How to design a YA dark fantasy book cover: best book cover inspiration and tutorial

 In book design tips

A great Young Adult Fantasy book cover invariably starts with an old-fashioned gown. Yes it’s overdone; however you need your readers to look at the book and say “Gee, that’s the kind of book I like to read.” Unlike non-fiction, which prizes creative ideas, fantasy book covers want dark, sumptuous, beautiful girls with long hair and flowing dresses, probably being overwhelmed by nature/dark forces.

Check out the following for some good samples:


So first off, find yourself a picture of a great dress. If you’re using stock photos, I’d advise against using the model’s face – it’s too easily recognizable. Instead, just put in half her body somehow… Then, blend in a background that means something to the plot, and a good font. You can also edit all the colors to give the whole thing a certain mood.

I’m starting with this beautiful picture I found on an Italian Bridal company website. Since I don’t have the rights to this picture, I can’t use it for an actual book cover; I must also advise you it’s safer to only use photos you are sure you can use. (That said – using an obscure photo from the web for an ebook/kindle book cover is unlikely to get you into severe trouble, although you may be asked to remove it someday.) So in the first step I sharpened the contrast and darkened it a bit.

Now I get to add the text. I’m titling the book “Nature’s Daughter”. (If this were a real book, I would have checked to see if the title was available). I want a flowery, script-like text for this book – but adding text is difficult because of the extreme contrast. I’ll either have to do it in black with an outer glow (1), or in white with a drop shadow (2), or fit the whole thing in a patch of homogeneous color (3).

If this were a print book, I think I’d choose #3 – I love the font and I prefer the text placement; however for an ebook the title is a bit hard to read and not bold enough. #2 is not bad but not what I had in mind, and I don’t like covering up the model so much. So we’ll go with #1 and add the Author name.

Next, I want to add some scrolly, flowery decoration around the edges. I look through my photoshop brushes for something that can work; I add one design to the top, flip the canvas around, and do it again to the bottom.

That doesn’t look too bad, but I don’t like the way the font looks with the decoration, so I start looking for a new font – I chose “Tiranti Solid LET.”

I wanted some color, so I added a gradient overlay; but the color isn’t light or dark enough to stand out, so I gave it a huge “drop shadow” – it darkens most of the bottom half of the book cover but makes the title pop. And…. I like it enough to stick with it. If it were a real project, I may keep playing. It doesn’t seem “magical” enough for a dark fantasy; I’d probably want some sparkles or magic.

So, I changed the decoration, matched the text overlay but then changed the title to white; this helps the title jump out even more; then I changed the picture back to the more colorful original.

What do you think?

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  • Giselle

    This is awesome! Love the simple look of your design. And yes I have to agree with the trend of YA books with the beautiful dresses 😛

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