making a book cover: simple & free.

I’ll be totally up-front here: I don’t think I’m a particularly gifted graphic designer. Like, I’m okay at it.

My artistic talents are better suited to paint and clay, but nevertheless, I’ve wedged myself firmly in graphic design as a career. Why? There’s money in graphic design. There’s constant demand. Especially when it comes to books: there’s so much to be done and there’s a line of authors and publishers around the block requesting help.

But not everyone can wait in line. Not everyone can hire a designer.

Today’s post is going to show you how to create a simple cover for yourself, for nearly free. I say nearly because I use Photoshop. Certainly some principles here can be applied in other (free) programs, but Photoshop is a program of pure love and incredible utility. If you have the money to spare for the $15/month subscription, I recommend it.

These tips are going to be best suited to someone who has tinkered in Photoshop a few times before. If you’re a total and complete Photoshop newbie, check out Adobe’s guide to learn the basics on how to like, create a new file, save your file down, how to edit photos, how to add text, and lots more.

For someone who’s made a file or two before now and found themselves disappointed in the result and is looking for insight in creating a compelling cover: here’s how.

TIP: THE PHOTOGRAPH.

The first and most primary component of any book cover is the photograph you will use. You have to choose an image that is of the utmost quality. Which is expensive, right?

Well, usually. However, my favorite stock site of all time, Unsplash, has photography that you can download entirely free. And you can use it for anything. Without paying a penny. No, this isn’t a sponsored link or anything. I genuinely love Unsplash and use it as often as I can.

And once you have your photo, you can then begin the actual cover-building process. You’ll need to make a canvas that’s 6.5 x 9.5 inches, at 300DPI. This will allow you to print the cover, if you ever choose to, and will also satisfy all digital cover requirements for the Internet.

After that, you have to place your image onto the canvas. I open the image (a JPG, if it’s from Unsplash) in Photoshop, copy it, and paste it onto my new canvas.

TIP: CROPPING.

Here’s my first very useful tip for you, as a non-designer, who needs someone to tell them how to make something look cool without knowing what’s cool:

Cropping is king.

This photo I pasted into my 6.5×9.5 canvas looks okay. But you know what? It can look cooler if I crop it appropriately. I want to eliminate her twisted arm and I want to focus on her angelic face. So I hit ctrl+T (command+T on a Mac) and scale it up.

Huge red warning sign here: doing this will degrade the quality of the photograph and it’ll look like garbage. Fortunately, I know a fix for this, too. If ever the image quality is bad, add some noise atop of it. It’ll print (and read, digitally) more smoothly.

To add noise, you create an all black layer, set it to Color Dodge, then click “Filter” up top. From there, you go to Noise, and select “Add Noise.”

You can then tinker with the opacity of that layer to adjust how strongly this noise changes your image.

In any case, cropping is king. Crop your image as unusually as you dare to; it’s a surefire way to create visual interest. Bold choices here, at the cropping stage, are what separates a basic design and a cool design.

TIP: COLOR.

If you’ve selected an image of a decent quality, you won’t have to do anything related to color-correcting. But you can, if you want. Duplicate your image layer, once you’ve cropped it, and mess around with the layer type. How does Multiply look? Color burn? What about Screen or Overlay? Play around with this and adjust the opacity of your layer until it satisfies your color appetite. Black and white is always an option, too. On the bar up top, click Image, Adjustments, and Black and White. You can make your photo a precise and compelling grayscale there.

TIP: THE TITLE.

And now, the other incredibly key component to your cover: the text.

You don’t need a fancy font.

I repeat: you don’t need a fancy font.

If you aren’t a designer, you shouldn’t trust yourself to pick out a typeface. I’m serious. Stick with the basics: Arial Black is a god if you can use it correctly. And you can use it correctly.

Type your book title in all capitals. And then space those letters as far apart as you can. Boom. You have a simple, clean, free font that will almost never fail you. I also encourage you to be bold in slapping your book title over the image, even if it seems strange. I covered the model’s face with Lorem Ipsum and it has a sort of bold effect that works. I didn’t need to shy away from it; if anything trumps the photograph I’ve chosen, it’s the title, after all.

The only issue here is that the font might not be completely legible if the color of the text is similar to the color of the background. Fear not: there’s a fix for that too.

It’s called a dropshadow. Buyer beware: drop shadows can look like garbage if you don’t use them correctly. I highly encourage you to use the settings I’ve put together here. It’ll keep the shadow from being distracting; it’s a subtle change that only serves to make the text more legible. It won’t take away from the overall simple and clean appearance of the cover.

Settings: 33% Opacity, 0 Distance, 13% Spread, 33px Size.

And here we are.

A simple, clean, and (nearly) free cover.

To make things even easier on you, I’ve got a PSD file that you can reference. Feel free to download this file (note: it’s big!) and use it for your own cover projects going forward! If you wind up using this tutorial or this file, definitely let me know. I’d love to see your work.

Happy December and good luck, friends.

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