Print Is Dead, Long Live Print p2 – Making a Cover for Createspace

Making an eBook cover isn’t hard.  It can be tricky to make it look good, but it’s really not all that difficult.  If graphic design isn’t your bag, there are plenty of cover designers out there (myself included).  If it is, and you enjoy making covers building one for CreateSpace isn’t overly difficult.  There are some technical issues you’ll need to deal with, though.  An eBook cover is usually something like 2500px by 1563px or some variant thereof.  If you take the height and multiply it by 0.6252, you’ll get the width.  Then it’s just a matter of finding or creating cover art, laying out the text, and doing some basic cleanup (size checks and whatnot) in GIMP or Photoshop.

A print cover is bit different.  You have to worry about bleeds, margins, the physical size of the spine and things like that.  It’s not that a print cover is really all that different, there’s just more to it and you have to be cognizant of where your elements lie in relation to where the ink is going to fall.

I’ll be going through this step by step using the cover for my upcoming collection of short stories.  I use Inkscape to do my layout and GIMP to do my image editing.  At this stage, the image work is done and it’s all about the Inkscape.  If you don’t have a copy of Inkscape, you can get one here.  If you need a copy of GIMP, that can be found here.

This post will cover the following steps.

  • Getting the cover template
  • Setting up guidelines in Inkscape
  • Importing images
  • Layout and design

Just like the last post on formatting your manuscript for CreateSpace, this looks complicated but it’s really not all that difficult.  It can be tedious and step-intensive, but it’s not difficult.  Set aside some time, make the cover, and step back for a day or two.  It’s those times that you step back that allow you to think about what you’d like to see without it staring you in the face.

So, step one.  Getting the cover template.  Don’t skip this step.  As I said earlier, print layout has some technical issues that simply don’t exist in eBook cover design.  Notably, there’s no standard size for the spine of a book.  You can assume you’re working on, say, a 6 inch by 9 inch book and the front cover and back cover dimensions won’t change.  The spine, however, is a variable.  The size of the spine is dependent entirely on the number of pages in your manuscript.  Then there’s also the issue of bleed lines (the point past which images will bleed off the sides).  If you put text past a bleed line you’ll likely never see it when the cover is printed, so it’s important to be aware of exactly at what point elements start to bleed off the cover.

Fortunately, CreateSpace has your back.  They’ve created a bunch of templates that will let you lay out your cover and have a pretty damned good idea of exactly where folds and bleed lines will hit.  Grab a template from here: Createspace Cover Templates.  You’ll need to know the formatted size of your manuscript (I’m using 6×9) and the number of pages in the text (the Clock Man is right about 300).  Download the template, unzip it, and you’ll have two files: a png image and a pdf file.

I’m going to start by importing the png image into Inkscape and setting up the Inkscape document dimensions.  To do this, find the dimension of the image in pixels (mine’s 5700 x 3900, but a lot of it is white space), and tell Inkscape how big the picture is going to be.  Go to File -> Document Properties and set the image dimensions.  Make sure to select pixels as the unit of measurement – my copy defaults to millimeters for some odd reason.  You don’t have to click OK or anything, as you move from field to field, the image will resize.

Inkscape document setup properties. It usually pops into the upper right hand corner.
Inkscape document setup properties. It usually pops into the upper right hand corner.
Inkscape with the document resized

With the image size set, press the minus sign a few times to zoom out so you can see the entire workspace.  Now we’re going to load the template file.  Go to File -> Import.  That will bring up a run-of-the-mill select file dialog.  Locate the png image you downloaded from CreateSpace and double click it.  This will bring up another dialog box asking you how to import this thing.  There are three questions: Link or Embed, Image DPI, and Image Rendering Mode.  Link or Embed means does your Inkscape file link to the template or is the template actually part of the Inkscape file?  Embedding puts the whole file in with the rest of your Inkscape file, meaning if you open your cover on a different computer the template is still there.  If you just link to the template and open the Inkscape file on a different computer you might not be able to find the template.  I usually embed.  Embedding makes for a larger file, but it’s less of a hassle if you use multiple computers or want to send the file to someone else.

Bitmap image import dialog. I usually embed, pull the Image DPI from the file, and select Smooth (optimizeQuality).

Image DPI is the dots per inch.  This isn’t the dimensions of the image, it’s the resolution of the image.  You can have a huge image (5900 x 3700) but if the dpi is only 72, it’s not going to look good.  DPI refers to the amount of pixels packed into the image.  Anything under 300dpi should not be used in print.  I’d actually argue that anything under 300dpi shouldn’t be used in design period, but that’s just me.  Make sure “From File” is selected.  This will allow Inkscape to use the native resolution of the image.  Image rendering mode is immaterial for our purposes – we’re not going to keep the template in place when we export – but it pertains to how Inkscape pulls in images.  You’ve got None, Optimize Quality, and Optimize Speed.  When I pull base images into Inkscape I always select Optimize Quality.  For the template, you can leave none selected.  Click OK and Inkscape will chug away at rendering the image for you.  When it’s done, you’ll see something like this:

Template image imported into Inkscape.

Resize the template using the arrows around the selected image. NOTE: if the arrows point out, you’re good to go.  If they curve that’s for rotating the image.  If you’ve got curved arrows at the corner, click the object again to get regular arrows.  If you hold down Ctrl while you resize, Inkscape will keep the image dimensions in tact.  If you don’t hold down Ctrl, you’ll just wind up stretching the image instead of scaling it.

With the image resized it’s time time to start putting in guide lines.  These are the little lines that layer over the top of an image to tell you approximately where things are.  You can pull guide lines onto the screen by clicking inside of either ruler (top or left side) and dragging.  Position the lines along all the lines of the template image so you’ll be able to see what you’re up to even after you start putting elements in the drawing area.

Whole lotta guide lines, but they’ll come in handy.

The guide lines around the image above are references to various parts of the template.  The extreme outer lines mark the end of the cover.  As you move in toward the center of the image you’ll get the bleed lines; don’t put any text outside of those.  The next closest ones are the main cover area; anything inside those lines is fine.  Likewise the spine has fold lines and there are lines for the bar code box.

To make things a tad easier, we’re going to add a new layer on top of the template and lock the template layer.  To do this, look on the extreme right hand side of Inkscape’s window for an icon that looks like three pieces of paper stacked on each other.  This will add the Layers dialog to the rest of the dialogs.


Click the plus sign to add a new layer.  Call it whatever you like.  You can toggle back and forth between the layers by selecting whichever one you want.  To lock the template layer, select it, go to Layer – Lock/Unlock Current layer.  That will lock the template layer so you don’t accidentally move it.  Then select the new layer and work with it.

Now we can start importing the cover elements.  The eBook cover for The Clock Man was already partially done, so I just copied and pasted the artwork and did some image fiddling.  I then imported the back matter image just like importing the template image.  Size both images until they work for the positions you need them in.  Again; the imported images often pop in much smaller than they really are.

The next step is put some color on the spine.  Look for the rectangle drawing tool in the toolbar on the left.  It looks like a little box.  Click it and your cursor will change.  Click and drag to draw the rectangle between the front cover and the back cover.  I used the eyedropper tool to change the color of the rectangle.  To use the eyedropper, select the object you want to recolor (the spine rectangle in my case), select the eyedropper tool, and click on any color in the image.  Bam!  The object gets the new color.

Let’s put some text on the spine.  Select the text tool – it looks like an A.  Click anywhere on the document and start typing.  Likely your text will be really small; remember you can zoom in and out by using the plus (+) and minus (-) signs.  You can resize text exactly like you resize everything else.  Once the text is entered, select the select tool (it looks like an arrow).  Click on your text and you’ll get the same arrows for resizing.  Remember, Inkscape is a vector program.  This means all the elements are nothing more than bits of math hiding under the scenes, so you can resize as much as you want without pixellating things.  Your imported images, however, are still bitmaps; resize those as little as possible.

So, here’s my name.  I typed it in, selected it with the text tool and changed the font to Impact.  Now, I just need to rotate it.


If you see regular arrows when you click the object, just click it again and you’ll get the curvy arrows.  Dragging one of the curvy arrows will rotate the image.  The sideways and up and down arrows skew the object.  Here’s my name rotated.

Me falling down.

Now, just drag it into place on the spine, resize as necessary, and you’re good to go.  In this image, the title has already been added to the spine.

In place.

To add the back matter, we’re going to do something a bit more fun with the text tool.  Rather than just clicking, we’re going to click and drag, drawing a box with the text tool.  The advantage to doing this is it gives you a bit more control over multiple line text blocks.  This comes in handy when you’re adding larger amounts of text like a blurb or an “About the Author” block.  So, select the text tool and draw a box that will fit nicely on the back cover.  Start typing.  Formatting text blocks in Inkscape works an awful lot like formatting text blocks in Word or OpenOffice.  Select the text you want to change and you can reset the font, the weight, the size, and so on.  One thing that’s different is a text block is just an object, you can resize it just like any other object.  If you run out of space in your text block, select the text block with the text tool and look for the little circle on the bottom right hand side.  You can use that handle to resize the text block without scaling the text.

It’s that little red dot on the bottom. Click it and drag to resize the text block.

You can edit the block by clicking it with the text tool, selecting whatever text you want, and changing it.  With the text selected, the text formatting bar at the top of the screen shows so you can change fonts, kerning, leading, and all that other fun stuff.  The first block can be your regular blurby back matter and the second one can be your about the author.  Go wild.  Just make sure you don’t put anything over the bar code box.  Put it all together and you can come up with something like this.

It still needs some work, but it's functional for blog post purposes.
It still needs some work, but it’s functional for blog post purposes.

To clean everything up I’m going to export the whole kit and kaboodle and a png image and fix the borders in GIMP.  Exporting is easy enough.  Locate Inkscape’s Export PNG Image dialog on the right hand side of the screen.  Click the Export As button to tell Inkscape where to save the file, select all the objects you want to export, put a check mark in Hide All Except Selected, and click Export.  This will produce standard png file that can be edited as a bitmap.

Don't forget to reset your field calibrations.
Don’t forget to reset your field calibrations.

Now, take that png file and open it in GIMP.  There are some border issues to take care of so I’ll use some guide lines (they work the same in GIMP as they do in Inkscape) to figure out what to remove.  The gray spine box was sized correctly, so a pair of horizontal lines aligned with the top of the spine box will give me the correct sizes.  Select the image using the guide lines as guides, then go to Image -> Fit Canvas to Selection.  Voila, the extraneous border parts are gone.

Guide lines are your good buddies.

When it looks good, go to File -> Overwrite [Whatever the file name was].  Congrats, you now have a cover.  The final step is to save it as a high-quality PDF (File -> Export as, select Portable Document Format) and you’ll be ready to go for CreateSpace.

And there you go.

See, that wasn't so bad
See, that wasn’t so bad

6 thoughts on “Print Is Dead, Long Live Print p2 – Making a Cover for Createspace

  1. After a couple of ebook covers I did myself for my first book, Strong as Death, using picmonkey, I finally got a young graphic designer to produce the current cover and also got him to design the cover for Selkie. I don’t think I’d attempt a cover mysejlf again. Although I am artistic and produce some pieces, I’m no graphic designer. As for print book covers, I think I’ll leave that to someone more qualified than me. You are a talented man, Eric, to be able to write and produce your book yourself. Really good post.

  2. What a brilliant guide Eric. I’m someone who is completely tech challenged, but even I would try following your easy to read steps. I’ve got you bookmarked for that time 😊.

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