Your book cover is the first thing people see. And few things lose self-publishers more sales than advertising that it’s an amateur project. As the late Dan Poynter used to say, a book cover shouldn’t look like it’s made with “loving hands at home.” Layout, font choice, spacing, and images must be chosen carefully and work well together to entice— potential fans — to click.

The formatted book cover files you supply must be created properly, or you’re going to have issues. Some printers will print whatever you send, and don’t check anything. Others, like Lightning Source (LSI) are more particular, and more expensive. But you get what you pay for and I think they’re worth it.

There’s no sense creating a cover in Word (it doesn’t work with the right color gamut) or even the beloved GIMP, which is an awesome software, but alas, it also does not work with CMYK files. You’ll have no problem creating an e-book cover with these programs, but print is a bit more technical. If you’re going to be paying money for print proofs, you might as well do it right the first time.

WARNING: The following contains technical jargon which you should be familiar with (you are the project manager), so I’ve provided links that will explain them to you within the text.

  • If you’re using LSI, you will want to use their cover template generator. It will supply your customized cover template in EPS, PDF or InDesign formats, and your barcode will be in the file (you have to give them your ISBN).
    Color should be CMYK. Some printers will accept RGB files, but they’re still printing in CMYK. This means they’ll flip the color “on the fly” and you’ll be forced to deal with the results. As you can see from my link, they’re not always good.
  • No more than 240% black or color saturation on the cover. Again, some printers don’t care, but if you’re printing with LSI it’s necessary. They will send you a .csf file to use with all your Adobe programs if you ask them nicely, so you won’t have to worry about this, the software will adjust things as you go.
  • 300 dpi for everything. Don’t think that because you enlarged an image it will work. A 300 dpi image that was doubled in size becomes a 150 dpi image no matter how you’ve fooled the software into saying otherwise. So, while you might get by the prepress check, you’ll still end up with poor print quality. I wasn’t able to find a simple explanation of this online, so I created this image. You can see on the middle image that was simply enlarged to 300 dpi from 72 dpi that the quality is nowhere near as good as the one to the right, that was created at 300 dpi. But, as the one on the left shows, 72 dpi is fine for online purposes.

Essential Information for Formatting Your Book Cover Book Cover Express

  • Good fonts. Use them. All fonts are not created equal.
  • Make sure to check that your fonts have embedded after you export the PDF. If you don’t, you could be in for some unpleasant surprises when a substitute font ends up in your printed book, throwing off your layout. In Adobe Acrobat Pro you can check this in Files/Properties/Fonts and beside the list of fonts it should say embedded or subset embedded.
  • Darker Covers Can Cause Problems

    • Putting a lot of ink or toner on a book will mean a longer drying time. Heavy inking/toner sometimes causes issues with the lamination or other finishes not adhering as well (remember, you’re not attaching the coating to the porous paper, you’ve putting it on smoother ink/toner).
    • Denser ink/toner creates a “layer” on the paper and that can crack and peel over time.
    • Then there are “hickeys” which often appear in large areas of solid color and are most prevalent on darker colors. While they are simply a fact of life in printing, since darker colors require more drying time, so there’s more of a chance dust particles will land on the paper and create a “hickey” effect.
More tips for your book cover design:
  1. How many words can you fit on your back cover?
  2. Design your book’s back cover so people can read it easily.
  3. Lots of information about creating your bar code, headings, sizing for Amazon…
  4. Working with your book cover design template.