Photo Zines: Why and How to Make Them

It used to be that you would make a photo zine as a quicker, cheaper alternative to a photo book.

But now, with print-on-demand services allowing the ability to make books in small print runs, you may be wondering: is it still worth it to make a photo zine?

The answer is a resounding YES. In fact, there are still many good reasons to make a photo zine. I’ll list a few of them and outline my process below.

Reasons to Make Photo Zines

One reason to make a photo zine is that they offer a completely different experience of your photos than a book, a print, or any other format.

Due to their DIY nature, they feel more personal and intimate. That’s a good thing!

In an interview with Huck Mag, photographer Sean Maung said, “Zines are like mixtapes. Growing up in LA and going to a lot of shows, I would see artists selling their CDs and mixtapes, and I always liked that vibe. The zine is my version of that.”

Another reason is that you don’t have to worry too much about print quality.

Zines aren’t expected to have high-quality printing or thick paper like a traditional coffee table book. (Some do, and that’s okay!) This allows you to focus on the more creative parts, like editing and designing.

A third reason to make a photography zine is the culture surrounding them. Each year, there are dozens of fairs and festivals located in cities worldwide.

Broken Pencil has compiled a giant list of them here. Some of my favorites are the Printed Matter Art Book Fairs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. 

Poster for Printer Matter’s NY Art Book Fair

I’ve participated in a few of these, so I know how welcoming the community is. Overall, it’s an awesome culture to be a part of. 

Editing and Designing Process

First, figure out how many photos you need to tell the story.

Simple staple binding (also called saddle stitch) can accommodate between 8–64 pages. If it has any more than 64 pages, you’ll need perfect binding. 

You can edit the photos in different ways. I like to start off by organizing the images in Adobe Lightroom. (However, any type of photo management tool will do.) This makes it easy to drag and drop photos from different albums and locations.

Once I have a rough edit, I like to print the images out on cheap, recycled paper. Then, I spread the pages on my floor and work on the sequencing.

By doing it like this, I can see all the images at once, which makes it easy to find juxtapositions that work well together.

Afterward, I return to my laptop and use Adobe InDesign to work on the layout. InDesign is not required, but I like it because of the control. 

If you don’t have InDesign, you can download a free template online. I’m not a huge fan of these as I like to design my layouts from scratch.

However, I can see the appeal for those who want the quick and easy route.

By now, you should be thinking about some of the other elements, such as cover design, paper stock, spine, and text. 

Should I Have Text in My Photo Zine?

There’s no right or wrong answer to whether you should include text. It depends on the project and what you are looking to accomplish.

In some cases, an introduction or short, descriptive captions are in order. Other times, it’s best to let the photos speak for themselves.

If you don’t want to write anything, you could always ask a friend to contribute the text. That’s what I did on my first zine, and it was lots of fun collaborating.

Options for Printing

There are several ways you can approach printing. You can send the artwork files to a commercial printer in your area, do it yourself at home, or use a print-on-demand service.

There are pros and cons to each. Ultimately, your decision should be based on a combo of the money you want to spend and the aesthetic you’re going for.

For example, a zine made from a layout template on Blurb will look much different than one printed on a Xerox machine at home. One is not necessarily better than the other; it all depends on what you want. 

I like zines that have a more DIY, rough-around-the-edges feel to them. In my mind, this is the main advantage zines have over books. When they look too polished, they lose some of that edge.

Distributing Photo Zines

Due to their accessible nature, zines make it incredibly easy to share your work. They also make your art more accessible to people who may not be able to afford it.

In my opinion, the best method of distributing zines is to give lots away. 

I’m not saying you should stand on a street corner and hand them to everyone who passes by. Instead, hand out a few freebies, and be intentional about it.

For example, send them to photographers you admire or people you want to meet. I like to think of zines like an elaborate resume or business card. 

Since they don’t cost much to make (relative to books), you should give them out readily. After all, this makes it possible for more people to see your photos.  

I also recommend selling some to your local bookstore. Find one in the closest city if there’s not one nearby. 

Next, call up the store, ask to speak to the buyer, and explain why they should carry your photo zine.

Of course, you should also sell them through your website and social channels.

Photo Zine Template

Follow this format if you want to make a 16-page zine by hand with an inkjet printer and some staples.

Photo zine template

How Much Does It Cost to Print a Zine?

The cost for printing a photo zine will depend on how you choose to produce it.

Making it yourself at home is the cheapest method, as paper, ink, and staples are the only costs. Therefore, it can be as little as a few dollars.

Print-on-demand can be pretty affordable, with some services charging as little as $10 per copy.

Working with a commercial printer is the most expensive option. You can expect to spend a few hundred dollars depending on how many you print.

How Much Should I Charge For My Photo Zine?

The price you charge should be determined by how much it costs to make.

To do this, add up the costs of the paper, printing, shipping, and any other expenses you incurred (scissors, glue, staples, etc.)

Divide that amount by the number of copies you printed.

Now you have a price per unit. 

Photo Zine Ideas

Some places to look for photography zine inspiration are:

Conclusion

In conclusion, photo zines are a great way to share your work with others. They allow you to create something meaningful without spending a lot of money!

They’re also insanely fun to create because you can do whatever crazy thing you’d like. There are no rules. You just need a camera, paper, and some staples to get started.

Once you’ve made your masterpiece, you can give a few copies away for free and sell the rest online. It’s a win-win. 

So, go ahead and create your own photo zine. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find someone who wants to join in on the fun.