture’s use of it in their zine in the late 70’s and 80’s .
Many people often prefer handwritten text as is says something about the author. But remember if you want people to be actually able to read you zine make sure to write legibly and clearly.


“ I want to use images like photos and drawings and write in coloured pens and pencils.”

Photocopiers can vary widely in terms or reproduction and even have different copy settings on individual copiers. It’s best to find a copier that is most accessible to you which means its location, cost and also how much you can manipulate the settings of the copier. Once you know the copier you will be using it is a good idea to become familiar with its settings. Things like contrast, resizing, double sided printing and tonal options. You may even want to make up a sheet with a whole range of marks, lines, pictures and even colours to see how they reproduce. Many copiers have different settings depending on if you are copying text (stark black and white with none to little tonal areas) or pictures with tone (in which case the copier will try and create grey tones appropriate to the image). This all depends on the content of you book and how you want the finished product to look. This requires some experimentation and the best way to experiment is to just dive right in and make you first book.
Keep in mind that it is always best to copy straight from the original art and or text. Often the art has to be copied twice, once to resize it and second to copy it for the book. If you have artwork or photographs that you want reproduced at their best possible quality then you are going to have to copy once from originals using the appropriate tonal settings or scan the images into a computer and print directly from the computer file .
It is best to use black pens or markers as they will reproduce better than pencil or coloured pens. Some shades or colour will however produce a grey tone which could be desirable. Coloured paper is good for the purpose and can be cut out in shapes as needed.

B&W or colour?

“I don’t really want to make black and white zines, colour would look much better”

Although full colour books usually look great they are very expensive to produce. (around 10 x more expensive than B&W) If you can get free colour copying or some sort of monetary grant then go for it.
It is best advised to stick to B&W as it allows you to experiment and make mistakes, and theoretically you can make 10 x the amount with the same money. If you can make you zines at a cheap enough cost you may be able to give a few away or charge a much smaller price.


“I still think B&W is boring, but I can’t afford colour…”

There are lots of ways to ad personal touches to your zine and make it more interesting. For instance you could hand colour the cover or inside pages with markers, pencils or watercolours. You could even use stencils stamps or shaped hole punches. You can also use different colours and types of paper. Many people also use screen printing or a gocco machine to add colour but obviously this is a type of knowledge and equipment that not everyone has access to.


“I don’t like the paper that comes with the photocopier”

Paper in photocopiers can be easily changed for any other sort of paper between 80-250gsm . Although some businesses have strict rules and don not let customers putt in their own paper, even when supervised. This is due to the company leasing the machines from another company. If anything breaks due to non standard paper being used, their warranty is void and they get the bill.
It is always best to get onto a photocopier where you can control the settings and change the paper etc. Either that or get friendly with the copy store you frequent so they do not mind meeting your requests.
Therefore it is always an option to supply your own paper which could be coloured or patterned (a cheap way to add colour)
You may even want to use thicker paper for the cover (150-200gsm is a good cover thickness)


“I would like to give my book away for free but it cost me money to put it together.”

Zines are mostly made to be swapped or sold at cost price . People do not make zines to make buckets of money but rather to simply communicate and express their ideas and visions to other like minded people. Finding cheap or free photocopying can help with cost issues and may even allow you to give some or all copies away for free.


“How do I get my zine out there to people who actually want to read it”

The best way is to preform an internet search using the words:

-‘zine’, ‘zines’, ‘zine distro’, ‘zine distribution’.

As distribution centres and stores are constantly coming and going it is best to search it out for yourself. You can search all over the world or just in your local area. Once you have found what you are looking for be sure to read all the terms and conditions of submitting work. Some distros won’t carry music zines whilst others may only carry music zines. It would be a waste of time to send you zine to someone who is not interested in you genre. Most zine distros state that they are not interested in stocking material that contains racist, sexist or homophobic material.


“I can’t access the internet, how do I get my book out there?”

It pays to find stores in your local area that may not mind giving you some shelve or counter space for you zine. Note that most businesses have enough of their own worries other than stocking and selling you zine. Always be polite and be ready to explain what a zine even is.
If your zine is free it broadens the amount of stores that would be willing to carry it for you.
If you want to charge money for your zine in a non zine type store (café, bookstore record store etc) they will usually be sold on a consignment basis and often the store will ask for a percentage of the taking from anywhere between 60-10% which is only fair as they are the ones with costs and wages to pay.
Another good idea is to have a tin or box for money or donations to be put in for the zine this way your not taking up the store peoples time.

A good rule of thumb for marketing you zine, is to ask yourself a question like, ‘is someone entering this store with money in their pocket to buy something unique to read’ . For example if you put your zine in a hardware store (and lets say it is even about home hardware) people do not go into a hardware store expecting to see zines or books. Even if it grabs their attention 90% of the time they won’t buy it as it is not what they are there for.
You could have two stores relatively close to each other but in one store your zines fly of the shelves and the other they collect dust.

Supply and demand.

“I don’t want to get ripped off…”

Remember if a store agrees to stock and sell your work they are doing you a favour. They are the ones left to pay the bills each week. If you think a stores commission is too high then find somewhere else to stock your books.

This also applies to zine distros (even more so as they are usualy not for profit organisations) People that run zine distros do it for the love of it and not to make money. Usually what little money is made goes directly back into the distro (envelopes, web space and postage are not free!) Keep this in mind when coming up with your wholesale price . Zine distros get sent hundreds of different zines so if they choose to carry yours then consider yourself lucky. For this reason it is always advisable to sell them your zine for the lowest price possible (paper+copying price etc). After all they are doing you the favour of selling and promoting your work to people and places you couldn’t reach on your own.


“What will people think of my zine.”

Be sure to include an email address or name so that people can write or track you down to get other copies or tell you how much they enjoyed reading your book.
If you are including a postal address a pobox is preferably but street address is also fine.
If you want to remain anonymous then create a pen name (AKA a ‘pseudonym’) This way people know how to refer to your work.

Shapes and Sizes.

“I don’t want to make a big book”

Remember that the book can be any shape or size that you want, or should I say any shape or size that you can fold or cut a piece of paper.
It can be 2 pages or 22 pages. It could be the size of a matchbox or the size of a regular magazine. Keep in mind that smaller books do equal cheaper printing. The best thing is to try the sizes that work for you and your material. Everyone has their favourite format whether it be landscape or portrait., A5 or A6. etc.
The best way to figure out size is to think about what size your work reproduces at but at the same time will not cost a fortune print.


“I’m still having a hard time understanding what people make zines about”

A zine can really be about anything you can imagine. Anything that you could write a book on, take photos on, tell jokes about, fill a magazine up with…
Here are some basic examples (note that these are not the only varieties and genres can be mixed)

-Special interest: About a certain special interests like collecting things, favourite activities, favourite band, favourite T.V show etc.

-Personal: Stories about your life, pictures, drawings, diary entries, observations.

-Random: Found objects like photos, letters, wrappers, doodles, bus tickets. Newspaper clippings, recipes.

-Artistic- comics, short stories, photographs, drawings, digital art, poetry.


“I have very limited resources, so what do I actually need to put a book together?”

You need access to either a photocopier (many businesses offer a cheap per page rate) or a desktop printer (which may or may not be cheaper and or reliable) and the money to print it, if you can not get it for free.
You could try to print one or two copies at first, so you have something to show people which you may be able to ask for sponsorship or a donation or some other form of support.
Depending on what sort of zine your making you’ll also need the basics like paper pens glue scissors etc.
One specialty piece of equipment you may need is a long arm stapler. This is different from a regular stapler as it has a longer reach so you can get to the spine of your book for stapling. However if you can not afford one you could see if you could borrow one from somewhere or there are other methods that don’t require staples.

Other methods that don’t require staples.

“I can’t afford to buy this long arm stapler, can I still make a book”

The answer is most definitely. The simplest way to do this is to make your zine just one piece of paper which could be folded as needed (kind of like a pamphlet) or there are many other methods for binding, such as:
-Hand or machine sewing the spine
-using a rubber band
-Using a paperclip
-tying string around the spine
-any other you can think of for keeping the pages stuck together.
It is possible to not bind the zine a all but it does have tendency to fall apart every time you read it; but it works for newspapers!


“I’m still a little confused on how it should look”

There is no one way a zine should look. If you are still having troubles conceiving or understanding zine making then see if you can order some zines online or find a store that sells them. Seeing them in the flesh will not only give you hints but may spark off your own ideas on what you can do (or not do!).

Endnotes: (numbers didn't transfer over from word...)

-Short for magazines. The first zines were known as fanzines as they were written by fans of science fiction novels.
-Unless you have a portable device that can access the internet.
-See …for more information on the first zines
So much so, that it has almost become a cliché.
This requires the photocopier or printer to be connected directly to the computer. Many copy stores have the facilities to do this at no extra cost (if they charge you, go somewhere else)
-A print gocco machine is like a mini instant silkscreen printing device from Japn. Mini screens are made from carbon photocopies or pencil drawings. Ideal for postcards, cards, small invitations, and zine covers.
Gsm- grams per square metre. A way to measure the thickness of the paper.
How you determine cost price is up to you it could be the price to copy the book but also art supplies, equipment, time, postage etc…
consignment meaning they’ll pay you once the copies are sold.
Cafes or lunch shops can be good as people have loose change and are maybe looking to take a break and read something.
The price you sell to a retailers. The add their cut, the total cost is now referred to as the retail cost.
They cost around $20-30. But last a long time and certainly get used a lot if you print more than 100 books.

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