Book covers. The part of book publishing that causes the most headache and frustration. Worst of all, the issues one author might have with cover design might be a breeze to the next author; there cannot ever be one simple guide or method for designing your book cover.
Before you try your hand at a DIY cover for your book, I encourage you (as someone who designed this cover) to leverage your resources. Do you know a graphic designer? Do you have connections through local writing groups? Can you at least get professional advice on your book cover design?
But, if you’ve settled on creating a design yourself, well this article is for you.
What is Canva?
Canva is a slick web and app-based tool for editing and designing images. Imagine if some genius spent hours and days going through Photoshop, pulling out the most essential tools for basic photo design, then used those tools to make a new photo editing program. That program would be Canva.
Canva offers a wide range of features for free and has a paid upgrade with some additional features at fairly reasonable rates:
Canva for Work has some cool features you might find useful. But if you just need to generate your book cover, you can absolutely do so with the free version. For the sake of being thorough, let’s quickly cover what Canva for Work has that the free version doesn’t:
As part of the Brand Kit, you can upload fonts. If you use a specific and distinct font for your cover or marketing images, the Brand Kit fonts are useful. This can be helpful for unique book titles. And if you’re following a brand guide, consistency is always important!
This is more useful for your social media marketing efforts. That said, if you’re attempting to promote your book(s) and brand through social media, the Resizing tool is kind of amazing. Just craft your image and select the social media platforms you’ll use it for, and Canva will automatically (magically) resize it for each.
And if you’re unsure about paying for a graphic design tool, Canva offers 30 days free. While I don’t advocate abusing this generous offer, you can take advantage of it to try the services and design your cover.
Why Use Canva for your Cover?
Canva has several pre-constructed covers and a ‘book cover maker’ option that gives you an array of book cover templates to choose from.
And those are just the first few categories visible. Using their templates helps make sure your cover fits your book’s genre. And Canva offers a ton of free to use stock images to customize your cover. Their premium images come in at the low price of $1.00 per download, making all of Canva’s offerings affordable.
If you are a novice or beginner with book designs and cover designing, Canva is one of the best options to create a quality design without breaking your budget.
Using the Designer
To test out Canva’s design options, I made a cover for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. An iconic book that has a lot of distinct cover design options. I started with a template but decided to completely go my own way with the design.
Note that I am NOT a graphic designer and notoriously bad at cover design.
But here is what I produced along with the original template I started with:
I made my cover to fit an A5 book—but you might notice something distinctly missing: the spine and back cover!
Working with Canva’s Limitations
Canva’s cover image creation tool is focused on the front cover—which is essentially a thumbnail or ebook cover only. That does not mean you cannot create a full cover (front, spine, and back) with Canva. It’ll just require a little more work.
The first thing you need to do is understand Canva’s limitations and how this will impact your cover design. Two limitations in particular can get in your way:
- No ruler or grid lines while designing
- No ability to merge two files
Even using the Canva for Work version, you won’t be able to perform a file merger, nor will you be able to use a ruler or snap-grid to align content.
For a complete cover, the grid is vital to finding the spine location and preparing your content around the spine. One way around this is to build the front, spine, and back as three separate images and merge them, but Canva lacks that function too.
That said, there are some workarounds.
Use Lulu’s Cover Tool
Lulu’s Cover Wizard has a theme called ‘Image Only’ that allows you to upload and insert images for the front and back covers. The theme includes a spine (which you can edit to match the color and add text). You’d have to use Canva to make an image for the front and back cover and then upload them and style the spine in the Lulu Cover Wizard.
While Canva doesn’t offer file merging, that doesn’t mean you can’t merge files. I like to use another free photo tool, Photoscape X, to merge multiple image files. For my Alice cover design, I created the front cover using a template, then mirrored the design (by copying it in Canva) and stretched it to include the back cover and spine.
For most designs, you’ll want to make your spine independently. I didn’t because I know exactly the font size I would use and that it would fit, so I saved a step and created the back cover and spine together.
The Bottom Line
If you’re an author with little cover design experience but want to give it a go, Canva is a simple solution. Great book cover design is an art, but for simple covers Canva has the tools and stock images/graphics you need to really make something with a professional finish.
Just know that a full cover is not as simple with Canva and adjust your plans accordingly.
Paul is the Senior Copywriter at Lulu, writing weekly blog posts and helping guide content for the company’s marketing. When he’s not deeply entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person, but considers himself cat tolerant.