How To Create Paperback Book Covers For Your Self-Published Books
My Do-It-Yourself Bookbinding article has turned out to be one of the most popular articles on this site. It came from my desire to have printed copies of some of the many e-books I have collected over the years. Very often I don’t worry about putting a cover on the book and just bind the pages or I cover the book with plain heavy cardstock and hand-write the title. But what if you really want to put together a polished book that looks store-bought?
Take a look at the 3 books in the photo. I won’t make you guess which one I made – it’s the one in the middle! This was my first attempt at creating a cover that would pass for bookstore quality. An author I like gave electronic files of some of his books as bonuses for his newsletter subscribers (www.FredGleek.com.) This isn’t a tiny 30 page e-book, but rather the electronic version of a book he wrote for print. It is several hundred pages and I wanted to print it out to keep on the shelf next to 2 other books of his that I purchased. I think it turned out pretty well and I will tell you the simple steps I used to create the cover.
Here are the supplies you will need to create a professional looking book cover for your self published book:
- Card Stock Paper that is larger that your bound book block (I print to 1/2 of a standard page so 8.5″x14″ legal is big enough for most projects)
- Inkjet Printer that can print on your Cover Stock (for larger books you may need a large format printer)
- Photoshop CS or similar image processing software (I like creating graphics in Photoshop, but you could layout your cover in your wordprocessor or using free software like GIMP or Scribus)
- .3 mil Adhesive Plastic Laminate (thick laminate will work, but I prefer thinner plastic)
- Bone Folder – a handy tool that can be found at most craft stores or art supply stores (usually near the scrapbooking section)
- Exact-O Knife
- Metal Straight Edge
When I studied the book covers in my library I noticed that the main feature that differentiated them from plain card stock was the laminated coating that covers on the outside. I don’t know exactly how they coat the pages in professional print shops, but I figured that a simple thin coating of adhesive laminate would give a very similar result. My main goal was to protect the printing and make the cover water resistant and give it the glossy sheen of a trade paperback.
I laid out my cover in Photoshop, setting the page dimensions to match my paper. This time around I didn’t try to print on the spine or back cover – just the front. This choice saved me a lot of measuring and tweaking. If you want to wrap all the way around, measure the thickness of your book block and make your page size equal to twice the page width plus the spine width. Then, lay out your cover text and art.
When printing, make sure your printer is set to print the whole page edge to edge (most new photo quality printers are capable of this.) If you can’t print edge to edge, make sure that Photoshop does not scale your image to fit the page – this will throw off all of your measurements. If your cover has full-page artwork, set the page dimensions to have an extra 1/4″ on the outside edges of the cover. You can trim off the extra when you are done and there will never be a white edge where your graphic stops.
When the cover is printed, cut a length of laminate off of the roll that is a little larger than the cover. Peel off the backing paper on one end. Next, stick that edge to your working surface and then peel back the rest. This will help you to hold the laminate straight and tight as you press it onto the cover. Position the cover underneath and then slowly press the laminate onto the page and smooth out any air bubbles. Work from the center out. Press the laminate down firmly over the whole cover to ensure solid contact.
Next you will need to crease the cover where it will bend around the spine. Line your straight edge up in the spine of the book and use your bone folder to score the spine. Fold the cover along the score and you are ready to glue it to the book block.
Apply a layer of glue to the inside spine of the cover and then set the bookblock in place. I tap the spine on the table a few times to force the book block firmly into the glue and then leave the book on on its spine until the glue dries.
When everything is dry, take your Exact-O knife and straight edge and trim the excess paper from the cover. You should have a pretty professional looking book at this point.
This technique works equally well for saddlebound book covers. Just buy cover stock that is exactly the same size as your pages, ignore the spine in your design, and fold down the middle when you staple the booklets together.
Another variation to try is using heat activated film rather than peel-and-stick. I’ve found that the press on film can de-laminate over time and needs to be pressed down again and again. This is not a big deal for personal projects but will look bad if people paid for the book.
Heat-set laminates adhere better than the peel-and-stick kind. I don’t have a heat laminating machine (and they usually require you to put film on both sides at the same time – so you will have to laminate 2 covers at a time and then cutting them apart once laminated.) This is why I chose the press on film.
When brainstorming for another way to apply heat set laminates, I remembered that when I used to build model airplanes we used to use a little iron to apply a heat shrink plastic over the frame. If I get a roll of heat-set film, cut it to size, and apply it with an iron, I should end up with a sturdy cover that doesn’t require me to fight with the peel-and-stick adhesive! This is a project for another day.
You can find the supplies at most office supply stores. I saw some at Staples and here is a link to a product at their online store: Heat Set Laminate Roll
One final idea I had for covers (this goes back to my art school days) was to get a spray fixative from the art/craft store and spray the printed covers instead of laminating them. This doesn’t provide the feel of a laminated coating, but it will offer better water resistance and give a sheen to the surface of the cover. Some sprays will not remain flexible when dry and will flake and peel when the book is handled. Make sure to test before committing to a large production run.
If you have any tips or techniques that you use to make trade paperback style covers, leave a comment and share your wisdom. Also, let me know why you are interested in binding your own books. The more I know about what you are trying to do the more helpful I can be with my tutorials and suggestions.