Discover the details of book design with this guide to creating a front cover. Learn everything you need to do to get your book ready for the printer.
Adobe InDesign is the pro designer’s software of choice for creating beautiful book covers. Even if you’re a relative beginner to InDesign, this tutorial will show you how you can create print-ready covers for paperback books quickly and easily.
I’ll show you how I tackle a cover design project, showing you everything from setting up your document correctly, to putting together an eye-catching design, to expanding your layout to include a back cover and spine, and finally exporting your design to send off to the printers.
Let’s dive in and get started!
What You’ll Need to Create a Cover Design
As well as access to Adobe InDesign, you’ll need to have the following things on hand before you start designing:
- The size specs for your cover. Here, we’ll set the cover up to a standard B-Format size, but you can adjust this depending on the size you’d like your final printed book to be.
- The page count for your book, and the weight (in GSM) of the paper stock your inside pages will be printed on. This will help you finalize the spine width of your cover.
- Inspiration for your design. Seek inspiration from sources online, like Pinterest or the incredible Book Cover Archive, to give you an idea of the subject, mood, and color palette you want to create with your design.
- Fonts and images for your cover. You can find a perfect cover graphic in the Shutterstock collection, along with specialty vector fonts. The graphic I’m going to use for the cover design in this tutorial is a texture image from Shutterstock.
1. How to Set Up Your Cover Document in InDesign
Open up InDesign and go to File > New > Document.
With the Intent set to Print, keep the Number of Pages to 1 and uncheck Facing Pages.
For a B-Format paperback, set the Width of the page to 130 mm and Height to 198 mm. We’ll expand the width later on to accommodate for a spine and back cover.
Add a Bleed of 5 mm to all edges of the page, before clicking OK.
2. How to Add Color, Graphics, and Type to Your Cover
It can be helpful to set up a series of layers in your InDesign document, to help organize the design elements on your cover.
To do this, expand the Layers panel (Window > Layers) and click on the Create New Layer button at the bottom of the panel. Double-click new layers to edit their names.
Here, I’ve created three layers — Texture, Background, and Type — to set up the design for my Italy, My Love cover.
Lock all layers except the bottom layer – we’ll start working on that first.
You can bring texture into your cover by using the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) to create a frame across the whole page.
Then File > Place and choose a texture image like this one. Click Open, and allow the texture to fill the frame.
With the image frame selected go to Object > Effects > Transparency to bring the Opacity of the texture down and make it more subtle (here to 25%).
You can build a palette of colors to use on your cover by creating new swatches in the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches).
Choose New Color Swatch from the panel’s main menu.
To ensure your colors are suitable for print, set the Color Type to Process and Color Mode to CMYK, before adjusting the CMYK levels below. Click Add and then OK to save your swatch.
You can use the same process to build up a large range of colors in the Swatches panel.
Now you’re ready to start adding images to your cover or create shapes, as I’m going to do here. Lock the Texture layer and unlock the Background layer above it.
It’s always helpful to mark out the center point of your front cover, so with the rulers visible (View > Show Rulers) drag a guide out from the left-hand ruler and drop it at 65 mm.
I use the Pen Tool (P) to create a triangular shape that extends from the outer bleed edge to the center of the page.
I then apply a swatch to the Fill of the shape from the Swatches panel.
I build up shapes around the right side of the front cover using the Pen Tool (P), giving each a different color Fill.
When you place images, shapes or background content on the left side of the page, make sure to only extend the design up to the page edge, and NOT the bleed edge. This is because the page edge is where the right side of the spine will sit, which we’ll look at a little later.
To bring through the texture below, select all the images or shapes sitting on the Background layer and go to Object > Effects > Transparency. Set the Mode to Multiply, and click OK.
Once you’ve created the visual backdrop for your cover, you can start to create the typography for your design. Lock the Background layer and unlock the top Typography layer.
Use the Type Tool (T) to create text frames, and format the text using either the main Controls panel running along the top of the workspace or the Character panel (Window > Type & Tables > Character).
Here, I’ve set the title of the book in Acre, and adjusted the Font Color from the Swatches panel.
Add reviews or subtitles to your cover using the Type Tool (T), setting the text in a smaller Font Size and try a contrasting font. Here I’ve used the serif font Adobe Caslon Pro to contrast against the sans-serif title.
3. How to Expand Your Cover
Once you’ve finished the design for your front cover you can expand the layout into a full wrap-around cover with a back cover and spine. Read on to find out how.
Expand the Pages panel (Window > Pages) and Right-Click on the Page 1 icon and Duplicate Spread.
Scroll down to Page 2 of your document. This is the page we will expand into a full cover.
You can either ask your printer to send you a spine width for your book, or use an online spine width calculator.
I’ve calculated my spine width will be 14.9 mm, given that it will have 250 pages printed on 115gsm paper.
You can work out the total width of your expanded cover using this calculation:
Front cover width (130 mm) + Back cover width (130 mm) + Spine width (14.9 mm) = Total cover width (274.9 mm)
Select the Page Tool (Shift+P) and click onto the page to select it.
Enter the total width value into the W text box that has now appeared along the top Controls panel, and hit Enter. This will expand the page’s width.
Unlock all the layers of your document, select all the elements on the front cover and shift this over to the right side of the page, allowing the right edge to meet the right-hand bleed edge.
Mark out the left edge of the spine by dragging out a guide from the left-hand ruler to 130 mm.
Then mark out the center point of the back cover by dragging a guide out to 65 mm.
A quick way to give your back cover a design is to select all the elements sitting on the Texture and Background layers and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste them. Then Right-Click > Transform > Flip Horizontal, and move into position on the left side of the page.
Fill the spine with color using the Rectangle Tool (M).
Create text frames for the spine using the Type Tool (T), and Right-Click > Transform > Rotate 90° CW these to move them to the right orientation. Normal practice is to place the title and author name on the spine, as well as a publisher’s logo if you prefer.
You might also want to place a blurb, reviews, and a barcode on the back cover, depending on how you’re planning to distribute and sell your book.
Your cover artwork is now finished, great job! All that’s left to do is to export it ready for printing.
4. How to Export Your Cover
Head up to File > Export, and choose Adobe PDF (Print) from the Format menu at the bottom of the Export window. Give your cover file a suitable name, then click OK.
In the Export to Adobe PDF window that opens, select [Press Quality] from the Adobe PDF Preset menu at the top. Under Pages, set the Range to 2, so that only the second page of your document is exported.
Click on Marks and Bleeds in the window’s left-hand menu, and check All Printer’s Marks and Use Document Bleed Settings.
Then hit Export to create your PDF file. You can send this directly to the printers—they’ll be thrilled you’ve set up your cover so professionally!
Now that your cover’s finished, you might want to start thinking about how to typeset the inside pages of your book. In this article you’ll discover seven perfect fonts for typesetting that won’t let you down.
You might also want to adapt your cover to digital format; these essential tips for creating eBooks will get you started in the right direction.