Single-sheet zine designs – basics

Single sheet zines - step oneThere are as many ways to create, modify & embellish a single-sheet zine as there are artists!

Here’s a very simple way to create one:

1. Take any white sheet of paper.  Pull one out of your desktop printer, or rip one out of a notebook.  (Think of the lines as pinstripes!)

2. Fold the paper in half.  Most people fold it so it becomes a four-page zine, with each page being 8.5″ tall and 5.5″ wide, but anything’s possible!

Single sheet zines - how to make them
3. Write and draw (and create other art) on each page, until it’s full.  (Alternative: Create your zine, digitally, and then print it.)

Single sheet zines - the layout and design4. Flatten the sheet so you can photocopy (or scan) it.

5. Print copies, two-sided (back to back), and fold them.  (Optional: Embellish by hand.)

6. Mail copies of your zines, sell them (at your site or Etsy, for example) or give them to others, sharing your ideas and artwork!

Single sheet zines - print and share
(If you live in a city, especially one with a student neighborhood, go hand some zines out and watch people blink in amazement.  They’re used to advertising flyers, etc., not actual gifts of art & inspiration.)

If you want to make and share zines, this is one of the simplest ways to make them!

Single-sheet zines – Expanded

Single-sheet zines can be easy or complex.  In my earlier article, Single-sheet Zine Design – Basics, I showed one of the simpler ways to create a zine.

Now, let’s talk about a more complex approach… that still uses a single sheet of paper.

But first, a little history:

In 1977, I published my first zine. It was one piece of paper, photocopied, folded, and sent out with someone’s name & address written on the outside, with a stamp.

In time, I graduated to two or three sheets of paper, and I started embellishing my zines with rubber stamps and glitter. Each one was hand-decorated.

Then, I began experimenting with artistamps (faux postage that I created for my imaginary country) and other forms of mailart.

Since then, I’ve tried nearly every possible zine format, from paper to fabric to zines-on-CDs to… well, lots of stuff.

So, if you have a question about zines, I can probably answer it or point you in the direction of someone else who can.

From what I’ve seen, the majority of people who swap or sell zines take a bunch of letter-sized printed pages (8 1/2″ x 11″) and fold them in half. Each sheet of paper is four pages of the zine.

Here’s how a single-sheet zine would look:

Single sheet zines - the layout and design

See? This can be really easy!

You can print a free zine — a variation of the single-page zine — at Free Zine #1.  (Warning: I wrote that around 2002, and included several topics that were popular/trendy at the time.  If the mention of Feng Shui offends you, skip that link.)

An average zine (major oxymoron!) is five to 15 sheets of paper, meaning 20 to 60 pages.

In swaps, most zines are at the small end of that figure.  Many of them are just a sheet or two of paper, printed (and sometimes cut) and folded/stapled to make a zine.

Once you’ve made a few classic, single-sheet zines, you may want to try something more complex.

If you’re a purist, you’ll love this. If you’re on a budget, you’ll also love this: It’s a 16-page zine created with one sheet of legal-sized paper, period.

I don’t count the cover as a “page” when I number my zine pages, so my own version of this is 12 pages plus an outside cover & inside covers. Here’s how it fits on the paper:

16-page zine

Cut on the solid lines and fold on the dotted lines.

Staple in the center. One staple is usually enough.

One stamp on the envelope is enough to mail one of these zines.  (You can tuck them in with your bill payments, with your notes to friends, with your swaps, with your orders to catalogues, and so on!)

You can also scan your zine, uncut, and put it online so others can print their own copy, cut & assemble it. Easy!

This zine won’t hold much info unless you write small enough for a magnifying glass, or you find clever ways to expand the available space, such as adding fold-out pages & stuff.

However, this 16-pages-from-one-sheet-of-legal-paper is generally regarded as the classic zine, if we’re talking all kinds of zines, including poetry, fanzines, perzines (personal zines), and so on.

There are many other ways to make zines. Look at books about making handmade books, for the best inspiration. The concept is the same, but zines are usually smaller & more informal, that’s all.

If you want to create a zine that’s a work of art, that’s fine. If you want to get wild & crazy with design, have fun with it!

Remember that a zine can be one piece of paper, b&w, printed on both sides, and folded in half. That’s a four-page zine.  I have several in my collection, and I think some of the simpler ones are better than a few larger ones I’ve seen.

So, put your art & soul into your zine, and don’t worry about the size or technical stuff.  I love almost every zine I see; size and expertise often have nothing to do with how enthusiastic I am about a zine!

If you’ve wanted to create a zine for fun, just do it!

Give them to friends.  Sell them (at your website or Etsy, for example).  Hand them out on the street or at school.

Or, you can join a zine swap or launch your own, on- or offline.  They can be tremendous!

In addition, if you swap, you’ll receive fabulous zines that you might never see if you hadn’t swapped.

Zine-related links (at other people’s websites – they open in a new window)

Zines101.pdf – Some basics and suggestions, not just about art zines.

Wikipedia: Zines – So much information, it’ll make your eyes glaze over or your pulse race… or both.

Zine Resources – from Underground Press.  Useful & worth bookmarking or sharing.

Carve Your Own Letterboxing Stamps

When I started carving rubber stamps, I was reminded of why I hated high school art classes: I’m frankly terrible at this kind of stuff.

However, using Speedball’s pink rubber stamp material (get the kit – it’s worth it) makes this easy, even if–like me–you’re all thumbs when it comes to this kind of stuff. In 2006, the kit was under $20 at Michael’s.

Low-tech method

  • Sketch your design on paper with a nice black pencil. I recommend a pencil with a 2B or 4B lead, or softer.
  • Flip the paper over so it’s face-down on the pink rubber pad.
  • Trace over the lines again (or rub the back of the paper really well, all over), on top of the pink rubber pad.

The lines should transfer well to the rubber.

High-tech method

  • Photocopy or use your laser printer to print the image/s you’d like on the rubber stamp. (Inkjet will not work for this.)
  • Place the image face-down on the pink rubber pad.
  • Dab the back of the paper with acetone (nailpolish remover), until the paper is saturated.

The image should appear nice and dark, showing where to cut and where to avoid.


Either way, the next step is easy. Cut away everything you don’t want to grab ink. It doesn’t have to be a deep cut, just enough so it doesn’t come in contact with the rubber stamp pad when you’re printing.

You can cut with block printing cutters, or with an X-Acto knife. Different people like different cutters. I took more block printing classes than I can recall, so I’m more comfortable with the block printing cutter.

What’s key is not to undercut the image. That is, the part that contacts the stamp pad should be well-supported on each side. I like the illustration–and instructions–at Der Mad Stamper’s website.

If you make a mistake, you can glue the errant piece back in, so be sure to save it. If you’re using the pink Speedball rubber, Super Glue works fine. I used it, and except for the glue squirting all over my fingers when I punctured the tip to open it, it worked fine.

(Another handy reason to have acetone nearby. It’ll separate your fingers, but alas it doesn’t fully remove the glue.)

I applied the glue with a sewing needle, which did not stick to the rubber… but then the needle was glued to my desk when I put it down for minute.

If you use Super Glue, you’ll need to sand the glue off the stamp before using it. The glue resists ink. Sanding can be done with sandpaper, of course, but an emery board or file works fine too.

When you think you’ve cut the stamp pretty well, use a very light color of stamp pad to test the image. That way, if you need to cut more, you can still see your original lines.

Remember to cut less than you think you need. And also, it’s supposed to look hand-cut, so leave bits of rubber lines here & there for that “artsy” look.

When the stamp is done, you can use it as it is, or you can glue it to a piece of wood (for a handle).

The Shakespeare stamp–of my all-time idol–was my first attempt at carving a rubber stamp. I still use it, years later.

I carved the Aisling stamp (also shown below) specifically for letterboxing; that was the third stamp I carved. The second one was regrettable and is sitting in landfill somewhere.

But, whether you have a hand-carved stamp that you love, a hand-carved stamp that’s ho-hum, or a store bought stamp… get out and go letterboxing! It’s important to go out and play, even with an imperfect stamp.

my first carved stamp
(the bard, of course)

computer graphic for stamp

final rubber stamp (2 1/2″ x 1 3/4″)

ATC Tutorial 4 – Memories – Finishing the ATC

Continued from ATC Tutorial 3 – Memories – Giving it meaning

The card was very nearly finished. I liked the colors and the general design of the image, but it needed just a little… something else. I didn’t know what, yet.

This is the part of the process that can take forever, since it’s trial and error. There’s a feeling that you’re almost there, and it’s only working with a set time limit that prevents the card from becoming a two-week continuing project.

everlasting ATC I remembered an ATC that I made earlier, with a photo of a little girl and her teddy bear.

Suddenly, the new card was about a frail and elderly woman, remembering her days as a “flapper”.  She was remembering her childhood near San Francisco when she and her father would go to the pond by the Palace of Fine Arts, to feed the birds.

I still had the layers from my earlier card, so it was easy to copy the layer with the little girl and position her on this new ATC.

I liked the effect immediately.

final image for ATC

Before flattening the layers, I selected that band of natural color where the water meets the land, and I increased the saturation.

Then, I chose the inverse selection and lightened it, reducing contrast as well.

Finally, I flattened the layers and reduced the image size to fit on a 3″ x 5″ ATC.

I added the border and text, using the P22-Monet font. I deliberately overlapped the text and the image a little, because I wanted it to look like the lady had written this on the card herself.

Here is the completed card:

right-click on the card to save it to your hard drive

You can print this card at 150 dpi to create you own copy of this 3″ x 5″ ATC. (It’s okay to adjust the size to fit the more popular 2.5″ x 3.5″ format.)

ATC Tutorial 3 – Memories – Giving it meaning

Continued from ATC Tutorial 2 – Memories – Adding More Layers

At this point, the card was pretty… but it had no real theme or meaning to it. And, while “pretty” art can stand on its own merits, I rarely choose to make art without another layer of meaning. So, I started examining the card for clues.

I increased the contrast and lightened the background layer. I knew that something needed to go in front of it, and by reducing the “obviousness” of the background, it helped me to focus.

I was still drawing a blank.

So, I went to my copy of Photoshop Secrets of the Pros: 20 Top Artists and Designers Face Off for ideas. (If it’s selling for under $10 at Amazon and you enjoy this kind of art, get a copy. Otherwise, see if your public library owns it. If they don’t, tell them to buy a copy.)

I was inspired by the work of John Henry Donovan, of

another step in the ATC process - inverting color I tried inverting color (Image–>Adjust) in strips with five-pixel feathering. However, once the stripes were dark, I needed to duplicate the layer with the Paris-Draped figure, to make it more opaque.

I wasn’t too sure that I liked the effect. In fact, it was pretty much ick. And, having set a three-hour deadline–trying to mimic my one-hour ATCs but allow for this documentation–I needed to finish the card quickly.

I deleted the extra layer of Paris-Draped so that the figures were transparent again. And, I desaturated the layer. But, as I was using the Hue/Saturation screen for this, I accidentally altered the background hues… and liked the effect. ATC starting to look good

I started selecting rectangular areas of the background, and changing the hue of each of them and then switched them back again.

Finally, I worked with the area nearest the middle and altered it back to its original, natural colors.

Then, I chose Select–>Inverse and tweaked the remaining background image and adjusted it until I was happy with it.

Finally, the Paris-Draped layer had to be adjusted as well, both contrast and hue.

Now, I was getting a theme. The Paris-Draped figure was clearly from the past, and the single band of natural/real coloring in the image was like a faded memory… only part of it was accurate and the rest was a little surreal.

Conclusion: ATC Tutorial 4 – Memories – Finishing the ATC

ATC Tutorial 2 – Memories – Adding more layers

To reflect the sky colors in the water, I made a duplicate layer of the sky, flipped it vertically in Edit–>Transform. I reduced its transparency to 36%, and slightly adjusted the color to make it greener (for the influence of the green of the water) and darker.

I remembered my painting lessons which taught me that the sky is almost always the lightest natural tone in any picture. So, the water had to be a little darker. (ref. Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting – an inexpensive must-own if you’re working with landscape-type art.)

Next, I knew that I wanted at least one figure in this ATC, so I found a slightly risque public domain photo. (They’re easy to find, online, even the U.S. gov’t site has some in their art resources, online. Or look for the British Museum’s free online images.) shameless hussies paris-draped
two paris-draped images over the palace ATC design I selected just the figure to use on my ATC, and blurred the edges slightly. (Remember, if you’re working with a layer that’s going to be transparent, you can get away with far less precision in your images.)

Then, I…

  • made a duplicate layer so would be two figures
  • flipped one of them
  • adjusted the transparency
  • set the figures where I wanted them.

Then I merged the two figure layers so that I could play with the hue, saturation, and contrast.

Next page: ATC Tutorial 3 – Memories – Giving it meaning.

ATC Tutorial 1 – Memories – Digital ATC

This is page one of a free tutorial showing you how to make a digital ATC similar to “Memories,” the artist trading card shown below.


How the card started: I wanted to make a different card… something not quite so “ghost-y” as some of my other ATCs from mid-2005.

I was also thinking about some art by Disney artist & Imagineer, Eric Robison. His art reminds me of Dave McKean’s, but some of Robison’s Haunted Mansion art that was at inspired me as well.

So, I went to and looked at his newest photos. His Palace of Fine Arts photograph intrigued me immediately. At that point, I started writing this page, stream-of-consciousness, so that you can see the process.

photo of san francisco's palace of fine arts First, I reduced the image size and increased its resolution so that it’s five inches wide at 150 dpi. In all likelihood, this will be a horizontal card, not a vertical one.
Next, I altered the color using Hue/Saturation in Adobe Photoshop. I liked the building in blue and the trees in purple, but the sky wasn’t right… yet. same photo with altered color
new layer and pink + orange added to ATC I added a layer to the image, and used the airbrush tool to spray pink and orange onto that layer, randomly. Then, I used the eraser tool to tidy up the areas where I’d oversprayed too much of the palace. Since the layer was going to be made partially transparent, I didn’t have to be too precise with any of this.
I made that layer a 60% transparency, and adjusted the colors as I worked with Hue/Saturation, but I wasn’t thrilled with it. So, I sprayed some yellow onto that same layer and used Gaussian blur on that layer, and kept tweaking the balance of transparency and saturation until I like it. sunset-y layers added

However, that little spot of sky that you can see through the palace looked odd.

So, I…

  • created a new transparent layer for it
  • sprayed yellow onto it, and
  • adjusted the hue to make it a little cooler in color, so it wouldn’t leap forward quite so much.

At this point, I still didn’t have a theme for the ATC, but I liked how it was going. My next step was to adjust the water to reflect the sky.

Next page: ATC Tutorial 2 – Memories – Adding more layers

Gold Leaf – ATC Tutorial

My instructions for making this card are for Adobe Photoshop, but you can use almost any graphics program and create the same effects.

It’s not easy to explain this sort of process. It’s vastly easier for me to show you, in person.

If you print out this page and follow it step-by-step, you’ll probably figure out how to create some very cool effects with your computer.

ATC - Gold Leaf
(click on the card for a full-size printable copy)

The figure of the woman is from my Shameless Hussies image CD. (If you already own it, she’s the “clothed-dancer” image in the Performers folder on that CD.)

To isolate her figure for the card, I digitally pasted the image onto my ATC background.

In Adobe Photoshop, I then used Select–>Color Range, and put the dropper over the background color. With that selected, I deleted everything that was that approximate color. I repeated this until the figure was isolated enough.

Then, I used the Eraser Tool in Photoshop–with the soft edges, at 100 pixels–to remove remaining bits that didn’t suit the design.

I added a transparent layer underneath the figure, and use the Airbrush tool (soft edges again) to create a yellow “halo” effect in back of the figure’s head. I really wanted her to glow.

When I add a figure to an ATC, I often have a story in my mind. In this case, I wanted her to be slipping into a fabulous fantasy world from reality, so I wanted a reference to the “tick-tock” everyday world.

But, I didn’t want anything too glaringly modern. So, I used a slim slice of a dated almanac page from my image CD, the 1819 Farmer’s Almanac. I pasted that onto its own layer, and made that layer about a 30% transparency.

Finally, I used the Eraser tool to remove a little of the greenery of the daisies, and reveal the golden straw from an otherwise-hidden layer. The straw restores a sense of proportion to the scene, and it’s also a reference to the gold (another visual pun) in the Rumplestiltskin story.


You can make any layer transparent in the Layers menu. Here’s a picture of what it looks like when you create the layer. The red arrow points to the Opacity setting; adjust that to get the level that you want.

New Layer screen showing opacity

Or, you can adjust the transparency level on the right side of your screen, in the Layers tab. The red arrow indicates where you will adjust the transparency.

Layers tab in Adobe Photoshop
If you play with the layers, tweaking them a little here, a little there, you’ll soon get the effect that you want.

That’s really all there is to creating a graphic like this.

For the story behind the card–why I chose the elements that I did–see my page, Gold Leaf – a free, printable ATC.

Superman Shrine – Pringles Lid

You can make a small shrine using a Pringle’s potato chip lid. Here are some general instructions to create the base for the shrine.

My Superman shrine is illustrated at left.

It was created using very small artwork–some of it original–and a Pringle’s potato chip lid. You know, one of those clear plastic snap-on lids that allows you to reseal the container.

First, I washed it with dishwashing liquid to remove all grease from it. Then, I cut a notch in each side, so it could fold.

But, even if I scored it along the fold line, the lid wouldn’t stay folded at a right angle.

side of shrine

Plastic–such as this potato chip lid–has a “memory,” which means that it likes to return to the same shape it was made into at the factory. In this case, the Pringle’s lid wants to snap back into a flat position. It’s necessary to fasten it at a right angle, for the shrine to look right.

My solution was to use my Fiskars 1/16″ punch. I put a total of four holes in the rim of the Pringle’s lid: Two on the upright part of the shrine (one hole on each side) and two on the flat part of the shrine (also in the rim, one hole on each side, right & left).

Then I used embroidery floss and an embroidery needle. I knotted the thread as if I was sewing, and pushed the needle and thread through the hole on the bottom/flat side of the shrine. (The hole is actually in the rim, but it’s on the half of the lid/shrine that’s rests on the table.)

I sewed this from the inside so the knot is hidden under the rim of the lid.

Then I put the needle and thread through the corresponding hole on the top/upright side of the shrine. It’s less important whether or not you go from the inside out, or vice versa.

Either way, I went through the hole twice, knotted the thread, and left a good tail on it when I cut it.

Then I put a dab of glue (Perfect Paper Adhesive, but white glue will work fine) on the tail of the thread, and tucked it inside the rim of the lid/shrine.

I repeated this process on the other side of the shrine.

I know… this may be impossible to understand without a bazillion diagrams.

If none of this makes sense to you, experiment. You’ll probably come up with an even better design!

Art and Science of Pocket Shrines

superman shrine by aisling d'art First you start with an idea.

Well, maybe.

It’s where most people begin. You know, “Oh, I MUST make a shrine to chocolate!” Or Elvis, or Russell Crowe, or Barbie, the Banana Splits, or the Planet Melmac.

But where you should start–and of course, we never do what we should–is with the container.

The container should be small, of course. I mean, where will it go?

Select the container

A dashboard shrine may fit nicely in a small candle sconce, or a matchbox.

Something for your pocket might go better in a matchbook, a film canister, or slide out of a gutted dental floss dispenser.

The point is, the container determines everything. Unless you want to collect images and then scan them (or color photocopy them) down to size, start with the container.

The Three Cs:

Containers should meet the “three Cs” requirements: Cheap, Clean, and Compact. Charming is optional, kitschy is a plus.

So anyway, find your container. I highly recommend glancing in your trash right now, to see what you’ve thrown out recently.

One of my favorite shrines is shown above, the Superman shrine built in a Pringles potato chip lid.

But anyway, let’s assume you have a few containers gathered.

Next, choose a theme

Your theme can be absolutely anything. Select a person, place, idea, event or holiday. I’ve already listed a few, but don’t stop there! Movie idols, personal obsessions, fetishes, and weird/quirky stuff is what we’re looking for.

Serious topics? Why not? Draw on your spirituality, or history, or your dreams.

But find a theme anyway. Maybe it starts with a toy you bought at random from the 25-cent dispensers at the door of the grocery store. Or the fortune card you received at the penny arcade.

Maybe it’s about spike heels, condoms, bubble bath, the Trix rabbit, or Elmo… or a scary combination of some of these!

The thing is, you need a fairly clear vision/theme. You can adjust it as you find trinkets and images for your shrine, so don’t get totally locked into one idea.

Gather shrine elements

It’s time to collect bits and pieces to go into your shrine. You already know the size you’ll need…something which will fit inside your container.

There are several elements to consider when constructing a shrine. Color… either lots of color, or a single theme, such as Elvis and the color blue, as in My Blue Heaven, Blue Suede Shoes, and, “…a blue Christmas without you.”

Also, think in terms of dimension. Flat shrines are fine. No problem.

But, you can raise some elements above others, with foam tape or little blocks or something.

Think about texture, too. You can improve interest in the shrine by using fabric to cover it, or to line it. Satin is an obvious choice. Tacky red satin with mini-fringe or pom-poms for trim…excellent! (Dollhouse supply shops offer some wonderful trims.)

Images are best if they’re the right size. With a scanner or photocopy machine, you can reduce any image to the right size.

The library may have some fabulous books for inspiration.

(But, keep in mind that there are copyright issues, especially if you plan to sell your shrines using copyrighted images.)

So, once you have your bits & pieces, you’ve reached the assembling phase.

Complete your shrine

The first issue is glue: Even “permanent” glue sticks dry in high heat and/or low humidity. The pieces fall off. Yep, done that.

Another poor choice is rubber cement. It can yellow and/or turn paper translucent as the years progress. One brand claims to be archival, sort of. Read the label, and decide for yourself.

I favor hot glue, and Rollataq, or whatever you like for collage/assemblage work. (Rollataq is a glueing system which involves a special rolling dispenser filled with the Rollataq glue. Yes, it’s still messy, but it keeps glued paper smooth.)

Be prepared to change your mind about what goes where. Spontaneous art is the best art!

All done? Congratulations! It’s time to display your work. Dashboards are good. So are office desks, copy machine tables, and so on. Put a pinback on it, and wear it.

Oh sure, you can tuck your shrine in your pocket or purse, but you must promise to take it out regularly, and enjoy it.

Pocket shrines are made to display, show off, and flaunt.

Pocket shrines are FUN! Enjoy!