If you have access to Adobe Photoshop and have time to play around, you can make a pretty amazing book cover by yourself. Making book covers is fun and – if you publish a lot of books – learning how to design your own book covers may save you a lot of money.
Here’s a short step-by-step of the book cover I just made for James Carter’s Scandalous.
1: Where to find pictures
Most book covers have some kind of photo-manipulation or collage, use one main image, or have a flat color background with a few small images. You need to find high-quality, high-resolution pictures to work with. To make sure they are copyright free, it’s usually better to look on paid stock image sites (my favorite is 123rf.com).
For Scandalous, we were looking for a Victorian-looking woman who looked broken or sad; at first we were thinking a portrait with some cracks in the face… but then I found this great picture of a statue…. very dramatic. But I wanted to bring it to life a little. So I found another picture of a woman to merge in.
2: Using layers and overlay
Open both images in photoshop. Make a new document that’s the right size of your book cover, and copy+paste both images into the new document. You’ll need to move them around until they fit together right – to do this you can set the transparency of the top one to %50, then use “edit: free transform” to resize or rotate it. For this picture, the eye and the mouth wouldn’t quite line up right, so I actually had to double the blonde woman layer and then delete everything except around the eye, for one, and everything except around the mouth, for the other. That way I could move each piece independently.
When things are in the right spot, you can change the blending options (lower right, under layers… or else top tab “layer”+blending options). Change from normal to “overlay”.
To get the colors and shadows to really pop out, you should download some free actions files. “Actions” are automatic series of processes – for example you can find a “300 action” that makes your picture look like the 300 movie. Or, just change the hue, saturation and contrast.
3: Photoshop Gradients
Whenever possible, I try to place text somewhere with the picture rather than in a ‘text box’, but this picture has too much variation of light and dark (unless I put the title on her face, which I didn’t want to do). So I copy+pasted a section of the background that’s the size I wanted, then went to “layer: layer styles: gradient overlay”. You can download tons of amazing gradients; so at this point you’re just trying them all, changing the orientation, colors, etc until you find what works best. It was so tough to decide here; I ended up with a bold red banner and a soft pearl one.
4: Best Fonts for Bookcovers
I’ve read a rule that a book cover shouldn’t have more than 3 fonts. That may be true (although I don’t like rules). But fonts are hugely important. Luckily you can download thousands of fonts, many of them for free. Try not to use something to messy or dirty or creative – the more unusual they are, the easier it will be for them to become overused and not cool anymore. For most books, a very simple, elegant serif or sans serif font will work best. Make sure it has a strong contrast so that it stands out. A lot of novels and literary books have very small, simple titles – that may be fine for bookstores but if you’re mostly selling online, big and bold will be easier to read.
For Scandalous I ended up using “Doulous”. My favorite other fonts include:
Serif: Perpetua, Dante, Sabon, Justus, Portland, Trajan pro
Sans Serif: Epitough, criticized, Telegrafico, Helvetica Neue, Ebrima
Once you get the size and font right, go to layers again and play with gradient options or color overlays. Sometimes you need a drop shadow to push the text out a bit, but don’t go to heavy and avoid it if you can. Plain white text on light blue is cleaner and more stylish than the same with a drop shadow (again – this is one of the areas that differ for print books; print books will be picked up and held so they can have a stylish look without worrying as much about legibility.
Before you finish, you need to kern your letters (adjust the spacing between each letter) by highlighting the letter and changing the spacing in the “characters” tab.
5: Final Touches – Eyes that Pop
I used a photoshop “teardrop” brush to place the drop – make sure you download as many photoshop brushes as you can get your hands on, you never know what you’re going to need.
To make amazing eyes that pop out, you need to use the “pen” tool to carefully outline the iris – then right click and “make selection”. Choose 4-6 feather. Then with your new layer, you can set blending option to “overlay” and layer style to “gradient overlay”. Changing the gradients will change the eye color!
Here are two of the finalists… I prefer the white/blue one – but I think we’ll use the red one instead (for an ebook, the red will grab a bit more attention and interest.)
COVER DESIGN SECRETS THAT SELL BOOKS
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