The Graphic Designer’s Complete Guide To Creating Zines
Zines are wonderful. They’re a tiny canvas on which infinite creative possibilities can be drawn. Whether you want to share a love for hot air balloons, plants, or snails, the zine is an incredibly versatile and authentic medium for bringing ideas to life.
And it’s not just reserved for arty folks, either. Businesses can also utilise the amazing potential of zines to boost their brand and add a creative flare to their marketing efforts.
As with any creative endeavour, however, there is of course a lot that goes into making a zine. But it’s simple enough that just about anyone can have a go.
So don’t worry about your credentials or creative background. In the zine world there’s only one rule: get making!
Settle on an idea
First things first. What’s your idea?
The world of zines offers endless creative opportunities. Really, if it can be printed on paper, you can turn it into a zine. Which makes the only problem actually choosing a subject.
Whether it’s music, politics, art, literature, or comics, let your passions lead the way. The key thing about zines is that, for the most part, they’re passion projects. They don’t have huge commercial appeal, and due to the DIY production methods involved in making them, they don’t necessarily suit large print runs.
So choose a subject you really care about. After all, you’ll be putting a lot of creative energy into it.
This is an optional step, as your zine might be a completely in-house operation, in which case feel free to skip this section…
Otherwise, once you’ve decided what your zine will be about, and what’s going in it, you’ll have a better idea of the sort of contributors you may need to source. It could be that you need photographers and illustrators. Or maybe you’d like to create a literary zine and open it up to fiction and essay submissions.
Whatever the case, the next step is spreading the word. Tell your friends, colleagues, or clients, share it on social media and let the community know about your project.
Note: when working with collaborators, make sure everyone involved is aware of any licensing issues that may come up (ie credits and compensation). There’s a useful article on the Creative Independent which details the ins and outs of creative collaboration.
Choose a format
Before you start thinking about where and how your content will be presented inside your zine, you need to consider the basic format.
The format itself will dictate to a large extent the aesthetic quality of your publication. It will affect the internal structure of the zine, and certain formats will actually open your zine up to different creative possibilities.
There’s also size to consider. Do you want a big and bold A4 zine, or a pocket-sized A6 publication that’s easy to carry around? Again, size will inform content. So remember to bear in mind what’s going into the zine before settling on its final size.
Lay it out
The internal layout of a zine is one of its most appealing and important characteristics. It should also be one of the more time-consuming and thought-out production processes.
There’s a lot going on in the average zine. From magazine and newspaper cutouts to illustrations and poems. You need to consider how, aesthetically, all these elements will come together to create a product that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
Focus on engagement
The beauty of zines is in their creative and simple nature. They’re often understated and quiet, simply reflecting the creativity of their maker(s). It’s important to remember this if you’re putting together a zine for a brand, because it’s crucial to avoid the hard-sell.
The message of a zine should speak for itself, and though its contents should always be on-brand, there shouldn’t be any overt references to sales or business matters. In short, avoid using zines to advertise products or services, and opt instead to use them as off-beat and creative tools for deeply engaging with customers.
A phrase we all hear a lot in the marketing world is “rise above the noise”. This is in some ways the ultimate goal for any branding endeavour. It’s so easy to get lost in the sea of content these days, because there’s just so much media of all kinds floating around everywhere. And the result of this is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to capture anyone’s attention.
Most of us tend to go bigger and bolder and whackier to compete. But the truth is that honesty and authenticity usually come out on top. We don’t need to be fancy and flashy to engage an audience. This is where zines can really shine, but they must be created truthfully and infused with real personality.
So the number one rule when making a zine is simply to be yourself. Make a zine that you’d like to read, and it will appeal to others.
Fill it with ideas
Often zines are so much fun to read because they’re packed with ideas and content. Their pages are dense with creativity, and that really helps to communicate the effort and imagination that has gone into making them.
So don’t be afraid to load your zine with ideas. Just as long as they all complement each other and don’t become confusing or overwhelming in volume. Your zine is a place to let your imagination go, so take the opportunity for all it’s worth!
Find a cost-effective means of production
If nothing else, Zines are generally quite easy on the budget. But, as with all physical creations, there are likely to be some costs associated with their production.
The key is to consider your budget beforehand. This way you can set funds aside for the basics (paper and printing), whilst also budgeting for optional extras.
Once you have a budget in mind, you can then decide on the feasibility of things like colour printing and the quality of paper you’d like to use. You’ll also get a better idea of how large your zine can be. It may turn out that you only have the resources for an 8-page publication. But, of course, it’s better to realise that before you go gathering content for a 40-page tome.
Create a master copy
This is the penultimate version of your publication. By creating a master copy, you’re giving yourself a sneak peak of the final product to see how it flows.
Does the layout feel right? Are the images and text positioned correctly? This is the stage where you can iron out any creases. It’s an opportunity to double-check the paper type, typography, and binding. If something’s not working, or if it doesn’t feel right in your hand, you can alter appropriately.
Zines are old-school. There’s no doubt about that. But there’s no reason why you can’t bring in some new-school technology to help increase their impact. If you have a distribution plan, for example, you can share it on your social media platforms. Let people know where they can pick up a copy of your new zine. Or simply show a few pages to pique your audience’s interest.
The advantage of this approach is that you can simultaneously promote your zine whilst boosting your social media presence and generating more online engagement.
Aside from that, you can simply jump right in and start distributing your zine in any way that appeals to you!
The DIY designer
Zines are the home of DIY design, and they’re an excellent tool for aspiring artists and designers to try their hand at creating a publication from scratch. And they can also make low-cost and excellent additions to your brand’s marketing efforts.
Just remember to have fun making them!