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Design a Crime Thriller Book Cover in Adobe InDesign

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:MediumLanguages:
This post is part of a series called How to Create a Book Cover.
Create a Beautiful Book Cover in InDesign Using a Busy Photo Background
How to Create a Historical Fiction Book Cover in Adobe InDesign
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Walk into any bookshop and you’ll notice that each genre of fiction has its own general ‘style’ for cover designs. Though each cover is different, elements on the cover create a sort of code that enables the reader to assess what the book will be about.

In this tutorial you’ll learn how to design a book cover for the Crime/Thriller fiction genre and explore how you can create a genre-appropriate design using typefaces, tools and tips available to you in Adobe InDesign. Let’s get creating a cover Stephen King would be proud of!

1. Set Up the Layout of Your Cover in InDesign

In this tutorial, we’ll be creating a cover for a paperback (softcover) book, with B‑format dimensions (5.06 x 7.81 inches [130 x 198 mm]) and a 16 mm spine. 

Note: You can adjust the width of the spine to suit your own purposes by using the Page Tool to adjust the width of the document later.

Step 1

Open InDesign and select New Document from the Welcome window, or go to File > New > Document.

In the New Document window set the Intent to Print and No. of Pages to 1, and uncheck Facing Pages. From the Page Size drop-down menu select Custom... to open the Custom Page Size window. 

Set the Width to 130 mm and Height to 198 mm. Type 'B-Format Paperback' into the Name text box and click Add, and then OK.

custom page size

Step 2

Back in the New Document window, set the Margins to 8 mm on all sides, and set the Bleed to 3 mm on all sides. Click OK. 

new document

This page is the correct size for the front of your cover only. Though we will want to submit a whole cover to the printer, complete with spine and back cover, it’s a really good idea to design your front cover only at first. This allows you to judge better how the cover will look from a reader’s perspective, when the book is on display in the bookshop.

We’ll use the Page Tool later in the tutorial to include the spine and back cover on the document. But for now, let’s work on the front cover alone as it is.

page 1

From the left-hand Ruler drag a vertical guide out to 65 mm. This marks the center point of the front cover, which is helpful for when you start to place elements on the page.

2. Create an Icy Backdrop

Step 1

Open the Layers Panel (Window > Layers) and double-click the default Layer 1 to open the Layer Options window. Rename the layer as Image and click OK. 

Select the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and drag to create an image frame 58 mm in Width that extends across the page, meeting the edge of the Bleed at the Top, Bottom and Right sides, with the left-edge of the frame sitting just past the center point of the page, as shown below.

Go to File > Place and select a suitable image for the backdrop of your cover. I wanted to choose something that would work well as a wallpaper across the back of the page, with no significant features or people in it, and also that had a threatening, claustrophobic feel. This image of a snow-covered cluster of skeletal trees is perfect.

stock image icy scene

Click Open. Arrange the photo in the frame using the Fill Frame Proportionally icon in the top control panel. 

fill frame proportionally

With the frame selected, go to Object > Effects > Gradient Feather. Keep the Type as Linear and set the Angle to 180 degrees. Manoeuvre the Gradient Stops into place as shown. 

gradient
gradient applied to image

Step 2

Select the image frame and right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) > Transform > Flip Horizontal. Position this second frame to the left side of the page, mirroring the first image frame. 

mirrored images

Grab the left edge of the new frame and drag so that it meets the Trim edge of the page. You won’t need to allow for a Bleed on this side of the page, as this is where the edge of the spine will sit. 

bleed

Step 3

Even though we already have a gradient effect applied to the images, any typography we apply to the cover will still likely get lost amongst the high contrast of the dark branches and white snow. 

Return to the Layers panel and Lock the Image layer. Click the Create New Layer icon at the bottom right of the panel. Double-click the default layer name and rename the layer as Front Cover Artwork. Click OK.

layer options

Select the Ellipse Tool (L) and, holding Shift, drag to create a perfect circle about 113 mm in diameter. Position this centrally on the page, using the Guide as a reference, at Y position 42 mm. 

Set the Stroke Color to [None] and the Fill Color to [Paper]. 

white circle

Step 4

With the circle shape selected, go to Object > Effects > Gradient Feather, as we did earlier. This time, set the Type to Radial and move the Gradient Stops into position as shown below, so the gradient appears very soft.

gradient radial
soft gradient

Step 5

Select the circle shape and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste. Either hold Shift to resize the circle or edit the measurements from the top control panel, resizing the circle to 44 mm in diameter.

Position this second shape at the top right corner of the page, as shown. We will be layering a tagline over this a little later.

soft white light

3. Introduce Some Blood-Curdling Typography

Step 1

Go to the Layers panel and Lock the Front Cover Artwork layer. Select the Create New Layer icon and rename the layer Typography.

layer options

Step 2

We want to introduce three parts to the front cover text: the title, the author name, and a tagline. Let’s work on the title first.

First up, let’s select a typeface that’s going to work well on our Winter Thriller cover. Look for something that looks dramatic when set in All Caps; a strong sans serif will grab the reader’s attention. Here I’ve chosen Futura Std.

Select the Type Tool (T) and drag to create a small text frame 25 mm in Width and 12 mm in Height. Type ‘The’, set the Font to Futura Std, Book (Regular), Size 40 pt, Tracking to -60 and set the text in All Caps. Position the frame to the top left of the central white circle, at Y position 60 mm, as shown below.

Open the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches) and click the New Swatch icon at the bottom right of the panel. Create a new CMYK Swatch, setting the percentages to the following values: C=19 M=98 Y=89 K=10. Click OK. Set the text to this new red swatch.

swatch options
typography

Step 3

Create a second larger text frame using the Type Tool (T), about 100 mm in Width and 26 mm in Height. Type ‘Winter’, set the Font to Futura Std, Book (Regular), Size 86 pt, Tracking to -80 and set the text in All Caps.

Futura Std

With the text highlighted, go to Type > Create Outlines. Alter the Fill Color of the now-outlines text to [None] from the top control panel or the Swatches panel.

Create outlines

Deselect the text and the frame containing it. Now go to File > Place and select a suitable image to fill the text. Here, I’ve used an image of some old skulls and bones, which I then edited in Photoshop using the Channel Mixer adjustment, making the shadows in the image much darker.

Click Open, before clicking once on the outlined text to fill the word ‘Winter’ with the skulls image. 

fill text with image

You might need to double-click in the text to directly select the image and right‑click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) > Transform > Rotate, to get the image orientated correctly in the text.

Manoeuvre ‘Winter’ onto the front cover, positioning it just below the first text frame, as shown below.

text effect

Step 4

Create a third text frame using the Type Tool (T), about 100 mm in Width and 35 mm in Height. Type ‘Killer’ into the frame and set the Font to Futura Std, Book (Regular), Size 115 pt, Tracking to -40 and set the text in All Caps. Set the Font Color to C=19 M=98 Y=89 K=10.

Position the frame just below the ‘Winter’ text frame, as shown.

typography

As a final touch, select this text frame and go to Object > Effects > Drop Shadow. Introduce a very subtle drop shadow to the ‘Killer’ text by setting the Mode to Normal, Opacity to 25% and, under Options, the Size to 3 mm. Click OK.

drop shadow

Step 5

Select the ‘Killer’ text frame you’ve just created and go to Edit > Copy and Edit > Paste. Adjust the Font Weight to Light Condensed, Size to 70 pt, Tracking to 90, Align Center and Font Color to [Paper]. 

Adjust the text to ‘Jim Bleak (Author Name)’. Position the frame towards the bottom of the page at Y position 167 mm. You can go to Object > Effects > Drop Shadow, as before, and increase the Opacity of the shadow to 65% and Size to 5 mm.

drop shadow on text

Step 6

Finally, create a tagline for the front cover by selecting the Type Tool (T), and creating a text frame about 20 mm in Width and 17 mm in Height. Position this frame at the top right corner of the page, as shown below.

Type ‘An isolated cabin in the woods. (paragraph break) A family seeking reclusion. (paragraph break) A killer on the loose.’ and set the text to Align Right. 

Set the Font to Futura Std, Book (Regular), Size 15 pt and Leading to 18 pt. Highlight the first two lines of the text and set the Font Color to [Black]. Set the Font Color of the final line to C=19 M=98 Y=89 K=10, to give visual emphasis.

tagline

The front of your cover is complete, and it’s looking great!

final front cover

Now is the time to make any minor adjustments to the layout, until you’re happy with the outcome. Once you’re happy, you can start putting together the rest of the cover...

4. Expand Your Cover

Step 1

It might be a good idea to duplicate Page 1 of your document in order to keep a copy of the front cover alone.

To do this go to the Pages panel (Window > Pages) and click and drag the Page 1 icon down to the bottom of the panel, dropping it onto the Create New Page icon to make a copy of the page. 

Double-click Page 2 of the document to bring it up on screen. Select the Page Tool (Shift-P) from the Tools panel and click once on Page 2 of the document to select it. Now, navigate up to the left-hand side of the top control panel and adjust the Width of the page to 276 mm. This will allow for a back cover at the same width as the front cover (130 mm) plus a 16 mm-width spine.

Page Tool

Unlock all the layers in the Layers panel. Drag your mouse across the page to select all the elements on the page. Shuffle them along to the right until the image frames meet the edge of the right-hand bleed.

edited page size

Step 2

From the left-hand Ruler, pull out a vertical Guide to 130 mm, to mark the left edge of the spine. Pull out a second Guide to 65 mm, marking out the center point of the back cover.

You can also pull out Guides to 138 mm and 122 mm, to mark out the center point of the spine, and the right-hand margin of the back cover.

guides

5. Design the Spine

Note: In this tutorial, we will be creating a spine with a contrasting color to the rest of the cover. Therefore, it is very important that the spine’s dimensions on the artwork match the dimensions of the printed and bound spine exactly. When creating your own artwork for print, be sure to ask your printer to give you an accurate width for your spine before creating your cover artwork.

Step 1

Return to the Layers panel and Lock all the existing layers. Create a New Layer, renaming it as Spine Artwork. Move this layer to sit below the Typography layer and above the Front Cover Artwork layer. 

layer options

Select the Rectangle Tool (M) and drag to create a frame 16 mm in Width that sits between the Guides marking out the edges of the spine. Extend the Length of the frame so that it extends to the top and bottom bleeds.

Set the Stroke Color to [None] and Fill Color to C=19 M=98 Y=89 K=10.

spine color

Step 2

Select the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and drag to create an image frame 16 mm in Width, as before, and 58 mm in Height. Position the frame at the bottom of the spine, resting the bottom edge on the edge of the bleed. 

Go to File > Place and select the skulls image, as we used earlier for the front cover. Click Open, and click the Fill Frame Proportionally icon in the top control panel. 

With the image frame selected, go to Object > Effects > Gradient Feather. Set the Type to Linear and the Angle to 90 degrees. Move the Gradient Stops into position as shown. Click OK.

gradient feather
skulls on spine

Select the image frame and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste, before shortening the Length of the frame to about 25 mm and positioning it at the top of the spine. Go to Object > Effects > Gradient Feather, as before, and switch the Angle of the gradient to -90 degrees, so the image fades downwards.

skulls on spine

Step 3

In the Layers panel, Lock the Spine Artwork layer and Unlock the Typography layer. Select the Type Tool (T) and drag to create a text frame 8 mm in Height and 37 mm in Width. 

Type ‘Jim Bleak (Author Name)’ and set the Font to Futura Std, Medium Condensed, Size 25 pt, Tracking to 90, All Caps and Font Color to [Paper]. Select the text frame and right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) > Transform > Rotate 90 degrees CW. Position the text frame centrally on the spine, towards the top, just below the top skulls image.

text on spine

Select the text frame and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste. Alter the text to ‘The Winter Killer’, the Font Weight to Light and Tracking to 0. You may need to extend the Length of the text frame to accommodate the text. Position the frame centrally on the spine, just below the author’s name.

text on spine
final spine design

6. Create a Back Cover

Your cover’s starting to look more complete. Now, all that’s left to do is to put together the design for the back of the cover.

Step 1

Return to the Layers panel and Lock the Typography layer. Unlock the Image layer. Select the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and drag to create a frame 133 mm in Width and 102 mm in Height. Position the frame so that it covers the top half of the back cover, meeting the edges of the bleed to the top and the left.

Go to File > Place and select the winter trees image we used earlier, for the front cover. Arrange the image proportionally in the frame.

Hop up to Object > Effects > Gradient Feather. Set the Type to Linear and the Angle to -90 degrees. Move the Gradient Stops into position as shown. Click OK.

gradient

Select the image frame and right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) > Transform > Flip Vertical. Manoeuvre this second image frame to the bottom of the back cover, allowing the top edge to meet the bottom edge of the first image frame.

gradient on images

Step 2

In the Layers panel, Lock the Image layer. Create a New Layer, naming it as Back Cover Artwork. Position this below the Typography layer and above the Spine Artwork layer.

layer options

Step 3

Remaining on the Back Cover Artwork layer,  select the Ellipse Tool (L) and, holding Shift, drag to create a perfect circle 113 mm in diameter. Set the Stroke Color to [None] and the Fill Color to [Paper].

With the shape selected, go to Object > Effects > Gradient Feather. Set the Type to Radial and move the Gradient Stops into the position shown below. Click OK.

gradient effect

Center the circle shape on the back cover, resting the left edge against the left-hand margin and the right edge against the 122 mm Guide.

soft light

Step 4

You will need to place a barcode on the page if you are intending to sell the book in shops. 

Create a white frame using the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and File > Place a generated barcode image. Ensure the barcode image is large enough to be scanned with ease, and don’t crop the code too closely around the edges in case any of the code’s data becomes illegible.

I also created a second frame just below the barcode, set in C=19 M=98 Y=89 K=10. This is a suitable place to insert pricing for the book using the Type Tool (T).

barcode

Step 5

Lock the Back Cover Artwork layer and Unlock the Typography layer. 

Select the Ellipse Tool (L) and, holding Shift, drag to create a circle shape 88 mm in diameter. Set the Stroke and Fill Color to [None], and position the circle centrally on the back cover, right over the white circle.

Select the Type Tool (T) and click once inside the circle shape to transform it into a text frame. Type the book’s blurb, setting the Font to Futura Std, Medium, Size 12 pt, Leading 14.4 pt (Auto), Align Center, and Font Color to [Black]. You can highlight the first few lines of the blurb and make them slightly bigger, around 13 pt, and pull out the first line in Bold and a red swatch (C=19 M=98 Y=89 K=10).

back cover blurb

7. Export Your Book Cover for Print

Great work—your cover artwork is complete, and it looks awesome!

Now all that’s left to do is to export the artwork to PDF, ready for printing. 

Step 1

Go to File > Export... to open the Export window. Select Adobe PDF (Print) from the Format drop-down menu. Name the file and click Save.

In the Export Adobe PDF window select Press Quality from the Adobe PDF Preset drop-down menu. In the Pages section, under Range, type 2, if you’ve kept a copy of only your front cover on Page 1.

export PDF for print

Step 2

Under the Marks and Bleeds section, click to select All Printer’s Marks under the Marks menu and click to select Use Document Bleed Settings under the Bleed and Slug menu. Click Export.

export to PDF
final PDF

Well done! You now have your book cover ready to be sent to the printers. You can choose to print your cover on coated or uncoated paper stock, both of which have their own unique look and tactile feel. Communicate with your printer before you send the artwork to print, to receive samples and/or their advice on paper stock and weight.

In this tutorial, we have learnt how to create an attention-grabbing, genre-appropriate book cover for a winter crime thriller. The design traits for this genre include a bleak, photographic background and high-impact sans serif text rendered in bold blood-red and bleak monochrome colors. Good use of gradients give the cover a sense of mystery, and give the whole cover a blizzard-like appearance, with pops of cold white light.

final product
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