If you’re already a fan of zines, you know they are an amazing way to share art and ideas—with total creative freedom. If you’re new to zine culture, welcome to the wide (and sometimes wild) world of DIY publishing.
Zines are basically self-published booklets that are produced inexpensively, in a small print run, for quick distribution. Traditionally, they were handmade, xeroxed, and stapled in small batches, then passed out free or sold cheaply, making them accessible and affordable for everyone involved. Some early zines were created by science fiction fans in the 1930s, but the rise of zine culture is more closely tied to the punk music scene (1970s and 80s) and the feminist riot grrrl movement (1990s).
Today artists, writers, and activists still use zines as a mode of social, political, and creative expression outside of mainstream publishing. Zines are incredibly versatile and made for experimentation. Some are glossy and high-design, some are edgy and free form. At its heart, the zine format is about DIY creation, making your own rules, and a free exchange of ideas. You can start a conversation or share creative work.
Choosing a Theme (or Not)
Zines can be anything you want them to be. You are the creator, editor, and self-publisher, so think about what excites you most. Art. Poems. Comics. Photography. Music. Illustration. Flash fiction. Animals. Portraits. Travel. Interviews. Recipes. Gardening. Doodles. Graphic design. You can be spontaneous (challenge yourself to create a zine in 24 hours) or think long term (collect text and images on a specific topic). There are no limits—unless you want there to be.
Ideas & Inspiration
You may have already started brainstorming, but here are some ideas to build on:
Photo essay: Turn a set of Polaroids or digital images into a visual story, with or without captions.
Music: Use song lyrics or favorite concert photos as inspiration for a series of poems, stories, or illustrations.
Text/image projects: Exciting things happen when you put stories and text together.
Places: Collect stories, quotes, pictures, or ephemera that remind you of cities and landscapes you love.
Collage: Layer text and drawings with your own photographs or magazine cutouts to create an avant-garde assemblage with cool patterns and visual textures.
Top 10 lists: Funny, serious, or surreal—who doesn’t love a good list?
Nature: Create an ode to local flora and fauna. Scan and collage images of leaves and flowers, to mix in with photos, drawings, and text.
Weekly or monthly editions: Launch a regular zine series, with each edition featuring writing, drawings, or photos from the past week or month.
Creating zines is a fantastic way to connect with writers, artists, and makers far and wide. Here are a few things to try as you forge your own indie publishing collective:
- Find someone working in a different artistic medium than you and combine forces (writer + photographer, poet + illustrator, musician + graphic designer). The possibilities are endless!
- Invite friends and members of your creative community to contribute work. You might take turns editing and publishing editions.
- Make sure everyone is on board and establish some basic guidelines (e.g. how contributors are credited or compensated, who owns the rights to content after publication).
Layout & Design
Despite the relatively simple concept of zines, you have some exciting creative choices to make.
- How will the look and feel of your zine relate to the ideas and images inside?
- Is there a style, color palette, font type, or visual flow that fits the overall theme? Clean lines and layouts, or cut-and-paste collage? Black and white, or multicolor?
- If you create a series, will some elements of the cover, design, and typeface be consistent, or will each issue look totally different?
There’s no right or wrong answer here. Maybe you just want to print a one-off zine and see what happens. Go for it!
Holding a zine in your hands is part of the appeal, so the size and heft do factor into a reader’s experience. Check out MagCloud’s Magazine, Digest (half-size), and Square Booklet formats to find the right trim size and binding style for your custom zine.
Staying on Budget
One advantage of the zine format is its simplicity, which keeps production costs down. It’s easy to replicate the DIY print model and get a unique look while staying within a limited budget (you can design, publish, and distribute a zine without leaving home). Plus, all MagCloud projects give you the flexibility of print on demand (customers can order 1 copy or 100), so you never risk overprinting and underselling. If funds are tight, set a maximum page count for your project. You can always put the profits from your first zine to fund a second issue.
If you make a collaborative zine, be sure to send contributors copies to distribute. Then it’s up to you whether to sell it online through your own MagCloud storefront or personal website, or hand it out at shops, events, and festivals. It’s all about putting your creative work out into the world, so have fun sharing your zine with friends and fans.