Creating your own magazines can be really fun, but it can also be a daunting process if you’re not sure where to begin.
This back-to-school guide will show you how to get started designing your own magazines, from adapting templates to creating your own contents pages. You’ll also discover tips for designing effective covers and how to ensure your artwork is optimised for printing.
This article covers tips for designing magazines for print, but many of the design techniques and resources mentioned here are also relevant for creating eMagazines.
Back to School: Magazine Design
Here we’ll walk through the steps of getting started creating your own magazines for print, as well as sharing tips for making the design process a whole lot smoother and easier for beginners.
1. Consider Starting With a Template
If you’re new to magazine design, a template is a sensible place to start. Magazine templates are great value and allow you to dive straight into customising your magazine without having to battle with master pages, page numbers, or heading styles. Most templates are available in standard sizes and are optimised for print, with a bleed and CMYK color swatches already set up for you, which ensures you’ll have no headaches when it comes to exporting your artwork for printing.
All you have to do is download the template, open it in Adobe InDesign and start editing, by placing images and pasting in your own text. You can also make the templates unique by swapping in fonts or color swatches, to create a wide variety of different looks.
Worried that templates can be a little bland? These 20 magazine templates have exceptionally creative layout designs:
This tutorial also shows you how easy it is to creatively customize an InDesign magazine template, by swapping in different images and color schemes:
2. Or Create Your Own Magazine Template in InDesign
Alternatively, if you’ve got a bit of experience with using InDesign, creating your own magazine template from scratch can be a really satisfying process, and it can help you learn some of the more technical aspects of creating magazines.
A template is, at its most basic, an InDesign document made up of a series of facing pages (spreads) for the inside of the magazine, as well as a separate cover template.
The inside pages document should have master pages which feature elements that are applied across a range of pages, such as page numbers and running headers. These are quick and easy to set up once you know the basics. Expand the Pages panel (Window > Pages) in InDesign and click on the A-Master page icon at the top of the panel to bring up the master on screen.
To insert page numbers, create a text frame on the page and go to Type > Insert Special Character > Markers > Current Page Number.
Running headers, which are usually placed along the top or the bottom of each page, can be created using the Type Tool (T). Include the magazine name on one side of the spread, and the article or section name on the facing page.
To learn how to create your own magazine template in more detail, check out this tutorial, which covers all the bases:
This video course on creating magazines is also a thorough introduction to the basics of magazine design. It leads you through from setting up magazine documents in InDesign all the way to editing the design of your layouts.
3. Design a Cover That Catches the Eye
If you’ve ever watched The September Issue, you’ll know how many tense discussions are held about the design of a Vogue cover before it goes to print. While details like background color and the placement of article teasers can seem unimportant to the uninitiated, these add up to creating a cover that will either sell well or won’t.
The cover is the first point of contact between your magazine and a potential reader, so it’s really important that it’s eye-catching, engaging, and attractive. Here are three tips for making sure your cover design is as effective as possible:
- Using an interesting photo or illustration and blowing this up to large scale makes for a good start, and a handy tip is to always use photos of people who are looking directly into the camera. This gives the reader the impression of eye-contact with the model, drawing the browser in and inviting them to pick up the magazine from the shelf.
- Focus on creating a hierarchy in your typography, setting the magazine title at the top in a large display font, and supporting this with sub-headings and article teasers in smaller font sizes and varied styles, like italics, along the left and right edges of the cover. Stay disciplined and stick to a maximum of two fonts across your cover to create a professional look and avoid confusing the eye.
- Use a simple and striking color palette, and look for trending colors on sites like Pinterest and Behance to pitch your magazine to a contemporary audience. Aim for a high contrast between the background color and/or photo and the type, to make the text as legible as possible, even when viewing from a distance.
This tutorial on how to create a cover for a fashion magazine leads you through some of the key aspects of laying out an effective cover design:
4. Begin With a Great Contents Page
Once you’ve set up a basic template and created a cover, it’s time to start drafting layouts for the inside pages for your magazine. The contents page is the anchor of your inside pages, directing readers to different sections and highlighting key articles (sometimes termed ‘feature articles’) which might be of particular interest.
Unlike the standard list format you’ll find in books, magazine contents pages tend to be more visually engaging affairs, with images, dynamic layouts, and interesting typography.
Most contents pages are structured around a grid—a series of square sections which the designer uses to place elements like images and numbers. In InDesign, you can reveal the document’s grid by going to View > Grids & Guides > Show Document Grid. Go to the main InDesign menu and choose Preferences > Grids to edit the spacing settings of the grid.
Read on to discover some inspiration and top tips for creating interesting contents pages.
- Flush images and text alternately left and right to create variation, to break the traditional left-aligned list format. Allow type to overlap images to create a more dynamic, energetic feel to the design.
- Boxy grids can be an effective way of sectioning elements on a contents page. Here, the sections are highlighted with dotted strokes to make a feature of the grid. Type is highlighted in block color to make the body text appear more interesting.
- In this example, images are limited to the top third of the layout, creating a minimal and streamlined effect. A grey and white palette is reversed across the sections of the contents to create a stylish contrast and improve readability. Numbers are highlighted in frames to make them a prominent design feature of the layout.
5. Adapt to the Genre
Whether you’re creating a fashion magazine or a travel title, it’s important to recognise the audience you’re trying to appeal to and adapt the design of your magazine accordingly.
Go to your local newsstand and scan your eye over the magazines on offer. If you’re designing, say, a food magazine, look at the existing food and lifestyle magazines on display and try to spot some common elements between them. Often, particular font styles, colors or photo angles will be used across a range of magazines within the same genre, because these signal to the reader that the magazine is appropriate for them.
Make a note of these commonalities and try to incorporate some of them into your design. You can add individuality to your magazine by giving a unique twist to other elements. If all high-end fashion magazines seem to use serif fonts (modern serifs like Didot and Bodoni tend to be the norm for titles like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar), you could give your design a unique angle by setting a serif header in bright neons or a pastel gradient, for example.
Becoming familiar with some of the common design traits of your chosen magazine genre can help you feel more confident with designing. Check out these tutorials on how to create genre-appropriate styles for a fashion magazine and a children’s magazine:
6. Give Your Magazine a Consistent Style
Magazines can be lengthy documents and also, unlike books, run into repeat issues. Both of these facts mean that it’s essential to keep your magazine design as recyclable as possible.
What do I mean by recyclable? Aside from creating elements you can repeat across large sections of your magazine using master pages, such as page numbers and running headers, you should also have elements of your magazine design that you can quickly and easily copy and ‘recycle’ across multiple pages.
This magazine template is a great example of how effective it can be to recycle elements. Here, a geometric tile-like pattern is repeated across many of the pages, rendered in color against plain backgrounds or white against photos. Teamed with consistent font styling (in InDesign, go to Window > Styles > Character Styles to define type styles), the result is polished and pulled together.
Aiming for consistency across your magazine design not only gives the document a super professional look, it also helps you, the designer, to save time by repeating elements across your design.
There are lots of different ways you can promote consistency across your designs. Start by drafting a single spread—from here, you can copy and paste elements across to other pages.
Define the grid you’re going to use across the magazine, and draft out basic consistent elements such as margin width and the minimum/maximum number of columns. You can then create visual consistency by recycling graphics, such as patterns or backgrounds, typefaces, or colors.
In this template, the designer has created a streamlined, consistent look for the magazine by reusing the same font (Helvetica) and sticking to a simple grey and white color palette throughout.
In this magazine design tutorial, you’ll learn how to create two sets of retro-themed magazine spreads, which also follow rules of consistency in color and typography.
7. Focus on Creating High-Impact Inside Pages
Once you’ve designed an awesome cover, it’s easy to feel like you can rest on your laurels and neglect the design of the inside spreads of your magazine.
Although the cover undoubtedly is the most important layout for first drawing in a potential reader, the inside pages play an important part in keeping the reader engaged, ensuring they read the magazine cover to cover as well as encouraging them to buy further issues in the future. With this in mind, you need to make sure your inside layouts are just as engrossing and visually appealing as your cover.
Creating high-impact magazine layouts doesn’t have to be high-effort. There are techniques magazine designers use to maximise the impact of spreads without spending huge amounts of time.
Photos are the quickest and most effective way to add visual impact instantly. For fashion titles, look for immersive portrait photography. Travel magazines will need plenty of beautiful landscapes. Lifestyle or food? Aerial shots of food and drink always look great and allow plenty of creative opportunities for placing type.
Make sure all the photos you use are the highest quality you can find, so that you blow them up to full-page size without blurring or pixelation. For the opening spreads of articles, it’s good practice to also source images that will fill two facing pages, so check the landscape filter on your stock site.
Read up on more tips for making the most of your magazine layouts here:
8. Get Your Print Specs Right
Perhaps you’re intending for your magazine to be a digital publication (see Tip 10, below), but it’s likely you will want your magazine to be in print format, if not both.
If you’ve set up your artwork correctly, printing your magazine is a relatively simple process, and you’ll find many online print-on-demand sites now offering magazine printing services. Alternatively, seek out a local printshop or specialist publishing printer to source quotes and services.
Once you’ve finished your magazine artwork, you’ll need to perform a preflight (in InDesign, Window > Output > Preflight), which checks for errors like missing fonts and RGB colors in your document.
The main things you’ll also need to ensure are present in your document are a bleed (which extends the color of the magazine pages past the edge of the page, to minimize the impact of trimming errors), CMYK color swatches (not RGB), and that all your images are high-resolution (i.e. have a minimum of 300 dpi).
You can find out more about preparing your magazine artwork for print with this handy guide:
9. Reuse Your Templates
Once you’ve created your first magazine, you’ll never look back! Designing magazines is really fun, and creating new themes and styles for new titles can be addictive.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time you’re tasked with designing a new magazine. Reuse your old designs, and adapt these as templates for new layouts. Duplicate your InDesign files to work on a new copy and switch up simple elements like color swatches and font styles to give your magazine a new look in very little time.
Even if you require a different page size, you can adapt an existing template by using InDesign’s Liquid Page Rule, which you can activate when you select the Page Tool (Shift-P). Set the rule to Scale, to scale the content fluidly as you resize pages.
10. Consider Adapting Your Design as an eMagazine
While print magazines have remained enduringly popular, digital versions of magazines that can be read on eReaders and mobile devices have started to find a niche in the publishing market.
If you want to adapt your print magazine to a digital format, you will need to change a few key elements, such as the colorspace (from CMYK to screen-friendly RGB), page size (which will have to adapt to multiple screen sizes and be rendered in pixels), and interactivity (such as adding optional page-turning buttons, video content, animation, etc.).
These tutorials will help you make a good start on creating your own digital magazines. You’ll find advice on how to set up your artwork as fixed-layout pages, which is currently the more common standard for eMagazines.
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Conclusion: Creating Awesome Magazines in 10 Easy Steps
In this article, we’ve walked through ten stages of designing magazines that make a statement, from adapting templates and creating eye-catching covers through to creating a consistent style for your magazines and preparing your artwork for print.
Designing magazines can be a really creative and satisfying process, and it doesn’t need to be hard work or time-consuming. Adapting a template is a great starting point and can save time that you can channel into making your design look as attractive and polished as possible.