Thursday, 27 August 2015

Guest Post: By author Nan Sweet

Cover Creation from Start to Finish

What makes a great cover? How is it done?  What software tools are needed? 

For this post, we’ll focus on ebook covers.  An ebook cover and print cover are two different beasts entirely.  A print book requires an image that wraps around the book and has higher image quality requirements, the back page, and the spine, while an ebook cover uses just the front cover. 

While cover creation can be done in something as basic as Paint, a higher-end photo editing software will produce better results.  Adobe Photoshop is one of the best and the most expensive.  There are also free software photo manipulation tools for the designer with a tight budget.

Because pictures can be hard to load, the images below are currently sized super-tiny.  The images will be blurry at larger sizes. It’s a good idea to save a small version of the cover as a jpg once you’re done for web use.  It’s painful for those with slow internet to wait for giant images.

Just don’t save over your large image. Data is lost in compression and you can’t go back once it is saved as a small picture. If you try, the larger image will look blurry and pixilated. The same is true for purchased images. If you try to make a small image large, it looks blurry. For file organization, I type small in front of the title for any images that have been resized.  That way I won’t accidentally grab the wrong image.

1)   The First step is to resize the image or background inside the photo-editing software.  I currently set my Ebook covers to 1563 Horizontal, 2500 Vertical.  All of the images used need to have 72 dpi for web (300 dpi for print) and be sizeable to approximately 1600 x 2500 if used as the background.

2) Sometimes I start with an image as the foundation and sometimes just a blank background.  In Princess Penny, I used a purple background. I played with the eyedropper tool to get just the right color. (I decided to go with purple to match the pony’s eyes, but tested light blue as well.)

A designer can use their own photos or drawings to make covers.  I like to use stock photos.  My current vendor of choice is 123rf, although there are plenty of others out there.  It’s worth paying for images to get just the right cover and they’re usually priced well.

By using a combination of a magnetic lasso tool and the eraser tool set at 20-40%, a clean image can be created from any picture. The lasso tool cuts and pastes while the eraser tool cleans up the artifacts that weren’t supposed to copy. This is the first element that was added to the cover.

Copyright: dazdraperma / 123RF Stock Photo Used with permission

The next step was bringing in the pony. In the story, my pony flies.  I found a little horse that I absolutely loved, but she was missing wings. This was the original image for the pony’s wings. I cut them out, rearranged and flattened them to make my pony a brand new pair of wings.  (With stock footage, it’s a good idea to make adjustments or to use more than one image in a cover, because there are thousands of people buying photos for various uses.)

Copyright: sergo / 123RF Stock Photo Used with permission.

Here are the separate elements.  It took a bit of enlarging, shrinking and twisting. The better software will have Move or Transform tools that allow this (a must-have for advanced cover creation.)

(Pony) Copyright: dazdraperma / 123RF Stock Photo Used with permission
Having removed the pieces of the picture, I combine them to make my flying pony. If I were doing a realistic cover, I would have needed to blend more by using the erase at 10-30%, but with cartoons, it works fine without blending.

I spent several minutes moving the images around to get the best lay-out.  It’s okay to have words cover the images as long as the part of the cover that draws the most attention is left alone.  I didn’t want to cover the horse at all because she’s so cute or the princess’s face. Knowing that, I had to play with the images to make sure I could leave those two elements uncovered.

The secret to a professional cover is in the font.  Most beginning cover designers use one font and one size. If you pull a dozen books off the shelves of the library and look at the covers, you’ll notice they have variety in font and font size. 

Sometimes I use the eye-dropper tool to make the font (or the background) look just right.  For example, if I want the font to be the color of the dress, I would use the eye dropper tool to pull color from the dress to the font.  In this case, it was easy to match her hair by picking a bright and cheery yellow

Notice how the less important words (and the) are smaller. Most cover designers will shrink the less meaningful words. Cover designers often make the first letter of a title bigger or change font sizes letter by letter for an artistic look. I’ve also seen images used instead of a letter.  It’s a good idea to play with font size to get a feeling for what is possible.

Princess Penny is going to be branded in script, meaning that in the series, I will always have the Princess Penny look just like it does here (although maybe in a different color.).  The same is true of my name.  The font type for Nan Sweet is the same across the Dusky Hollows Series as well as the Princess Penny series. It gives a sense of cohesion to the books when a reader is browsing several covers at once. 

Here is the finished cover.  I save in both the photo editing format (this leaves the elements separate and changeable) and jpg format at the highest level (or least compression). For example Princesspenny.jpg is saved at quality 12 or maximum. I then go into the resize area again and drop to 200 pixels wide and save as smallPrincessPenny.jpg.

The hardest part of cover creation is learning how to use the software and picking out just the right image and font.  Although it can feel intimidating, there are really only 8 or 9 tools that consistently go into cover creation.  Once you’ve learned how to layer, fade, and erase, the rest is much easier.

Good luck with cover creation! 


Princess Penny and the Terrible Twins is a short read (~40 pages) available on Amazon for 99 cents. (Price is subject to change.)

Copyright Data for Images: 
"Certain images and/or photos on this page are the copyrighted property of 123RF Limited, their Contributors or Licensed Partners and are being used with permission under license. These images and/or photos may not be copied or downloaded without permission from 123RF Limited.”
Princess with Ponytail  Copyright: dazdraperma / 123RF Stock Photo Pony Copyright: dazdraperma / 123RF Stock Photo Rainbow Wings Copyright: sergo / 123RF Stock Photo
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