Dressing up the Cover

Creating the Portrait’s Cover

The work required to create professional looking covers is surprising. While our parents told us not to judge a book by its cover; that adage ill applies. People predominantly decides what to pick-up based on nothing more than a glance.

This tutorial is not designed to teach someone on how to create the perfect cover. There are a myriad of resources in both digital and print form that cover this topic.

Instead, it focuses on the process of taking a picture of a portrait and transform it into a usable cover for a novel using Corel PaintShop Pro X8 Ultimate. Users following this tutorial should be able to follow the process and gain familiarity with concepts like:

  • Font selection and licensing;
  • Caveats and workarounds;
  • Layer styles;
  • Notes and variations; and
  • Creating cover swatches.

Skills learned in this tutorial will enable you to experiment with and prototype your own covers. While it may be advantageous for the author to outsource the final design; it serves as useful a stop-gap for posting on sites like Medium or Wattpad.

This tutorial has been broken down into the following seven parts:

  • Selecting the Font
  • Caveats and Workarounds
  • New Image and Lady Shade
  • Borders and Text
  • Taglines and Layer Styles
  • Notes and Variants
  • Creating a Cover Swatch
While version X8 Ultimate was used to make this tutorial anyone who has up to and including version X should be able to follow along. However, some of the screens may be different, which will require more experimentation.

Selecting the Font

Font selection is vital in the successful creation of a cover. For example, the use of Comic Sans MS for a horror novel may come across as a poor fit. Unfortunately, navigating through the sheer volume of existing fonts can be an arduous task.

Fortunately, a fair amount of the leg work has been done for us. Creative Indie has a page entitled 300+ Fool-Proof Fonts to use for your Book Cover Design which outlines popular fonts based on specific genres. Still, there are aspects you should consider prior to selecting your fonts.

What Is the License?

Let us take a look at the font Moonlight Shadow to explain. This beautiful font suits multiple genres, including Fantasy and Gothic Horror. However, this font has license restrictions which requires licensing. The price for a license varies from $10 to $100 USD based on uses.

As a general rule, if you download a font and there is no licensing information, then it is likely pirated. Conduct a more thorough search to confirm its license.

Sites like the Open Font Library can be useful to work around paid licensing. This site and others like it cater to free and open source fonts; albeit it at the cost of a reduced selection. Alternatively some fonts are available to you when you buy and install vendor software. An example of this is Trajan Pro, which is installed with Adobe Photoshop.

Some sites will offer up a free version of the paid font. These tend to be crippled in some way, such as limited character sets, styles, kerning and so forth. Even with these limitations, this is a great way to determine if a font is suitable before paying for it.

What Formats Are Available?

Microsoft Windows supports True Type Fonts and Open Type Fonts. These are the most common font formats found today. However, there are other formats out there which will not import. Keep that in mind when searching for fonts.

Corel PaintShop Pro does not need to be restarted to see new fonts. This can be a great timesaver when experimenting with new fonts! All you need to do is open the Font Selection Drop-Down menu to access new fonts.

How Does It Look?

Selecting a font can be difficult when you are looking at a small sample set. I found it helpful to group favourites together on one image. That way they can be compared as a group, the following image showcases this.

I used the title of the novel above to see how it appears using that specific font. While most of these were selected because they were free or open source, there are some paid fonts included as well.

The reason this image was created using a red font over a black background was to see how these appeared at reduced resolutions. Red on black tends to degrade quickly when resolutions drop, which is a key feature to note since Amazon.com shrinks your covers down to 160px for thumbnails.


Caveats and Workarounds

When using Corel PaintShop Pro there certain behaviours that you should be aware of before moving on. Being unaware of these pitfalls can lead to a great deal of aggravation.

Resolution Matters

The resolution that you with can play a part in how filters and effects work. If you recall from Digital Alchemy tutorials, we increased the resolution of the image then used Brush Strokes under Art Media Effects to make it look more like painting. Ever wondered what would happens if this same operation were to be done at a lower resolution?

The image below was generated using the full resolution and matches the one generated in that tutorial.

This second image was done using the original resolution. As you can see, the image is no longer recognizable and most of the details have been lost in the operation. This is not the desired effect since it radically changes the look and feel of the work.

While we could change the Brush Strokes settings to work on a smaller scale, the truth is that this option is not always available. Hence you may never be able to achieve the same look by working at alternate resolutions.

Working in large resolutions has its own problems, since memory and processor usage increase so operations take longer. The Brush Strokes effect we used above took several minutes to run at full resolution, while was done in seconds for the lower resolution image.

Higher Resolution Blues

At higher resolutions, Corel PaintShop Pro will not always complete its operations. When using Layer Styles some text some effects will trail off. This seems to be a problem related to the overall area the program is working with. For example, in the image below we added a Bevel and Drop Shadow.

You can see the two last letters are not fully rendered, a matter which is obvious when you compare the two visible T’s in the title.

This rendering behaviour was seen in Corel PaintShop Pro X7 and X8. It may not have existed in prior versions.

Fortunately there is a workaround, though it requires splitting the title into multiple Vector Layers. Each layer will be rendered individually to display as expected.

To make it easier to align the components together, create the complete Text Line, then create them in smaller parts. It is recommended that you use different colours for the reference, so that you can overlay and observe where you not aligned, like below with the tres section of the Author Name.

Above we have both sets of fonts under one Vector Layer. As long as all the components are in the same layer they will render improperly. So we need to create two new Vector Layers and transfer the parts into them.

Once the parts have been moved, you must individually manage Layer Styles for each Vector Layer. Use the same settings for Drop Shadow and Bevel. Once complete your fonts will render correctly like we see in the image below.

Now that the effect renders properly, the image can be exported without incident.

When satisfied with the look of your Layer Styles disable or hide them. When Layer Styles are on or visible Corel PaintShop Pro slows down noticeably.

Watch Your Groups

How you group your elements may play a part in how they are rendered. When dealing with Layer Styles, distant items can create artefacts in between for no logical reason. To showcase this behaviour, we added an Outer Glow effect, with a Transparency and get artefacts in the middle.

The generated material can be a nightmare to remove, especially at high resolutions since the system responds slowly. The easiest option is to remove this effect entirely and make sure that the Top and Bottom Text Lines are in separate Vector Layers before enabling the effect.

Now have the effect desired without introduced artefacts. Easy!

Unexpected Effects

There are various behaviours related to the Text Tool which should be noted.

Creating Multiple Text Lines

When you are creating a Text Line, you cannot simply click elsewhere to create a new Text Line. One way I found to get around this limitation was to switch to the Pick Tool then revert to the Text Tool.

Alternatively you can click on the Background Layer which will have the same effect. Additionally this method will force the creation of a new Vector Layer vice stacking them into the same Vector Layer.

Text Wrap Around

The first behaviour relates to elements created when using the Rectangle Tool or similar. Rectangles, ellipses, symmetric and preset shapes will change the behaviour of your Text Tool if you accidentally work too close to them.

This image outlines one of the more common problems.

When we clicked near the border, the icon changed to a Text Tool with a Border. Now text will wrap around the object in question. When expected, this is an awesome feature, otherwise it will drive you up the wall!

Text Boxes

Now when you click inside of the box, text will flow within the confines of the shape. This essentially creates a Textbox which is a desirable feature that should have been incorporated into the Text Tool directly. However, there is a catch and if your background is transparent this capability will not be enabled. The screen below demonstrates both behaviours.

Watch Where You Click

Attempting to use items from the Tools Bar have the potential to behave differently. Creating text items in quick succession will group them naturally into a single Vector Layer and lead to the problems outlined in Watch Your Groups.

As a test we used the Rectangle Tool to create a new Rectangle. We also did not pay attention to the selected layer and ended up passing on the set Transparency and Layer Styles to the new object.

This can lead to confusion and generate hard to remove artefacts. So be aware of which layer you are working on prior to moving forward.

If you get into the habit of selecting the Background Layer prior to every operation, then newly created elements will fall under a new layer. You can rearrange them at a later time.

New Image and Lady Shade

Before creating a cover, look at best-sellers within your genre. They showcase trends and expectations, such as the location, placement and style of image. After some research, I created a series of covers including the Bravo variant.

We know that Amazon.com requires their covers to be of a certain size. This guideline informs us that a resolution 625x1000px is the minimum resolution. From the File menu, click on New, which will open the New Image Window.

We are going to create an image that is bigger than required to maintain detail:

  • 6250 pixels wide;
  • 10000 pixels high;
  • 300 Pixels/Inch for resolution; and
  • Transparent.

Once you are satisfied with the settings, click on OK, which will create a new image base. Now that we have a blank slate, it is time to start adding in elements.

For this particular version, we are going to use Lady Shade without the Ethereal background. Open up your fully rendered version of this image then copy it into the New Image. To copy a Background, select the Background Layer then use the CTRL-C keyboard combination. Alternatively you can click on the Edit menu then select Copy.

Click on the Tab for your New Image. Then use the CTRL-V combination or from the Edit menu select Paste As New Layer. This will drop in Lady Shade which takes up more than the allocated space. The end result should look like this:

Lady shade is currently not in position, we want her closer to the centre, even if that leaves a blank at the top. From the Tools Bar, select the Pick Tool then drag it down for a bit.

Do not worry if the image moves off the confines of the image. This has no effect on the layer being moved.

Resize and adjust as necessary, until you get the result below:

Borders and Text

To continue with our design, we need to add two rectangles that have a Black Border and Fill. From the Tools Bar, select the Rectangle Tool.

Create two new Rectangles, one at the top and the second at the bottom and have them in the same Vector Layer to manage. Also ensure the Lady Shade layer is just above the Background Layer else the rectangles will be obscured.

Now create a Rectangle that has a Red Border and Fill. This one will be small and narrow to create a transition between the Lady Shade Layer and the Filler Layer. Duplicate this Rectangle using CTRL-C/CTRL-V combinations then move them over the transition points.

These two Rectangles should be grouped as this permits the application of consistent Layer Styles later on. This Borders Layer should then be placed on top the Filler Layer.

The image should appear like the one shown below.

Now it is time to add text. For now, we will work on the Title and the Author’s Name. These elements are prominently found on covers, although the prominence of the Author’s Name tends to vary with name recognition.

From the Tools Bar select the Text Tool.

As seen above, the Neuton Font was used for both the Title and Author’s Name. Since we are working at high resolutions, setting the Font Size to 72 Points and Bold is enough to both select and adjust at a later time.

Because Layer Styles will be used later on, the Title and Author’s Name are broken into smaller chunks. The image below denotes the different segments by alternating colours.

Using the tricks learned in Higher Resolution Blues, we lined up then Link the layers for both the Title (3) and Author’s Name (4).

Make sure to line up the individual elements before making any alterations. Once dimensions change, replicating the change in individual components is difficult to achieve. To adjust a line, select all layers by holding down the SHIFT key.

Experiment with these Text Lines until it looks like the image below. Be aware that you may need to move the Border Layers in addition to adjusting the Filler Layers to achieve this result.

When you want to resize a Text Line, always do so from the Corners. Using the other methods will stretch and skew the Text Line.

Taglines and Layer Styles

Make use of the Pick Tool from the Tools Bar to reduce the size of Lady Shade until she fits within the confines of the borders. Take your time to ensure that the resize operation is done using one of the Corners to maintain Aspect Ratio.

Sometimes the Pick Tool will not Resize. Attempts to modify will instead alter the Perspective which is not the desired behaviour. To correct this behaviour change the Mode to Scale.

After completing your adjustments Lady Shade should look roughly like below.

Now is the time to add a Tagline, a sentence or short paragraph which is used to grab a reader. Since we not use complex Layer Styles for this section we can go ahead and create it one layer.

The Liberation Sans Font was used for the tagline. The Font Size was set to 72 Points so we can work on it later. Note that Bold or Italics in the Font Styles were not selected.

To match our example the following line was used:

A vision from the
past becomes a
writer’s deadly
obsession

Once the text is inserted, resized then moved the appropriate location (shown below) the image should resemble the following.

Next make use of Layer Styles to finish up the Text Lines and Borders. From the Layers Panel, select one of your Author’s Name Layer’s then click on the Layer Styles icon.

The Layer Properties window will open and feature effects applicable to layers. As seen below, operations range from Reflection and Drop Shadow effects.

For the Title and Author we want to make use of the Emboss style, use the settings above then click on OK to set the Layer Style. This process must be repeated for each layer, so save these settings to use as pre-sets. This will ensure consistency throughout all of the elements.

Now for the Tagline Layer, we will adjust Drop Shadow. You can copy the settings found above, to provide a subtle shadow effect to create the illusion the tagline floating over-top the Lady Shade Layer.

Use Layer Styles to Emboss the Borders as well. Once complete the cover should appear as it does below.


Notes and Variants

Notes on Bravo

Bravo was originally released along with two (2) other variants and was by far the most popular of the three (3). Feedback shown below led to the creation of other variants.

Bravo caught my attention better than the others.
Bravo looks the most professional, although the fonts are kind of sterile.
I’m not a fan of any of them. They all scream — self-published — in the worst of ways.
None of them say horror to me. If you’re sold on using the image, I’ definitely try to bring it out in the fonts. Look at some popular horror titles and see what they use. That will give you an idea of what communicates — horror — to readers.

Overall, the points brought forward were related to the choice of font and how the cover did not fit the ideal horror cover. The Portrait does not subscribe to the modern ideals of horror, at least in terms of gore playing a large part.

People expected to see streaks of blood, fangs protruding from the lady’s mouth or vast amounts of gore. This worked against the story of the premise where the supernatural settings are concealed for most of the novel and would potentially spoil the surprise!

There was a noticed distaste for the red borders employed with this particular variant. While I initially believed that they infused the cover with a bit of colour, people predominantly disagreed and preferred to have no transitions as all.

Over all I managed to pick up a few points to work on:

  • Keep some distance between the outside edges of the image and the font. Text elements are more likely to remain visible if the image needs to be truncated or applied to a printed cover;
  • The use of red for fonts to add in colour may not work out as expected. Red does not display well in black and white images;
  • There is a strong preference for covers to use an image covering the whole of the visible area. This led to the development of Hotel and India variations which are covered later;
  • Font selection is key and has been discussed before. There was a strong push for Trajan Pro as a general-purpose font.

Some recommendations were applied to Bravo which created the variant below. While it does not address all of the faults, it does provide an incremental improvement.

A Hotel Visit

Hotel was a variant that aimed to make use of different fonts that would grab potential reader. This version also made use of transparencies and the outer glow effect which differs from other versions. Hotel was almost universally reviled in comments, however it does have certain features that were fun to explore.

You will need to make use of the Lady Normal Base, to proceed with this aspect of the tutorial.

The cover size is longer than the original image allows . To achieve this we needed to create a mirror image copy then join them at the seams. This increases the space above her head to prevent the Author’s Name from obstructing her face.

From the Image menu, select Canvas Size.

A new Window appears, which permits you to adjust the Size of the canvas. Increase the Height of to 16000 pixels then ensure Placement is set to Bottom, Middle as shown:

Click on the OK button, which adds an empty space above the image found.

Using the Selection Tool, make a copy of the top portion of the Base then Paste as a New Layer. You up with two copies of the Top with the new selection that needs to be flipped.

From the Image Menu select Flip then Flip Vertical.

Line-up the images as though they were part of a mirror image. Once satisfied with the merger, right-mouse click on the layers then from the Merge Popup-Menu select Merge All (Flatten).

This operation will merge both layers together. You may need to experiment until the connection is seamless.

Next add the Author, Title and Taglines. As mentioned previously, Layer Styles for Author and Title employ of Outer Glow, Emboss and Transparencies to get the desired effect. To reproduce the effects showcased on the cover the following fonts were used.

  • Title — Bebas Neue Bold
  • Author — Oleo Script
  • Tagline — Cinzel (Bolded)

For Layer Styles adjust until settings match the options below:

The next step is to adjust the Outer Glow, set it to match those shown below:

While there are a lot of ways to adjust transparency, you can do so from the General Tab of the Layer Properties window. Copy the settings found below then save it for later use. This ensures consistency when applying it to other layers.

The Tagline only makes use of Emboss, copy the settings below to match our style.

You end up with a cover which looks roughly like our sample.

A Trip to India

India was not one of my designs. Ironically, an acquaintance used a phone app to whip up a design she felt worked well. This formed the basis for cover design used on The Portrait.

Other than making use of Lady Ethereal as a base, this design uses techniques which have been explained before. To the following fonts were used:

  • Title — Cinzel (Bolded)
  • Author — Cinzel (Bolded)
  • Tagline — Cinzel (Bolded)

Creating a Cover Swatch

I discovered through trial-and-error that dropping a series of images into a gallery then asking users to comment was inefficient. Some of the reasons for this include:

  • Users tend to ignore titles and will comment on the first, or third image. Unfortunately some sites will vary the order;
  • Users have a hard time comparing covers which are very similar in design. This requires them to look back and forth, which makes comparisons more difficult.
  • Images dropped into a gallery may not exist or be accessible later. The first time I created a sample gallery to compare against, the images became unavailable and was unable to address the issue. This particular behaviour is showcased below:

To mitigate the above points, I created a swatch containing all of the images. This permits me to provide titles, a consistent order and can throw in thumbnails to compare how covers will appear at smaller dimensions. That single image will mean users need only click-once to get a view of all versions, which increases the chance of getting meaningful commentary.

Creating a Swatch is straightforward; create a canvas large enough to fit the desired versions. Since Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing lists covers should be least 625 x 1000 pixels, all featured variants meet the minimum.

Using larger covers in the swatch can make it too large to upload at many sites. Additionally, the swatch would take more time to view and require users to zoom-in and out frequently. Hence sticking to the minimum provides avoids a whole slew of issues.

Cutting Down to Size

Before we begin, we need to create usable variations. The files we created contain Layers and Styles which react differently at lower resolutions. Additionally, we want to preserve these originals, so use the Save as Copy feature to avoid modifying the source files.

Open up your Bravo Paint Shop Pro project file then from the File menu click on Save Copy As.

This feature permits you to save a copy of the image without modifying the working image. Select either JPG or PNG formats then click on Save.

Ensure that your save path and file name are correct prior to completing this operation.

You will be presented with a warning about losing Layers and Styles through a Merger. This is precisely what we want, since the image is to be resized later. Click on Yes, then open this newly created image.

From the Image menu click on Resize.

A new window will pop-up. Resize to 625 x 1000 pixels or settings that allows you to meet the requirements. Since our examples made use of increments of the minimum size, so the window appears as follows:

Once satisfied, click on the OK button.

Repeat the above steps for each variant; in this tutorial we did the same for Hotel and India.

Creating the Canvas

Since we are dealing with three variants (Bravo, Hotel and India) we need to create a swatch that permits fitting in all three. We also need to include a buffer since thumbnails will be added as well. So we create a canvas that is:

  • Width — 2500 pixels.
  • Height — 1400 pixels.
  • Resolution — 300 dpi.

From the File menu click on New. This will bring up a new window, replicate the options shown below:

The colour of your background should be something neutral. This provides a separation between the covers and will not distract the viewer. For the above example, we used a variant of grey.

Once satisfied click on OK and a new image with the appropriate dimensions will be created.

Dropping in the Variants

Now drop in copies of the variations onto the canvas. Click on your copy of Bravo then select the Background Layer. Now from Edit menu, click on Copy or use the CTRL-C keyboard combination.

This will place a copy into your clipboard. Switch to your Swatch then from the Edit menu click on Paste As New Layer.

This will drop-in Bravo, which can be moved anywhere onto the canvas. Since this is our first entry, place it near the edge on the left and leave a bit of spacing.

Now add-in the thumbnails for Bravo. Switch to your Copy of Bravo and shrink down the image to a maximum 160×160 pixels. Repeat the Copy-and-Paste operation done previously then drop-in the thumbnail.

Now we can compare the full-sized cover to the thumbnail. This permits us to see how the image appears on Amazon.com. Now we lack a method of seeing how it appears on a black and white display like the Kindle Paperwhite.

Drop-in another thumbnail then from the Effects menu, select Photo Effects then Black and White Film.

A new window will appear, I found that Default is sufficient for this step.

When satisfied, click on OK.

To add in a label, from the Tools Bar, select the Text Tool. For this example, Arial Black at 28 points set all Black was used. Adjust as necessary to end up with a result that looks like the following:

Now you have the following on your swatch:

  • Main image;
  • Thumbnail;
  • Black and white thumbnail; and
  • Label.

Repeat as necessary for the other variants.

Final Touches

Once finished, crop the Image to remove any unused space. You should end up with an end-result that resembles the following:

Now you have one image that gives you an overview the three covers. It’s easy to compare one against another and allows you to see how they hold up at lower dimensions and on black and white displays.

Hotel does not display well as a thumbnail or in black and white. That alone should steer you away from that design.

Create these whenever you wish to compare a sample set of covers.

Originally published at evelynchartres.com on February 20, 2016.

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