In my first post in this series, I discussed choosing a font for your book cover. Great fonts are the first step towards making your book cover look professional, but I see a lot of amateur covers that take a perfectly good font and do terrible things to make it “pop” on their cover. And by “pop” I mean being readable, especially at a thumbnail size. There are four things that will make your text readable:
1) Choose a font in which every letter is clear. Sometimes the upper-case letters can be tricky, so do your best to choose a font that works well with your title or author name.
2) Choose a font that is either very clean and simple, or has a thick weight to it. Preferably both. This will help it to not get lost in the background image. You can sometimes get away with a busier background image with a nice thick font.
3) Have a strong contrast between the background and the text. A lot of people just use white text on a dark background or black text on a white background. Think a little deeper about your colour choice and pick something that is visible, but suits the background image. Now, this could be white or black, but don’t just default to that, even a light cream or dark grey can look a lot more intentional.
4) Keep the background simple. You will have an easier time if you pick an image that has a fairly consistent colour or not a lot of contrast where you want to place your text (usually the top and bottom). This makes it easier to make your text a contrasting colour and easy to read. If the spot where you want to place your text goes from white to black to hot pink to green, you’re going to have a harder time finding something that works!
Do not try to solve the problem of poor contrast by adding an outline or a drop shadow to your text!
You may have seen this occasionally done well on book covers, but that’s very rare and the designer knew what they were doing. You will have a much better shot at creating an attractive and readable book cover by increasing the contrast between the text and the background image. I see so many covers that have the potential to be good, ruined by ugly outlines or drop shadows. You can do better!
Okay, that’s a lot of things, so here’s an example:
I found this lovely image, and cropped for a stronger composition. I also gave it an overlay to make the colour more unified. Then I found a pretty, but thick font for my title and a complimentary secondary font. It looks nice, but that text doesn’t have enough contrast and it’s going to be hard to read at a thumbnail size.
Next, on the right I gave it a black outline. It’s easier to read, but is still going to be trouble at the thumbnail size where the outline is barely visible. It also looks ugly.
On the left, I tried a drop shadow. This is at least 50% better than the outline, but still does not look very good. The text also becomes more complicated when you add things like this, and simple is best for thumbnails.
My solution is on the right. Instead of trying to make the text work on the photo, I changed the photo to allow the text to show up better. I did this with a couple layers of overlays that are only at the bottom of the image, so you can still see her pretty face. Not only is the type clearer, the entire cover has more depth and drama.
Repeat after me: “I will not use outlines or drop shadows”
And so ends part two of my series on fonts.
Go forth and fontify!
I’m planning a couple future articles to cover the little details that will put you over the edge into awesome typography, like kerning and alignment, as well as a post to help you avoid overused fonts. Don’t miss out, be sure to follow my blog or sign up in the sidebar for my newsletter if you are interested in learning more about book cover design!
You can find the stock photo used in this article in the gorgeous Melissa Salvatore’s deviantart account. I don’t use stock for my own covers, but I thought it would be the easiest way to illustrate my thoughts on this topic.