UPDATE 2/25/2021 – Since publishing this article, we’ve integrated Canva directly into our publishing process! You can still use Canva to create a cover independently of Lulu, just as this post details. You can also apply some of the design tips and formatting mentioned here when creating with our integrated Canva Cover Creator.
Canva, the free and subscription based online image editor, is by-far the simplest way to design your book cover. While Canva isn’t specifically designed for creating book covers, it’s got the options you need to make your cover with minimal effort and little design knowledge.
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 Canva’s 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. I promise you, it’s still easy!
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 Template
Once you’ve uploaded your interior file, we can generate a custom template for your cover!
Note that we provide the overall dimensions and spine size right on the screen. The template will also provide those specs and give you a PDF with the spine, bleed, and margins marked out! You can use this file to create each distinct element of your cover (front, back, and spine) which can then be merged into a single file. Or you can use the overall dimensions to make a complete cover.
Here’s a sample I made using 3 Shape elements in Canva:
The front and back cover (the gray elements) are sized 6.125 in for the width; to match the size of my book size plus bleed. My actual spine is 0.24 in, but I made the purple spine element 0.5 in so it overlaps and gives me room for variance in the printing.
Variance And Print-On-Demand Spines
You should never create a cover with a unique color just on the spine. All printing, from Lulu’s POD methods to traditional off-set print runs will experience variance—a very slight shifting of the trim. If your front and back cover is red and the spine is green, there is no way to guarantee the green spine aligns 100% perfectly every time. It’s just not possible.
Now I want to add some text to my spine. I know 10 point font is about 0.14 in, so if I use that size and center it, the text should be fine for my spine size. While Canva doesn’t offer grids you can snap your elements too, it does let you center elements and text. And since your spine will always be in the center of your cover file, this makes it easy to align spine text.
Here’s an example of what that might look like.
Note that when you grab the text box to move it around, you will see ‘snap to’ lines and you’ll be able to get the text box perfectly centered in your file. I can go about creating the rest of my cover; adding an ISBN barcode, back cover text, maybe an author image. And I can upload images to Canva to use for the cover as well.
Once I’m done, I download the file as a Print Quality PDF (this is important!) and I’m ready to upload to Lulu. Here’s what I see in our previewer after I upload, verifying that I placed my spine and text properly:
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.
But you should also be aware that everything I did here was unnecessary. I could have simply aligned by spine text to the center in Canva. My entire cover is yellow and all my design elements (title, images, barcode, text) are far from the spine. It’s good to know your options, but with a little careful placement of your elements, Canva can get the job done.
Canva: 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 Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not 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.