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Designing your own covers with Adobe Photoshop

 When I first started self publishing, I figured there was no way I'd ever design my own covers. Cover artists know so many things including:

  • The size of cover your book will need depending on which publisher you use (KDP, Ingram, Barnes and Noble, Blurb, etc.)
  • The colour edits and variants you'll need to get your colours printing right
  • How to make sure the text on the back of your book is legible
And so many other things.

I'd swore I'd never design my own cover, until...

Perusing Adobe stock images, I came across the perfect image that was exactly what I wanted for my book cover.

Now, consider this: I'd already spent $350USD per book cover for the three books in my series; hired a professional designer and everything. People enjoyed them, they showed my characters well... but something was never quite right. My fault, not the artist's; she gave me exactly what I asked for.

Was it crazy to re-start on my own and scrap that $1,000+ I'd spent on cover art? Initially it seemed, crazy. I did it anyway. Yet, months of people telling me how much they love my new covers would suggest I wasn't so crazy after all.

Knowing the size

If your book isn't finished or formatted yet, you might actually repeat these steps in a few months. For now, however, simply get a template so you can start on your layout. Input a random page number if you will.


KDP offers a super handy template generator. The template that downloads to your computer looks something as follows:

Barnes and Noble

When publishing a book through Barnes and Noble, on the "Upload cover files" page, you'll have the option to download a template. Clicking the link will drop a handy template into your downloads folder.


Ingramspark will email you a template fitted for your book and your number of book pages. All you have to do is submit your book's information in their template generator.

Finding a stock image

Even if you don't have much experience photoshopping images, you can still find an awesome graphic for your book on stock image websites. What's more, most of these stock image sites offer you free images just for signing up and voila! You have a cover image.
Just to name a few. Usually, filter out any images that aren't in panoramic format. You need something that'll span both your front and back covers.

Choosing a font

Adobe has hundreds of fonts you can pick from. What's more, you can go to free font websites such as DaFont or 1001 Fonts and download fonts right into your computer, and therefore Adobe, library.

Peruse the fonts to find the one that fits your book the best. Also, find a complementary font for your author name and, if relevant, series name. Try to only use two different fonts on your book cover, otherwise the masterpiece could get convoluted.

Setting up your Photoshop file

When setting up your Photoshop file, I'd recommend opening the template directly in Adobe Photoshop and changing the file height (not the canvas height) to at least 11 inches. This way, you'll have a high-resolution version of your cover image in case you ever want to print it on a poster or sign.

Next, add some guides/rulers to your photoshop file, outlining where the margins, spine, and safe zones are on your template.

Then, go to town adding your content! Bring in the stock image you found, add text for your book, and any other elements you see fit to incorporate.

Tip: Try to make your images, even your effects (exposure, saturation, etc.) expand past the edge of your canvas. That way, you can accommodate for thicker pages if you ever need to.


When exporting for print, make sure your file is in CMYK format. RGB is used for web-related graphics and CMYK is used for print-based graphics. RGB won't print as accurately as CMYK.

Why don't we start in CMYK then? Because you need to sell your book online too, therefore you need RGB files. Your book cover on Amazon, Goodreads, or the Ingramspark online shop will be RGB-based files. Also, your ebook cover will be RGB.

So, typically I save a new .psd (Photoshop) file per print-cover export.

You can either make this second .psd file by opening your cover template (the one you attained in the "Knowing Your Size" section) and copying all layers of your cover design into this template file.

Otherwise, you can do some math. Duplicate your cover file. Open the duplicate and resize your image to be 8.25 inches tall. Open the template file and find out how wide it is in your "image size" settings. Change your new cover file's canvas width to whatever the template width is.

Now, merge everything and anything that isn't a native Photoshop layer. For example, anything that isn't text (written in Photoshop) or shapes. Drag the new merged layer below all of the other layers.

Go to Edit > Mode > CMYK. When prompted to merge everything, select no.

Note: Not merging all of your layers before changing to CMYK can alter the colour of the image overall.

When exporting for print, typically increase your saturation by 10 and often increase your image brightness by 5. Blacks can turn out deeper than you'd like when printed, especially with gloss covers. I learned these values from my cover artist. Personally, I didn't like the increased brightness for my cover, but the increased saturation was valuable.

Now, go to File > Save as, and change the file format to Adobe PDF. Save your file. Voila! It's ready for KDP, Barnes and Noble, or Blurb—whichever platform you formatted it for.

Note: Keep in mind, Amazon uses the thickest paper out of them all. Therefore, if you centre your cover for KDP publication, it won't be centred if you use the same cover file for Barnes & Noble, Blurb, or Ingramspark printing. This is why I recommend making a .psd file per printing company.

eBook covers

When making an eBook cover, change your canvas width to 66% of its height. Therefore, if your canvas is 11 inches tall, set the height to 7.33 inches. Why? Because my cover artist used this ratio and you're learning from my expensive "mistakes."

Also, set your crop anchor to the right so you only crop out the back of the book (see screenshot). Once you've cropped your canvas, re-centre your cover elements.

Ingramspark covers

Keep in mind, Ingramspark cover images are a whole other headache.

If you check out YouTube, some authors have simply taken .jpg images of their covers and have been happy. I, on the other hand, am terrified of losing the quality of my images.

PDF files can be infinitely scalable. Anything you type in Adobe Indesign, Acrobat, or Photoshop can be infinitely scalable: you can zoom in forever without losing the quality of the lines. With fine text on the back of my book, I didn't want to lose this scalability by me first downsizing my file into a pixellated .jpg and then Ingramspark translating it into a book cover.

I take on a tedious process of saving four different elements of my book in separate CMYK .pdf files:
  • The background/overall cover image
  • The front text
  • The spine text
  • The back text (and any content I might want centred)
Why, you might ask?

Because then I can rebuild my cover file right on the Ingram Spark template.

The Ingramspark template looks very strange:

They want you to send the whole thing in: not just the template portion. Sure, you don't have to, but authors have found their cover files are less likely to get rejected if they submit them on the Ingramspark template.

So, what I do is I open the template (I use Adobe Indesign for this part, but you can also use the .pdf template in Photoshop). I then add each of my elements, in CMYK form, onto the template. Because they're individual elements, I can easily move them and adjust them to align within the pink, or "safe," area of the template.

Barcode: To make sure the barcode goes exactly where you want it, bring it to the forefront of all the elements and position it where you'd like it to be printed.

Lastly, export your image to a [PDF/X-3:2002] format by selecting the format from the PDF export dialogue box in either Photoshop or Indesign.

Note: If you're doing these steps in photoshop, you can probably just save the PDF as-is instead of re-export/save-as it.

Your image should be Ingramspark-ready!

Note: During my trial and error, saving the PDF file in any other way resulted in colour distortion. Unless you're going to resort to using .jpg cover files, I recommend you save your cover files as CMYK PDFs to avoid colour distortion.

Happy publishing!

Written by M. A. Leon — Author of the Steel and Magic series


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