How To Make A Film Photography Zine
Zines go hand in hand with analogue photography. For those who aren’t familiar, a zine from the word ‘magazine’ is a self published work of original or appropriated text and images. They are very popular amongst film photographers and a great way to share your work!
There is no right or wrong way to make a film photography zine. You might be wondering;
Where do you start?
Do you need a theme before you start making a zine?
Once you have your images, how do you put them into a zine?
What size do your images need to be for printing?
What paper options are there for zines?
What software do you need and where can you get the zine printed?
To help answer these questions and more we spoke to five photographers to find out how they make their photo zines: Astrid, Karl, Eric, Sophie, and Tony. You can find more details about each photographer and their zine projects at the end of the article.
But first, let’s start by defining what a zine is and briefly touch on the history of zines.
What is a Zine?
A zine is typically a small self published book, often printed at home and folded into 6-8 pages. It can contain photos, text, poetry and all sorts. Zines are a form of self expression and have often been used in protests and to spread awareness of certain causes. They are self published, imperfect, and often made at home with basic photocopiers, this hand finished style gives zines a unique and rebellious quality!
In recent years photographers have published their work in zines using a number of different online printing companies. These can offer a more professional end product than most people’s home printers.
A Brief History of Zines
Zines have been present throughout history in socially marginalised groups. Some state that the first zine was Thomas Paine's 1775 pamphlet Common Sense.
Zines were popular with science fiction fans who would make ‘fanzines’ (short for fan magazine). This allowed them to collaborate with each other and share ideas around their community.
The time of the punk zine came in the late 70s. With the emergence of household printers and software people were able to create these cool DIY publications which became vital in spreading information about music around the UK.
Emerging from the DIY punk subculture was the Riot Grrrl movement in the 90s. This was the same time as the American era of third-wave feminism which saw many feminist documents able to circulate ideas that would simple not have been published in mainstream media.
“BECAUSE we girls want to create mediums that speak to US. We are tired of boy band after boy band, boy zine after boy zine, boy punk after boy punk after boy . . . BECAUSE in every form of media I see us/myself slapped, decapitated, laughed at, trivialised, pushed, ignored, stereotyped, kicked, scorned, molested, silenced, invalidated, knifed, shot, choked, and killed ... BECAUSE every time we pick up a pen, or an instrument, or get anything done, we are creating the revolution. We ARE the revolution.”
- Erika Reinstein, Fantastic Fanzine No. 2
By the mid-90s zine makers were also publishing their work on the internet as e-zines.
The internet obviously changed the way people get information; being able to share ideas in a web forum, in msn or AOL chat, myspace (I'm so old). So the zine started to die out a little.
We now live in a time when film photography is having an amazing comeback, and with that photographers obviously want to find inexpensive ways to share their work with each other. We find that one of the reasons many of our customers love film is the desire to move away from screens and digital technologies. And analogue photography does just that, forcing you to slow down and try a new (but old) process, and zines and print is an extension of this idea. There is truly nothing like experiencing your photography in print form, and holding a print in your hand. So zines and analogue photography go hand in hand!
How Would You Define The Difference Between A Zine and A Photo Book?
A lot of photographers use the terms photo zine and photo book interchangeably, for me a zine can be anything from a print at home publication through to a 100 page perfect bound book.
Tony: For me the difference is simple, and two fold. One is handmade, short run and limited page count, containing content that is more ephemeral in nature and put together simply but with consideration for the quality of the work more so than the quality of the final end product. The other is from a considered specific body of work, generally of some substance when it comes to size (number of pages), printed professionally and made with the intent for sale and promotion of the photographer’s portfolio and current artistic endeavours.
Image: Work in progress of Tony's Collaborative Zine with Brett Wood.
Why Do You Creative Zines? Are Zines Relevant In 2022?
You might be thinking, it's 2022, why do I even need to create a zine? What’s the point and are they still relevant?
Making zines is 100% still relevant. People need a reason to get off social media and as film photographers, having your work printed whether that is at home or by a shop is amazing and super satisfying.
Astrid: I make zines because I like that they can vary widely in production cost and quality. As a young adult and student I often do not have much money and anytime I printed photo books in the past I had to borrow money. While I still like photo books and would like to print more I like that with a zine I can put the same amount of effort into the design but have the freedom to pay for printing or print at home and sell them at a price that isn’t too high while still not making a loss.
Image: Magnetic, Zine by Astrid Robertsson
Eric: Self publishing was always my way of ensuring that my work got out into the world without having to worry about a publisher handling it. Back in my punk rock days, I did punk rock zines. I wrote a slew of poetry, and self-published poetry books. And for the past decade or so, I've been a film photographer, so I release photozines.
Karl: The desire to create zines first came from my own background within the punk/diy scene where I ran a small record label and hand made a lot of the releases (www.animaldefencerecords.bandcamp.com for anyone curious) the focus was always to keep things tangible, to ensure physical things can still be bought, collected and enjoyed as well as pushing back against the increasing pressures of living in the digital world. This also applied to my own photography, though at the time (Greece made in 2018 was my first zine) little did I know the photobook and the zine were very prominent parts of the photo world anyway! It really just spiralled from there and I made 4 in the space of 2 years. End of Summer (2019) was the most recent zine I made.
Image: Karl's Zine, 'End of Summer'
Sophie: I started making zines at Plymouth uni. I'll always remember when my housemate told me she thought I'd invented zines, that was a nice moment. I used zines for my final major project about unrequited love letters, which was a series of three full bleed A4 folded in half zines.
Tony: a zine is a perfect way to catalogue interesting images into a mini body of work. It is also a physical place they can exist, without the rigour of making a perfect print.
Do You Need A Theme Before You Start Making A Photo Zine?
A lot of people get hung up on themes for photo zines. Do you think of an idea for a zine or do you wait until you have a collection of work and then think, I could put this in a zine?
Image: Eric's 'In This Land' Zines
Astrid: it depends, with magnetic I had a project first but with the project I’m making now I wanted to make a second professional zine and then decided that my next project would be printed as a zine. I often combine aspects of the process by sketching and writing notes whilst photographing. I'm often very motivated to get photographing when I have an idea and prefer to compliment and feed the inspiration with research as I form the visual basis for the series or project I’m making.
Sophie: Usually what happens is it's like a way to showcase a project I've been working on, kind of like a mini portfolio. So for example, when I was first volunteering at the Cube I went in with my Mamiya C330 and took photos of the building and my housemate Liz Mizon (checkout Power and Pop Culture Blog!) and we had fun documenting the space and taking each other's portraits.
Karl: I think both ways are perfectly acceptable, for me, personally, I am leaning more towards a theme or a body of work, having those thoughts and considerations for a project adds an additional layer. I also think we can often be at risk of releasing what we consider a 'best of Instagram' which isn't necessarily a bad thing but I think we need to consider these things before committing to the environmental impact of making 100 zines.
Eric: I can pretty easily do both. I love giving myself projects, and often those themes become zines or are just cast aside because it was a bad idea (which is a good thing to learn before making a zine about it). Other times, I look through my photos and throw a collection together for a zine. Both are pretty rewarding, though I think I like having an idea in mind first.
Tony: I tend to think about subjects as things that are not necessarily deep enough for a full on photo book, but also substantial enough to warrant being placed together into a single document. Documentation of specific events, travelogue style photographs, or going out and creating a theme specifically for a zine.
Image: Tony's layout process for a home printed zine.
Preparing Your Images
Whether you thought of a theme and started working towards that, or looked through your archives to find a series of photos you want to publish, at some stage you are going to have to prepare your images for the zine.
There are a few considerations here, do you need to rescan your negatives so that they are good enough quality for printing? How are you going to get the images into the right layout ready to be printed?
For those of you thinking of making a zine that can be printed, then you will likely need to get your images together in the layout needed for printed and then exported as a PDF.
What Scan Resolution Do You Use On Your Images When Making Zines?
Eric: I scan big. But too big is kind of pointless. 300dpi is basically standard. You can do 600, and maybe I would if I were scanning 110 film.
Karl: I tend to have my work scanned in the best resolution possible (avoids needing to rescan down the line) however you'll want a decent sized file for print, most labs offer small, medium, and large and I would veer on 'large' size TIFs being optimal choice. Speak to your lab and they can also advise you on this!
What Software Do You Use To Make Zines?
Eric: I use Gimp for basic page layout and Scribus (a Linux program) for laying out the laid out pages.
Karl: I've always used Photoshop because I refuse to spend an hour learning how to do it much easier and faster in InDesign. 🤦♂️
Sophie: I very rarely do digital work, but I'd scan the images in with my negative scanner and arrange them in InDesign, then print them out.
How Do You Decide What Order The Images Appear In Your Zine?
Karl: I'll create small prints between 6x4 to 8x10 in size of the project, usually this will be a much wider selection than just my 'final images', this is because when we start considering how to sequence and pair images together often we see our work in a very different light. It's easy to dismiss a photo too early on in the process. I'll lay out the prints or pin them up and they'll stay like that for days, sometimes weeks. I'll move some around, revisit it an hour later and do the same, it's a slow and methodical process but very important.
Eric: I've never done the whole laying them out on the floor thing, but I sort of want to try it. I use the computer to sequence them. It just works for me. Other folks like the floor.
Zine Paper And Where To Print
There are so many options out there. I have found that the best way to help decide on these things is to get a sample pack from the printer company you want to use. Another option would be to ask a photographer what and who they used for their finished product (provided you like the look and feel of the paper they used).
What Paper Should You Use For Your Zines?
Astrid: For ‘magnetic’ I used 200gsm uncoated paper for the covers and 150gsm silk paper for the insides.
Eric: I usually go as thick as I can. And the cover finishes vary, though anything matte or satin usually is fine.
Do You Print Zines At Home Or With A Printing Company?
Lots of people still print their zines at home but if you don’t have a printer, where can you get your zines made? How much does it cost to print a zine?
Mixam is probably the most widely used but there are also some other options out there. Depending on the size of your zines you will need to choose staples to finish or perfect binding (usually once you get over a certain page count you can’t choose stapled).
The costs will depend on how many pages, the types of papers you are using and how many copies you want to have.
Eric: I use Mixam (in the US). They're cheap, and you often get what you pay for. Their printing *can* look nice, they just sometimes have to be convinced to do better. I've had them reprint several of my zines because they were so bad. They do eventually make good on things.
Astrid: Stapling is the least expensive. But I would like to learn to sew the spine (for home printed zines) as I like this appearance and then the colour of the thread could suit the project or cover.
Karl: Mixam in the UK.
Image: A home printed page from one of Sophie's zines
How Many Pages Are In A Photo Zine?
A zine can be anything from 6 pages to over 92. It will depend a lot on your budget if you are getting them printed via somewhere like Mixam.
Astrid: I often find that I have too many pages for my budget or an uneven amount (I think it has to be a multiple of 4 so you can’t have 22 pages but you can have 28). Magnetic has 24 sides + 4 additional pages according to the printer I used. I try to keep it below 50 because of the cost and also to make sure I’m only including the best work.
Getting Your Zine Out Into The World
Now you know how to make a zine, how will you sell it? And how do you know how much to charge?
Which Platforms Do You Use To Sell Zines?
Eric: Etsy is horrible, but if you're selling something that will benefit from people searching Etsy for that thing, I guess it's worth it. If you're doing most of your own advertising, go with literally any other shop.
Karl: I have a Squarespace website but last time I checked it's actually cheaper to run a free big cartel as they don't take any fees, my stores are often very temporary so I would have to consider the best alternative if I wanted something more permanent.
Tony: I know Etsy is a great place for zines and crafts and makers of all sorts, and I do have an account. But I never really considered it for selling zines for whatever reason, just because I already had a website and a store platform setup. I instinctively went for that. I would love to try it out though, as the Etsy community is one that allows for things like zines to really flourish.
How Much Should You Charge For A Zine?
Eric: Very broadly speaking, I use the 4x rule (I have no idea if it's called that - or if it's called anything). Basically multiply your printing cost by four and that's your price. If it costs $3 to print a zine, charge $12. This is also a good way to tell if you're getting ripped off by your printer. If that price ends up being way more than you'd want to pay for a zine, find yourself a new printer. For me, the most important thing is getting my work into as many hands as possible without losing money.
Karl: Mine have always been priced between £8-£12 - for an A5 size zine this seems reasonable, if you're trying to get back your film, dev, and time costs back maybe you're not making the zine for the right reason. Pricing up your work is really difficult, I still struggle with this.
We hope this article has given you some inspiration to get started with your own zine project. It really is such a fun way to experience your photography and to share your work with the world. We would love to see your zines, share them on social media and tag us so we can see your work!
Big thank you to our interviewees who helped shape this blog post.