Designing a Paperback Cover in PowerPoint: Success!

For some time, I’ve suspected that if you can build a credible Kindle cover in PowerPoint (which you certainly can!), you ought also to be able to build a cover for a print paperback version of your magnum opus.

Will it look gaudy and spectacular and eye-spinning, the way some professionally designed covers do? Well, of course not. But on the other hand, there’s something to be said for simplicity.

So today I tried it out. And here’s the result:

1 Volume 1 cover finished LoRes

The cover pitch could be a lot snappier, but we’re not quite ready to go to print yet, so there’s time to revise that. The point is: the design!

It fits the printer’s specs, and when I went to upload this draft, by golly, it worked!

The trick is to learn the printer’s specs first, convert from inches to pixels, and use PowerPoint’s File > Page Setup function to create a virtual “board” (as it were) in the correct size. For the horizontal size, you need to add the cover width x 2 (i.e., the width of the front and back covers + the width of the spine + the width of the bleed x 2. Get the spine width and the bleed width from your printer’s website — the printer should be able to tell you the spine width based on the number of pages and the paper stock you choose. The height is simpler: height + (bleed width x 2).

Jargon alert: The “trim size” is the size of the book when it’s printed and the pages and covers are “trimmed” to fit the size of the book you have in mind. The cover’s “bleed” is a small margin around the outside of this “trim size” that your cover image should overlap: this prevents minor errors from leaving you with a white strip along an edge.

At my printer’s website, I entered the size I’d like the book to be and the number of pages. Up came the specs: The total width of the PDF I would need to upload should be 12.28 inches, and its height should be 9 inches.

PowerPoint measures these things in pixels. Often printers’ figures are emitted in inches: my books are laid out for an 8.5 x 5.5-inch trim size, for example. Have no fear: Google “inches to pixels” and you’ll find several calculators that will convert your printer’s specs to figures you can enter in PowerPoint. So, the required 12.28 inches (which includes the trim size + the bleed + the the spine width) = 1178.88 pixels; 9 inches = 816 pixels; and the .78-inch spine width = 74.88 pixels.

So, open a new “presentation” in PowerPoint. Delete the default text boxes; keep the portrait orientation. In File > Page setup, tell Powerpoint to give you a slide that’s 1179 pixels wide by 816 pixels high. It will complain; tell it you want those measures anyway.

In the slide, activate the rulers, horizontal and vertical. Create a text box that’s 816 pixels high by 74.88 pixels wide. This will be your spine. Center it on the horizontal rule’s “0.” Go to Format > Shape > Text box. Select Horizontal alignment > Center and Text Direction > Rotate 90° clockwise.  Enter your author’s last name and the book’s title and format the font as desired (Format > Font; experiment around to find whatever pleases you). Then, if necessary, return to Format > Shape > Text box and adjust the spine’s internal margins to your taste.

Upload your cover image on the right-hand side of the spine. Its size should be at least 300 pixels; you’ll save your PowerPoint file at 300 pixels, too, when the time comes. Adjust the size as necessary so that the image fits the space between the margins and the spine textbox.

To delineate the spaces for the bleed and the spine, go to View > Guides. Click to check “Static Guides.” Unclick Dynamic Guides, Snap to Grid, and Snap to Shape. This will give you two visible guidelines: a vertical one, up the middle of the “slide.” and a horizontal one, crossing it at the midline. You want more than that: you want two vertical guides to mark the width and position of the spine, two vertical guides to show the left and right margins inside the bleed, and two horizontal guides to show the top and bottom margins inside the bleed area.

Various versions of PowerPoint have different ways of making extra lines, but the basic trick is to click a command key while holding your cursor on the guideline. Because this command is neither obvious nor easy to make happen, the easiest way to learn how to do it on your system is to Google a search phrase such as static guides Powerpoint [YYYY] Mac or …Windows. Enter your version of PowerPoint and Mac or Windows, whichever fits. Create the desired number of new static guidelines, and then drag them to the desired points on your rulers.

My screenshot software “disappears” these guidelines, so…sorry: no image available. But as soon as you get even one guideline in place, it’s easy to see where it should go.

If the image you’re uploading doesn’t already have cover lines, compose and design cover lines: title, subtitle, author’s name, and a tag if desired. KEEP IT SIMPLE! Remember that these elements may have to be visible in a thumbnail, if you’re publishing to Amazon, Nook, or waypoints. If a miracle happens and the book ends up in a bookstore, a browsing reader will have to spot your title elements quickly and without squinting.

In formatting the fonts for cover lines, experiment with PowerPoint’s many embellishments. I find “line, fill, shadow, and glow” are the most useful. In this cover, I used a white line with the author name (i.e., white font with a white line — this trick often makes thinner typefaces look more bold or pop out better) and a red line with the title, subtitle, and spine copy. I used a shadow with the main title.

Place each cover line in its own textbox! This allows you to control the spacing between the elements. So here, Fire-Rider: Books I-VI is in a text box and The Saga Begins is in a separate text box. The natural leading between the two lines was too wide, but with each line in its own textbox, I was able to pull up the main title to close up the space.

If your image is not shaped to fill the entire horizontal “board” (as it were), then you’ll either have to fill the back cover with another image or you’ll need to fill in the back with a color.

To fill in the back cover and spine with color, use PowerPoint’s Format > Slide Background > Fill function. You have several choices here. The simplest is just to pick “… > Solid” to fill in the area not covered by the image with a solid color compatible with your image’s colors.

I used Format > Slide Background > Fill function > Gradient to fancify the fill colors for the book’s spine and back cover.

You can copy a color from an image in PowerPoint. This function is far from obvious. Here’s how:

When you select a color, you’ll see the presentation’s standard colors. At the bottom of that, you”ll see an option, “More Colors.” Click on that. In the tool that comes up (it’s likely to be a virtually useless color wheel), you’ll see a tiny icon that looks like a magnifying glass.

This totally unintuitive icon is the same as Adobe’s “eye-dropper.” Click on it to capture it. Then go to your image, mouse-over the color that you’d like to copy, and click to capture that color. This you can use to fill, or you can use in the “Gradient” function.

Gradient gives you two tabs, one on the left and one on the right, allowing you to blend two colors in a background or fill (you can use it to “fill” font characters, too, as I did for the “The Saga Begins” title). You can add more tabs.

For this book’s background, I placed the sky’s blue in the left-hand tab, the smoke’s brownish gray in the center tab, and one of the orangey colors from the flames in the right-hand tab.

In using “Gradient,” experiment with the “Styles and Direction” function to find the look you prefer. Adjusting the position of the tabs will also produce different effects. Just play around with these until you find something that works well with the title.

Enter back-cover copy and images in text boxes. The bar code is an image generated from the ISBN. You can either pay Bowker for one of these or you can search “free ISBN bar code” on the Internet. Several freebie generators will create ISBNs or PDFs for you. Convert a PDF or .eps to a JPEG or TIFF file (300 dps). Crop if need be, and insert the bar code image near the bottom of the back cover, well away from other copy. The bar code should be sized at about 1 x 2 inches. This is easy to do by moving it close to PowerPoint’s rulers.

Proofread. Proofread again. Proofread again.

The final steps are simple but mildly tedious:

Save the Powerpoint file down as a PDF. In the Save As…PDF function, click on “options” and be sure to select “300 dps.”

Open the PDF and save that down as a TIFF (.tif) file. Close the PDF.

Open the TIFF file in a Mac’s “Preview” or, if you have a PC, some kind of image editor. Crop the image in the TIFF to get rid of the white border generated by the PDF. Check the size; be sure it’s still the pixel size you entered in your Powerpoint file. Adjust if ncessary. Be sure it’s still 300 dpi (it probably will be; adjust if need be). Save.

Now save the TIFF as a JPEG. Close the TIFF and open the JPEG in Preview or an image editor. Check the size; adjust if necessary. Save. If you need a lower-resolution (i.e., smaller) file to send by email or upload someplace, do a Save…as on your JPEG and title the new image “[yourfilename] LoRes.jpg”. Close the 300 dpi image and open the new image; in Preview or the image editor, adjust the size from 300 dpi to 72 dpi. Save and close.

Et voilà. You should be able to use at least one of these images to upload to a print-on-demand publisher. Mine likes PDFs; others may prefer a TIFF or JPEG version. And it’s always handy to have a low-resolution file…you never know.