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How to Create a Vintage-Inspired Clothbound Book Cover in Adobe InDesign

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This post is part of a series called How to Create a Book Cover.
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What You'll Be Creating

The publishing world has recently seen an explosion in popularity of clothbound books, which are stunning modern tributes to a centuries-old method of designing books. Houses like Penguin and HarperCollins have rediscovered the vintage charms of the clothbound style, and self-publishers are quickly picking up on the trend too.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to set up the artwork for a clothbound book cover in Adobe InDesign and Adobe Illustrator, and look at how to maximise the design’s impact using a restricted color palette and simple silhouetted graphics.

If you want to learn more about creating simple, high-impact book covers, or if you’re just a fan of vintage design, this tutorial is going to be right up your street!

1. A Note on Clothbound Book Design

Clothbound books are made through a traditional book-binding process called case binding. Case binding is one of the most commonly used methods for binding hardcover (hardback) books. 

Pages are assembled and glued together to create a ‘textblock’. This textblock is then attached to a cover (or ‘case’) which is made of cardboard, and then covered with cloth. 

Most binderies (companies that specialise in book printing and binding) will offer case binding services to their customers, and there is also a growing number of online companies who will also take your artwork and transform it into a clothbound beauty.

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Clothbound books may look like painstakingly-constructed treasures, but they actually require a very minimal, sparing approach to their design, certainly at the initial artworking stage, which is what we’ll be looking at in this tutorial.

final artworkfinal artworkfinal artwork

The cover design is foil stamped directly onto the cloth; as a result the design needs to be rendered in just two colors for maximum cost-efficiency. Clothbound books also don’t require a dust jacket, so the artwork doesn’t have to accommodate extra fold-room (over the spine and outside edges of the front and back covers) or flaps.

In short, clothbound books look really beautiful, but designing their covers needn’t be complicated. Let’s get started with creating the artwork for this cover for ‘A Winter Tale’ and discover how simple it can be!

2. Set Up the Cover Layout in InDesign

Step 1

Open up Adobe InDesign. Go to File > New > Document.

In the New Document window that opens, choose Print from the Intent menu. 

print intentprint intentprint intent

Step 2

Keep the Number of Pages set to 1 and uncheck the Facing Pages box.

Here, under Page Size, I’ve pre-saved a Custom Page Size called B-Format

B-Format is a standard size for printing paperback books, but we can also use it for our hardback cover. Set the Width of the document to 130 mm and the Height to 198 mm.

new document windownew document windownew document window

Hold up—this will create a single front cover, but we need to set up the whole cover, including the back cover and spine.

To do this, keep the Height of the document as it is, but increase the Width to 294 mm. This will allow for a 30 mm spine plus the widths of both the front and back covers.

custom page sizecustom page sizecustom page size

Step 3

Set the Margins on all sides to 9 mm. 

Even though we’ll be creating a black and white document for the artwork, you should still include a bleed. This will allow for the printer to know more clearly where the artwork will be trimmed and allow for more cloth to fold over the edges of the cover.

Set the Bleed on all sides to 5 mm, and then click OK to create your cover page.

new document with bleednew document with bleednew document with bleed

Step 4

Let’s divide up the page to define the front and back covers, the spine and the margins for each part of the cover.

Make sure your rulers are visible (View > Show Rulers), and then click onto the left-hand ruler and drag a guide out to the center of the page, to X Position 147 mm. 

center of spinecenter of spinecenter of spine

Drag out another guide to 132 mm, and another to 162 mm, to mark out the edges of the spine.


Step 5

Define the margins of the front and back covers by dragging out two more guides to 123 mm and 171 mm. 

This now marks out a complete 9 mm margin on each cover, to match the existing 9 mm margin around the edge of the whole page.


Finally, to ensure the elements of our cover design will be perfectly centered on the back and front drag out two more guides, to 66 mm and 228 mm, to mark out the center of the front and back covers.

guides at center of front and back coversguides at center of front and back coversguides at center of front and back covers

Step 6

Select the Rectangle Tool (M) from the Tools panel, and drag onto the right-hand side of the page (which will be the front cover) to create a shape that fits snugly on the 9 mm margin that marks out the boundaries of the front cover, as shown.

Open the Stroke panel (Window > Stroke) and set the Weight to 0.75 mm.

stroke panelstroke panelstroke panel

Ensure that the Stroke Color is set to [Black] (C=0 M=0 Y=0 K=100). All elements on the design that we want to be foil stamped will have to be set in this [Black] swatch. For all elements going forward, ensure that they are all set in a [Black] Stroke and/or Fill Color.

swatches panelswatches panelswatches panel

Step 7

With the rectangle selected, go up to Object > Corner Options.

Set the Size of all the corners of the shape to 2 mm and choose Inverse Rounded for the Shape. Click OK.

corner optionscorner optionscorner options

Step 8

Select the rectangle and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste. Move the pasted shape onto the left-hand side (back cover) of the page, and position it against the margins as before.

borders on back and frontborders on back and frontborders on back and front

Step 9

Choose Edit > Paste again to create a third rectangle, and reduce the Width of the shape to 18 mm. Position it in the center of the page, to form the spine’s frame.

layout preview with spine borderlayout preview with spine borderlayout preview with spine border

3. Introduce Vector Silhouettes Onto the Cover

Step 1

A key part of ‘The Winter Tale’ design will be the wintry tree designs that rise up across the front cover.

You can create your own tree silhouette if you’re up to the challenge, or simply download this ready-made set of tree graphics from GraphicRiver.

Open up the EPS file in Adobe Illustrator. Isolate the simple, wintry tree to the left of the artboard, and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste it into a new Illustrator document.

tree vectortree vectortree vector

Step 2

Use the Scissors Tool (C) to snip both sides of the trunk close to the base of the branches. 

cut trunkcut trunkcut trunk

Step 3

Then delete the lower section of the tree. 

It’s also a good idea to narrow the width of the remainder of the trunk, so you can switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A) and pull in the two anchor points at the bottom of the trunk to make it a little narrower.

narrow trunknarrow trunknarrow trunk

Step 4

Drag your mouse across the artboard to select the graphic, and Edit > Copy.

tree graphic selectedtree graphic selectedtree graphic selected

Return to your InDesign document. Edit > Paste to drop the tree vector directly onto the page. 

pasted treepasted treepasted tree

Step 5

Resize, holding Shift, until the tree is about 33 mm in Height.

Position it centrally on the front cover, using the guide to help you, and towards the bottom of the page, as shown.

reduced graphicreduced graphicreduced graphic

Step 6

Take the Line Tool (\) from the Tools panel and, holding Shift, drag downwards from the base of the tree graphic until the line meets the bottom of the black border.

From the Stroke panel, set the Weight of the stroke to match the width of the trunk. Here, 1.4 mm seems to be about right for my graphic, but tailor the weight to your own image.

stroke panelstroke panelstroke panel

Step 7

Select both the tree graphic and its new ‘trunk’ and Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac OS) > Group to pull the two elements together and make them easier to move about.

grouped elementsgrouped elementsgrouped elements

Then go to Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste.

Step 8

Move the pasted tree to the right of the first and a little higher up on the page; double-click on the trunk to select the line directly, and extend it down to meet the black border as before.

extend lineextend lineextend line

Step 9

Repeat the same step to create a third tree, and position it towards the top of the page, to the right of the other two trees. Extend its trunk down to meet the border.

extend lineextend lineextend line

Step 10

Select both the far-right and middle tree, and Edit > Copy. 

copied treescopied treescopied trees

Edit > Paste to create a second pair of trees. With the pasted pair still selected, Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac OS) > Transform > Flip Horizontal. 

pasted trees to flippasted trees to flippasted trees to flip

Step 11

Move the trees into a mirrored position on the left side of the front cover.

flipped treesflipped treesflipped trees
trees on covertrees on covertrees on cover

Step 12

Select just one of the tree graphics and Edit > Copy. 

Edit > Paste, and reduce the graphic in size, holding Shift. Position centrally on the page, at the bottom of the spine. Adjust the Stroke Weight of the trunk to match the reduced size of the tree, and extend the line down to meet the bottom of the border on the spine.

tree on spinetree on spinetree on spine
layout previewlayout previewlayout preview

Step 13

Head over to GraphicRiver and download this set of deer silhouettes.

Open the EPS file up in Illustrator, isolate the reindeer graphic shown below, and ensure the image has no stroke applied, just a plain black fill.

deer graphicdeer graphicdeer graphic

Select the image and Edit > Copy. 

Step 14

Return to your cover in InDesign, and Edit > Paste the deer silhouette onto the page. 

pasted deerpasted deerpasted deer

Step 15

Holding Shift, reduce the deer in size, until it’s about 20 mm in Width. Position it on the front cover, on the right side, roughly in the position shown.

pasted deer reduced in sizepasted deer reduced in sizepasted deer reduced in size

Step 16

Select the deer and Copy, Paste, and then Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac OS) > Transform > Flip Horizontal the pasted deer. 

pasted deer to flippasted deer to flippasted deer to flip

Step 17

Place it in a mirrored position on the left side of the front cover.

flipped deerflipped deerflipped deer
layout previewlayout previewlayout preview

4. Time for Type!

Classic, bookish typefaces are going to look perfect on our vintage-inspired cover design. For this design, I’ve used Jacques Francois, which is a free-to-download font with a lovely, traditional feel to it.

Download the font, install it and then return to your InDesign document.

Step 1

Take the Type Tool (T) and drag onto the front cover to create a text frame that extends across the width of the front cover. Position centrally between the trees and the deer.

Type ‘A (paragraph break) Winter (paragraph break) Tale’

Set the Font to Jacques Francois, Font Size 43 pt, increase the Leading to a generous 59 pt, and Align Center. 

As with all the elements on the design, set the Font Color to [Black]. 

title formattedtitle formattedtitle formatted

Step 2

Create a second, slimmer text frame using the Type Tool (T) and position it centrally on the front cover towards the top of the page.

Type ‘Author Name’ and set the Font to Jacques Francois, Size 20 pt, Align Center and increase the Tracking (space between all characters) to 40.

authors nameauthors nameauthors name

Step 3

Select the ‘Author’ text frame and Copy and Paste

Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac OS) > Transform > Rotate 90 Degrees CW.

rotate on spinerotate on spinerotate on spine

Step 4

Position the text frame centrally along the spine, towards the top of the page, and reduce the Font Size to 14 pt and get rid of the Tracking (reduce to 0).

Make sure the author’s name lies perfectly central across the guide marking the center of the spine.

authors name on spineauthors name on spineauthors name on spine

Step 5

Copy and Paste the author’s text frame on the spine, and adjust the text of the pasted frame to read ‘A Winter Tale’.

Increase the Font Size to 20 pt and position lower down the spine, ensuring still that the type lies perfectly central along the guide.

title on spinetitle on spinetitle on spine

Step 6

Navigate over to the left-side of the page (the back cover), and select the Ellipse Tool (L) from the Tools panel. Drag onto the page, creating a rough oval, about 105 mm in Height and 90 mm in Width

Position the oval centrally on the back cover, using the guide to help you get it perfectly centered.

ellipse toolellipse toolellipse tool

Step 7

Select the Type Tool (T) and click once into the oval to transform it into a text frame. 

Open up the Character panel (Window > Type & Tables > Character), and, with your type cursor still in the oval frame, set the Font to Jean Francois, Size 10.5 pt, Leading 14.5 pt and Align Center.

convert to text frameconvert to text frameconvert to text frame

Step 8

Switch off hyphenation by going up to the Paragraph Formatting Controls panel at the top of the screen and unchecking the Hyphenation box.

You can now either create your own blurb for the book, or fill the text frame with placeholder type (Type > Fill with Placeholder Text).

blurb in text frameblurb in text frameblurb in text frame
layout previewlayout previewlayout preview

5. Make It Snow...

You only need one final touch to make this cover extra wintry and extra special! 

Step 1

You can choose to create your own snow effect in Illustrator, or download this ready-made blizzard from GraphicRiver.

Open up the EPS file in Illustrator and isolate a small rectangular section of the snow, as shown below. 

Go to Edit > Copy. Copying smaller, more manageable portions of snow will give you a bit more flexibility when you come to paste it into InDesign.

snow graphicsnow graphicsnow graphic

Step 2

Return to your InDesign document, and Edit > Paste the snow graphic onto the page.

Arrange it on the left half of the front cover. Double-click to directly select any stray snowflakes that are sitting past the border line, or straying across any of the typography or graphics, and delete them to create a clean design.

pasted snowpasted snowpasted snow

Select all the snow flakes and Copy and Paste, flipping the pasted snow to sit in a mirrored position on the right side of the front cover. 

snow mirroredsnow mirroredsnow mirrored

Step 3

Drag your mouse across to select all the snow on the front cover and Copy, Paste.

Position on the back cover, and delete any stray snowflakes that you can find across the blurb text.

blurb on backblurb on backblurb on back

Congratulations, Your Cover Is Finished!

Great work! The artwork for your cover is complete, and it’s looking gorgeous—very magical and classic.

finished artworkfinished artworkfinished artwork

The job that’s left for you to do now is to send your InDesign artwork to a bindery or specialist printer who will make your clothbound dreams come true! 

Most binderies will be happy to receive ready-made InDesign files. As all the artwork intended for stamping is sitting on the same layer, and will be rendered in the same color, you don’t need to do anything complicated when preparing your work. It can be helpful to make it extra clear to the binder that you want everything to be stamped in the same color. 

You can rename the layer containing the artwork to indicate this; here I’ve renamed Layer 1 as Foil Stamping.

layers panellayers panellayers panel

Make sure to File > Package your InDesign file before sending over your hard-earned artwork; this will ensure your fonts are packaged and remain intact when the binder accesses the artwork.

You can also have fun discussing the cloth color options and ideas for stamping (do you want a metallic finish, or a matte or gloss color finish instead?) with your binder of choice. They will be able to advise you on available and cost-effective options.

final productfinal productfinal product

In this tutorial you’ve learned how to:

  • Prepare a clothbound hardback cover design in InDesign, and divide up the layout into a back and front covers and a spine
  • Import silhouetted graphics from Illustrator into InDesign, to add a decorative touch to your design
  • Set classic, elegant typography on the design to give the cover an authentic vintage feel

If you want to show your client how your new cover design will look, perhaps consider using a book cover product mock-up

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