Cover design made easy

Edit Jan 10, 2016. The final designs for Henchmen, Arise, and The Clock Man are displayed in the Get Your Copy of … widgets. This post was written before The Clock Man was done and before I got crazy and re-re-re-redid the other two.

Cover design hasn’t come easy for me.  I’m a relentless tinkerer with just enough design skills to be dangerous.  I have zero illustrative abilities, though.  In college I took draphic design and illustration classes; I did fairly well in graphic design but passed illustration by the skin of my teeth.  My first cut of the cover for Henchmen was so bad it never saw the light of day.  That one was revised into my Henchlife logo, which also didn’t make the cut, although I might still get it as a tattoo.

Yuck.
Yuck.

 

The first design I used was weak at best, but good enough for jazz and government work.

HenchmenUSFlag
A little too American Flag-y and pretty boring but okay enough.  Never settle for okay enough.

 

it went through three more revisions before I settled on the current cover.

What was I thinking?
What was I thinking?
HenchmenCoverFix
First iteration of the crop circle cover

 

May cause unexpected awesomeness in readers
May cause unexpected awesomeness in readers
© 2015, Eric Lahti Background image: ID 30553123 © Pixattitude | Dreamstime.com
© 2015, Eric Lahti
Background image: ID 30553123 © Pixattitude | Dreamstime.com

The final version kept some of the comic book feel that was much of the inspiration for the book, but added a bit of realism.

A lot of the problem I ran into was I had the book done when I started the cover.  I don’t know if this is the traditional way to do it or not but, as you can see, it didn’t exactly work for me, I was just too antsy to get it published.  Truth be told I’m still not 100% satisfied with the final cover but I’ve been forcing myself to slap my own wrists when I think about changing it.

For the upcoming Clock Man I started early.  Back in January as I recall, and have been tweaking and changing and modifying it as I had the time and the inclination.  For the most part, I’m happy with it now, but I’ll probably do a bit more tweaking before it goes out.

In the interest of everyone else who’s stuck designing their first cover and wonder just what in the name of Almighty Odin they’re going to do, let me give a few tips.  It’s possible to do it yourself and make it look decent, but it does take time.  The first thing you’ll need is a vector drawing tool and an image editing tool.  Microsoft Paint won’t cut it; you need some tools with some horsepower and you might need to set aside some time to learn how to use them.  I currently use GIMP and Inkscape, two powerful (and free) open source image tools.  By the way, links to all this stuff are at the bottom of the post.

Once you’ve got the tools you need an idea.  Find something about your book that can be translated graphically and start scrounging up what you’ll need.  In the case of the Clock Man I had a pretty good idea of where the story was going before I even started it.  Since it’s the title piece in the group I started looking around for gears, clocks, and other mechanical looking things.  At one point, I was going to build the logo around the Prague astronimical clock and found some good clip art to use, but ultimately abandoned it.  It came out looking steampunky and that wasn’t what I was going for.

I do most of my image searching on Dreamstime.com, a stock image warehouse of sorts.  They have multiple plans and costs for images but what I do is buy the $40 package that lets me get any five images I want.  I then proceed to download the biggest versions I can find, usually the big .tiff files.  Always get the biggest files you can find and verify the dpi is 300+.  Everything I’ve found on Dreamstime has fit the bill, but it’s still worth checking.

I stumbled across this and knew it would work with some editing.  This image is resized and converted to .jpg.  The original tif image is 6882×3903 and weighs in at 77MB.

42949420 © Skypixel | Dreamstime.com
42949420 © Skypixel | Dreamstime.com

It had essentially what I was looking for, but would require some fixes to make it work.  The first step was to isolate the face I wanted and get rid of the rest of the picture.  GIMP made that part easy.  When I make the print cover, I’ll have some more work to do, but for the ebook cover this will work well.  The edit gave me this.  This image is sized correctly for Amazon publication.  They recommend 1563X2500 or larger.  That comes out to a .6252 ration of width to height.  As long as you’re working in that range you’ll be fine.

ClockManCoverMainImage

At first I thought about cropping out the white space at the top and working with a full face for the image, but that proved unworkable since my text would obscure the face.

Already has some color correction done on it.
Already has some color correction done on it.

The problem with not using the full face was the damned white space at the top of the image.  Early cuts of the cover left that intact, but it just didn’t look good with the text over it.  The first thing I tried was converting the white to another color.  There’s just enough fuzz around each of those gears that I would have to create a masking layer by drawing around each one and converting the lines to a selection.  Had I gone that route I would have spent about a year drawing the selection manually around the gears and then wound up with a large chunk of <other color> space.

It still would have been rubbish.

The solution was to select the white with a color selector tool, invert the selection, copy it, and paste it as a fresh layer on top of a transparent background.  Then, I selected a portion of the gears that didn’t have the face, turned them 180 degrees and pasted them under the main image.  The effect worked nicely because the image is busy enough the seam doesn’t show very much.

Then, flatten the image, copy it and paste it three times.  Each pasted layer got a little work.  One had an edge detect filter run on it then that layer’s opacity was set to 50%.  This brought out some of the lines in the image.  The next layer was pixellated and faded to 55%.  This softened the image.  The final layer had video lines rendered onto it and was faded to 20%.  The whole effect kept the face visible but softened the image.

ClockManFixedImage

 

So, I’ve got the background, but it’s terribly busy so any text is going to have to stand out and stand out well.  This is where Inkscape comes into play.  I set up a document in Inkscape and embedded the background image in it.  You can do font work in GIMP but it’s a terrible PITA; stick to the vector programs for font work.  Rather than falling back on Impact, I wanted something different so I set out to search for a font with no real parameters other than I wanted it to look cool.  I settled on Lakmus; it has an almost 70s sci-fi charm to it.  With a bit of playing I finally got the look I wanted.  BTW, if you’re looking for a way to do the glow background in Inkscape, it’s actually two layers.  Get the font the way you want it (the final image’s Clock Man logo consists of five different parts, each layered on a different five parts), copy and paste it.  For the pasted image look in the stroke properties  Get a thick stroke and blur it.  Then layer the main font over the blurred font: voila! Glowing text.

The Chinese font is Noto Sans CJK SC Black.  That’s the font Google uses when you use their English to Chinese translation.  Once I had the translation I wanted and the font downloaded, Inkscape handled the Chinese characters quite nicely.  The big Yin/Yang symbol that makes up the O is a vector I found on Vectorstock.com.  I prefer to work with vectors whenever possible because you can scale them and manipulate them so easily.  It cost a dollar.

A bit of tweaking, add the author name, the “and other stories” line, and a reminder of what else I’ve written and I came up with this.

Clock Man cover design rev 6.  ©2015, Eric Lahti.  Background image © Skypixel
Clock Man cover design rev 6. ©2015, Eric Lahti. Background image © Skypixel

Like I said, there will likely be more mods before it gets published, but I’m liking it so far.

So, if you’re staring down the barrel of having to create a cover on your own, it’s not exactly rocket surgery and it doesn’t need to cost a fortune.  All told I spent $9.00 on the images and software necessary.  The cover for The Clock Man might not win any awards, but I have to admit I think it looks pretty cool.

Next time we’ll take a look at the guts of formatting a manuscript for upload to KDP using MS Word, Calibre, and Sigil.

Lakmus Font

Google Fonts

Google Noto Fonts

VectorStock

Dreamstime

GIMP

Inkscape

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