Designing a cover

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Many authors are on a limited budget. If you have a modicum of artistic talent and the software needed, you may decide to create your own cover to save money.

Which software?

The most common software used by regular cover designers would be Adobe Photoshop. This comes as part of a yearly subscription to a large range of Adobe products through Creative Cloud, but unless you are going to use the other products, it can be very expensive.

Photoshop Elements can be downloaded as a single program far more cheaply. This contains all of the tools that would be required by a non-professional designer. Another commonly used package is GIMP, a free-to-download program very similar to Photoshop Elements.

For more info, see graphics editing software comparisons.

Formatting

The most common size for eBook covers is 6 by 9 inches. If you are thinking of going to print with the same cover, choose a size that fits the trim you want for your print book. Also, if you are thinking of going to print, ensure that you leave a ‘bleed’ around the top, bottom and right edge. This is generally 3mm, but some templates may vary, so check beforehand. Templates or bleed details are generally available from the printer.

All important details of the image and all text on the cover must lie within the bleed space. Anything outside of the bleed line may be cropped in the printing process.

It will not be possible to assess which template or dimensions are needed for a print cover until the book is in its final formatted stage. The number of pages and type of paper used will affect spine thickness.

Print covers are generally saved as PDF files. They should be saved with the colour settings in RGB, at least 300dpi (dots per inch - the resolution of the image). Some printers require the cover to be in CMYK and specify colour percentages. Read the instructions carefully.

Design

Most covers are designed through photo-manipulation, with images laid in layers over the top of each other to create a composite scene. ‘Feathered’ edges rather than clean-cut edges tend to blend better.

Remember that less is more. Don’t try to include too much on the cover. The idea is to capture a feel for the story, rather than try to tell the whole story on the cover.

If using more than one image on a cover, make sure that the lighting matches. For example, if you have a moon shining on the right side, don’t have the character’s face lit from the left.

Images

There are a number of sites providing images for use in private or commercial projects. It is possible to buy individual images or you can subscribe to a package, which is cheaper if you are likely to be doing other covers as well.

Make sure you read the small print on these sites. Some do not allow use of images on book covers without an extended licence, which costs more. Others allow the image to be used only a certain number of times before an extended licence is required.

Do not take an image you like from the internet, for example via Google Images. Unless Creative Commons Licence is clearly expressed, you can assume that the image is copyrighted and not for use by others.

If you have a photo of your own that you wish to use, ensure that anyone included in the picture has given written permission for you to use their likeness on your cover.

Fonts

There are many sites offering free fonts. Again, it is important to read the small print. Some ‘free’ fonts are only for use on personal projects, not on commercial projects such as book covers. Some are pirated and, as such, should be avoided.

If you have Microsoft Word, you can achieve some pretty advanced text effects that can be screen grabbed as jpeg files. See Using MS Word to create text effects for more information.

The typography on a book cover is every bit as important as the cover image. Remember, the purpose is to clearly convey to any potential reader the title and author (and perhaps a little additional information). Some hints:

  • Find fonts that suggest the genre of the book.
  • Use fonts that are easily read in thumbnail size.
  • Don’t use more than two different fonts on a cover.
  • Use fonts that complement each other.
  • Avoid the use of red for font colour. It tends to be illegible in thumbnail.
  • Make sure fonts stand out against the background - if there's an image behind the font, consider outlining or shadowing the font in a colour that contrasts with the main font colour so the font can be easily read.