How to use Photoshop to make your own book cover

Geoff Cowie  
How to use Photoshop or Photoshop Elements to produce your own book cover.

DIY Book Covers

This is not a blog about whether you should hire a cover designer or do it yourself, but how to go about if you choose the DIY route. Your objective is to produce something that looks professional and well-designed, which does not necessarily mean going overboard with flashy design and fonts.

The process is somewhat simpler if you just want an ebook cover rather than a wrap-around paperback cover. I will assume you are going to distribute via Amazon, but the process for other platforms or distributors will be much the same. Amazon offer pre-made covers on their site, but nobody recommends that you actually use them.

First you need a concept. Then you need some artwork that will fit Amazon's recommended 1.6: 1 aspect ratio (ebook) with minimum dimensions of 1000 x 625 pixels. Covers with white or pale backgrounds will not display well, unless given a dark border. It should further be suitable for having your titling superimposed on it. If your artwork is busy with contrasting areas of light and dark, or areas of contrasting colour, you may have trouble finding any font colour that will stand out when superimposed on it without bits of it being hard to read. You need areas of relatively uniform colour to form a good background for text.

If you can't produce some artwork yourself, one way of proceeding is to look online where you can find paid-for and free to use artwork on sites such as pixabay.com. Huge numbers of images are available which can be searched by category. You may be thinking that some other author might use the same image, and in principle you are right, but the chances that somebody else will use the same image AND that a shopper will pull it up alongside yours are very low. Even if you get a free image, it would be polite to credit the artist inside your book.

Now you have one or more likely images, you can pull them into Photoshop and see how they look when cropped to that 1.6: 1 aspect ratio. Photoshop has rulers that will help you trim it. If the image simply won't fit you can consider adding top and bottom borders, which might be good places for placing some text.

Amazon have a minimum recommended size (in pixels) for an ebook cover. If the image you have selected is on the small side, you can increase its size in images/resize. So long as you don't radically enlarge it, nobody will know, especially not when it is displayed on screen in a postage stamp size.

Once you have your ebook cover properly sized, you can build up a layered image. Each line of text will generate a layer, as will any supplementary images or wingdings that you add. This is quite a powerful tool. You can return to each element, move it around, change its shape, change its colour, or change the font. Be sure to save your draft work as a Photoshop .psd file, NOT as anything else which will lock the changes in place. You can re-open the .psd and make any changes you wish. You could even delete the background image and insert another.

What you put on the cover, ie the image, titling and fonts, is down to your artistic judgement. It needs to look okay in various sizes of reproduction - large in your publicity, postage stamp sized in a search on Amazon with a small screen device, and at least the title and your author name should be readable at a small scale. You can upload the image in various formats.

Paperbacks:

Creating a paperback cover image is a more complex procedure. Again, Amazon offer a premade cover, which is not recommended. You can download a template (sized for your book's no. of pages), which is marked out with various boundaries or tolerances indicating areas for cropping, text areas, spine, barcode, and rear cover text. It is essential that your artwork conforms to these markings otherwise the final result will look bad. Note that this is a large template, about 4000px high, so your background image should be at least this high and wide enough to span the whole template including trim areas. If it isn't, you can expand it in image/resize so long as you don't radically enlarge it.

You need to decide what is to go on the spine and the back cover. Many covers have a background image (or colour) that wraps all the way around, but you need to be careful that the superimposed text is going to contrast well and be readable. As with ebook covers, you have the option of adding top and bottom margins. You could also add a very wide left-hand margin as background for the spine and rear cover. When working to the deadline of a book-signing event, this is what I did for the cover of my "Half an Empire" paperback. I re-used the same art as for the ebook, and to get it in the correct ratio for an 8x5 cover I added top and bottom borders in a matching dark colour. Commercially published paperbacks can be found with a single colour for the spine and back. Others have an image wrapped around the front, spine and rear cover.

If you can't find a suitable wrap-around image, there are other things you can try, asides from flipping the image L-R. For the "Witch's Box" cover, I took a sliver of the front image, flipped it and stretched it radically in width before re-attaching it in Photoshop. Result, a seamless spine and back treatment in matching colours. Or you could make a wide asymmetric border in a suitable colour to extend over the spine and back cover. With my 'Dark Tides' the result was seamless and gave a useful black background for text. If there isn't a seamless merge you have to hope that the printers place the join of colours on the cover fold. It is useful to have a pocket calculator and notepaper on hand to work out any image size calculations.

When inserting the background image, if it is left a little oversize, you can use the Move tool to adjust its position for best effect. Position the template in front of the background image, so you can set it to part-transparent for aligning elements of the text.

Be aware that the print-on-demand service may not get the alignment perfectly right, so bear in mind the likely effect of any small offset. I have two print-on-demand copies of an anthology in which one of my stories appears, supplied separately, and on one the spine text is centred and on the other it isn't.

When you are satisfied with your artwork, set the template to fully transparent, and save a copy of the artwork as a Photoshop .pdf file. Be sure to save the .psd version as you might need it for edits.

Note there is no barcode. Amazon will add it. Upload the .pdf when Amazon ask for it in the publication sequence. It should pass their checks and your online proofing. I strongly recommend that you order a proof copy before publishing and examine it carefully, inside and out. It is remarkable what one notices from a hard copy that is not noticeable when proofing onscreen.

Once you publish, your cover is not set in stone. An advantage of the Amazon process is that if after a while you are not happy with the cover, you can edit the original and re-upload without an interruption of sales, or even decide to ditch it and commission a replacement from a cover designer.

Some skill in using image-processing software will be required, and it will be an advantage if you use Photoshop or Photoshop Elements regularly for various tasks. I have found that every time I come to design a cover, I have forgotten much of what I figured out before.😒 If there is something you want to do, but can't figure out how (e.g. adding borders of various sizes) you can usually find an answer by searching online. As well as Layers, you may have occasion to use quite a number of Photoshop tools, and it wouldn't hurt to try out all the filters and effects on a sample image to see what they do. But simple is often best. Other image editing software is available e.g. the free GIMP.

19+ Comments

Tlenigma

I’ve tried this before on many occasions. Not many positive replies to it.

Jun-17 at 02:28

Elliestorm

I know how to use photoshop (have used it for over 20 years) and I would still hire a professional.

the fact is photoshop is one of those pieces of software that you need to taught to use, like drafting software or accounting software or 3D modelling software, to get the most out of it and to make it look not amateur. You need to understand the concepts behind the tools as well as how to use them and have some artistic skill.

That is a far far far bigger topic than a few words can compress it into and yes you can teach yourself but ultimately for most people it will be less headaches and less pain to pay a professional or buy a premade of etsy or something.

Jun-17 at 08:53

Vidyut

Use Canva. Less versatile, but less easy to mess up too. Lots of templates and font/colour combos to make stuff simpler.

Photoshop has a lot more options, but that’s also a lot of things to get wrong if you don’t know.

Jun-17 at 09:13

Marisaw

The article suggests using Pixabay. I would suggest buying an image from a proper supplier like DepositPhotos to avoid any risk of copyright infringement, for something as important as a cover.

I think one fundamental thing that’s missing from this article is that you really need some artistic sensibility to design your own cover.

Jun-17 at 10:49

Jacksavage

This… it doesnt actually cost that much to have someone who knows what they are doing to make a cover for you.

Don’t underestimare the power of a great cover. It is your first lure to reel an audience in. It should be a bloody good hook into the story, seen at a glance.

There is an author on here. I saw her book cover, professionally done, and now I dont read fantasy, yet the cover almost enticed me into wanting to read it. Bottom line - it looks stylish and professional and thus appealing and a promise that the writing will be of a similar standard. Excellence in everything, from the cover to the burb to the actual writing. That is the goal, cos that’s what sells.

Jun-17 at 11:01

Rxd01

I’d agree with Vidyut, Photoshop seems s bit overkill for comping a predone cover image and your title text.

Jun-17 at 12:11

Nicolaysen

I realize this isn’t aimed at “professional vs DIY” so I don’t want to derail that. I do just want to say, covers sell your book. If you CAN afford a professional designer or even a premade that gets you excited, DO. Out of respect to Geoff and his goals for the post, that’s all I’ll say on that. :+1:

For those doing DIY in an effort to mitigate cost (and not because you’re a professional designer), I’d like to add some additional tips when it comes to designing the cover yourself.

:star: GIMP is a great FREE substitute for photoshop. There’s a steeper learning curve, but YouTube videos come in clutch. Overall, it works really well and is totally free to download. It’s what I use for all my stuff, because Photoshop is hella expensive now. I love the flexibility offered and the ability to export to PDFs, which is needed specifically for uploading covers.

:star: GIMP uses the fonts on your computer — so it allows you to use a wide range of free commercial fonts from my favorite font site. If you are searching/leave the “commercial only” tab, just make sure the font box says “100% free” in the top right corner before you download.

FONTS MATTER.

:star: When you consider imagery, pull a small but meaningful element from your story. A piece of jewelry, a weapon, a pair of sunglasses, a cup of coffee, bananas, a flower, headphones, whatever. Something that means something in your story. That will automatically feel cohesive with the story. Just be very careful with anything that could have a copyright/specific brand recognition (like: don’t use Raybans, use dollar store sunglasses in the same style)

:star: Remember: you can turn this imagery into line art or something stylized. GIMP has features that help you make it “line art” or “cartoonify” that do not use AI. Which, another tangent is AI in covers. You do NOT have to use AI to create a cover. Whether you agree with using AI or not is irrelevant, because READERS IN THE MARKET (the people who might buy your book) are actively saying “we don’t want AI covers” and boycotting books with AI covers. Save yourself the headache and the heartache of the boycott list. :sparkling_heart:

:star: Simple is better! Look at new releases in your genre, find the simplest ones, and stick with those. Scour Amazon’s top-seller list to find the best well-performing SIMPLE covers in your genre, and focus on replicating those styles.

:star: :star: EXAMPLES :star: :star:
Specifically ones where you can replicate the overall style somewhat easily with patience and hard work.

The ACOTAR covers are a simple, readable font over lovely line art.
ACOTAR

In romance, text over/around flowers has been really popular as of late. Colleen Hoover’s covers are great examples. Things We Never Got Over was self published and picked up by Bloom, and it’s just simple daisies.
lucy score

James by Percival Everett is a satire/literary fiction – and this is a genre that often does cool, bold things with text. In this case, we have simple line art in part of the J.
JAMES

This thriller Listen for the Lie is just a headset cord snaked around a simple red cover with nice text. They did a darkened vignette for the edges (which you can do in GIMP), which ties it together nicely. A lot of thrillers follow the trend where it’s one item and a bold color.
listen for the lie

The Hunting Wives is a cover that I still think about regularly and it’s lipsticks and a bullet.
hunting wives

This YA romantic thriller If He Had Been With Me is just two lollipops, text, and a vignette. Millions of copies have sold. And there are plenty of great examples of simple covers, even like Twilight and Crave.
if he had been with me

While more complex, I’m obsessed with The Deep Sky’s cover. Something in a similar vein would be totally doable with patience and GIMP textures. It’s a simple sky background and loose shapes with color and blending and shading. Starry background, rainbow for line art, white text, anyone??
deep sky

Nonfiction is often text-only. In Atomic Habits, they did a really cool “digital style” for the font that could be achieved within gimp textures for those patient enough, and the free font site likely has something appropriate as well.
atomic habits

Edit to add: Yellowface — this was my favorite LitFic I read last year and I can’t believe I forgot to put it here but it’s the perfect example of a simple cover. It’s yellow with eyes and white text, and it really works. It’s bold and bright on the shelf, the human features draw the eye in immediately because humans look for facial features, and… perfection, just perfection. All of it. Love it.
yellowface

Edit to add from a top 2023 list: The Berry Pickers is general fiction. This style can be replicated by opening a photo in GIMP, using the stylistic features to convert to painterly, probably a darkening filter to even out the tone, then using white text. The berries are a specific and meaningful element of this story that make sense. It’s only two colors, blue and green, which keep it very simple even though the image itself is complex.
berry pickers

Edit to add from a top 2023 list: Let Us Descend is a great example that could be achieved somewhat easily with GIMP as well, specifically using the fuzzy selector on an item and making the outside of it transparent and then filling the item with textures. Plain background, simple text, collage within line art.
let us descend

Edit to add: The Latecomer (another general fiction) is such a simple cover but so poignant to the story. Four siblings, three who are triplets and then one who is born 20 years later, all from IVF—hence the test tubes the flowers are sitting in. And again, just very simple design with minimal color range. Anyone doing general fiction, check out Celadon’s website for more ideas.

Cover design is all about pulling the right elements from the story and playing with them in a meaningful and eye-catching way. That’s what you’re really paying the professionals for—it’s not just the image itself. Good cover artists take time to get to know you and your story and your vibes and your themes and your target audience, THEN give you a couple sketches of ideas they think reflect the work, THEN start work on the design that feels right for you based on the sketch you pick.

You can always do your own cover now and “re-cover” later, turning the re-cover into a big “re-release” where the old cover is retired (thus artificial scarcity, which increases demand).

Jun-17 at 14:37

Glitterpen

This is very true. Many artists and photographers love reading (we’re drawn to creative things). As an artist myself, I want to see human-made covers. :slightly_smiling_face:

Beautiful examples, btw!

Jun-17 at 15:14

Vidyut

Great suggestions from @Nicolaysen

GIMP is great and really no less than Photoshop for most purposes, and if you’re unfamiliar with both, the curve isn’t all that different. But it has the same drawbacks as photoshop - lots of power is lots of things that can go wrong. If you want a simple design (as most book covers are), using a simple tool will reduce the learning curve dramatically.

Covers are important. If you can afford it, getting one designed professionally makes sense, but they aren’t so hard if you have a little artistic talent and there is satisfaction in DIY, if you can’t. I’d recommend getting extensive feedback, being willing to experiment, create options, etc.

Jun-17 at 15:32

Nicolaysen

Yes, definitely a learning curve and a LOT of YouTube how-to videos on my end. I’ve got a decent handle on the basics now. I’ve mainly been doing simple images for my marketing tasks like Instagram stuff, plus my map for the book and a couple other miscellaneous things. The tool has been really helpful and useful though.

Jun-17 at 16:36

Rxd01

Having used both as a relative beginner, I’d say Photoshop has a slightly slicker, more intuitive IU which makes it slightly easer to start out with. But on the other hand GIMP is free, and does do everything PS can even I have to spend more time looking up which menu they’ve buried that particular option in.

Jun-17 at 16:52

Vidyut

No clue what Photoshop looks like now. Last I used it was 1995 or something - definitely previous century - took some insane 18 floppy disks or some such to install. Once I quit Windows, I didn’t look back. People look down on Linux, but boy, the intoxication of having a software center (synaptic manager, in those days) and one click installs all sorts of wonderful stuff. Magic!

Jun-17 at 17:31

Glitterpen

Just to add to list of suggestions for programs, Clip Studio Paint is very reasonably priced. I use it for painting stuff, but there’s a text tool, too. :thinking:

Jun-17 at 17:47

Glitterpen

I love that “Let Us Descend” cover. I wish I could like your post twice. :slight_smile:

Jun-17 at 17:49

Alexmcg

I would agree with Jacksavage, that it is useful to have someone who knows design do your cover.
I have a mix of covers I’ve paid people to design and others I’ve done myself. Personally I like the paid covers better, but money has been tight and so I’ve played around myself more.

Covers are more than just adding text to a picture. The sample covers posted demonstrate nicely that the best covers are a unity with text and picture working together to create a whole. Change the text and the cover says something different. If you are designing your own covers, search through books in your genre to find your favourite covers. What kind of font do they use? (if they are designed by a pro they are probably paid fonts. Which reminds me that not all free fonts are free for all uses. Read the term of use, some allow for use on book covers and some don’t. If in doubt ask. I’ve paid for a few fonts to get that right, not because I was afraid of getting sued, but because it is the right way of being.) Next look at the picture, It needs to have space for the title etc. Negative space. I see a lot of premade covers that don’t have the built in space for test so it can breathe. In some cases, you can put the text over the picture, but then it needs to work as a unit and font become even more important.

These days your cover needs to work as a thumbnail, as most of the time the first time your potential reader will see it the size of a postage stamp. Check it at different sizes. It may look stunning on the cover of a book, but fail as a stamp. It would be nice to be able to design covers for different sizes and pull on the strengths for each version, but that isn’t going to happen.

A last comment. I would add the Affinity family of programs by Serif as useful design tools. Publisher lets you work on the interior of your book, tweaking illustrations and spacing. Photo is good for working on covers and has a broad range of tools and layers. Designer is the one I use the least it is for creating vectors, but it is essential if you are going to play with text the way some of the examples do.

Have fun, and don’t be afraid to make some really bad covers as experiments. Until you print your book, they can be changed.

Jun-17 at 19:04

Marisaw

Having seen the cover Getcovers.com did for @Aventurist for his novel, I don’t think I would ever attempt my own. I think I can manage $35.

Jun-17 at 22:11

Aventurist

Once upon a time I thought a book cover was a piece of art.
Once upon a time I had no idea that each genre has its own particular cover-art-genre.
Once upon a time I had no idea of the categories of cover art: a photo workup, an original painting, fonts only; nor did I realise that there were many sub-categories of original painting.
And so, assuming that all I needed to do was find an artist (I had previously done that several times) I spent $150 on a cover for my newly-finished novel. (It went through CC as ‘Kuffar’).
I showed my new cover on Twitter. And the replies came, “Oooh a new graphic novel? I hadn’t realised. Are you the writer or the artist?” I felt so stupid. I hadn’t learnt yet that graphic novels are just one genre that has a tightly defined cover requirement. Its readers expect that. To put a novel out with my cover would mean that graphic novel readers would buy it and get very pissed off. Which is author death.
As it happened, a publisher spotted it and gave it a new cover right for its genre, but that’s another story.
My previous novel hadn’t done great. I had spent $150 on its cover, by a respected NYC artist who illustrates for Marvel etc. So after my experience with cover stupidity, I wondered. And I sent that cover off for review at a few places, including covercritics.com
And they tore it apart. It was NOT apt for its genre. Not at all. They explained why. And for the second time I realised that I am a writer, not a cover designer, nor an artist, nor a book marketing expert.
I heard about a book cover design site in Ukraine, getcovers. (see Marisaw’s link for the site). $35 for a cover? Could it be any good?
It was about 1000 times better than my original cover.
I’ve learned my lessons. I’m leaving cover design to cover designers from now on. Not artists–they may do covers but they may not know anything about book marketing in your genre.

Jun-17 at 23:21

Trevose

In my experience…

This is not exactly true:

Bad covers can keep your book from selling. Good covers can help make the sale if everything else – reviews, blurbs, etc. – are aligned and positive.

This is certainly true:

Absolutely this:

Always A/B test your covers with a group of your target readers.

If you are going to roll your own (I did both of mine), you don’t have to use fancy tools. I used PowerPoint and the snipping tool and then imported the images I wanted to use into Amazon’s cover maker. I’ve created some additional covers for future WIPs via the free version of Canva, which is also a pretty good tool as @Vidyut noted above.

Jun-17 at 23:41

Nicolaysen

People do purchase books based on cover alone, though I’d certainly acquiesce that this is mainly with traditionally published work and therefore outside the scope of a DIY cover. Not just me, but also friends and people I follow on Boostagram/Booktok. I present myself as a formal case study. I can’t remember all the books I’ve walked out of Target with based on the cover, but in my Amazon preorders, I have multiple books preordered because of the cover. I can’t tell you anything else except what I know from the cover.

  1. North is the Night features a very fairytale-esque fantasy vibe that feels Scandinavian which is my heritage so super excited. Two women, maybe sisters, maybe a quest of some sort? A polar bear, possibly tapping into the King Valemon story? Who knows, but I’m here for it. So you could argue that really cultural bias got me, I guess, but the cover presents the element really well, thus appealing to me.
    north is the night

  2. Filthy Rich Fae – the title sounds like a hilarious snarky mash-up of “Crazy Rich Asians” but with Fae, and I am so here for this. Fantasy Romance is my jam, I love contemporary writing, and I don’t have to go further to know I’m absolutely the target here. I don’t really care for the butterfly floral stuff, so maybe this is an argument that “titles sell books” — but titles go on the cover and are part of the package you present, and clearly they’re using the title to their advantage making it stand out really large with high contrast and a very modern font that screams contemporary. Had they gone with like a historical-style or a loopy font, I may not be interested or at least would look further into it, because historical fiction (the writing style, mainly) doesn’t really capture me. So there you go. Fonts matter. This title and font choice sold this book.
    fae
    Interestingly, the other she wrote along a similar vein did NOT entice me, because vampires aren’t really my thing and it actually does look more historical. It was NOT a “gimme gimme,” not even a “give it a chance.” Though if I really like the Fae one, maybe I’d go back to this one.

  3. Our Infinite Fates. The cover says “They’ve loved each other in a thousand lifetimes. They’ve killed each other in every one.” HELLO YES PLEASE. GIVE ME NOW. Again, a fantasy romance, which is my jam. So in this case, they used part of their blurb on the cover to help clarify the genre. A good choice by the cover designer because the title and then design itself could be straight nonfiction Stephen Hawking stuff, general fiction or fantasy or sci fi or romance alone, but nope: fantasy romance, enemies to lovers! Maybe a time travel? Maybe reincarnation/gods? Don’t know, don’t care, want it now. :heart_eyes: VE Schwab blurbed it too up at the top which, valid cover strategy to put the blurb of a big name. :star:
    fates

  4. Firelight. Dragons. Gorgeousness. SUCH GORGEOUSNESS. Look at that detail in the dragon image. And the note on the cover says “A hidden truth, mortal enemies, doomed love” like YES PLEASE. I ordered all three of the series. Blurbs unread. I didn’t even bother with reviews which already exist because it’s being re-published due to a fourth book that’s set in the same world that releases later, which, yes, that’s preordered too. Dragons, romance, say no more!
    firelight

For every single one of these, a professional designer (1) knows the target audience and (2) knows exactly how to make the cover appeal to the target audience to seal the deal.

I have 30 preordered books but for the rest, I am already familiar with the author’s other works/it’s the next of a series, or I heard really great things about the author and want to give them a try. I definitely didn’t read the blurb or look any further into a bunch of these, but with author bias, I feel it doesn’t fit the current case study, so I’m leaving them out. There’s nonfiction, contemporary, and straight fantasy without romance in here too. :rofl:

And of course, none of this takes into account the ARCs I have from publishers or books I get from the library solely based on the covers. That said, no money involved in those, so leaving those out as well since we specifically said covers SELL books.

As a “thought experiment,” I decided to go back and read the blurbs of the four.

  • North is the Night: the blurb is kinda strange. Finnish wilderness, religion, a death goddess, king of the … underworld? Not… Hel in Helheim?.. But publishing is about dollars and I want more Scandinavian stories so whatever, I’ll leave my preorder. I can always pass the book on if it isn’t for me. I just requested an ARC from the publisher so we’ll see.
  • Filthy Rich Fae: I WANT IT EVEN MORE NOW. Crime fae family like the mob, enemies to lovers vibes, clock-is-ticking with a soul on the line. Yep, give me!
  • Our Infinite Fates: mmmm… might cancel. It actually sounds more YA than I usually enjoy. But it doesn’t come out until 2025 so there will be time for reviews to pop up. I can circle back.
  • Firelight: our MC is a dragon shifter who has to escape to the human world, loses her power, and is hunted by a dragon hunter who is her love interest. Now that’s some conflict! Remains a “give me give me.”

So there you go. The cover did its job and then some in two cases, where paying attention to the blurb has me second-guessing the purchase. :rofl:

TLDR: Good covers sell books. But good is defined specifically as “appealing to the target audience.”

Following up re: reviews/blurbs being aligned/positive, bad reviews can absolutely sell books. I have specific reviewers I follow who, if they one-star anything, it’s basically an auto-buy for me. :wink:

Jun-18 at 02:51
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