An effective book cover makes a positive first impression on potential readers. Try these five expert tips for designing dynamic book covers for both ebooks and print.
Cover image adapted from book mockup image by contributor Chinnapong
Designing your first book cover? Looking to pick up some cover design pointers? Here you’ll learn five pro tips for creating covers that look fantastic and are technically flawless too.
From how to create a hierarchy for your typography to creating an immersive wraparound design, as well as how to prepare your cover for printing or digital publishing, you won’t want to miss these essential tips and tricks.
Pro Tip #1: Prioritize type or image on your front cover
Readers are now more likely to find their next book on sites like Amazon or Wordery rather than in a physical bookstore. So, it’s more important than ever to make a cover design particularly eye-catching even at thumbnail size.
To ensure your cover competes with others on the Amazon Books homepage, it’s a good idea to prioritize either typography or graphics on your design. An equal balance of text and image can create a nice enough cover, but the visual impact will be diluted when it is online alongside dozens of other titles.
In this example cover design, which I’m creating in Adobe InDesign, I’ve chosen to make the typography the main focus of the design. The patterned background (using this hand-painted vector image) gives the cover color, texture, and interest, and creates an on-trend mosaic effect.
Pro Tip #2: Create a typographic hierarchy on your cover
Creating a hierarchy (or order) of text elements on your cover will help a potential reader to see the important information about your book quickly, and help to promote a well-balanced and attractive layout.
Unless the author is particularly well-known (see J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, etc.) the author’s name should always be secondary to the title of the book on the front cover.
Consider the sizing of your type (with the title at largest size, author second largest, and reviews or quotes third in the hierarchy), the weight and style (e.g. setting titles in a bold weight, or quotations in an italic style), and also the color (aim for a type color that contrasts effectively with the background).
To emphasize the contrast of type against a busy background, as in this example below, you can apply an outer glow effect to the text. In InDesign, select the text frame and go to Object > Effects > Outer Glow, setting the Blending Mode to Normal for a true-to-color effect, Screen for a lightening effect, or Multiply for a darker effect.
Consider also the sort of typeface(s) you want to use on your cover. Whether you opt for a more traditional serif, a modernist sans serif, or a unique display font, the style of font you choose can give readers a feel for the book genre as well as improving the visibility and impact of your cover design. For example, a condensed sans serif might be a great choice for an action-packed thriller, but a highly visible sans serif will also help your design stand out amongst the competition.
Pro Tip #3: Create an immersive wraparound design
When a reader picks up a print book in a bookstore, their interaction with the book doesn’t stop at the front cover alone.
While the front cover should entice the viewer into picking up the book in the first place, the individual is then likely to flip the book over to check out the blurb on the back.
With this in mind, it’s important to give almost as much thought to the reverse of your cover design as the front. A wraparound cover design, in which some or all of the graphics on the front cover are continued across the spine and onto the back cover, is a quick, easy, and effective way to give your cover design a professional look. It also helps to continue the narrative of the front cover onto the back.
In the artwork for this cover, I’ve copied over the hand-painted background from the front to the back to create continuity across the design. The blurb text is layered over the top, with a dark outer glow effect (in InDesign, go to Object > Effects > Outer Glow) applied to the text frame to create contrast and ensure the text is legible.
Also keep in mind that a potential reader may not even engage with your front cover initially if the title is stacked on a shelf. It’s therefore important to also give some thought to the design of your spine. You can continue the background pattern onto the spine, apply a pop of color (as in the example below), or add an illustration to create interest even when the book is shelved.
Pro Tip #4: Make sure to include cover artwork essentials
Once you’ve created a compelling wraparound design for your cover, it’s important to also include a few essential extras on your design, which will make your cover salable.
If you are creating the cover for a publisher, they may want to include their logo on the spine and the back cover, as well as include a website. The author may also want to include their own website and/or a portrait photo on the back of the cover (or on the inside of the dust jacket for hardcover books).
If you are creating your cover for a print book to sell in bookstores, you will also need to include a barcode on the reverse side of the cover. This is normally placed at the bottom left or bottom right of the back cover. The barcode will include the book’s ISBN number and pricing information.
Pro Tip #5: Prepare your cover for exporting
If you’re creating a cover for a print book, the setup and export process for your cover artwork will be quite different to exporting a design for a digital eBook (.EPUB).
While an eBook cover can be exported as a single .JPEG or .PNG image of the front cover alone, a print cover will require a bit more thought and attention.
The following things you must include when creating, finalizing, and exporting a cover for print:
- Include a bleed (usually at a minimum width of 0.125 in) around the perimeter of the whole wraparound cover.
- The color mode of the cover should be set to CMYK (not RGB). In InDesign you can set this from the New Document window (File > New > Document) by selecting Print from the options at the top of the window.
- The cover artwork should include the front cover, spine, and back cover as one single page.
- The artwork should be exported as a press-quality PDF. In InDesign, go to File > Export, and choose Adobe PDF (Print) from the Format menu at the bottom of the Export window. In the Export Adobe PDF window that then opens, choose [Press Quality] from the Preset menu at the top. Make sure to check Use Document Bleed Settings from the Marks and Bleeds options before you hit Export.
Looking for more book design tips?
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