Digital publishing is an ever-growing industry. Both professional and self-published authors are taking advantage of the eBook medium to reach larger readerships and offer their literary work at great value prices.
The downside of this explosion in digital publishing is the fact that the market is becoming increasingly saturated, and it can be difficult to make your eBook stand out from the competition. Grabbing a potential reader’s attention as they browse the Kindle Book Store is the first step towards increasing your sales, and an effectively designed eBook cover is a huge factor in attracting the eye.
In this tutorial we’ll look at the Digital Publishing function in Adobe InDesign, and how you can create an effective eBook cover that works equally well at thumbnail and large size.
If you want to take a shortcut and find ready-made eBook templates that you can use to speed up your work and achieve a professional finish, try these:
1. An Important Note on Sizing
EBook covers come in a variety of sizes (both in terms of dimensions and file size), and sizing can vary widely depending on the eBook publishing site, whether that’s Amazon (Kindle), Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Lulu or Smashwords (among others!).
What’s also not very helpful is the fact that these sites regularly revise their recommended sizing, as new eReaders are released or publishing technology evolves.
With this in mind, you should routinely check the sizing recommendations of the publishing sites you are hoping to sell your eBook through, and revise the dimensions of your cover appropriately. Otherwise you may get a nasty shock when your cover appears blurry or stretched on your eReader.
In this tutorial, we’ll go through the steps of creating an eBook cover for Amazon (Kindle), and follow their sizing guidelines. But you can make sizing adjustments to your own designs, if you’re planning to upload your book to a different publishing site.
Amazon currently recommends that, for maximum quality, eBook covers should be 2500 pixels along the longest side. This works on a ratio scale, so as long as the longest side doesn’t exceed 10,000 pixels, which is Amazon’s limit, you can create the cover to an 8:5 Width to Height ratio. This will create a tall, slim cover.
But Amazon’s flexible dimension requirements mean you can also make the cover a little broader, which will give your cover design a bit more breathing space along the width. A 9:6 ratio is used by some eBook authors on Amazon, and these covers often look a tad more professional. In this tutorial we’ll be setting up a cover 3200 px by 4800 px, which will still fit quite happily within Amazon’s requirements.
That’s the dimensions sorted, but you’ll also need to save your final cover file in a JPEG or TIFF format, with 72 dpi (dots per inch), that’s no larger than 50 MB. So, unless you want to compress your file very heavily, don’t be tempted to push the ratio and go all the way up to the 10,000 pixel limit.
2. An Equally Important Note on Design
Technical requirements aside, there’s really no use if your cover looks crisp and clear at the correct ratio, but fails to stand out effectively to a potential reader because of poor design choices.
Browse any eBook library and you can start to notice some common elements of effective covers:
Text Is Exaggerated and Legible
In a bookshop, you browse covers at their true size. You can pick them up and look at them closely. On a hard copy the title text and author name might not be the main focus of the cover—they may be balanced by or dominated by an image. The typography may be decorative, ornate or built into an illustrative element on the cover.
EBook covers are completely different. You browse eBooks in an online library that’s made up of thumbnail images, usually no more than 105 by 160 pixels in size.
So, for perspective, that’s about this big:
Not enormous, is it? You have to fit the title and author name onto that little square and make it legible, eye-catching and attractive.
No mean feat, but don’t panic: if you set your text at a large size, in a contrasting color to the background, and in a clean, legible font, your cover will be eye-catching, even when set at a very small scale.
Clarity Is Prioritised Over Detail
EBook covers need to draw the eye immediately, and be able to communicate instantly the genre and mood of the book. You’ll notice that eBook covers often lack the detail that hard copy covers have. Their designs are simpler, and strong single photos or vectors perform better in this digital medium than complicated collage or illustrated formats.
Look at a few examples of best-selling eBooks and analyse their covers. More often than not they will use a simple combination of elements—perhaps a single clear photo plus contrasting text in a clear, legible font. They might not even include a photo at all—sometimes clear typography is all that’s used.
Any detail on the cover is lost when it’s reduced to thumbnail size, so there’s often little point in including complicated textures, gradients, ornamentation, small images or tiny text.
So keep your cover design strong and simple.
Coloured Backgrounds Create Contrast
When potential readers browse eBook libraries online, cover images are almost always set against a white or pale background.
EBook covers normally have a colored background to create contrast against the white background of the browser.
If you really want your cover to have a pale background, a darker border can help the edge of the cover to pop against the white background, but a pale cover may still struggle to catch the eye.
Always try to give the background of your cover a dark or brightly coloured tint to create contrast.
3. Why a Design for Print Won’t Cut the Mustard
We’re going to walk through the steps for creating an eBook cover for this title, The Star Queen. In an earlier tutorial I created a cover for the paperback version of the book. Now imagine the author of The Star Queen wants the cover to be reformatted for an eBook format.
Now, why don’t we just take the paperback cover design, adjust the dimensions a little, and use that? Let’s look at the cover at small-scale, as a potential reader would see it in an eBook library.
Hmm, it’s not looking quite as effective any more. The title is still visible, but the other sections of text aren’t legible at all. The ornate decorations at the top and bottom of the cover now look very faint, as does the border. The image is also now much less clear.
We need to rethink the layout of the cover completely, and tailor the design to appeal to an eBook audience.
Open up InDesign and we’ll walk through the steps of revising the cover for The Star Queen and adapting it for a digital medium.
4. Create a Document for Digital Publishing
In InDesign, select New > Document from the Welcome window or go to File > New > Document.
Under Intent, from the drop-down menu, select Digital Publishing.
You’ll notice that the units throughout the New Document window options switch to pixels. Under Page Size there are a range of options adapted for digital publishing. We’re going to create a custom page size, though, so select the last option in the menu, Custom... to open the Custom Page Size window.
Type ‘Kindle eBook Cover’ into the Name text bar, and set the Width to 3200 px and the Height to 4800 px. Click Add to add the size to your list of custom page sizes, for future use, and click OK.
Back in the New Document window, set the Margins on all sides to 50 px. Set the Bleed on all sides to 50 px as well. Even though you don’t technically need a bleed for digital designs, it is good practice to extend any colored elements on your design up to the bleed and past the page edge, as this will help avoid any unfortunate white lines around the edges of your cover.
Click OK to create the document.
Creating your design across a series of layers makes your work easy to select, edit and lock. Let’s do that first.
Open the Layers panel (find it docked by default to the right-hand side of the workspace, or go to Window > Layers to open). Double-click the Layer 1 name to open the Layer Options window. Rename the layer as Background Color and click OK.
Click the Create New Layer icon at the bottom right of the Layers panel or select New Layer from the panel’s drop-down menu. Double-click the default layer name to rename it as Island Image. Click OK.
Repeat the process to create a further three layers: Color Overlay, Starry Sky Image, and finally, at the top, Typography.
When you’ve created all five layers, Lock all except the bottom layer, Background Color, by clicking in the blank space to the left of the layers’ names. Click on Background Color to activate it.
5. Build Up Color and Images for Contrast
Remaining on the Background Color layer, select the Rectangle Tool (M) and drag to create a shape that's about 2140 px in Height, and that extends across the width of the page, up to the bleed on both sides. Position at the very top of the page. From the Controls panel running along the top of the workspace, set the Stroke Color to [None] and the Fill Color to [Black].
With the shape selected, go to Object > Effects > Gradient Feather to open the Effects window.
Keep the Type as Linear and set the Angle to 0 Degrees. Move the slider points across into roughly the positions shown, so the gradient gets lighter towards the bottom of the shape.
When you’re happy with the result, click OK.
Return to the Layers panel and Lock the Background Color layer. Unlock the next layer up, Island Image.
Select the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and drag to create a frame that extends across the width of the page, and is about 3420 px in Height. Position so the bottom edge sits on the bottom edge of the bleed.
We’re going to place the same images as we used in the paperback tutorial—this image of a mysterious island with a castle. I then opened the image in Photoshop for a bit of basic editing.
I applied a Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer to the image, setting it to Monochrome to drain the photo of color. I then resaved the image.
Return to InDesign, select the image frame you just created, and go to File > Place. Select the saved black-and-white image. Click Open.
Double-click the image frame to directly select the image and, holding down Shift, drag to expand the image, so that the island fills the width of the page. Allow the island to sit towards the bottom of the frame.
We want the image to fill the frame, while leaving enough space for text to take up the bulk of space on the cover. Placing a wide image at the bottom of your cover is a good solution.
With the image frame selected, go to Object > Effects > Gradient Feather. Adjust the Angle of the gradient to 90 degrees and shift the Gradient Stops into the position shown below.
Return to the Layers panel and Lock the Island Image layer. Unlock the next layer up, Color Overlay.
Open the Swatches panel by going to Window > Color > Swatches. Click the New Swatch icon at the bottom right of the panel or select New Color Swatch... from the panel’s drop-down menu.
Create a New CMYK Swatch, setting the values to the following: C=45 M=47 Y=0 K=0 to create a pale purple color. Click Add to drop it into the Swatches panel, then click OK.
Create a second new CMYK Swatch, setting the values to: C=19 M=14 Y=0 K=0, creating a pale grey color. Click Add and OK as before.
Select the Rectangle Tool (M) from the Tools panel and drag to create a shape that extends across the whole page, up to the bleed on all sides.
Set the Stroke Color to [None] and the Fill Color to your new purple swatch, C=45 M=47 Y=0 K=0.
With the rectangle selected, go to Object > Effects > Transparency and set the Mode to Multiply.
Back in the Layers panel, Lock the Color Overlay layer and Unlock the Starry Sky Image layer.
Select the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and drag to create a frame that extends across the width of the whole page, up to the bleed on the top, left and right edges. Extend it down until it meets the bottom of the island (where the land meets the sea).
Go to File > Place and select a second image. This image of a constellation of stars is a great choice for adding interest and texture to the cover design. Click Open.
Select the Fill Frame Proportionally icon from the top control panel to arrange the image nicely in the frame.
With the frame selected, go to Object > Effects > Transparency and set the Mode to Soft Light.
Remaining in the Effects window, navigate down to Gradient Feather from the menu on the left. Set the Angle of the gradient to -90 degrees and manoeuvre the gradient stops into position along the far right quarter of the scale, as shown.
6. Exaggerate Your Typography for Impact
You’ve given your eBook cover a moody, mystical background, using just two images and a color overlay. Great work!
Now you’ve set the scene for your cover’s typography. The title and author’s name should be exaggerated in size and set in a highly contrasting color. Let’s create it together...
Still in InDesign, Lock the Starry Sky Image layer and Unlock the top layer, Typography.
Use the Zoom Tool (Z) to zoom in on the top area of the page. Select the Type Tool (T) and drag to create a long, narrow text frame that extends across the page, fitting it between the left and right margins. Position it at about Y position 200 px (view this from the left-hand side of the Controls panel running along the top of the workspace).
Type ‘Author’s Name’ into the text frame and set the Font to Adobe Caslon Pro, Regular, Size 350 pt, All Caps, Align Center and increase the Tracking to 100 (or until the first and last characters touch the margin on the left and right sides of the page). Set the Font Color to [Paper].
Scroll down to the center of the page, and select the Type Tool (T) again.
Drag to create a frame the width of the page and 1250 px in Height. Type ‘Queen’ into the text frame and set the Font to the free-to-download Almendra, which is a gorgeous font inspired by medieval and calligraphic type styles.
Set the Font Size to 1260 pt, Align Center, and reduce the Tracking to -60 to pull the letters closer together. Set the Font Color to [Paper].
Position the text frame at around Y position 1830 px.
Select the Type Tool (T) again and drag to create a text frame. Position it just above the ‘Queen’ text frame, and shifted slightly to the right. Type ‘Star’ into the frame and set the Font to Almendra, Size 1195 pt, Tracking to -30, and Font Color to the pale grey swatch we created earlier, C=19 M=14 Y=0 K=0.
Position the frame so that the curve of the ‘S’ sits on top of the ‘Q’ of ‘Queen’, nestling it between the ‘Q’ and ‘U’, as shown.
With the text frame selected, go to Object > Effects > Outer Glow to open the Effects window. Set the Mode to Screen and reduce the Opacity to 60%. Set the Technique to Softer, Size to 60 px and both Noise and Spread to 12%. Click OK.
This has given ‘Star’ a suitably starry glow!
Create another smaller text frame using the Type Tool (T), and set to the left side of ‘Star’.
Type ‘the’ and set the Font to Henry Morgan Hand, an italicized, scripted font. Up the Font Size to 850 pt, and adjust the Font Color to [Paper].
Download the symbol font IM Fell Flowers 2, which has lots of beautiful old-style decorative elements, and then return to InDesign.
Create another, much smaller, text frame and position it over the bowl of ‘Q’. Go to Window > Type & Tables > Glyphs to open the Glyphs panel. Place your type cursor in the text frame you just created and set the Font to IM Fell Flowers 2 to bring up the font’s characters in the Glyphs panel.
Select a small simple flower glyph and double-click it in the panel to insert it into the text frame. Adjust the Font Size to 550 pt and the Font Color to the pale purple swatch, C=45 M=47 Y=0 K=0.
7. Export Your Finished eBook Cover
Fantastic work—your eBook cover artwork is complete! Now all we need to do is to export it as a TIFF or JPEG file ready for upload to Kindle Direct Publishing.
If you want more control over the file size of the cover, I would recommend you export the cover as a PDF (File > Export > select Adobe PDF from the drop-down menu). Open the image in Photoshop and use the Save for Web function, selecting the JPEG option from the menu.
But you can also prepare your ready-to-upload cover straight from InDesign. In InDesign, first check your artwork for any spelling errors or misaligned images or text. Then go to the File menu and select Export.
Select JPEG from the Export window’s drop-down Format menu. Click Save.
In the Export JPEG window, set the Quality to High and set the Resolution to the Kindle-recommended 72 ppi. Ensure the Color Space is set to RGB (this should be selected by default if you’re working in Digital Publishing mode). Click OK.
And you’re done! Your eBook cover is ready for upload.
Great work! Your cover design is eye-catching and dramatic, and will work just as well at thumbnail size as it will at large-scale, on an e-reader.
Now let’s briefly recap what we’ve learned in this tutorial:
- EBook covers come in a variety of dimensions and file sizes: always check your destined publisher for their up-to-date requirements.
- Designing a cover for an eBook is very different to designing a book cover for print: as eBook covers will be initially viewed at smaller scale, cover layouts should be simple and high-impact.
- Keep elements on your cover layout to a minimum, and keep them strong: prioritise one key image, and render the cover in a strong background color that will contrast well against the pale browser background.
- Exaggerate text: set the title and author’s name in large sizes, contrasting colors and legible fonts.
- Keep the cover design commercial: draw in the reader with a strong sense of place and mood in your design.