DIY Book Cover 1 (2D)

Creating a book cover can be almost as daunting as writing your book in the first place so, if you can’t afford to get a professional artist to help then, these two guides (2D and 3D) may help…

Getting Started:

Before you begin to do any design, think about what you want your cover to portray to a potential reader.  It might also be useful to have a look at other books in your genre.  Every major element of the cover (text, imagery, colour) needs to be complementary and aligned to your subject.  For instance, if your book is a romantic novel then soft fonts, serif and squiggle, blurring and fade may all work perfectly.  However, if your book is hard edged and gritty then these styles would undermine the finished product.

It’s also worth considering whether you intend your book to be part of a series and/or whether you want consistency of design across all of your covers.  Check out how the professional houses create a “brand” for their authors and consider whether your cover elements will lend themselves to maintaining a consistent look and feel into the future.  If you want to follow this route then your book design will need to be flexible enough to continue the theme into the future.

Key Elements:

Colour – The cover will likely contain many colours but you still need to select the immediate (major) colour impression.  For Firebird this was relatively straightforward – I wanted the book to be red (suggesting heat and fire).  Decide this first as it will have a governing influence on both of the next two items.

Imagery – Needs to complement your story contents but must not compromise existing copyrights.  This is where things usually get complicated.  My recommendation would be to steer clear of everything you have not created entirely for yourself (including clipart and open source).  You can create your own imagery with your own photographs and/or drawings (a side note on photos: certain subjects, particularly people, may have legal rights which you should check out (somewhere suitably qualified) before publishing any pictures to the world in general).  [Update 20th Oct 2011: I’ve just been pointed (by a Goodreads author forum) to the following on-line photo repository which provides access to affordable low-royalty photos which may be useful: Dreamstime].  Whilst collating potential artwork it’s worth bearing in mind that it will need to standout against, or comprise of, your main colour to be effective.

Font – Most professional documents will use a single font and only change boldingitalics or point-size to create variation.  Try to find a font which complements the book contents and which will satisfactorily  handle Title, Strap Line (if any) and Author Name.   A couple of notes on font: sans serif (unsquiggly) fonts like Arial create a very bold and business like impression, serif fonts (like Times New Roman) are softer and more personal – in short: the more squiggles the softer the font.  For the First and Second edition of Firebird, I used the Copperplate font which was robust enough for the thriller content of the story and yet nice and clear to read, even as a thumbnail.  I chose white text with a thin black shadow for maximum contrast against the red backdrop.  Before choosing your font also check out this short (and more credible) article from The Book Designer website.

Creating Imagery:

There are plenty of ways to develop images and artwork for your cover.

I wanted a scaly, skin-like, red backdrop for Firebird so I ended up taking a photo of a piece of red leather.  Then I cropped a small section out of the picture and lowered the photo resolution so that it became deliberately pixelated.  This image was then “tiled” to fill the cover area.

Firebird Logo (c) ABThe central roundel was drawn using a low cost mac-app called SketchBook Express which handles (but does not save) multiple layered drawings (there is a more expensive version available which saves separate layers).  Having a drawing application which handles layers makes creating and editing a picture much easier.  I have subsequently discovered an opensource (freeware) package called Inkscape (available for Mac and Windows) which is really great and also provides a wide range of bezier drawing tools (enabling you to edit and move lines after you’ve drawn them)…  It’s got a few bugs but, if you’re on a budget, who cares!

If you feel like you can’t draw at all then maybe try tracing imported photo’s to get your outlines started (use a layer for the photo and then delete it when the trace has been completed).

Whilst I don’t use them, your personal photo’s can be manipulated, cropped, merged and blended to manufacture a unique image.  The general consensus seems to be that Photoshop is a “must have” for these techniques… (once again, please be very careful to check for any necessary consents (particularly for pictures of famous locations or (any) people)).

Putting It All Together:

Many writers use drawing packages to create the final files.  A DTP programme would also work really well but, personally, I prefer to use a business presentation package (MS Powerpoint or (in my case) Apple Keynote).  I’m guessing that every author will have a copy of either Office or iWorks (or OpenOffice).

Step 1: Open a blank file and reset the page size to suit how you want your book to look (in Keynote this is done using the Document Inspector – Slide Size dialog box).  A book cover which is landscape (wider than it’s tall) will by association suggest it is either a children’s or reference document so portrait is unfortunately a “must” for novels.  For Firebird I used a standard 600 pixels wide by 800 pixels high.

Step 2: Set your background.  As described above, I imported my sub-quality leather picture and then tiled it to fill the whole area.

Firebird Front Cover (c) Anthony Bellaleigh 2011Step 3: Insert imagery and position centrally.  In my case I then used an old powerpoint trick of changing the opacity of the image to try to create a feeling of embossing.  You can also use opacity (transparency) to merge and blend various photo’s.

Step 4: Create text boxes for Title, Strapline and Author Name.  I found it easier to have independent text boxes for each element so I could move them all around freely.

Step 5: Shuffle like crazy and zoom out regularly to check how the image behaves when seen in thumbnail size (the image needs to work well when it’s tiny).  Try to keep things lined up and reasonably evenly spaced (Keynote really helps with this with various auto-layout guides and pop ups)…

Step 6: SAVE (if you haven’t already)…

Step 7: Export the slide as a picture.  Various options are available from Keynote but I use JPEG (JPG).  I generally save several versions at different resolutions LQ (c.50kb), MQ (c.100kb, used in the book), HQ (as big as possible often 500kb, used for any hard copy print work).

Personally I like to do a back cover too as I think it’s a nice touch.  This is easy, just add a new slide to your presentation file, copy your blurb in and then export JPEG’s as per the front cover…


NOTE: Copyright law is complex.  Always seek professional advice if you have any doubt about the usability or otherwise of particular images.

  1. Awesome tutorial! I’ve been trying to create a logo for several weeks now (on a limited budget)….I’m going to have to checkout inkscape.


    • Thanks, Lunar! Glad it’s of some use to you… If you’re specifically looking for a logo, also check out Aurora 3D Software. I thought it was very affordable (read: cheap) and was easy enough even for me to use (though you obviously don’t see all my failed attempts in here… LOL)… Good luck!


  1. Pingback: Blog Exclusive: Advance preview of new Firebird cover… « anthonybellaleigh

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