As much as we’re told not to judge a book by its cover, we do it anyway. The truth is, a book cover is meant to attract a potential reader’s attention, make them curious about the book’s contents, and convince them to buy it. 

It’s the book cover designer’s job to make this happen. 

Whether you’re looking to self-publish a book or start a career as a freelance book cover designer, read on to discover our best tips on how to create the most compelling covers and have fun in the process.

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How to Design a Book Cover

Designing a book cover is like creating a work of art, so there’s really no right or wrong way to do it. As long as you include the book’s title and the name of the author somewhere on the cover, the rest is entirely up to you.  

This can be both freeing and overwhelming—which direction should you take when there are so many options? Here are a few guidelines that will help you identify exactly what your book cover needs and how to bring it to life. 

A bunch of book covers on a blue background.
Examples of compelling book covers.

Answer the Important Questions

This should go without saying, but unless you’re the author, be sure to read the manuscript in its entirety and have a good understanding of what the book is about, its main message, and any recurring themes. This content will guide your design process and help ensure that the cover you ultimately choose accurately represents the book. 

Once you’ve read the manuscript, answer the following questions:

What’s the author’s purpose?

Think about the book’s main message. Why did the author (or you) write it? What did they want people to know? Your cover should reflect this, though without spoiling anything, of course. 

What’s your target audience?

Think about who will enjoy reading this book. Is it teenagers, beach vacationers, or business owners? How can you design the cover in a way that will appeal to this demographic?

What kind of mood do you want to create? 

The second that people see the book cover, before they even have a chance to read a single word, they’ll experience an emotional response. Use this to your advantage and think about how you want to make them feel. Do you want to entertain them? Do you want them to feel light, calm, and hopeful? Perhaps intrigued or maybe even unsettled?

Choose Your Imagery

Your book cover doesn’t have to have a lot of imagery or even any at all—plenty of books rely on typography alone to achieve the perfect design. 

If you do choose to include some imagery, you have plenty of options. You can:

  • Take a photograph (or arrange for a photographer to take a custom photo)
  • Use a stock photo (just be sure to state where you sourced it from on the back cover)
  • Start with a photo (or a few) and edit it with Photoshop 
  • Create a digital illustration
  • Draw or paint something on paper and scan it
  • Make a collage and scan it
  • Any combination of the above! 

Play Around With Typography

Typography involves choosing an appropriate typeface, font size, and colors for the title of your book, the author’s name, and any other text you’ll be including on the cover. It also involves arranging this text on the cover in a way that complements the imagery (if there is any) and helps evoke an emotional response. 

You can arrange text in countless ways. You can make it symmetrical or asymmetrical, large or small, horizontal or angled. It can serve as part of the imagery or be overlaid on top of it. Think about where you want to draw the potential reader’s attention and use text to emphasize those areas of the cover. 

Think About Production

If you’re designing a cover for an ebook, you can skip this section. If your cover will be printed and you have a flexible printing budget, don’t forget that there are lots of creative things you can do in the production stage to make your cover stand out.

You can emboss and deboss certain elements of your cover or use materials other than paper. There are lots of books with covers that consist of two layers—the first one may be a plastic overlay or paper that has certain areas cut out to reveal what’s underneath.

Tips For Designing a Book Cover

If you’re ever feeling stuck or uninspired, try going back to the basics with one (or all) of the following tips:

Take Design Classes

If you’re new to graphic design, it may be helpful to take a few design classes. These can be tutorials on the software you want to learn, classes about book cover design in particular, or something more general, like typography, color theory, illustration, or design software.

Try Your Hand at Book Cover Design

Join renowned designer Chip Kidd for an imaginative journey through your favorite books in his Skillshare Original.

Browse Examples

One of the best ways to find inspiration for your project is to look at other book cover designs. Pay attention to what draws you in and what doesn’t. Think about how the designs make you feel. Ask yourself what it is about these covers that makes you feel this way, and consider how you can achieve the same effect in your own work.

You don’t have to go far to find amazing examples—simply head to your local library or the nearest bookstore. We’ll also share a few great book cover designs in a bit. 

Brainstorm Ideas

There’s more than one cover design that works perfectly for any given book. That’s why it’s important to not get attached to any one idea and keep experimenting until you have lots of options to choose from. 

Start your design process with a brainstorming session and sketch at least ten different ideas. Mock up your top picks in your design software, and don’t be afraid to go back to the sketching stage as many times as you need. 

Design Software

Here are a few of the most popular design software options for designing book covers:

Adobe InDesign

Adobe InDesign is the industry standard for graphic design work. It’s geared toward professionals and requires a bit of a learning curve, but with a few classes, you’ll be well on your way to designing high-quality book covers in no time. 

Adobe Photoshop

If you want to include fantasy elements in your project or a combination of photography and illustration, your best bet is to create your book cover design with Photoshop. It’s a powerful tool that has everything you’ll need to manipulate photos and bring your imagination to life. 

With a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud, you’ll get access to InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, which you can use to create digital illustrations, and many other tools. 

Canva

If you’re looking to create book covers using free software, Canva is a great option. You can start with a book cover design template and customize it to your liking. Best of all, you don’t need any experience with graphic design—Canva is intuitive and very beginner-friendly. 

Book Cover Design Ideas

You’re almost ready to start designing your own book covers! Let’s take a look at a few beautiful examples to get you inspired and excited to create. 

Symmetrical Layout

Aligning your text and imagery in the center of the page can create a sense of harmony and order. When other elements of the design are used to evoke certain emotions, symmetry can help strengthen their impact. 

Examples of symmetry in book cover design.

Asymmetrical Layout

Use an asymmetrical layout if you want to create a sense of unease or bring the viewer’s attention to different elements of the cover. 

Book covers for Brooklyn, Trinity, Berta Isla.
Examples of asymmetry in book cover design. 

Using Scale

You can play around with the scale of text, imagery, and other design elements of your cover. In the example below, take a look at the oversized letter A or the contrast between the small font and the extreme close-up photos. 

Book covers for Dictionary of the Undoing, The Manly Modern, and The Destroyer.
Examples of how you can creatively use scale in your book cover designs. 

Using Framing

Framing refers to the use of placement and cropping to put emphasis on certain elements of the cover. Notice how the photos are cropped in the first and third examples and the literal frame drawn in black marker in the second one. 

Book cover Feast Your Eyes, The Rules Do Not Apply, and Swimming with Horses.
Examples of how much framing affects the atmosphere that the book cover creates.

Design Your Own Book Cover 

The best way to get better at designing book covers is to practice as much as you can. You probably won’t get the chance to design a cover for a brand new manuscript without a portfolio (unless, of course, it’s your own!), so start with books you’ve already read and try creating your own versions of the covers. Over time, you’ll develop your own unique process and style.  

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to think outside the box and have fun with your book cover design. We can’t wait to see what you’ll create! 

Introduction to Book Cover Design

Rediscover your favorite books in a new way with acclaimed graphic designer Chip Kidd.