In this “top 10” style post I’m going to take you through ten small tweaks that you can apply to your book cover to make it stand out even in a crowded marketplace. These are things that you can implement yourself or things you might want to suggest to your book cover designer if you feel that your cover is lacking some “oomph”.
Some of these tools are going to require that you have Photoshop. Fortunately, that program is more affordable than ever, with prices from around $10 a month.
If at any point you are confused about terms I am using, or don’t know how to do something in Photoshop, everything I’m talking about is a pretty standard usage of the program, and it will be easy to find relevant tutorials on YouTube.
1. HDR Effects
This is one of the easiest and most effective ways to make your book cover stand out. It used to be something very complicated both in photography and even in software like Photoshop. However, in recent years, HDR has become very easy to do with automated actions (more on these in a moment).
I would recommend checking out the Nik Collection from Google. This is a set of Photoshop plugins which are incredibly simple to use and which can create amazing results. Their power is in enhancing contrast and increasing the vibrancy of colors in images. In addition to this, there are also a number of other functions and effects that you might find very useful. Take a look at a couple of images below on which was this great tool applied.
2. Photoshop Add-Ons and Actions
Graphic River is a popular site that I like to use especially for fantasy and sci-fi covers. You can find here some amazing “automated effects”. These automated effects are basically when a designer has programmed Photoshop to make an image have a specific effect which would normally take a lot of work to create.
On Graphic River you will find a great selection of actions, such as the popular “storm” or “dark fantasy” effect. If you are looking for more examples, just browse through the actions on Graphic River. They are not free, but neither are they expensive.
3. Photo Filters
Photo filters are sort of like simple actions – they add an effect to an image, but it’s usually less complex. Still, though, they are excellent for adding atmosphere to an image. Most people will probably be familiar with these because of apps like Instagram. And there is a reason they became so popular – don’t discard them just because they are overused. If you apply them wisely, they can really make your book cover stand out. Think of vintage, cooling, warming or black and white filters which can all have a great impact on the overall feel of your book cover.
Textures are effects that “sit on top” of your images, adding a specific feel to the image. These textures are then “blended” into the image so it looks as if they are a part of it. These can add a lot of depth to an otherwise flat cover. You can see a couple of examples below where I simply inserted a glitter texture in the first example and a grunge concrete texture in the second example. You can find these textures on stock photo sites or in Google images search – just make sure that they are royalty free or creative commons.
5. Contrast and Brightness
This a simple but powerful tip. A lot of people make a mistake of not differentiating the background from the focus point of the cover. This can make a cover confusing to look at, as a potential reading won’t know where to place their attention. This can be avoided by adding contrast to the important part of your cover to make it really stand out. You can play with the brightness and contrast of an image until you find the right balance for your cover. Have a look at the two images below, you can see how the image on the left causes the focus of the viewer to be on the spaceship and the image on the right puts the focus on the gun.
Vignette is essentially a frame without a frame. By darkening the edges of your cover, it allows you to draw the attention to the central point of your image without needing to use an ugly frame. Once you have been made aware of this effect, you’ll notice that it’s used on a lot of photos and book covers. It’s very popular because it feels natural and it’s pleasant to the eye.
7. Lens Flare
This is a somewhat controversial tip because people think it’s had a lot of overuse. However, it’s an effective add-on especially to outside scenes where the sun is shining. It can make an image seem more realistic because a lens flare naturally appears on photos when shooting against the light. It can also tie together the layers of your cover, especially when you use multiple images to create the scene. Have a look at an example below to see how effective they can be.
Honestly, gradients can look really awful if not used correctly, so be careful about using them, but don’t try to avoid them completely. They can be great for making your text stand out when you work with a complicated background and there are many different styles of gradients that you might find very useful for different purposes. Have a look at the use of gradients in the images below.
9. Double Exposure
Double-exposure is an effective way of getting people to look at your cover multiple times. After seeing a cover once, the reader might think they’ve seen anything, but then do a double take and see that there is more to the image that initially meets the eye. This is a pretty hard effect to describe, so have a look at the image below for an example of a double exposure.
Double exposure is basically two images that have been merged together and it’s called double exposure because it’s what would happen when two photos were exposed onto the same piece of film in the past. Now, this can be done very easily with Photoshop actions like those that you can find on Graphic River. Or if you’re feeling ambitious, you can do them yourself in Photoshop…
Blur is neither the most complex, nor the most interesting effect, but it’s something that is incredibly useful in creating realistic looking scenes. It’s been used in photography for a very long time and you might come across it especially when you see portrait photos. It is something that cameras do naturally, but it can be replicated in Photoshop when you are mixing together separate images of your foreground and background. It’s very simple to do. If you want people’s attention to be drawn to a part of your cover, put that in focus and blur out the rest.
So, those are my “big 10” – the ten effects that I use most often when designing covers. For more examples of these at work, take a look at my portfolio. Now that you know what to look out for, you’ll see a lot of these effects in my work! And if you like any of the covers above for your own book, you can find most of them in my pre-made covers section.