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Zines vs. Magazines: What’s the Difference?

Aug 5th, 2022 by Sara Napier Burkhard
A woman sitting at a desk, creating a project with magazines and pictures. Photo credit: Alpgiray Kelem

While magazines are a timeless media staple and newspapers have been around longer than the printing press, there’s a publication style that’s found its way in and out of the pop culture spotlight for the last century: zines. Zines have been used as everything from a tool of free expression in the 1920s to a fashionable alternative to traditional media in the 1990s—and they’ve been making a comeback in recent years. 

You may be wondering, “what are zines?” and you’re here to learn what sets them apart from the traditional magazine format. By the end of this blog, you should have everything you need to make one, as well as a few zine ideas to get started. 

What are Zines?

Short for “magazine” or “fanzine,” a zine is usually a small-circulation or self-published booklet that’s made up of original content. One person or a small group of creators typically circulated the popular zine design style by printing issues with a copy machine. The creators would share them around their local community, often on school campuses or spaces where people gathered to explore fresh ideas. 

How Do They Differ from Magazines?

While the trending style of each era can set the tone for how most of these publications look, creativity is at the forefront of every publication. However, the main difference between magazines and zines is the size of the production. The scale of the distribution is also a big part of what differentiates the two. Traditionally, a magazine had wider distribution, but with today’s digital distribution options, this isn’t as much of a factor since people can read online zines from anywhere. Issuu’s unlisted feature makes it possible for you to circulate digital zines privately to a close-knit audience that you want to share them with. 

When Do You Use Zines?

When you’re wondering how to make a zine, the first thing you probably think about is when to use them. To better understand that, we need to look at the history of the medium and its cultural importance over the years. While there are several aspects to the first zine’s creation and how they’ve been used over time, here’s a brief overview.

History of Zines

We can find the origins of zines in the Amateur Press Movement between the 19th and 20th centuries. The style we think of today got its start in the 1920s. During the Harlem Renaissance, Black creators started a literary magazine to be able to express themselves freely without interference from institutional and cultural limitations. At the time, these publications were called “little magazines.” The most well-known from this era was called Fire!! and it was created by Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, Aaron Douglas, Richard Bruce Nugent, Gwendolyn Bennett, and John P. Davis.

After the Great Depression, zine ideas and styles started expanding toward science fiction. The editors of “pulp” science fiction magazines struggled for creative control, and this eventually led one man named Hugo Gernsback to create the first science fiction magazine called Amazing Stories. Out of the sci-fi subculture, fans started to get inspired and eventually began creating fanzines, in which indie creators started building their own imaginative publications. 

The catchy zine design eventually attracted print media publishers. The first media-published zine was based on the hit series Star Trek. The New York Science Fiction Society members proudly published Spockanalia, a publication created by a fan in 1967. After that, zines became a favorite among independent creators, essayists, and other aspiring artists. The artform left the spotlight by the early 1980s but found a resurgence within underground punk movements and regained mainstream popularity in the 1990s. For Gen Xers, zines were a staple piece of popular culture, from concerts to comic book stores. 

Zine Culture

Zines have historically been a means of communication for marginalized groups and an expression of counterculture. Given its roots, much of the zine culture still represents ideas that aren’t always surfaced in mainstream conversations. It’s been an avenue of free expression and a hallmark of groups empowering themselves and each other — especially before social media. 

Digital Zines

Digital zines are becoming increasingly popular. With the ability to distribute online, zines help publishers find their niche audience faster than ever before. Digital zines are taking all of the history and culture that made this medium such a hit over the years and bringing it into the current age. While the classic printed zine used to be shared through local distribution or guerrilla marketing campaigns, digital zines can be shared within a group already interested in the cause, like a Facebook group, a Subreddit, or even a WhatsApp chat.

Hosting your zine is easier than ever. With Issuu, you can upload a PDF or similar format and easily share your latest zine with your audience. You can even embed each one in fullscreen mode directly on your website. 

Visual Stories

A lot of this artform hinges on a strong visual aesthetic, not unlike our favorite social media content. Many zine ideas are as much about sharing a concept as they are about capturing a mood, so the stories told in them should have a strong visual representation that can be quickly and easily shared. Make zine design easier with Issuu’s Visual Stories, which serve as an easy way to deconstruct your digital content into attention-grabbing social posts. Whether you’re creating your initial content with a tool like Adobe InDesign or Canva, with Issuu, our integrations and built-in features let you quickly create beautiful and engaging assets for your followers on Instagram and Facebook.  

How Do You Make a Zine?

So, now that we’ve answered your question, “what are zines?” let’s look at how to create them. Your design choice is entirely up to you. One of the greatest parts about this medium is that it’s all about free expression of ideas and creativity. Unlike a glossy print magazine that follows a more rigid set of guidelines, zines have historically captured the visual elements associated with the heart of their community or cause. Having said that, here are a few quick tips to help you strike the right balance between substance and style. 

Color Palette

In more recent years, zines have been known for their bold design choices. You want to choose an impactful color scheme that can help set the tone for your whole publication. The 1990s Riot Grrrl scene gave us plenty of excellent examples of zines with flair. They used a combination of grunge and punk color elements like black, white, and red while blending in what were socially considered to be more feminine colors at the time, like magenta, purple, and pastel pink.

Fittingly, here’s an example of a recently made zine that uses the elements associated with Riot Grrrl style – and offers helpful advice about creating a zine of your own. 

Notice the use of pastel pink and magenta. This works as an effective homage to the famous feminist punk scene. The black and white text and design elements tie in with the black and white photos, giving them the type of retro vibe the movement’s aesthetics worked to subvert. 

Font Choice

Another element that significantly impacts your message is your font choice. Countless zine examples show off this key aspect of your finished publication. The font should be something that captures the mood of your publication, whether that’s lighthearted, inspirational, or even more extreme emotion. With that in mind, there is a science to your font selection. The style, weight, and readability of your font can all impact your message, so choose wisely. Take, for example, this issue by Lunchbox Zine, which uses different font styles to help create and match the visual theme of each section.


Finally, mapping out the layout is the most essential step in planning how to make a zine. Your zine’s design should follow the preferred reading format of the area where the majority of your audience is located and the language it’s being published in. Beyond that, it’s worth adding a table of contents to your zine if you’re planning to share multiple works like stories, articles, drawings, or photography. In the table of contents, be sure to credit contributors appropriately. With an interactive document, you can even link to each artist’s social media profile or website, where people can discover more of their work. 

Your layout can be as detailed or minimal as you’d like. Since this is such a creative publication style, you have the freedom to lay it out in whichever way makes sense for the pieces being featured and the tone of the overall publication. Feel free to pair text with imagery, add videos to your articles, or even follow a more traditional magazine format – the possibilities are endless. 

Zine Examples

There’s no wrong way to create your own zine, but if you’re looking to appeal to a larger audience, it’s worth paying attention to currently trending styles. For example, the zine design styles that have been popular lately are minimalist aesthetics geared towards a more general audience and the 1990s styles that align with the resurgence of fashion trends and nostalgia from that decade. Here are some examples to get your creative ideas flowing. 

1. Burn Something Zine

Burn Something Zine is full of mixed media artistry. With colorful photography and a variety of fonts, the publication explores topics through the intersectional lens of BIPOC creatives. The design of each issue is determined by the theme, so it can range from futuristic visual elements to muted nostalgic tones.   

2. Violet Summer Zine

Every summer, Violet Summer Zine publishes a new issue with topical essays, interviews, and product recommendations. The design is minimalistic with a bit of flare, presenting information simply with dashes of whimsical elements.

3. Farid the Zine

Farid the Zine explores creativity and society. The UK-based publication showcases the work of several artists, and its style ranges from indie expression to a more traditional magazine design. 

Start Your Zine

Now that you know all about the history of zines and why they’re making a comeback in the mainstream, it’s time to make your zine ideas a reality. Whether you’d like to document a collection of creative works or share an important message through a hard-hitting article, zines make it all possible. With Issuu, you’ll be able to share your message and find your audience anywhere in the world.

Let Issuu help you share your ideas with the world. Start using Issuu today to create your dream zine or magazine.
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