A photography zine is simply a collection of photos that you can cheaply distribute to people. Dan Milnor recommends self-publishing zines because not only do you have full control over the presentation of your images and your vision, but you can also showcase the skills that you have beyond photography.
There are countless of talented photographers out there, many of whom probably have the same aesthetic style as you. But what sets two photographers apart is how they choose to design, edit, and sequence images. It’s easy to take photos, especially in this age of smart phone photography. But how can you turn these images into a photo essay? How can you take a theme and create a project around it? What can you do with your photos?
A zine is a unique way to present your portfolio, and there’s no wrong or right way to make a zine. Zines culture gained momentum in the 70s and 80s as means of sharing political and countercultural ideas. It was also a way for people with similar hobbies and interests to express their enthusiasm for those interests (e.g., fan zines). Zines were meant to be DIY, and so they were often printed and stapled at home.
With the rise of the internet and print-on-demand services like Blurb, MagCloud, and Mixam, creators can now easily create their zine design using software like InDesign and Photoshop and then send their designs to theses services for printing and distribution.
While the creator can now be removed from the printing and binding process, the creator still needs to learn the differences between different paper weights and textures, as well the the different binding options. After all, the finished zine is a physical product that is held by people, so the tactile detail is a defining aspect of how people experience the product.
I’ll first talk about some of the differences between Blurb, MagCloud, and Mixam, and why I ultimately chose MagCloud in the end.
Blurb and MagCloud are both drop-shipping services, meaning that you set up an online store with your publications and determine how much profit you want to make on each publication. This amount gets added onto the “base” price it costs to print, and the sum becomes your “list” price. I tend to mark up the amount by 25%–30%, but it depends how much you think you want to charge for the time and labour that you put into your zine. So for instance, a zine that costs $8 to print would be marked up to about $10.50. But since you’re not paying for any printing fees up front, you don’t need to be concerned about breaking even, and so you may not be concerned with making a profit. You might just want to distribute your zine so that it’s out there for people to see, so you can then just leave the base price as the list price without any applying any mark-up. You can even make your zine available as an ebook so that it’s more accessible.
Personally, I think Blurb is more geared towards people who want to print photo books or who want to self-publish written works, such as novels, chapbooks, and cookbooks. The great thing about Blurb is that you have the option of getting a free ISBN for your publication. This is important if you want to sell your publication in retail stores, including Amazon.
Blurb provides many different paper and cover binding options for their photo books, but the downside is that their photo books are quite costly, which don’t make them very accessible. I tried creating one photo book with them (a 7"x7" hardcover imagewrap book with 84 pages) and it cost me $80 CAD. I chose the Mohawk proPhoto Pearl paper option, which was their high-end quality paper. And while the paper did feel thick and gorgeously “pearly”, and the colours were sharp and punchy, it just wasn’t a financially feasible option.
In terms of magazine options, there are two: premium magazine or economy magazine. Either option will be perfect bound, but I imagine that the premium magazine has higher quality paper and better colour fidelity, similar to Dan Milnor’s magazine. I created an economy magazine, and I found the paper and colours to be lacklustre and dull, with many of the shadows and blacks being crushed. The premium magazine starts at $5.99 USD for the first 20 pages, and each additional page is $0.20. The economy magazine starts at $3.99 USD for the first 20 pages, and each additional page is $0.15.
I’ve seen examples of people printing their zines as a trade book, which will give you a couple more different options for sizes, but since trade books are meant for written works, I’m not sure how photos will render on the type of paper Blurb uses for trade books.
One thing that makes Blurb user-friendly is that you can download their free publishing software, BookWright, to design your publication. This software is great for those who don’t have prior experience with publishing softwares. You just choose your product type, product size, paper type, and then upload your content into the template. You can move things around, and there are rulers to help you ensure your images and text are in alignment. It warns you whenever your content falls into the trim or bleed area. It also tells you which fonts are and are not licensed. Once you’re done, your design is automatically uploaded onto your Blurb account and is ready to be released for sale. The only caveat is that this publishing software is exclusive to Blurb, meaning that the PDF of your design that you create with BookWright is not accepted or compatible with other publishing companies.
MagCloud is now owned by Blurb, but it provides different services. Blurb is more for book publishing, while MagCloud is more for magazine publishing.
These are the different project formats you can create with MagCloud:
- Magazine (8.25'’x10.75'’, similar to Blurb’s magazine)
- Digest (5.25'’x8.25'’, basically half the size of a magazine)
- Square (8"x8" OR 12"x12")
- Tabloid (14'’x11'’ OR 17'’x11'’, but tabloids can only be wire-bound)
All 4 format types can be in portrait or landscape (with the exception of the square publication because, well, it’s a square).
There are 2 binding options for these formats (except for tabloid, which can only be wire-bound): perfect binding (which costs an additional $1) or saddle-stitching (i.e., stapled).
The only issue is that unlike Blurb or Mixam, you cannot choose your paper type with MagCloud. This FAQ page describes the type of paper they use. I’ve created a magazine, a digest, and a square publication, and they all use the same type of paper.
But honestly, I think MagCloud’s default paper type is quite good. It’s glossy, and the images are sharp and true-to-life. It feels like paper you wound find in a magazine, but a little thicker.
I think the digest format is what you usually think of when you think of a zine. It’s small and cute.
The 8"x8" square format is the next size up (and also larger than Blurb’s square photo book), and I find that the square format allows you to be more compositionally creative with your page layouts. Here’s an example of of one my publications in square format.
The magazine format is basically the size of your typical magazine, and so creators may choose this option when they want to add more text-heavy content, like commentaries, essays, and articles along with their images.
I haven’t printed a tabloid before, but I think that it’s well-suited for fashion editorials. But really, you can choose any of these formats to make anything you want. There are no rules. Just be as creative as possible.
I don’t have any publishing software programs, so I made all my designs in Microsoft Word. MagCloud provides you templates to download for each format type so that you can see were the trim and bleed margins are. My designs were quite simple because I was limited in how much I could move objects around in Word, but like with any skill, the more you practice doing something, the better you’ll get. I made 4 zines with MagCloud, and every time I finished one zine, I get a new idea for another. And when you start making your own zine, you also pay better attention to the design choices that other creators make with their zines.
I had the same experience when I started Youtube. When I started to make my own videos, I became more mindful about how other youtubers compose and edit their shots. You begin to realize how much work it takes to vlog a hike or a simple trip to the grocery store.
There are other products you can create with MagCloud, such as pamphlets, flyers, and posters. A 12'’x18'’ poster print is only $2. While it’s not a fine art archival print, it’s still a cheap option to create large prints of your images.
Overall, I chose MagCloud because there were several different format options I could explore and play with, I could create an online store, and they provided Microsoft Word templates for someone who’s inexperienced with design software, like me.
I don’t have any experience with Mixam, but it’s essentially a publishing company that provides a cheap way for creators to mass print their zines. It ships your order to you, and then you can decide how you want to distribute your zines. Many creators go with this option because they get to control how their zine gets sent out. Many readers also prefer to get a zine shipped directly from the creator because it feels more personal since the creator would have actually handled (and maybe even signed) their copy of the zine.
You can also order a a free sample package of Mixam’s different paper types so that you can get a sense of what the print quality is like and what kind of paper would be best-suited for your needs (e.g., a comic book vs. a zine). in their free sample, they literally provide you with a sample comic book and a sample zine, which I found to be really cool.
The reason I chose MagCloud over Mixam was because I could easily order a single sample copy with MagCloud and then update my design if I found anything I didn’t like and wanted to change. Because Mixam is more about mass printing, you have to order a minimum number of copies in order for it to be cost-effective. For each of my zine, I made up to 4 updated versions, which would have been much costlier with Mixam if I was forced to order a batch of 10 each time. Also, MagCloud has periodic sales, with some sales being exclusive for creators, which makes ordering sample prints even cheaper.
Beyond choosing the printing company, paper, format, and theme for your zine, here are some other considerations:
- How do you want to open and close your zine? In order words, how do you want it to begin and end? What final image do you want to leave with the reader?
- What do you want as the front and back cover? Different images on both? A wrap-around cover? Only a single image on the front? No image and just a pattern?
- Where do you want to put the title on the cover? Where do you want to put your name in relation to the title?
- What font do you want to put your title in? Do you want serifs or no serifs? Sentence case or capitalized? How big do you want your title to be? A font style carries a type of “mood” with it, and does this mood match the connotation and theme of your zine?
- How do you want your images to progress throughout the zine? Will there be sections? How does one image transition to the next?
- One last piece of advice is to make your zine a long-term project. Have it span over a month or a few months. Take breaks between sessions and come back with fresh eyes. I falsely assumed that I could create a zine within a week because I thought that all there was to zine-making was just sequencing images. I thought, well, I sequence images for my Youtube videos and on Instagram. But I realized that sequencing and designing for a zine is a very different process. Viewers don’t think too much about the order in which you present your images in a Youtube video and on Instagram, but with a zine, a reader can revisit any page or pair of images at any time and think critically about your choice and about the juxtaposition of those images. People may not read a zine in order from beginning to end, and they may just flip to a random page and start there. They might flip back and forth between pages. And so I learned that when I sequence a zine, the sequencing choices I make have to be robust to that viewing randomization. The images I choose have to be able to stand on their own, but also complement the other images in its vicinity, whether forward or backward. I’m sometimes inclined to put similar images into a zine because they fit the zine, but then I risk becoming repetitive, predictable, and uncreative. You can easily create a zine about a series of beer can photos, but then each photo should have something slightly unique about it, while all still complementing the other photos. I created my 4 zines simultaneously over 4 months, and they’ve each significantly evolved from my original idea for them.
This leads me to bring up an issue that often plagues creators: perfectionism. We feel the need to constantly edit and nitpick our work because we want it to be worthy of other people’s time and attention. But we need to remember that we can only make our work the best that it can be, but we can’t make it better that all the work that has been done or will be done. But how do we determine when our work is “done”? Again, I find that stepping away from a project for a period of time and getting some distance from it really helps. If I still like what I see when I come back, even if there are minor flaws, then I consider it close to being finished. I also find that it helps to get a friend who has a critical eye give you constructive criticism. What’s important is that you need to create work that you are proud of.
One thing that I’ve noticed is that zines nowadays look very polished and professional. People are inclined to put their best work forward, but this creates the false impression that making a zine is a project that you can only release on once you’ve reached a certain point in your photography journey. I certainly thought so until I realized that there’s nothing stopping me from making a zine. No one is gatekeeping the self-publishing process. I can make as many zines as I want using whatever images I want. I’m making these zines for myself, and if someone happens to like them too, then that’s a bonus. And you are never going to learn unless you try and make some mistakes along the way.
I also made a Youtube video where I discuss the theme of each of my four zines. You can watch it here if you want to learn more about the creative process.
How to Make a Photography Zine - YouTube
|8.5 x 11||$5.70 each $569.79 total||$1.19 each $11,881.33 total|
|5.5 x 8.5||$3.52 each $352.50 total||$0.71 each $7,053.83 total|
|6 x 9||$3.82 each $381.97 total||$0.71 each $7,148.10 total|
Page count varies from as few as 8 pages and up. The traditional binding process for zine printing is saddle stitching, which can accommodate a publication of up to 92 pages. Anything larger will need to be perfect bound.
If you're looking for something 'safe' for your first zine, we recommend choosing silk paper with a matt laminated cover to create a good quality booklet.
Etsy tends to be the answer when someone asks where to sell zines online. There are many advantages to using Etsy however this does come with a cost. Etsy has 32 million users, therefore requiring traffic to your shop is easier than ever.
A photography zine, for example, is a tool that photographers can use to tell a visual story, to inform an audience about a specific topic or issue, to showcase and advertise a new idea or simply create a preview of an ongoing project. Zines were originally called fanzines, alluding to the fans who made them.
When factoring in all the costs, everything from paper to ink to postage to author payment to the envelopes, our average zine costs us about $4.75 to produce (about $1.25 for the zine and about $3.00 to the author). Most of our zines sell for $8, so our revenue after expenses is usually around $3.25 per book.
Zines don't make money. It's not impossible, of course, but practically speaking, zines cost money to produce and they make very little back, even if you sell them, which means you're looking at either breaking even (minus the time spent making your zine) or working at a small loss.
Depending on the pages and size, I pay between $4-$6 an issue and sell them for $8-$12. That profit doesn't even cover my expenses though, which I've broken down below. In 2016 I spent about $1,300 to print four issues, two supplementary issues, and some mini photo prints.
- Simply create an account and choose a template from the 'magazine' selections.
- Everything is customizable - from the fonts, images, and overall layout. ...
- You can also share your template with other folx so if you are creating a group zine, you can all edit the template from wherever you are.
- Organize your photos.
- Choose the right photos.
- Highlight your favorites.
- Create variety in spreads.
- Pick a theme.
- Include helpful text.
- Tell a story.
Decide what your zine is going to be about
They typically only contain around eight pages, so the ideal content should be short and fun. Your zine could be about your own personal experiences, or it could tell the story of someone else.
- Pick a size. Start by selecting a page size for your project and we'll show you templates.
- Design. Use your imagination to design a unique e ezine online with our tool.
- Publish. Click a button and we will publish your ezines online so others can view them.