3 Open Source Desktop Publishing Tools for Small Businesses

By Susan Linton | Posted September 16, 2015

Small businesses and start-ups are always on the lookout for ways to save money on new and expensive services.  Many budget-minded small businesses are returning to the days of hands-on and in-house to keep costs down, and the many open source tools available today can help do just that.

While you can find plenty of local and online publishing vendors, security and secrecy is always a concern. Open source tools like gLabels, LibreOffice, and Scribus—used in-house—can mitigate those concerns. We look at just some of the ways these tools can handle your small business desktop publishing tasks.

3 Open Source Desktop Publishing Tools

1.  gLabels for Business Cards and Labels

Many companies conduct the bulk of their business online, but in-person meetings and industry networking will never die. And neither will the need for a professional business card. Making your own business contact cards can save you money—both on the initial investment and on pesky updates that sometimes cause you to toss a whole box of cards in the trash. 

We recommend gLabels, a favorite open source application, for creating and printing your own business cards, address and shipping labels, media and filing labels, name tags, and more.  It's available through most software installers default in Linux.

gLabels is so popular because it's so easy to use.  To get started just click File > New, then a wizard walks you through setting up for card or label blanks.  Some Linux distributions offer an extra gLabels add-on—typically called glabels-data—that adds lots of extra predefined templates choices by brand, application, and size.

gLabels: open source software

After selecting your gLabels predefined template, select orientation and then click confirm.

Adding attributes is also simple.  gLabels includes many functions for customization that you can access either through the menu or with the buttons.  Add text, shapes, images—even barcodes—to your labels and cards, and then customize for color, font, size, shadows, and more. 

You can resize images, set backgrounds, and even save your design as a file or a template.  In fact, you can design your own templates with the included template wizard.  A handy tip for small businesses: include useful information on the backside of your business card, such as a calendar, a tip calculator, or a currency converter. 

gLabels desktop publishing 

You'll find a gLabels manual with basic instructions in the Help menu.

2.  Flyers and Handouts in LibreOffice

GIMP, Scribus, Inkscape, and gLabels are among the open source graphics software that people use to create flyers and handouts.  In gLabels, much like with business cards, you can do this fairly easily by choosing a full, single-page default template.  Things become a bit more complicated in Inkscape and Scribus, but for more advanced image creation, they are popular tools.  However, LibreOffice makes creating flyers and handouts from presentations a breeze.

You can easily create a flyer in LibreOffice Draw by opening File menu > New > Drawing.  You can add text boxes for information and add images or other objects.  Right-clicking an object opens a menu full of tools related to the object opened.  For example, an image object will display resizing, cropping, alignment, and such. Insert a photo, stock image, or even clipart; the text tools let you pick the font, font color, size, and other attributes like lines or shadows. Open Edit Styles to see many more fine-tuning tools. 

You can also insert charts, dialog balloons, points, shapes, and special characters from the toolbars and edit them through the right-click menu items.  In the lower toolbar, Fontwork items can add stylized fonts and wording with lots of customization options like basic shape, spacing, and alignment.  Then you can easily move, rotate, and flip the fontwork with your mouse. 

LibreOffice open source desktop publishing software

 

The Edit Styles dialog fine-tunes dimension, transparency, alignment, lines, and more.

LibreOffice Impress is a great tool for making handouts—to accompany a presentation, for example. Start Impress and click File > New > Presentation.  Head to the Handout tab and click Format > Slide Layout to choose your preferred layout: one slide per page, two, three with side-text, four, or more. From the Handout tab you can customize the header, date and time, footer, and page number. 

The actual handout creation takes place in Normal mode.  Create the elements of your handouts as slides.  Your slides won't appear under the Handouts tab, so don't be alarmed.  Once you complete your slides, click File > Print.  Set the range and under Print heading set Document to Handouts and Slides per page to your preference to format your handout.

LibreOffice Impress desktop publishing software

The Print dialog includes a preview window where you can check your layout settings.

3.  Scribus Handles Dreaded Brochures, Programs, Leaflets

While you could make brochures in LibreOffice with a little trial and error, Scribus gets a lot of votes for this task.  The easiest way to deal with Scribus is to use templates, usually called something like scribus-templates in software managers. 

Scribus: open source desktop publishing software

You can find even more templates, fonts, and scripts at ScribusStuff.

When you launch Scribus, you're presented with a template window offering New Document with single-page, double-sided, 3-fold, and 4-fold options.  Clicking New from Template tab offers more choices (dozens if you installed the templates package). 

Scribus desktop publishing software

"Adjust Image to Frame" and "Adjust Frame to Image" automatically sizes and scales images to fit your project.

Set the paper size, first page, and orientation of your brochure.  Turn on the grid to help you place items.  Menu Item Insert is a good place to start creating your brochure by adding text, images, shapes, lines, frames, and more.  Turn on Windows > Properties to edit these elements in same window, or use the main and right-click menus. 

Basically, just Insert > your preferred element, and then edit as desired.  It may look intimidating at first, as any blank sheet does, but it just takes little time to get the hang of it.  Print Preview gives you a good idea how the sheets will print. 

 open source software: Scribus desktop publishing

You can work on as many pages as you like within the main application window.

You'll discover a lot of crossover among these applications.  LibreOffice and Scribus can do business cards just as gLabels can also do flyers.  You'll find your favorites.  In addition, GIMP is another application to keep in mind for quick and easy image manipulation. Scribus can send images to GIMP (if installed) when you click "Edit Image." 

Look around at the templates available and just imagine all the printing jobs you can do in-house.  Open source tools are freely available to help your business save time and money.

Susan Linton, a writer of, and expert in, all things Linux and open source, founded the website TuxMachines.org in 2004.

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