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Design

How to Design a Vintage Book Cover

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:LongLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Fairy Tale Week.
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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

To celebrate the start of our Fairy Tale Week here at Envato Tuts+, I'll show you how to create a cover design for a book of fairy tales with a vintage-inspired look. 

Vintage-style covers are big news in publishing right now, and clothbound covers are enjoying a well-deserved resurgence. Here you’ll learn how to recreate the look with woodcut-style illustrations and calligraphy type. We’ll look at how to create a front cover and decorative spine step by step, using Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe InDesign to put the artwork together. 

complete spine

We’ll also be revisiting some drawing skills, so make sure to have a pencil, pen and paper to hand too!

Ready? Fantastic, let’s get started...

1. What You’ll Need

For this tutorial you’ll need access to the following programs:

  • Adobe InDesign
  • Adobe Illustrator 
  • Adobe Photoshop...

... plus pencil, pen, and paper.

To recreate the design pictured, you’ll also need to download the following images, brushes, and fonts:

finished cover

2. Plan Your Cover Design

Illustrative cover designs require a bit of forward thinking—the design will look more seamless and beautiful if we ‘map’ out the cover first. 

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how I created the design pictured below, but you can apply the same techniques to your own design and illustrations if you like. It’s a great opportunity to flex your creative muscles!

front cover

First up, let’s start with mapping out the typography for the front cover...

Step 1

We’ll start in Adobe InDesign—open up the program and go to File > New > Document.

Set the Intent to Print and Number of Pages to 1

Under Page Size, set the Width to 132 mm and Height to 204 mm. This is equivalent to a trade-standard B-Format hardback size.

Keep the Margins to their default value (12.7 mm) and add a Bleed of 5 mm. 

new document

Click OK.

new document

Step 2

Take the Line Tool (\) and drag onto the page to create a short, slightly diagonal line from left to right. The idea is to create several lines of Italic text, using the lines as text paths.

line tool

Switch to the Type on a Path Tool (Shift-T), and click onto the line (when you can see a ‘+’ sign appear next to your type cursor). 

type on a path

Type in ‘airy’. From the top Controls panel, adjust the Stroke Color of the path to [None].

airy text

Highlight the text and open up the Character panel (Window > Type & Tables > Character). Set the Font to Adorabelle Regular, Size 120 pt. Apply a Skew (false italic) of .

adorabelle text

Expand the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches) and click on the New Swatch button at the bottom of the panel. Set the Type to Process, Mode to CMYK and levels to C=13 M=29 Y=66 K=0. Rename the swatch Gold and click OK

gold swatch

Apply the new swatch to the Font Color of ‘airy’.

gold text

Step 3

Select the type path and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste, positioning it slightly below the first, to the left side. Adjust the text to read just ‘F’, and increase the Font Size to 200 pt.

fairy text

Step 4

Continue to Copy and Paste paths and adjust them to read the rest of the title, in this case ‘F’, ‘airy’, ‘T’, ‘ales’, ‘by the’, ‘Brothers Grimm’, setting the text in Adorabelle and adjusting the Font Size to create a hierarchy.

text paths

Make sure you are completely happy with the text arrangement on the page—once you begin illustrating around the type, you will not be able to move it about. Once you’re happy, go to File > Print and print out the cover to size onto a piece of A4- or Letter-sized paper.

You may find it helpful to use the Rectangle Tool (M) first, to mark out the trim edge of the paper in black, so you can see where the cover ends.

completed text

Step 5

Once you have your typography printed out, you are ready to start illustrating your cover.

To recreate a medieval, vintage-inspired style, illustrations in a woodcut style, with simple chunky edges and solid silhouettes will look incredibly charming. Google ‘woodcut art’ to browse examples of the style and source inspiration for your cover. Some woodcut designs are very complex, but we’re aiming for more simplistic, naive designs, which not only look great on cover designs but are also easy to create.

Grab your pencil and get started! 

Start with the larger features of the design—here I wanted to have a wolf curved around one corner of the cover, and a goose at the top right, both popular subjects in the Grimm fairy tales. 

drawn animals

Then I start to think about the smaller details of the design. Intertwining rose stems are easy to draw and create a beautiful framing effect for the rest of the content. I decorate the tops of stems with simple rosehip silhouettes and add leaves to some of the sides.

I continue to build up the design in pencil, adding roses in the corners and a little hedgehog between the text of the title. 

completed drawing

Allow some of the design to cross in front of and behind the curves of the text—this will help to create a more unified, fluid design.

3. Vectorize Your Artwork

Step 1

When you’ve finished your pencil design, you need to think about which areas of the design you’d like to pull out in different colors. 

Ultimately, I want the rose stems and leaves to be a different color to the rest of the design. To do this, I’ll need to pull them out in a strong color by hand, then scan the design and edit it in Photoshop.

Pick your first one-color feature and take a black ink pen. Color in the whole element in black, trying to keep the silhouette as solid as possible.

black pen

Scan the drawing into your computer, or take a high-resolution digital photo on a phone or camera. Open up the image in Adobe Photoshop.

scan

Duplicate the Background layer to create a copy of the image, and switch off the visibility of the background layer. 

Add a Levels Adjustment Layer, and drag the sliders to the far right of the graph to bring out the black of the inked image in high contrast. 

levels

Then File > Save As the image as a PSD file. Name it after the element, e.g. ‘Thorns.psd’.

Step 2

Minimize Photoshop for now, and open up Adobe Illustrator. Create a New Document, 132 mm in Width and 204 mm in Height to match the cover dimensions. 

new document

File > Place the image of your edited image, in this case ‘Thorns.psd’. Resize to fit the cover. 

resized cover

Go to Window > Image Trace to open up the Image Trace panel. Select the image, and, in the panel, set the Mode to Black and White. Check the Preview box to view the result. 

From the Advanced options, select Snap Curves to Lines and Ignore White. Adjust the Threshold, Paths, Corners and Noise sliders until you’re happy with the result. 

image trace

Then go to Object > Image Trace > Expand to transform the image into a vector.

expand

Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac) > Ungroup to make all the parts of the vector editable.

ungroup

Delete any background remaining, and any extra unwanted bits picked up by Image Trace. You’ll end up with a beautiful vector version of your image, true to size.

image trace

Step 3

Now we need to repeat the process for the remaining elements on our pencilled design. So head back to your paper design, and seek out a contrasting color pen—a striking red or blue would be ideal!

Color in the remaining elements on your design in a contrasting color, and then scan the image into your computer. 

red pen

Open up the image in Photoshop, duplicate the Background layer and go to Select > Color Range

color range

Click onto the colored areas to pick up that color alone, then Edit > Copy and Edit > Paste, moving just this color onto a different layer. Applying a white rectangle onto a layer below this will help you to see the isolated artwork more clearly. 

Then apply a Levels Adjustment Layer, as before, pulling the sliders across to the extreme right side, transforming your elements to high-contrast black. 

levels

File > Save As the image as a PSD file, with a name like ‘Animals.eps’.

Step 4

Return to your Illustrator file and create a New Layer from the Layers panel. File > Place the ‘Animals.eps’ file onto this layer. 

animals layer

Trace the image and vectorize it using the process described in Step 2, above.

vectorized image trace
ungroup
final trace

4. Add Linocut Details

To give the illustrations a more accurate woodcut look, we can add brush details to our vectorized elements.

Make sure you have opened up the Lino Cut Brushes set in Illustrator, so they are easily to hand.

Step 1

We’ll just work on the larger elements of the design for now (here, the animals), so make sure the layer below is locked or not visible. You can apply a temporary bit of color to the elements too, if you like. This can help to make your brush strokes appear more visible if set in black.

Take the Paintbrush Tool (B) and select one of the linocut brushes. Experiment with different brushes until you find a style that suits a particular element on your design.

lino cut brushes

When you’re happy with the brush stroke, go to Object > Path > Outline Stroke.

outline stroke

Then Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac) > Ungroup the different parts of the texture, if required.

ungroup

Select both the silhouetted image and the brush stroke elements, and Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac) > Make Compound Path. The brush stroke elements will be cut out of the silhouette to create that lovely woodcut effect.

compound path

Step 2

Repeat the process with the other larger elements, as I’ve done with this wolf illustration. Dashed shading looks great on larger elements to break up a solid silhouette.

lino cut brushes

Outline the stroke; Ungroup the elements and Make Compound Path.

make compound path
final result

Use the Eraser Tool (Shift-E) to separate any outlying parts of the brush strokes from the main silhouette. 

eraser tool

Select them and delete to make a neat and tidy design.

deleted

Step 3

Repeat the same process for the elements on the layer below, adding small linocut brush strokes to small items like leaves to add detail and interest.

lino cut leaf
lino cut effect

5. Finalize the Front Cover in InDesign

Now we’ve vectorized the illustrations for the cover we’re ready to lift the designs into InDesign, and finalize the cover design.

Step 1

Make sure the bottom layer of your Illustrator file is the only one unlocked, and then select everything on the page and Edit > Copy.

Return to your original InDesign file, with your original typography design. Expand the Layers panel (Window > Layers) and double-click on Layer 1 to open the Layer Options window. Rename the layer Typography in Front.

layer options

Click on the New Layer button at the bottom of the panel to create a new layer and rename this Texture. Drag it down to sit below the Typography in Front layer.

texture layer

Create a second new layer, above Texture and below Typography in Front, and rename it Background.

background layer

Step 2

Lock both the Typography in Front and Background layers, and click on Texture to activate it. 

Take the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and drag onto the page to create an image frame that extends across the page, up to the edges of the bleed on the top, right and bottom sides.

File > Place, and choose the canvas texture image you downloaded earlier. Position it so that it fills the image frame completely.

canvas texture

Step 3

Expand the Swatches panel and create a new CMYK Process swatch. Name it Background Purple and set the values to C=95 M=100 Y=59 K=24.

purrple swatch

Lock the Texture layer and unlock the next layer up, Background. Select the Rectangle Tool (M) and drag to create a rectangle that matches the dimensions of the canvas image frame below. Set the Fill Color to Background Purple. Go to Object > Effects > Transparency and set the Mode to Multiply and Opacity to 90% to pull through some of the canvas texture below.

multiply
background color

Step 4

Create a new CMYK Process swatch. Name it Green and set the values to C=74 M=37 Y=57 K=15.

green swatch

Lock the Background layer, and then create a new layer called Thorns to sit above Background and below Typography in Front. Edit > Paste to drop the copied thorns vector onto the page. You can resize it if needed, and then hop up to Object > Effects > Transparency, reducing the Opacity to 70%.

transparency
thorns layer

Step 5

Create a new layer, Typography Behind, and position this above Thorns and below Typography in Front. If you want any of the text elements to sit behind larger elements of the design, such as animals or roses, drag text paths from the Typography in Front layer onto this layer below. This is completely optional, but can help your design to feel more layered and 3D.

I’ve also pulled out the main title in a contrasting bright white Font Color (choose [Paper] from the Swatches panel).

typography behind

Step 6

Return to your Illustrator document, and lock the bottom layer. Unlock the top layer, containing the vectorized version of the larger elements on your design, and sweep your mouse across the page to select everything. Edit > Copy.

Return to your InDesign document and create a new layer, Animals and Roses, and place this between the Typography in Front and Typography Behind layers.

Edit > Paste to drop the vectorized animals and roses onto the page. Readjust the position and size if needed.

animals and roses

Step 7

Create a new CMYK Process swatch, C=33 M=42 Y=38 K=33, and name it Hedgehog Brown. 

brown swatch

Create a second new CMYK Process swatch, C=12 M=65 Y=64 K=0, and name it Orange.

orange swatch

Create a third new CMYK Process swatch, C=47 M=88 Y=49 K=0, and name it Dark Pink.

dark pink

Create a final new CMYK Process swatch, C=21 M=88 Y=49 K=0, and name it Pink.

pink

You can use these colors as you wish to apply to your own designs, or if you’re recreating the design pictured here, you can apply the Hedgehog Brown to the hedgehog vector, Orange to the wolf, and Dark Pink and Pink to the roses, varying the two tones to create depth.

Step 8

Some of the larger silhouettes will benefit from having some of the texture on the layers beneath being more visible through them. To do this, select a vector shape, then Object > Effects > Transparency and set the Opacity to 90%.

effects
final front cover

Feel free to add further details to the design if you feel it needs something more. Here, I’ve added a few extra small roses set in Pink and Dark Pink to add more detail to the left side of the cover.

extra roses

Your front cover design is finished—great work! If you’re planning on using the cover digitally for an EPUB, your job is pretty much done—you can File > Export the artwork as an Interactive PDF.

If you want to find out how to create a decorative spine for your cover and expand the design into a full wraparound cover, read on...

6. Create a Decorative Spine

Step 1

This is a good time to File > Save your InDesign artwork, so make sure to do that now before proceeding.

Expand the Pages panel and click on the Create New Page button at the bottom of the panel.

pages panel

This page will be our full clothbound cover design and will include space for a back cover, spine, and front cover. 

To work out the correct width of the page, we need to know the correct spine width for the book. Let’s say we’ll be working with 500 pages on 130 gsm coated paper. Using this helpful online spine calculator, you can work out that this will mean we have to accommodate for a 36 mm spine, plus add an extra 3 mm to allow for the extra wraparound required on a hardback’s spine.

Once you’ve figured out the spine width you can calculate the full width of your cover:

Front Cover Width + Back Cover Width + Spine + 3 mm (for hardback) = Total Cover Width

So for this cover that will mean...

132 mm + 132 mm + 36 mm + 3 mm = 303 mm

Select the Page Tool (Shift-P) and click onto Page 2 of your document to select it. Type 303 mm into the Width text box at the top-left corner of the Controls panel.

controls panel
expanded page

Step 2

Ensure the rulers are visible (View > Show Rulers) and pull out a vertical guide from the left-hand ruler to 151.5 mm, to mark out the centre point of the spine.

rulers

Pull out guides to 133.5 mm and 169.5 mm to mark out the edges of the 36 mm spine.

guides

Finally, pull out guides to 132 mm and 171 mm to mark out the extra space needed around the spine edge for folding.

guides

Step 3

Unlock only the Texture layer, keeping the other layers locked, and Edit > Copy the canvas texture image frame on Page 1. Edit > Paste in Place onto Page 2.

canvas texture

Paste again, positioning it over on the left side of the page.

texture on back

Paste a final time, resizing the width to fit the remaining spine gap.

spine canvas

Step 4

Lock the Texture layer and unlock all other layers. Drag your mouse over the whole of Page 1 to select all the front cover artwork and Edit > Copy.

copy

Scroll down to Page 2 and Edit > Paste. Position it over on the right-hand side, making sure it fits to the bleed edges perfectly. 

paste

Then select only the background color rectangle and extend the width so that it reaches to the far left edge of the bleed.

background color
final cover

Step 5

Zoom in on the spine of the cover, using the guides as a reference. Lock all layers except the Typography in Front layer. Take the Type Tool (T) and create a staggered group of text frames. Type in the words of the title and author names, in a similar arrangement to that shown. Set the Font to Adorabelle, and match the colors to the front cover.

spine type

Step 6

Lock the Typography in Front layer and unlock the Thorns layer. 

Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to create a thin rectangle 36 mm in Width. Set the Fill Color to Gold, and go to Object > Corner Options. Add a 5 mm Round shape on all corners and click OK.

corner options

Move the bar above the title on the spine, and Copy and Paste to create a copy directly below, which you can put in a different color, like Green

Copy and Paste the pair and position below the author name, as shown. This gives the cover an authentic hardcover look.

bars on spine

Select all the bars and go to Object > Effects > Transparency, reducing the Opacity to 80%.

normal mode

Step 7

Now you can add some more creative details to the spine. You can either create a custom design for the spine, as we did for the front cover, or simply borrow individual vector elements from the front cover and give them a new twist.

Here, I’ve taken the curvy tip of one of the rose stems, separated it, and placed it at the top and bottom of the spine.

vine tip
vine tips

I also took individual rose vectors and placed them, alongside some leaves, above and below ‘by the’ on the centre of the spine.

roses
final spine

You’ll end up with a cover complete with decorative spine and front cover design!

final spine

Your Finished Fairy Tale Cover

In this tutorial, we’ve looked at how to create a vintage-inspired cover for a book of fairy tales. Using hand-drawn illustrations and then editing them in Photoshop and Illustrator, we’ve been able to recreate a gorgeous woodcut style that looks really charming and beautiful.

final cover

You can be as creative as you like with the back cover too—why not create an illustrated design to surround a blurb or give a bit of a decorative flourish to the edges of a barcode? The only limits are your imagination, so get creating! You can share your final results in the comments below.

Once you’ve completed your cover, you can export it as a Press-Quality PDF by going to File > Export. Make sure to include the bleed if you’re sending it off for professional printing and binding.

We’ve covered a range of skills in this tutorial, applicable to professional publishing and self-publishing design. You should now feel more confident in:

  • ‘mapping out’ typography for illustrative cover designs in Adobe InDesign
  • creating hand-drawn woodcut illustrations with simple, chunky silhouettes for high impact
  • preparing hand-drawn artwork for vectorizing in Adobe Photoshop
  • vectorizing and adding linocut brush details to your artwork
  • building up texture and color in your front cover artwork
  • expanding your cover design to a full wrap-around cover, complete with a decorative spine

That’s fantastic work—congratulations! If you’d like to share your cover artwork in the comments below, I’d love to see them!

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