Let’s design beautiful book covers

Your client wrote the next great page-turner. Time to sell it with a stunning book cover. Here’s everything you need to create a book cover their readers will love.
Your client just ordered a book cover (score!) but you’ve got some questions. No fear, we’re here. 
Read on for specifications, design do’s & dont’s, and a glossary of design terms. It’s everything you’ll need to hand-off an awesome design.

Printed books

A printed book cover is a physical cover for a book you could purchase in the store. Books come in all shapes and sizes, so there’s a wide variety of “standard” dimensions. 
Luckily, your client should already know what they need. Contact them directly and ask them to send a template from their printer that you can work off of.
They should send you something that looks like this:
Use their template to complete your designs. If you have questions, don’t be afraid to reach out to your client or have them get you in touch with their printer directly.

If no template is available, contact your client to get as many specifications as possible, including dimensions and printing requirements. The more information you’re able to get, the fewer revisions you’ll have—and you’ll be able to deliver a better design.

Components of a printed book cover

Dust jackets

Dust jackets are additional paper covers that wrap around hardback books.
Because they are larger than the book itself, you’ll have more room for content. The inside left and right flaps can include additional details such as book excerpts, testimonials, extended biographies, poems, quotes and anything else you can dream up. 
Talk with your client to determine what content they may want to add.

The spine

The size of the book spine will vary depending on the amount of pages in the book.
Use a spine calculator to determine approximately how wide you should make the spine in your design. Depending on the size, you'll need to adjust font size and spacing to keep the title, author and publisher legible.


Every printed book requires an ISBN barcode placed in the book cover design with these requirements:
  • Located on the back cover typically on the right side
  • Positioned 1⁄4 inch above the bottom edge of the book
  • Be approximately 1 inch tall from the top of the book barcode to the bottom of the numbers below the barcode
  • Be 2 and 3/16 inches wide
  • Have a 3/32 inch area included as a “quiet zone” on each side of the bars
To get the official ISBN barcode for your book cover design, contact your client. In the meantime, we’ve created a downloadable mockup that you can use as a placeholder in your design.

Download a barcode placeholder here →

Submitting a book cover to your client

Once your client has approved the final book cover design, you'll need to send them all of your files.
Required files:
  • An editable version of the final design (PSD, PDF, AI, INDD)
  • All web preview images (JPEG or PNG)*
  • A link to purchase any commercial fonts used in the design
Additional guidelines:
  • Bleed: At least 0.125" (3mm) on all four sides
  • Color Mode: CMYK 
  • Resolution: 300dpi
  • Avoid Rich Black on printed book covers
* All digital/web files should be in RGB color mode with 72dpi resolution


An eBook is an electronic book that is distributed and can be purchased through an online publisher. Ebooks typically only require a front cover for each book, and each publisher has its own own size requirements. 
Contact your client directly to determine where they plan to publish their book. Once you know the publisher, you’ll be able to determine the correct dimensions for the cover.
Typical online eBook publishers include:
  • Amazon Kindle
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Smashwords
  • Apple iBooks
  • Google Books
  • Book Baby

Components of an eBook cover

Submitting an eBook to your client

Once your client has approved the final eBook design, send them all of the design files.  
Required files:
  • An editable version of the final design (PSD, PDF, AI, INDD)
  • All web preview images (JPEG or PNG)
  • A link to purchase any commercial fonts used in the design
Additional guidelines:
  • Color Mode: RGB
  • Resolution: 72dpi

The design checklist

Great design never came from following rules. So, break ‘em! Except for these. They’re pretty important. Stick to these guidelines to ensure your text, images and layout are perfect.
  • What's your key message?  
    Work with your client to define one key message and use it to inform your design.

  • Design for the genre
    Self-help and sci-fi have vastly different styles, so make sure you meet the expectations of your audience. 

  • Can you read the thumbnail?
    Since most books are sold online, your images and text must clearly be understood when shrunken down.

  • Don’t forget the spine!
    On a shelf, it’s the only way to distinguish your book from all the rest.

  • Have you checked your bleed?
    Ensure all text is within the safety line and all imagery is stretched to the bleed. 

  • Remember when to use borders
    Never use borders in print or your book will look lopsided due to how the cover is trimmed down. But for eBooks you should add a border to light-colored or white covers so they don’t disappear into the background. 
  • Declare all stock imagery
    Even if the stock image has been modified, your clients need to know about it.

The dictionary of design

CMYK and RGB... Droids from Star Wars, right? Design lingo can be a little tricky, but we can translate. Here are some design and printing terms you’ll need to know.

Color mode

How colors are represented in your design.

  • CMYK: An ink-based mode used in print.
  • RGB: A light-based mode used for digital and web design.


The amount of pixel detail in an image

  • Low resolution: Few pixels make the image pixelated.
  • High resolution: Many pixels make the image sharp.

Print guidelines

Never forget these measurements to ensure top-notch printing. 
  • Trim Line: Where the printer will cut your image
  • Bleed: The area beyond the trim line that extends printing to the edge
  • Safety Line: The border that contains all printable text

Printing techniques

How your design is printed

  • 4-color offset: A full color printing process for large volume printing
  • Digital printing: Great for small runs and short turnaround times
  • Foil ink: Specialty process that uses metallic foil rather than ink
  • Spot color: An extra layer of foil or fluorescent color (a great splurge!)


The final touches made to your print

  • Foil blocking: Metallic, foil finishes applied with a heated stamp
  • Embossing: Raised textures applied to the material using heat
  • Spot UV: A glossy finish applied to specific areas on the print