Ah, the dreaded book cover! A self-publishing author’s waking nightmare, right there with eBook file types, ISBNs, and —gasp!— MARGINS!
But it doesn’t have to be so bad (and in fact, it can be quite fun). In this post I’ll go over how to:
- Find and download your custom Kindle full (front, back, spine) book cover template
- Bring the template into Photoshop
- Place and size your current book cover on top of it (or how you’d start one from scratch)
- Export for Kindle
In a future post, I’ll go over common Kindle file rejection reasons, though I’ll do my best in this post to go ahead and show you how to avoid those while designing. Feel free to comment with any of your file rejection errors, and I’ll be happy to include them in the post.
For this post, I’m using the Mac version of Adobe Photoshop CC 2018, but nothing I do is so complicated that you couldn’t easily replicate it on whatever version’s loaded up on your computer.
This method does not require major Photoshop skills, though you will find it much easier if you know the basics of the Photoshop workspace. For the basics, you can visit Adobe’s website at the below link for a very helpful guide!
For those interested in a more thorough beginner introduction to Photoshop, my personal favorite is from Adobe’s Classroom In a Book series, which you can find on Amazon:
Step 1 |Download your Kindle book cover template
Once your manuscript is finished, you should know your final page size, page count, and what paper color you want (cream vs. white).
For this example, my book details are:
- 6 x 9 in. page size
- 250 pages
- Cream paper
Once you know these details, go to Kindle’s Cover Template page (https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/cover-templates) and enter the info like below:
Then click “Download cover template.” The zip file will automatically save to your Downloads.
Find the file in your downloads folder and unzip it. Once unzipped, it should look like the below:
Step 2 | Open your template in Photoshop
1. Open Photoshop and go to File > Open.
2. Find your cover template’s file that you just downloaded and unzipped.
- We want to open the PDF version of the template, not the PNG.
3. Enter your Import Settings. The default import settings are fine, but make sure that the Color Mode is RGB. Kindle only accepts files created with RGB. See my settings below:
4. Get acquainted with your KDP Template.
Black Dotted Line = Trim Size
This is where the book will be cut to produce final trim size.
Blue Dotted Line = Spine Fold
It’s really hard to even tell they are blue, but they are the 2 vertical lines that border the spine.
This is where the spine’s edges will be.
White Area = Live Area
I like to call this one the SAFETY ZONE. Anything you put in the white area is guaranteed to make it onto the actual cover. We want to make sure the most important details are within the white: Title, Author, any writing or important illustrations, etc.
Red Area = Out of Live/ Bleed
We have to fill the red area in order to give KDP something to chop off. Since KDP printing is rather wonky, it’s best to make sure whatever is in the red COULD show up on the actual cover and not look awful. We need to cover this red up, and not just leave it as-is.
Yellow Barcode Rectangle
You can place your barcode on top of this yellow rectangle, if you purchased one from a reliable source like BISG. For more info on barcodes and ISBNs, see my post:
If you don’t cover this with a barcode, that’s fine, but we will still want to make sure we don’t place any important text or illustrations where this yellow rectangle is. KDP will plop a big barcode on top of it during printing, so we need to leave it available.
5. Once the PDF loads, it’ll be brought in as its own Layer. By default, its name is “Layer 1.”
Tip: You can find the Layers panel in the bottom righthand corner of your workspace.
6. Rename the layer as “KDP Template” for organizational purposes. I highly recommend you follow the naming conventions throughout this tutorial: it’ll make things much simpler as we progress!
Tip: To rename a layer, simply double-click its name and it will become highlighted and editable.
Step 3 | Open your cover illustration in Photoshop
The example I’ll use going forward is that I had an illustrator create the basic illustrations for my cover. Now I’m going to bring that illustration in, and add text on top of it. This seems to be a very common method for self-publishers.
But if you’re designing from scratch, you’ll still be able to follow along and modify (you’ll just spend more time on the design aspect.)
1. In Photoshop, go to File > Open and find the file your designer gave you.
Tip: If your designer gave you multiple files, choose the JPEG or PNG file, if they gave you one. If they didn’t, ask them for one — they’ll be happy to oblige!
I’ll be pulling in a JPEG given to me by my go-to illustrator, Josue Martinez (Josue does work on our book covers at Deviance Press, or you can hire him on your own and see his other wonderful work at https://jmardesigns.myportfolio.com/illustration)
(My file is called: RomanticBeachCover_Final.jpg)
When you open the JPEG, it’ll open as a separate Photoshop tab or window.
2. While in your cover illustration’s Photoshop window, try to click and drag the JPEG. The below message should pop-up. We are going to click “Convert to Normal Layer.”
Now when you click and drag your JPEG, it should move! Hooray! (It’s the small things, right?)
You should see a very thin white outline around the photo’s border and squares its corners: this lets you know that the photo is selected.
Tip: If you can’t seem to select your photo, make sure you have the Move tool selected in the left tool bar (it’s at the top!)
3. Now that we have our illustration selected, we are going to COPY the JPEG, just like you would copy text in a word processor. For Mac users, it’s Command + C.
4. Click the tab of our KDP Template so that we are looking at our KDP Template once again, and PASTE the JPEG (Mac users, Command + V) into the workspace.
5. You’ll now have two Layers in your Layers panel: KDP Template and Layer 1. Change the name of your new Layer 1 (your illustration) to “Main Illustration.”
You can see that the Illustration was simply placed on top of the KDP Template Layer. Perfect!
Step 4 | Size the Main Illustration
Now let’s size our Main Illustration so its borders perfectly touch the dotted lines. To keep its original shape, we’re going to click SHIFT while dragging one of the corners to make the photo larger.
Tip: If your Main Illustration isn’t proportioned correctly, you can try to widen/heighten the photo itself. If this morphs the look of the illustration, then discuss the issue with your illustrator, or play around with how to use the photo in a different way.
For mine, I really want my little flower corners to be included on the final book cover, so I’m going to make sure they’re include within the white space:
Notice how we can still see the red. I’m going to add more color to the outside border to cover this up. (We do this because 1. KDP usually rejects covers that don’t and 2. We don’t want to risk that red slipping into our final print!)
Step 5 | Add a background color that matches your Main Illustration’s
Select the rectangle tool in the left tools panel.
Click and drag your mouse to create a large rectangle which covers the entire KDP Template.
Tip: It’s fine if this rectangle goes well beyond the borders of the template. By bringing in the PDF to Photoshop, the borders of the final document are already set. Only what’s on top of the Template will make it to the final document we produce.
Now we are going to change the color of the rectangle to our MAIN background color. Mine is a navy blue, the color of a night sky.
To do this easily, click and drag your rectangle a bit so that you can see a snippet of your background color.
In the left toolbar, select the Eyedropper Tool and then click a portion of your Main Illustration’s main background color. (This loads the color into our Recently Used Colors, which will be necessary for the next step.)
Using the Move Tool, select your Background Color Rectangle. On the right side of your Workspace (, you’ll see “Properties” and a small rectangle of its current color (mine is black). Click this small rectangle.
Under “Recently Used Colors,” you should see your Main Illustration’s main background color as first on the list (it was put here the second we clicked it with the eyedropper. Cool, eh?).
Your Background Color Rectangle should change colors once you click the color swatch.
To make it so your Background Color Rectangle doesn’t cover your Main Illustration, go to the Layers panel and drag the BCR’s Layer Thumbnail so that it’s repositioned under the Main Illustration’s Thumbnail.
Tip: Layers whose Thumbnails are at the top of the Layer panel list are arranged to be on top of the Layers whose Thumbnails come beneath them on the list, while the Layers at the bottom of the Thumbnail list are further toward the back/bottom of the illustration.
Once our Background Color Rectangle is behind our Main Illustration, we’re going to select it and drag it into place so that we no longer see the red border.
Tip: If you have trouble moving it with your mouse, you can always just make it bigger by dragging and dropping the small squares around the border, or you can use your keyboard’s arrow keys.
Now we’re ready to add text!
Step 6 | Add Titles and Other Text
To help us see our KDP Template while we add text (to know where everything should go), we change the Opacity of both our Main Illustration and the Background Color Rectangle.
To do this, go to the Layers panel and select either of the Layers. You will see an Opacity option at the top of the Layers panel. Reduce the opacity of both layers, so that you can see the KDP Template beneath.
Tip: This isn’t an exact science, you just want to lower the opacity enough so that you can see the content of your Main Illustration, as well as the Template. I’ll put both of mine at 50%.
Now we can see everything perfectly! We’re ready to add text. For this example, we will just do a main title and spine title.
1. Make sure you don’t have any layers selected by going to Select > Deselect Layers in Photoshop’s Menu bar.
2. Select the Type Tool in the lefthand Tool bar.
3. Click and drag to create a large text box for your title.
4. A typing cursor should automatically appear. Go ahead and type your title before doing anything else. My title is Enduring Love.
5. For Mac users, select your entire title by typing Command + A on your keyboard. This will highlight your title (as seen above). Windows users, use Control + A.
6. On the right side of your workspace, you should see the Character panel. This is where we can customize our actual font. The Paragraph panel is where you can change alignment, indentation, and whether you want to allow hyphenation in your text.
7. Change your font and text size however you’d like! The Character panel gives you options for font style, color, etc. The dropbown for text size only goes up to 72 pt, but you can type a custom size in.
Tip: If you have a wordy title, it’s often best to create separate text boxes for each word or line, that way you can have ultimate control over the spacing.
Tip: If you want the title color to match another color in the Main Illustration, simply go to your Layers panel and up the Opacity on your Main Illustration. Then select all of your text (Control + A, or Command + A). In the Character panel, select the Color box. Without having to select anything else, hover your cursor over the color you’d like to use and click. This will make the color populate as the font’s new color.
8. To create a vertical title for the spine, create a skinny text box. Hover your cursor over one of its corners, and you’ll see a curved arrow icon appear. Click and drag to spin the title.
We don’t want the title to touch any of the red (this will cause rejection by KDP).
You can continue adding various text boxes for the author’s name, publisher icon, etc.!
Here’s what my final looks like. Notice the navy border around the entire cover – this will get cut off during printing. Also notice the “blank space” I left at the barcode’s spot, this will allow KDP to stamp a barcode on the book during production, without me having to lift a finger.
Step 7 | Export as Photoshop PDF
To prepare our file for expert:
- Make the Opacity 100% on all Layers.
- Click the eye icon next to the KDP Template Layer. This will make it “invisible” and ensure that it doesn’t show up in our final cover.
- Go to File > Save As
- Save the file as a Photoshop PDF (settings below)
- You may get the below warning. Press OK.
- For the Adobe PDF Settings pop-up, see the below settings:
Step 8 | Import to KDP
Now you’re ready to upload your book cover file to the KDP. After following the above directions, you shouldn’t have any issues. Here’s what mine looks like when it’s all loaded up:
Notice how my flower corners perfectly touch the white border. I’ve also left enough room for KDP to stamp on my barcode (which they will create for you, whether you use their free ISBN or your own, they’ll create it for you).
Keep in mind that KDP printing is not very reliable. While this blog’s method does give you the best chance of a great looking book, always remember to order a Proof Copy before publishing your book and going live on Amazon!