A lot of cover designers prefer to work exclusively in Photoshop or GIMP. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that; both of those are fine programs and do some pretty amazing stuff. But let me try to convince you that there might be a better alternative.
There are two types of graphics programs out there: bitmap and vector. Bitmaps are your usual images. They have a resolution (referred to as DPI) and they have dimensions. Bitmap images are really nothing more than a whole mess of tiny little dots that, when viewed from a distance, look like a cohesive image. Bitmap editors allow you to change the color, size, and position of those dots. Photoshop and GIMP are bitmap editors. They’re tools for creating or modifying dots. The problem with modifying dots is they don’t get bigger very well. As the scale of your image increases the program has to figure out where to add more dots to make the image look the same. As your scale decreases the program has to figure out which dots to take away. Resizing bitmaps is an affair fraught with peril. Usually shrinking things is okay, but scaling them up is a no-no.
Vector programs can use bitmaps (in fact, we’re going to use one), but they primarily work on mathematical formulas that draw lines. Those lines can be simple straight lines or extremely complicated sets of curves. Vectors don’t have resolution – they can be scaled infinitely. Most things created in vector applications are considered to be objects. They’re little chunks of math that define how a thing looks and they’re all distinct elements. That means you don’t have to worry about layers as much as you do in bitmap editors; you just create some objects and move them around. Illustrator and Inkscape are both vector drawing applications.
Today we’re gonna do a quick recreation of the Saxton cover using Inkscape and do a bit of fancy text work to get the logo to look snazzy.
Step one is to get your background image prepped in whatever tool you feel most comfortable with. I resized an image I found on Dreamstime to Amazon’s eBook cover size spec (1563×2500).
Step two is to get a copy of Inkscape and install it. It’s not a huge program and it’s free. Get it here.
Now, with your background image ready to go and Inkscape installed, go ahead and fire up Inkscape. It can sometimes take a while to load, but you’ll be greeted with this when it’s ready to go.
The first step is to set up the document. Go to File->Document Properties or Press Ctrl+Shift+D.
Set the units to px (pixels) and set the Width & Height to your image dimensions – 1563×2500 in my case. Also, clear the check box about showing the border shadow. I hate the border shadow.
You can zoom in and out with the plus key and minus key.
Now, import your image. Go to File->Import and select the file you want. You’ll get this dialog.
Embed the image and keep the rest of the defaults.
Note: the image is pretty small. Don’t worry – this is normal. Select the image by clicking on it. You can use the arrows to resize the image.
If you hold down Shift and drag one of the corners you’ll be able to scale the image. Resize it until it fits page you defined earlier. Remember to scale not warp. Images look really wonky when they get warped.
Now it’s time to get a logo going. We’re going to start by selecting the A on the toolbox on the left. Click it and then click anywhere on the page. Start typing.
It’s small and in the default sans-serif font. Don’t worry. We’re gonna fix all that with a quickness. The first change will be to the font itself. Select the text just like you would in a word processor and go up to the font list on the upper left corner.
I chose Molot, a font I found on FontSquirrel.com. I highly recommend making sure your fonts are licensed for commercial use. Some people think any old shareware font will be fine, but you can still get in trouble for using unlicensed fonts.
This is where the magic of using a vector application comes in. You don’t have to change the font size. Remember, these are all objects and none of them resolution, so you can scale them infinitely. Click on the arrow (the selector tool) in the toolbox on the left, then click on the text. You get the arrows and you can resize the text just like you resized the image.
From here I highlighted the text with the text tool and changed the tracking slightly with the tracking option at the top of the application (see little highlighted thingy).
To have a bit of fun, I’m going to select the text with the arrow tool, and then copy and paste it a couple times.
There is a method to my madness. I’m going to use a gradient on one of the objects, then layer it over the other one. In fact, go ahead and make a third copy; it’ll come in handy soon.
To set a gradient, select the object you want and look for the fill dialog. Select radial gradient option (see above).
Gradients in Inkscape work by modifying part of the objects opacity in a predictable way. You can change the base color from black, but I’m going to leave it alone for now.
Note the thin lines on the gradiated image. Those let you adjust the gradient. Put your mouse over the dot at the end of one until the dot turns red and you can change where the opacity fades in and out. Here I took the copied (non gradiated object) and turned it red. You can change the color of an object by selecting it and clicking on any of the color swatches at the bottom. If you want to mix your own color, use the fill dialog. Then I layered the gradiated object over the non-gradiated object. You can adjust the order by going to Object->Raise, or Object->Lower.
Note: the bottom SAXTON is a third copy. The top is the gradiated one layered over the first red one. Also note, I adjusted the gradient lines to change the gradient. Now it’s a little darker, but not too dark. It’s time to add the background SAXTON and offset it a bit. I turned my bottom object black. Just select the bottom word and drag it into place over the others. Move it around a bit until it’s in the right place and lower it to the bottom if necessary.
To make your life a bit easier, select all three objects and go to Object->Group. This will treat them all as a single object that can be manipulated. If you decide later you want to ungroup them individually, go to Object->Ungroup.
Now it’s time to put the words on the background image. I put in a middle guideline on top of the image. Select the image, click in the vertical ruler, and drag to the right. Put the guideline in the center of the image using the middle arrow as a guide.
Then, just drag the grouped objects into place. Now you can you resize all the objects in the group as a single element.
To finish it all off, add some extra bits of text using basically the same steps you did earlier. I’d recommend using simple fonts so the cover doesn’t get too busy. You’ve already got one fancy text element, the rest should be simple.
To export it, look for the Export png area, click the export as button and give it a name and location. Click OK. Then click the export button and let Inkscape work its magic.
Easy peasy, right? At the very least it’s a lot easier than all the tedious mucking about with layers you need to do in Photoshop or GIMP. Inkscape (and Illustrator) both have a ton of functionality that’s not covered here. Even if you never use the illustration capabilities of the programs, it’s nice to know you can do layout with them.
Of course, the key to learning a new program is to play with it. The steps here (murky though they may be) are just some guides. Get out there and try things out. Like all programs, there’s a learning curve, but it’s not terribly onerous and the rewards can be plentiful.
Questions? Comments? Leave a note below or drop me an email.