Design The Cover

Your book is laid out and your editors are painting them red. It'll take your editors a bit of time to get back to you with edits and feedback, so you've got time to think about the cover.

Determine Cover Layout Dimentions

Your printer will have specifications for how to lay out your cover. Many printers will even provide you with template files. If you are setting up the document yourself, you'll want to know what your printer's expectations are for bleeds and gutters.

Here is Gorham Printing's cover layout guide.


The Trim refers to the size of your book. The Finch Quest default is a 6" trim width and a 9" trim height.


In printing, the Bleed is part of the image that will definitely be cut off, so that the graphic can go to the edge of the page. We didn't cover it earlier, but if you're an expert you may have already worked with bleeds when you were laying out your book in step 7. Bleeds are a little different if you're printing a softcover or hardcover book. Softcover layouts simply cut on the cut lines. Hardcover books need extra art around the edges to wrap around to the inside of the cover.


The Gutter refers to the space between two columns. For your cover layout, you will use a gutter to indicate where the art for your book's spine goes. Using the Finch Quest default, a 32 page softcover book will have a spine that is 0.0857" wide, so you will use that same value for your gutter. It's important to note that your book is quite thin, so it will be too small to put text on the spine. Gorham Printing does not allow text on the spine if it's less than .15” wide.

Create Your Cover Template

Creating the cover document in InDesign requires a little arithmetic. You'll be setting up a single page document with two columns and a gutter. The height of your cover document will be the same as the height of your final book, but the width will be twice the width of your book, plus the spine width. You'll want to include a 1/8th inch bleed. If you're printing hardcover, you'll need to add a 1" margin to identify the artwork that wraps around the cover.

For the Finch Quest default layout, your new InDesign document details will look like this.

Design Your Cover

There are a few aspects to a good comic book cover design. The primary focus is how to effective use both the illustration and the typography.

As a comic artist, you have been merging text and images together to tell your story. If you take a moment to flip through your comic collection, you'll be able to pick out the comic covers you respond the most strongly to. I'll give you a crash course in design fundamentals. I'm pretty confident that with a few pointers, your natural instinct and a few examples unhand will enable you to weave together an incredibly effective cover.


In design, Typography refers to how words are used to be interesting but still readable. Your cover will definitely have a title and the creator's name. You could also include a chapter number or a catchy tagline. Don't load too much text on your cover. Too much text will overwhelm the viewer. A good strong title and a author line should be plenty.

Your title can either be hand drawn or typed. This is another good chance to look at Blambot's resources that are free for Indie comic authors. Hand-drawing letters can be fun and full of character, but don't draw your lettering too wild or it won't be readable. Try a few lettering layouts and show it to friends to get it to that perfect balance of eye-catching and readable.

The color you use for your text is important as well. You want high contrast lettering that can be seen from across a comic shop. If you're placing your title on a rich, detailed illustration, there's a danger of your title becoming muddled and unreadable. The solution to this is well practiced by the internet meme culture: make your lettering thick and give it a high contrast border. Use a light colored text with a very dark border (or vice versa) and you'll have very readable text that's clear on any background.


Your cover is your biggest chance to enable readers to respond to your artwork. This should be the most pristine and presentable example of your book's artwork.

Are you feeling pressured? Don't worry about it. The reason we've saved this for last is that right now, now that you've spend so much time drawing a full book's worth of artwork, your skills are at their peak. After all that repetition, you have maximized your confidence and consistency drawing your characters.

There are a lot of directions you can go when drawing your characters for the cover. This is really where you want to look at covers you like and books similar to yours, to see how they present the characters to be interesting and eye-catching. Note how they are posed but also how their placed on the page. You will rarely see the characters overlap with the typography! Your title and your characters are both design element. In design, you want to respect your elements visual importance. You want your title readable and your characters recognizable. You want to avoid two elements conflicting with each other!

The background is also a visual element, however it's an element that must interact with the title and characters. Depending on your illustration style, you may be drawing your background as part of your cover illustration, or you're drawing it as an individual layer. You may also be opting to use a simple background, such as a solid or textured color. If you're drawing everything together, remember that design rules still apply: place your characters and title on the background with their purpose in mind, keeping the title readable and the characters interesting. Your background is also where you'll be adding your bleed. Include more extra detail around the edges than you'll need, so you can crop it to the interesting part.

Back Cover

Laying out the back cover is a chance to relax and have a little more fun. There's less pressure to draw something eye-catching here, so you can doodle something simple or even re-use art from inside the book. Briefly describe your story. Make sure your text is still high contrast against the background so it's readable. You will want to identify a 1" by 2" white box where the ISBN will go, even if you skipped buying one so you can place a sticker later. If you DO have your ISBN and have generated a barcode for it, import it at 300dpi. Keep it black-on-white and test it with Google Goggles to make sure it scans correctly.

Export and Print a Color Test

Export your file for print quality. Just like exporting the book layout, you likely won't be altering InDesign's presets for print quality.

Colors on your computer screen are fundamentally different from printed colors. Even to the core, you use different colors to mix the light from your monitor (red, green and blue) verses the ink from your printer (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). Your design will look absolutely amazing on your screen but the color translation will almost definitely not translate to ink.

Another common design mistake is to place your text too close to the edges. The screen is very deceptive compared to actual paper. Just about every first-time designer makes this mistake! Plan on re-positioning your text and title to be further from the edge than you originally placed it after you see it printed.

Because color and placement issues are so easy to make, you will definitely want to print your cover in color before you send it to press. Take the exported PDF to the printshop. Use the paper cutter to crop the bleed off. Take a look, then go back and make adjustments. Doing this now, before you send to press, will save you a great deal of effort and money. Most print shops charge you extra if you send too many revisions!

Can you believe how much you've accomplished? You didn't just scribble a comic on paper, you produced the work files for a beautiful, professional quality book! It's time to make this official and send it to print!

Next Step: Send to Print home

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