Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Designing Book Covers - Part 3

Every day this week, we welcome graphic designer and author Suzanne Williams, who shares some excellent information in a special series on designing book covers.

Part 1
Part 2

Part 3 – The Basics of Design: Layering and Graphics

You’ve determined to create your own book cover. You’re willing to learn and have the time to invest. You’ve also given some thought to composition. What comes next?


THE MOST important rule of book cover design is using GOOD graphics. If you aren’t a photographer (and even sometimes if you are), then buy your images.* If you haven’t created vector graphics, if you have no idea what a vector graphic is, then buy them. There are always people who are better than you are at some particular form of design. There is nothing wrong with admitting that. Think of your book as an investment. You want to reap a reward from it, so you have to put money into it.

If you choose to use illustrations, look for quality. I recently viewed a book cover where the woman in the drawing looked more like a man. Had I seen the book cover in a store, I would have passed it right by.

Here is another important rule. Your graphics should fit your story and fit with each other when viewed on the cover. By this I mean, do not use a collection of random objects. So what if your story has a cat, a jar, a girl, and a train in it. Don’t use them all on the cover. Pick a scene from the book, the main focus of the story and PURCHASE an image that fits.Try to avoid clich├ęs as well. Some images have been overdone. I see this especially on romance covers. It pays to do some research and gather some ideas. Think outside the box!

All graphics should be 300 dpi (dots per inch) for printing. This is an industry standard. Graphics that do not meet this standard can be altered in any graphics program. The correct pixel size to purchase greatly depends on how large your print will be. For large background images, I prefer to use at least 1600 pixels (at its largest length or width).


Once you have decided on your graphics (and creating a mock-up first, a sample, will often save you dollars if you are unsure about your final design), then how do you arrange them on the cover?

All book cover graphics are the result of layering. Layering is exactly what it sounds like. If you have five elements on your front cover – three graphics, the title text, and the author’s name text – each of these are a layer. Your background color is also a layer. Obviously, your title text and author’s name text should be as the top two layers, so your decision then becomes in what order to layer the rest.

Always keep in mind the rules of composition when layering your elements and consider opacity and blending. Opacity is the transparency of an object. Perhaps you want the landscape scene to fade into the woman’s face. Then the edges of the scene should be less opaque than the center.

Think of it as applying makeup. I knew a lady who put on her foundation, stopping in a line at her chin. Of course it looked funny. She needed to blend the darker color of her foundation over her chin and cheekbones onto her neck, so that it looked natural. This same idea applies to layered graphics. Look at the edges of the objects; pay attention to which one is on top of the other and notice how they blend together. Sometimes one item will layer better over or under another.

These are but a few simply ideas to consider. Information about layering can be complex, so start simple. If you have an idea you want to pursue, do some research first. There are many great online websites with tutorials for creating different effects.

Now that you have layering down, the next thing to consider is “The Basics of Design: Color and Fonts.”

*Some great places to hunt for good quality images are:

Read the rest of the series on Designing Book Covers:
Part 1
Part 2

Suzanne D. Williams is a native Floridian, wife, mother, daughter, sister, granddaughter, Christian, dachshund owner, spelling whiz, wildlife enthusiast, photographer, graphic artist, and writer. She designs book cover art for independent publishing companies and self-publishing authors. She writes a regular column on digital photography for Steve's Digicams, as well as in her personal blog. Her book, Fearless, is her personal testimony of how God freed her from crippling fear. Her novel, Missing, debuts in April.

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