You have just finished writing your book; now you need a cover for your masterpiece. You have two options when creating your book’s cover design:
- Custom illustration
- Stock photo(s)
The options above relate specifically to the “design” of the cover (how it is produced by the artist). Don’t get this confused with the other type, which relates to “tangibility.” These options are:
- eBook Cover – a digital 3D image rendering of your book that is used on the web.
- Printable Cover – a printable PDF that is used in commercial and on-demand printing for physical books.
In this article, I’ll be discussing the 2 options relating to design. I’ll cover all the details, but the main differences between these two are price and detail (how much your book cover matches exactly what you had in mind). Hopefully, at the end of this article you will know which cover is right for you.
Option 1) Custom Illustration Design
When you hear the term “custom,” you likely associate it with terms including “original,” “hand-made,” “custom-crafted,” or “one-of-a-kind.” When you choose a custom illustration, your book cover is custom designed to your specifications and likeness. (You might be thinking, “Aren’t all book covers made to the client’s likeness?” The answer is YES, but I’ll point out the differences shortly.) A book designer will take your concept/idea and turn it into a unique, eye-capturing cover design that draws in your readers.
The designer will first hand draw and “digitize” your cover by using a pen tablet or graphics tablet (i.e., Wacom Tablet) that is hooked up to the designerʼs computer. The tablet simulates a pencil and paper, but as you draw, the drawing is transferred into the computer and art program.
Once the basic sketch is drawn, color and other special effects can be added using options in the art program (Adobe Photoshop, Corel Painter, Corel Draw, etc). These art programs are very sophisticated, and any visual effect can be accomplished. For authors of fiction novels who must have their unique characters portrayed on the cover, a custom illustration might work best.
When to Consider a Custom Illustration:
Many times, fiction novels have larger-than-life or supernatural beings as their main characters, and the authors want these characters portrayed on the covers. When that’s the case, it will be nearly impossible to find a stock photo image of an alien, vampire, princess, or other superhuman being that represents the exact character in your book. After all, you created it. This applies not only to characters, but also to settings such as different planets, exotic jungles, etc.
For example, if you want your book cover to have a 5-foot-tall, brown-haired, green-eyed girl wearing punk clothing while riding a bicycle through a parking lot, your designer will create the exact image per your specifications. The chances of your finding a pre-made stock photo that matches your specifications is slim. Consequently, in this case, the best way to depict your characters might be with a custom illustration. If you don’t care about whether the characters on the cover look exactly the way you described them (and if you’re on a budget), you might want to search for a stock photo first.
Throughout the custom illustration process, your designer will send you the rough sketch for your approval. Once you approve or request changes, your designer will accommodate this, then proceed to add color and detail. Approval of the initial sketch is important in terms of color and detail; for example, you don’t want your designer spending hours making your characterʼs jacket look like real leather only to have you later decide that you don’t want your character to wear a jacket.
Sample Design Process:
The possibilities are endless with a custom illustration. You simply provide details about your characters and what you would like to portray on the cover. The designer runs with it to create a detailed illustration that matches your specifications.
These illustrations aren’t limited to fiction books. They also work for non-fiction books that require a very specific look. Again, it all points back to “Am I able to find a stock photo that represents my ideal cover?” Art can be subjective. The decision is ultimately yours.
Option 2) Stock Photo Design
This type of book cover design uses stock photos which are then modified in an art program (like Adobe Photoshop) to fit the author’s liking – as opposed to a custom illustration where the artist starts from scratch and hand draws that image on a tablet. These royalty-free stock photos are purchased from a website like http://www.fotolia.com, where the client or artist can search for photos that fit the cover description. The artist will then put these stock photo(s) into an art program (Adobe Photoshop, Corel Painter, Corel Draw, etc), and make several modifications, such as:
- Changing the color of the image
- Using parts of the image
- Combining the image with other images
- Fading the image to use it as a background
- Creating a collage
- and many more
With a book that uses stock photos on its cover, design options are somewhat limited because you are starting with a “pre-made” photo. That being said, you can still create a fantastic-looking book cover using only stock photos. This is the method most authors choose and the one I recommend you start with.
If you can’t find any stock photos to your liking, or the design you have in mind is too specific, a custom illustration might work best if it fits your budget.
For authors of non-fiction books, a stock photo design will work best because the images are based on real-life events and objects, and you can usually find stock photos that represent these. You can purchase a pre-made stock photo for around $1 to $5, then have the designer build on it. There are thousands of photos to choose from.
Important: With this option, please don’t think that you simply purchase a stock photo, slap it on a book cover, and add text. That is not the case; this is not a rush job. The designer uses the stock photo as a starting point. Details that you provide are also incorporated and many sophisticated effects can be accomplished.
Sample Book Covers That Use Stock Photos:
To give you an idea of quality, take a look at these covers created from stock photos.
If you’re unsure about what type of design to go with, I recommend that you first search http://www.fotolia.com for an image that you think would work well on your book cover. Once you find the image, save the page link and send it to your designer along with a description of what you would like the finished cover to look like (what you want changed, added, etc.). Your designer will then be able to tell you if they can do it, and for how much. Individual photos can be purchased anywhere between $1 and $5 a piece.
Most of the time, book cover illustrators are able to make significant changes to the stock photo using Adobe Photoshop; however, in cases where there is too much detail to add to the cover, a custom illustration design may be the best option for you.
Your Next Steps
After this, you will want to decide whether you are going to print your book, sell it as a digital download (think Amazon Kindle), or both. For more information, see the post “print book vs. ebook: which is right for you?”