DIY Design: get into zine culture with this in-depth guide

For illustrators, it’s easy to see why zines are so appealing. There’s something inherently romantic about making something that you can hold and flick through – true print geeks would add that there’s nothing quite like that smell of the ink on thick paper. In a digital age, this is more of a treat than ever, and it has some enticing advantages for illustrators who want to further their careers: unlike a digital project, you can sell a zine as a limited edition object.

If you’re looking to build your public profile, self-generated projects are fabulously versatile. They can be shown in exhibitions, sold in art shops and through your personal website, and also sent to potential clients. Sending zines and other nifty little print pieces to agents, art directors and magazines has far more impact than an emailed flyer or link to a portfolio site – and more than likely they will linger on their desk long after an email would have been deleted.

Alongside zines, other self-initiated print pieces can be just as helpful for winning work. Sarah King ( of the Evening Tweed collective sells screen-printed and gocco posters and prints through her website, and uses them as a valuable calling card. “Personal work, put in exhibitions and sent as mailouts, has been a fantastic way of getting my work seen by more people,” she says. “When you are pleased with how something comes out, you feel inspired to show it to more people – it definitely helps in getting your name out there.”

With its no-frills black-and-white printing and bright paper, Chrissie Abbott’s zine production techniques perfectly match her retro illustrative style

Zines are usually produced in short runs and can have a very rough-and-ready, underground feel, so illustrators can get away with spending relatively small amounts of money on them. Andrew Rae ( says he uses little more than a laser printer and some painstaking folding and stapling. If that sounds too manual, print on demand services such as Blurb ( and Newspaper Club ( will make your designs into professional looking books or newspapers, with prices starting from a few pounds per copy and often getting more affordable the more copies you print.

Chrissie Abbott created In My Mind I’m Clapping to accompany her 2008 exhibition. She says, “It’s a nice documentation of that time”

Best of all, though, zines are a form of DIY for illustrators: they offer a chance to generate a project,
and to develop ideas that might otherwise never see the light of day. Even for established illustrators, this is an enticing prospect.

Ben Newman (, a Bristol-based illustrator who has exhibited internationally and worked for clients including the Tate and Selfridges, says: “Unlike my commercial work, creating a zine or book offers me complete creative control and freedom, and I find it healthy to be able to indulge myself in something I feel passionately about.”

He finds the process of making a zine creatively refreshing: “When I would draw as a child, I would draw to amuse myself, and that is how I treat making books and zines. It reminds me of why I wanted to make a career out of illustrating and being creative.”

Mark Long had his zine Who Ate All The Pies litho printed, “so it was a large initial outlay, but not too expensive per copy,” he says. “I’ve sold it at art fairs and through my website, and gained publicity by sending it out to blogs”

Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn't affect our editorial independence. Learn more.

Elsewhere on IDG sites

Read Next...