Working with Frames and Objects in Scribus

A Scribus document consists of a series of objects that are added to a page, and contained within a frame. In addition to the usual cut, copy, and paste functions available in most applications, frames in Scribus share a general set of editing attributes and, so far as possible, the same set of properties.

As you can see from the Insert menu, Scribus supports four basic types of frame: text, image, table and drawing primitives. Table frames are collections of individual text frames, which may be edited either as a group or as individual cells, while drawing primitives are sub-divided into shape, polygon, line, Bezier curve, and freehand line. Frames for primitives are added with the content, while the content of other frames must be added separately.

Basic frame editing

When you are positioning any frame, start by selecting View -> Show Grid. Depending on your work habits, requirements, and the degree of precision that you need, you might also want to select Show Guides and other items in the View menu. These selections can help you position frames with greater accuracy.

Ordinarily, you can position any frame by clicking anywhere within it, and pressing the left mouse button as you move it around. Should you want to change the size of a frame and its object while keeping its proportions, drag with the mouse on one of the handles in the corners. To change the shape and proportions, drag on the handle in the middle of one side.

Once a frame has the size and proportions that you want, you can either right-click to open the context menu, or use the Item menu when a frame is selected to edit further. For instances, you can select Size is Locked from the context menu to prevent it from being accidentally edited. Once all the characteristics are to your liking, you can select Lock to prevent all changes. These selections are unnecessary in a simple layout, but, in complex layouts, they can prevent casual mistakes.

In addition, you can send any frame and its content to the Scrapbook, a Scribus utility for holding objects when you either want to share them between documents or are unsure exactly where they will be ultimately positioned.

All frames can be converted to at least a couple of other frame types. All frames except tables can moved between layers, and you can choose how text, image, and table frames appear in exported PDF files -- either as an Annotation, or a Bookmark (selecting nothing under PDF options simply makes the frame part of the PDF's content).

Precision Control with the Properties Menu

To position with precision, as well as to manipulate other characteristics of an object in a frame, you need the Properties window. You can open this floating palette either by pressing F2 or by selecting a frame and choosing Properties from the context menu. The Properties menu will update automatically when you click another object, so you don't need to open and close it.

The Properties window opens on the X,Y,Z tab. This is the tab where you can position an object down to the point, specifying its position on the X and Y axis of the page, or moving it to another layer. If necessary, you can also change the anchor or basepoint for an object, although the default of the upper left corner of the page is usually good enough for mot purposes. Since a lock prevents such editing, the tab includes small icons lock or unlock an object from this tab.

The other tabs are displayed along the bottom of the Properties window. Click a tab title, and it moves to the top of the window, just below the title for the X,Y,Z tab, and the contents of the window changes. If you click the X, Y,Z tab again, all the other tab titles are moved back to the bottom of the window.

On the Shape tab, you can change the shape of the frame, and thus the way that text flows around it. The choice is between a set of pre-defined shapes in a combo-box beneath Shape, and complete manipulation of the control points or nodes in a separate sub-window. You can round the corners of a frame, and set how the text flows around the frame.

The Text tab is available only for text and table frames. It sets the default fonts and font characteristics for the selected frame, including typeface, size, weight, color, background, kerning, alignment, style, and language (which is used for spell-checking and hyphenation). All these characteristics can be over-ridden by separate selections of characters later.

Image frames also have an Image tab, from which you can scale an image or adjust its resolution. It can also adjust an image to the size of the frame automatically.

For all frames, use the Line tab to adjust the look of the frame. You can change the pattern of the line, as well as the thickness (use a 0 thickness to make the border invisible.) For a line primitive, you have the option of using an arrow on either end.

Finally, on the Color tab, you can set the fill color for any frame, as well as its degree of saturation and transparency. This choice may be overridden by the formatting of individual text, either by styles or manual over-ride.

The Basis of Kludges

These are the basic tools for positioning and editing objects in Scribus. How you use them depends on your ingenuity, but you will usually find that they include everything you need for complex layouts. Be prepared, however, for some complicated workarounds in some cases where another application would simply have a single tool.

That is especially true of tables, which have nothing like the set of tools you find in an application like LibreOffice Writer. You can, for example, set the width of a table cell to zero, then double the size of the cell next to it to merge cells in a single row. Other operations can be even more complicated.

However, learn the tools for working with frames and objects, and assume that there is usually a way of doing what you want, and you will be rarely disappointed. Just be prepared for some complicated steps from time to time

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