During my elementary and early middle school years, collaging was one of my favorite after school hobbies. I loved flipping through my mom’s fashion magazines and my pre-teen ones (Tiger Beat, anyone?), cutting out inspiring images and words, and rearranging the clippings into my notebook in a totally new way. I’d even add glitter glue, sequins, and anything else I could find to make the pages pop.
You could say that these crafty creations were essentially my own version of a zine. While I never shared these zines with anyone, they were a great outlet for expressing myself, exercising creativity, and helping me figure out my personal style.
To help you get started with zine-making, I spoke with Leah Bury, a multi-passionate creative and curator based in Austin about her process for creating, publishing, and distributing zines.
What’s a zine?
Dating back to the early 20th century, zines have long been an accessible print medium. If you’re looking for a creative, analog way to share your art, poems, photography, and more, you can easily create and publish your own zine.
The word “zine” is short for the term “fanzine,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Quick history lesson coming up: Some of the first known fanzines date back to the 1930s and the term was originally coined by science fiction fans who created their own magazines.
In the decades following, zines were used as a form of social and political activism to represent underground or minority communities (e.g., local music scenes) and to tell stories that mainstream media and publishers weren’t covering.
Today, the simple definition of a zine is any type of self-published work that contains text and images. Think of them as personal, self-published magazines that are made in small batches (usually less than 1,000 copies). Zines communicate a story, message, or idea and usually focus on a niche topic within a broader subject such as art, photography, literature, politics, or music.
“I find that funneling ideas or content into a deliverable like a zine can add an often-needed sense of time pressure and creative decision-making.”
The key ingredients of a zine are words and imagery, pieced together to tell a larger story. Here are some common combinations for zines:
- Poetry and collages
- Photography and writing
- Interviews and illustrations
Another benefit of creating a zine is that you aren’t limited to one format. A zine can be a great way to translate a slew of creative ideas that you want to get out of your head and onto paper.
“I find that funneling ideas or content into a deliverable like a zine can add an often-needed sense of time pressure and creative decision-making,” says Bury. “Zines allow you to take those ideas and make it something packaged that you can then put out into the world and include in your portfolio."
As far as creating zines goes, in the pre-digital world, zines were typically made using hand-drawn sketches and writing and recreated using a photocopier. Today, there are many digital tools available to design your zine, get it printed, and share it far and wide, which we’ll dive into more below.
Why should you make a zine?
When it comes to choosing to express yourself through a zine versus another medium, it all comes down to what you want to share and why. In a world where anything can be shared on social media, there’s something special about seeing your work in a physical zine. For Bury, zines are a great way to disconnect from an online world as both a consumer and a creator, a notion that led her to coin the mantra, “zines over screens.”
"With zines...we are given the opportunity to consume work in a more focused way, as we can sit down with the intent to consume, and not be distracted by whatever else may be on our phones.”
“When we're scrolling [social media], we're often in a distracted state, which doesn't fully set us up to connect with what we're consuming,” she says. “With zines, however, we are given the opportunity to consume work in a more focused way, as we can sit down with the intent to consume, and not be distracted by whatever else may be on our phones.”
Zines can also be a great way to communicate an idea or a collection of work. For artists, Bury suggests creating a zine as a way to enhance your creative portfolio.
“I love creating zines after a pop-up gallery as a way to commemorate the gallery event and give people a way to continue to engage with the body of work even after it's been taken down from the gallery walls,” she says. “I also think individual artists can benefit from creating zines of their work and having that as an option for supporting the art, alongside other options from stickers and prints to full-size original works.”
For example, one of the zines Bury has created was called BODIES OF WORK: THE ZINE, which was made after she produced a body-themed pop-up art gallery called BODIES OF WORK.
How to make a zine, in 5 steps
Your zine can be as scrappy or as polished as you’d like. You can choose to go all out by sourcing contributors, designing a 50-page publication, and getting it printed. Or, you can go the old-school route by taking pen to paper and making photocopies of your handmade creations. Take author Austin Kleon, for instance. The Steal Like an Artist author regularly makes mini paper zines on a range of bite-sized topics like this one:
This method can be a quick and easy way to start jotting your ideas down and explore different interests.
If you’re interested in a more editorial-like zine that can be distributed or sold, here’s a breakdown of Bury’s process for making zines.
1. Choose your topic
No surprise here, but the first step in creating a zine is to figure out what you want your zine to be about. For Bury, her first zine came to fruition in 2020 at the start of the pandemic.
“I had just started sharing my creativity online in January of that year, and when COVID hit, I felt a deep sense of loss of the creative community and momentum I had just started to build,” she recalls. “One day, I had an idea — what if I made a magazine of all the art that people made during lockdown? It would be a relic of time, an amazing distraction for me, and a way to build community while staying in the house.”
To get started, Bury made a post on Instagram asking her followers if anyone would be interested in contributing to the zine, and she received an influx of positive responses.
“People actually wanted to contribute, so over the course of a few months, I gathered art and writing and also did some outreach to sponsors,” says Bury. “A couple of beverage brands agreed to toss me a couple hundred bucks to cover the printing, which allowed me to bring the zine into a physical form. By fall 2020, I had ordered a few hundred copies of The Quarantine Zine and begun selling it around Austin and mailing it all over the country.”
What topics are you passionate about or interested in exploring? Is there a current event or movement that you want to bring attention to? A local community that you want to spotlight? Or perhaps you want to commemorate your work like Bury does with her gallery zines.
To be clear, you don’t *need* a reason to create a zine. If you’re just getting started, you can simply play around with different mediums and formats to get a feel for the zine creation process. But if you’re looking for more structure or you want to attach a mission or purpose to your zine, then figure out what your story is and how you want to communicate it.
2. Decide if you want to work with collaborators
The next step is to figure out whether or not you want to collaborate with others to bring your zine to life. Zines are often collaborative projects, bringing together a collective of ideas from the perspective of several artists and creators — but you can also make one on your own.
“The second zine I made was created after I produced a body-themed pop-up gallery,” says Bury. “The zine contained all the art from the gallery, plus additional artwork that was submitted but not selected to be displayed due to size restrictions, [and] photos from the opening event. That zine was designed by me but contained the work of about 50 artists.”
If you’re in the process of looking for long-term collaborators for future projects, a single-run zine could be a great way to test the waters with a potential collaborator and see if you’d work well together in other capacities, suggests Bury.
“I began working with a partner on a lot of my pop-up galleries,” she says. “She would play a co-creator role in the zines that we made after those pop-up galleries opened.”
3. Design your zine
Now comes the fun part: designing your zine. If you need ideas for structure, layout, or overall design, look up examples of zines for inspiration. You may also get inspired by other formats like traditional magazines, print ads, or another type of graphic medium.
On the flip side, if you’re a non-designer creative (looking at you, fellow writers), the design aspect of zine making may feel intimidating. Don’t let this step stop you from creating a zine altogether. You don’t need to be a graphic designer or have experience in design to make your zine. Bury, for example, uses Canva to design her zines.
“Using [Canva] felt easiest and most intuitive to me,” she says. “I don't feel fully confident enough in my skillset with a tool like Adobe InDesign (yet!), but I didn't want my technical skills (or lack thereof) to interfere with my ability to actually create the zines and tell the stories I decided to tell.”
• Adobe Express: Similar to Canva, Adobe Express is Adobe’s free online design tool with thousands of professionally designed templates to choose from. Check out their ebook templates for your zine.
• Flipsnack: Flipsnack offers dozens of magazine templates and allows you to create interactive designs, which is a great option if you opt for an online zine.
• VistaCreate: Vistaprint’s online design tool makes it easy to create a custom zine with its book templates for self-publishing.
4. Get it printed
Before you get your zine professionally printed, there are a couple of considerations to keep in mind:
- Cost. The cost varies depending on which service you go with, but the price is usually based on how many pages your zine has and how many copies you want to make.
- Turnaround time. How soon do you need your zines to be printed? The best printers may also be the busiest, and not have the ability to print your zines right away.
Bury uses an online printing service called Mixam. “I've found [Mixam] to have great pricing, good quality, and reliable turnaround times, which is important for me as I'm often making the zines after an opening night and trying to get them printed in time to be launched at a closing night of a pop-up gallery!”
• Blurb: Not only can you design and print your zine on Blurb, but you also get access to its distribution and selling tools which can be helpful if you plan to reach a wider audience.
• PrintNinja: PrintNinja is an online printing service that offers custom offset printing.
5. Share your zine
After you’ve worked hard on your zine, it’s time to get it out into the world. Lean into the power of social media to help spread the word about your new zine. If you worked with collaborators to make your zine, tap into their networks by asking them to share the zine with their followers, too.
Bury often previews her zines on Instagram and distributes them at events she produces, like the one below which was created for a local fashion show.
Ready to make your own zine? While these steps offer a guide to getting started, don’t be afraid to follow a different path. There’s no right way to make a zine, and that’s the beauty of this medium.
“The best thing about zines is there are no rules,” says Bury. “Each zine is unique, whether it's a one-time thing or you create a recurring zine with multiple editions — if you're making it, you're the editor-in-chief and you get to make all the decisions.”