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Layout/publishing software for making a low budget guidebook?

Original Post
cashmab · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 1,589

I've been working on text for a new low budget guidebook, but I still haven't thought too long or hard about the presentation and layout. I'm wondering what the best cheap/free software options are for 1) creating maps/topos, 2) creating general page layouts that are readily printable by a printing outfit.

It's a small area in terms of number of routes (about 50 routes over about 5 climbing areas) so it's not going to be a whole lot of pages. I'm thinking it will be a small 6"x9" softcover, in color.

I know next to nothing about layout and publishing software. Can I use something as simple as MS word or do I need something fancier? Has anyone used "blurb" the online DIY publisher?

For maps and figures, what is most user friendly? Adobe illustrator? Photoshop? MS Paint? :P

Any thoughts or experiences from folks who have put together guidebooks would be welcome!

Brendan N · · Salt Lake City, Utah · Joined Oct 2006 · Points: 378

Mac Pages is a good combo of drawing and writing and layout

dave custer · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2010 · Points: 855

Inkscape is a free & open source substitute for Adobe Illustrator:
Save often to avoid losing your work.

Chris C. · · Seattle, WA · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 311

Adobe InDesign is the tool for the job. Illustrator and Photoshop are tools for art creation, not print. They may come in handy for creating topos or gaphics, in which case you'd probably want to use Illustrator. Keep in mind that the barrier to entry for all these tools is pretty high as ease of use is pretty low.

If you want to stay really basic and if you have MS Word already, you can just use that too. Export to PDFs and any printer will be able to run it. MS Word does suck for editing graphics, and MS Paint just sucks flat out. Check out Paint.NET - it's free and has most of the basic tools of Photoshop that are understandable to the average user.

In all honesty, you'll probably be a lot more successful and a lot less frustrated if you use Word and Paint.NET. The Adobe products are professional tools and you'll probably spend significantly more time trying to learn how to use them than making your book.

Keeghan O'Brien · · Boston, MA · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 30

I think Adobe InDesign would be the ticket. They have a monthly subscription service now so you can use all the Adobe programs without having to buy them for one large lump sum. If you were just using it for a short time it could be worthwhile.

It isn't the most user friendly set up but you can probably do some tutorials/googling and get the jist. My wife is in graphic design so feel free to email me if you have any questions.

David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 55

For page layouts I'd check out Scribus which is a free and libre software layout program. It creates nice PDFs which a printer would be happy to print for you.

I know almost nothing about mapping/GIS programs, but I imagine you'd want one that can export to SVG so you can import that into Scribus.

brian n · · Manchester, WA · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 91
dave custer wrote:Inkscape is a free & open source substitute for Adobe Illustrator: Save often to avoid losing your work.

Love Inkscape. A bit of a learning curve as I was steeped in Gimp. But Inkscape is much more powerful and versatile.
Nathan Hui · · San Diego, CA · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 0

For maps/topos, I like to use CalTopo ( I don't know what the TOS is for publishing, though, so be careful there. If you want more control, I would look at either ArcGIS or QGIS. ArcGIS is not free, though, but it is the industry standard for GIS. You can export to PDF, PNG, etc.

For page layout stuff, I prefer LaTeX. It's open source and free. The learning curve for LaTeX is a bit steep, but once you get the hang of it, you can focus almost entirely on the content, and LaTeX and its "templates" / design patterns deal with the layout and formatting for you. Almost all of the open-source software manuals that I've seen are written in LaTeX, and there a couple books I've seen (but not read) that were written in LaTeX.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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