Preparing Book Covers for Print

Are you about to take your first steps into creating and printing a book cover? Or perhaps you’ve already created covers for ebooks and want to transition to printed media? I’ve put together some practical advice to help you get the best results from your printed designs. This article assumes you are using Photoshop for your cover creation, but the basic concepts will hold true for whatever software you decide to use.

Here’s a quick infographic to illustrate the process, and the article is underneath.

#1: Start with a Template

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Before you start designing, before you start looking at fonts and colours and stock photography that suits the mood of the book – before you even get a coffee, get a template! 

Most printers now provide book cover templates for printing, so that cover designers can simply download the layout file and start designing. 

However, if your printer doesn’t have these, you’ll need to get the dimensions from them and start to lay out your own template. I always use the Amazon Kindle (and formerly CreateSpace) layouts, which are a great starting point.

Templates like the one linked above will help you locate the spine and bleed areas. You’ll need to make sure you’ don’t put anything important (e.g. text / key image elements that are crucial to the cover, or its balance) into the bleed areas.

If you don’t have a pre-made template, download the one above and adjust it as follows. Contact the client of the printer direct to find out the following:

  • Cover Width including Bleed. Bleed areas may be trimmed, so don’t put anything crucial to the design in those areas.
  • Spine Width
  • Cover Height + bleed
  • Barcode: If your cover will include a barcode you’ll need to place a white box on the back cover, so consider this in your design. It should be approximately 35mm wide by 25mm high.

#2: Set your Image Resolution and Colour Profile

Before you add anything to the template, ensure the DPI and colour profile are set up correctly.

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CMYK / RGB:

Set your colour profile before you start designing. RGB has a greater range of colours than is required for most printers, so you must set your profile to CMYK, else you risk blurred, poorly coloured or muddy images.

If your designs are intended for ebook only, I’d advise using RGB. You’ll be able to leverage the wider range of shades on screen.

DPI:

You may be doing an ebook cover as well as a printed cover, but you should always design for print first. Start by setting up a new file which is at least 300DPI.

Other Considerations:

Stock photos: If you’re using stock photography, ensure that’s at the right resolution, i.e. 300DPI for printed materials.

Monitor calibration: Optimise your monitor using your PC’s built-in tools, or a downloadable tool such as Calibrize.

#3: Make use of Guides

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There’s nothing worse than a higgledy-piggledy cover that brings out the OCD in people. Imagine if the spine text is wonky, or overruns onto the cover; or the cover image or back cover text is off-centre. It’s not going to give a very professional impression of the book.

If your template doesn’t come as a PSD with guides, then add some. Place your upright and horizontal guides in accordance with the template instructions, ensuring you include the spine and bleed areas. The templates linked above are particularly good for this.

#4: Keep it Legible

I could write a whole article on lettering and legibility, but as a basic guide, don’t go nuts on the font and styles, and make sure the title and back cover synopsis are clear and easy to read. 

Steer clear of overly stylistic fonts like Bleeding Cowboys or anything that’ll make your cover look like the name of a death metal band.

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Don’t use light colours on light backgrounds and vice versa. Make the text as easy to read as possible. Even if you’re not designing for web, an accessibility tool like WebAim’s Contrast Checker or Coloursafe can help you ensure your text is legible.

#5: PDF it

Most printers will require the final file as a flattened PDF. When you save your file as a PDF, you’ll be presented with a number of options if you’re using Photoshop. You may even already have a number of preset profiles for saving as PDF. I would recommend using the High Quality Print option as a basis, then tweaking it as follows:

General:

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  • Tick ‘Preserve Photoshop Editing Capabilities’ only if you want the printer to be able to tweak the document after you’re done

Compression:

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  • Do Not Downsample
  • Compression: Zip
  • Image Quality: 8 bit

Output:

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  • No Conversion
  • Include Destination Profile

Final Tip: Manage it!

This is a generic piece of advice for any design work, but when we’re talking about something that might end up being mass-produced, it’s even more important. Manage your cover design like you would any other project.

  • Do a concept sketch, or ask the client to do one
  • Communicate regularly with the client, and show iterations of the design to ensure you’re on the same page
  • You’re a part of the entire process – if you spot an error in the cover text, raise it!
  • Encourage the client to get a test copy of the cover and share it with you before doing the print run

And that’s it! I’d love to hear your experiences, tips and tricks on preparing book covers for print. Please feel free to share them in the comments below. 🙂

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