Dirty Design: Create a Grungy Thriller Book Cover


Step 1 – Setting Up Your .PSD file

A book cover, in most cases (unless it’s an eBook) is going to go to press, which means we have to set it up correctly. There are hundreds of different book sizes, but a few that are commonly used for fiction books. One of them is 108x177mm (front cover only). Spines change width obviously depending on the length of the book, but in this case we’re going to use 26mm, giving us a total dimension of 243x180mm including a 3mm bleed.
If you’re setting up your document for a real book cover, whatever you do, do not guess the width of the spine! There’s a simple formula which can determine that width for you: you have to take the number of pages and divide that number by your text papers PPI (Pages Per Inch), which all depends on the weight (GSM) of your paper. You should be able to get that from your quote sheet, or ask your printers for it! You can use this awesome spine width calculator if you can’t be bothered to work it out yourself!
Head over to Photoshop and set up a new document; make sure your width is set to 243mm and your height is set to 180mm. Make the resolution 300 pixels/inch and set the color mode to CMYK. Hit OK!

Make sure your rulers are showing by going to View > Rulers, or press Command + R. A lot of people don’t use rulers very much, but they can come in very handy for dragging out guides later on in the project. Go to View > New Guide… and with Horizontal selected insert 3mm into the Position box. Do the same again, this time inserting 177mm into the position box. Repeat the process using measurements 3mm and 240mm, this time with the Vertical checkbox ticked. That’s our 3mm bleed added to the document – our design will go right up to the edge of the document, but for those that don’t know, when the document goes to print, 3mm from each side of the document will be chopped off.
This means the printers can assure you that there will be no white gaps on any of your documents so long as you set up the file correctly. Also, with any print project, not just this one, always keep your text at least a few millimeters away from the bleed guide, this is just to be on the safe side incase a few of your prints aren’t aligned correctly when being cut down to size. You might find it easier to create another set of guides for this, or you can do what I do and use your eyes as a guide.
It’s time to add some guides for our spine. Go to View > New Guide… and with the Vertical checkbox ticked, insert 108mm and hit OK. Repeat the last step using the measurement 134mm. Remember we’re working in millimeters, not centimeters or pixels. You should now have a nicely aligned .PSD document. Always remember to save your documents regularly!

Step 2 – Choosing a Color Scheme and Adding Some Initial Background Texture

Crime, Horror and Thriller books are often associated with grungy covers, which means this tutorial is going to use a huge handful of textures, blending modes and brushes.
I’m going to go with a blood red color scheme mixed with some warm browns, dark oranges and a pure white which will be used for the majority of the typography in our design – what color scheme you choose is entirely up to you, I suggest you play around with your design for as long as you have and see what you can come up with; after all that is the best way to learn and pick up new techniques.
Select a warm blood red/orange (#db2900) and using the Paint Bucket Tool fill your background layer. We’re going to add some texture to our design straight away. Make a new layer and fill it with white. Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise… In the new window, insert 100% into the Amount field, and make sure Gaussian and Monochromatic are both selected. Hit OK.

With the new layer still selected, drag it down to the New Layer symbol at the bottom of the palette – this will duplicate the layer. Repeat the step again. Set all three layers to Overlay and using a large, soft Eraser, get rid of some of the areas on each layer. Name each layer sensibly so you can find them later; I named mine “Noise 1″, “Noise 2″ and “Noise 3.”

Already our cover is looking quite grungy, and so far we’ve only used one built in Photoshop Filter! Head over to Textur.es and download this lovely grunge texture. Insert the texture into your document by going to File > Place. Rotate it so the grungier side of the texture is on your front cover, and upscale it to the same size as your document. The easiest way to do this is by going to Edit > Free Transform or by pressing Command + T and then dragging the corners of the texture out whilst holding the Shift Key to keep everything in proportion.

Change the textures layer to Overlay, and change the layer name to “Texture 1.” Drag the layer down to the New Layer icon at the bottom of the palette to duplicate the layer. Rotate it by 90 degrees, and align it next to the spine (this should be easy if you have Snap to Guides selected – if not, go to View > Snap To > Guides). Grab the same soft Eraser we had a minute ago and erase a few areas of our duplicated layer. Rename the layer to “Texture 2.”

The joy of using textures in your work is that you can create a stunning piece of work with a very minimal amount of time, effort and resources. One texture can go a long, long way.
I’ve just realized our whole design is turning a little bit orange – not so much that blood red I was hoping for! The overlays on the Noise layers seem to have lightened our red up so much that it’s turned to orange. To fix this, make a new layer above our original background and fill it with a dark red/brown (#5c0000). Rename the layer to Background 2 and drop the Opacity to 60%.

Step 3 – Making Different Areas Look Different

When it comes to books, there are three different areas. The front covers main purpose is to advertise the book – it needs to stand out. The spine is to make the book easy to find on a shelf full of others. The back cover is to present a blurb – meaning it should be easy to read. So far, our front, spine and back look virtually the same. We need to fix that!
Duplicate your layer “Texture 2″ and select the Paint Bucket Tool. With the same dark red/brown we selected earlier, click somewhere on your duplicated layer to fill some areas. Rename the layer to “Texture Blobs” or something of your own choice. Your image should currently look like something below.

Select a large, soft Eraser, and erase out some of the inner areas of your “Texture Blobs” layer. Change the Blending Mode to Multiply, and lower the opacity to something you think is suitable for your piece; I used 20%. This should give us a dark, grungy front cover that fades into the background as it reaches the center of the page, which is where we will be featuring an object.

Make a New Layer and name it “Front Border.” We’ll be making some more darker areas where, later on, we will be presenting some text with a Spot UV overlay. Select the Rectangular Marquee Tool and select the front of your cover up to the spine.

Select a large, soft brush and change your color to a dark grey or black. In your marquee selection, paint a dark area at the top and bottom of your front cover – you could even paint a very small streak of black up the sides of your cover. Use the Eraser with a soft brush to thin out any areas you felt you applied too thick.

Change the Opacity of the layer to about 25%. Repeat the last two instructions again, this time making the border even thinner – remember to make a new layer! Name it “Front Border 2.” I also used a different color – a dark red/brown (#6f2009).

You should have more subtle grunge area at the top and bottom of your front cover now, which is suitable to present some nice typography later on in the tutorial.
Now we’re going to work on the spine of our book cover. The spine should be very subtle and easy to read, especially as we don’t have too much space to work with. Make a New Layer and name it “Spine Background.” Select the Rectangular Marquee Tool and select the spine – this should be relatively easy because, with Snap to Guides selected, it should automatically connect with our spine guides. Grab a soft brush and using the same color we used in the last instruction, paint the bottom and top of your spine, leaving a small area in the middle. Lower the Opacity to 70% just so a little grunge shows through!

With the front cover and spine virtually complete (we will probably add a little more background texture later on!), it’s time to move on to the back cover. The back cover will have a lot of text and important information on it, so it’s important we don’t show too much texture and keep it pretty plain. We will need to display: a blurb, a couple of one-line reviews, a price, a barcode, an ISBN number and maybe an authors web address and a designers web address.
This step is pretty much the same as the last few: make a new layer and name it “Back Cover Background.” With the Rectangular Marquee Tool, select the back cover. Select the Brush Tool and choose a large, soft brush – again using the same color we used in the previous step. Brush over the back cover, leaving a small, low opacity area in the middle.

Lower the opacity of the layer to 85% and then make another New Layer called “Back Cover Background 2.” Lower the size of your brush a little (I lowered mine to 1000px) and choose pure black as your color. Repeat the same step as before, this time not going as far into the center of the back cover as we did previously. Change the layers Blending Mode to Overlay and drop the Opacity to 50%.

With your marquee selection still active, fill it with pure black on a new layer named “Back Cover Black Overlay.” Lower the opacity to 15%. This just takes a little color out of our back cover which will make it easier to present readable text.

Our back cover, compared to our spine, seems a little dark. To fix this we’re going to make our spine a little darker. Reselect the spine with the Rectangular Marquee Tool. Make a New Layer and name it “Spine Dark Background.” With the same brush as we used in the previous instruction, brush over the left half of the spine using a color from the back cover (use the Eyedropper Tool to select a color). You should have something look similar to the screenshot below:

Lower the Opacity of the new layer to 70% – you’re spine should now merge in a little more between the back and front covers.

Step 4 – Organizing Our Document!

I often take a few minutes throughout a project to tidy up my mess – it doesn’t take long when we’ve been renaming our layers throughout the length of the tutorial, but now we have a total of 16 layers it’s time to put them into some folders.

Make a total of four new folders by clicking on the New Group icon at the bottom of the layers palette. Rename them to: “Main Background,” “Front Cover Background,” “Spine Background” and “Back Cover Background.” Move all the related layers into the appropriate groups.

This was a bit of a short step, but plays a vital part in keep our document organized. If you’re not to sure what you’re doing when it comes to pre-press and you send in a Photoshop document, having a well-named layered and grouped document really helps out and ultimately means the turnaround time for your print job will probably be quicker – we all win!

Step 5 – The Typography

It’s time to add some typography! As this project isn’t actually for a real book cover, I’m going to make some names up. I’m going to use my name, “Callum Chapman” as the author, “BOOK COVER TUTS+” as the book title, “A Tuts+ Print Tutorial” as a mini description of the book, and a section of text from Tuts+ about page as the blurb. On top of all this, I’ll be making up some mini one-line reviews by several made up magazines/newspapers.

Select the Type Tool and drag a text box over your front cover. Type in your authors name, in my case I used “CALLUM CHAPMAN.” I used two separate lines for “CALLUM” and “CHAPMAN.” Select your text and change to a suitable font – I’m going to use Myriad Pro for the majority of text on my cover as it has a lot of styles such as condensed, semibold, oblique, bold, and a combination of them all together. When designing for print, try to stay clear from Faux Bold and Italic as in the end they don’t always come out as great as they could.

Change the size of the authors first name to 45pt and the size of the authors surname to 60pt – this is the time to make sure your text box is lined up with the bleed on the right-hand side of the document and the right side of your spine. Open up the Character Palette by going to Window > Character. From here we can change the leading and tracking, which is always important when it comes to typography – never bypass it! Change the Leading to 55pt – this will bring your authors surname closer to the bottom of your authors first name, but not too close! If you’ve used a different typeface or size to me, you might need to play round with these settings as they differ depending on the font and size used.

With your text layer still selected, open up the Blending Options by going to Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options. Alternatively you could Alt-Click on the Text Layer and select Blending Options from the menu.

We want to add various styles to make our text really pop out from the cover. We’ll be using the following styles: Drop Shadow, Inner Shadow, Bevel and Emboss and Stroke. The screenshots below show the different settings I used for each individual style:

Create a new layer beneath our authors name and call it “Author Shadow.” Grab the Brush Tool, and with a medium-sized soft brush, paint a black shadowed beneath the authors name.

Change the layers Blending Mode to Saturation, this will turn everything below it to greyscale. Lower the layers Opacity to 40%. The point of this step is to just make it that little bit easier to read, and makes the text pop out even more!

Repeat the previous steps to add a book title. I’m using the following text in the same text area on separate lines: “A Tuts+ Print Tutorial” and “BOOK COVER TUTS+.”

With your mini description selected, change the size of the font to 15pt. Select your mini description and book title together and change the Leading in the Character Palette to 30pt. Select your mini description and change the color to an off-white/red – I used #ffdada.

Make a new layer beneath your book title layer, and using the same technique we used earlier, brush in a black shadowed area with a small, soft brush. Remember to rename your layer – I called mine “Title Shadow.”

Go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur. Change the Angle to 90 and the distance to 250. To preview the different Distances before applying the blur, make sure the preview box is checked. Hit OK to apply the blur to our shadow.

Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise. Change the Amount to 25, the Distribution to Gaussian and make sure Monochromatic is unchecked. Hit OK.

Change the layers Blending Mode to Overlay and its Opacity to 60%.
Using similar styles and fonts, add a few short reviews beneath the book title. I’m going to use “‘A top-notch book!’ – PSD Times” and “‘Fantastically gripping!’ – Vector Mag.” I’m going to use Bold Condensed Myriad Pro for the review, and Condensed Myriad Pro for the reviewers name.

Step 6: The Back Cover

It’s time for the Blurb on the back page. Head over to the Envato homepage and copy the brief introduction to the Tuts+ Network. Select the Text Tool in your Book Cover document and make a new text box on the back cover; make sure it’s center! Paste the introduction in to the text box. Back over at Envato, copy and paste the information under the ‘About Envato’ heading, head back to your document and paste this in, too. At the top of your text box, insert a line that will be used as an opening sentence. I’m going to use: ‘You’re about to learn how to make your very own book cover!’

It’s time to style up our back page! We want our opening line to stand out from the rest of the blurb. To do this, I’m going to use the same color we used for the mini description above the book title we used on the front cover (#ffdada). Make the selection bold and change the font size to 15pt.

I’m pretty happy with how the blurb is looking already! Change your main two paragraphs font size to 12pt. The only problem we now have is some words are being separated and split in to two using a ‘-’ symbol. To fix this, hit enter to send the word to the next line – repeat this step until there are no more unwanted hyphens.
Make sure the top of your blurb is lined up with the top of the authors name on the front page. To do this, drag a new guide down from the ruler and line it up with the top of the authors name. If they aren’t lined up, use the cursor keys on your keyboard to nudge your blurb up or down until they are aligned correctly.

Add a couple more reviews on our back cover. The easiest and quickest way to do this is to duplicate the two reviews from earlier and rearrange the new layers on the back cover beneath our blurb. With the Text Tool selected, click on the text and change the words to something different. To make sure the two reviews are centered your can drag the text box out to the very edge of our guidelines, like I have done below:

Our book cover is starting to look like a real book cover! It’s time to add some information the shops are going to require, such as a barcode, a ISBN number, a price and some other information. Unfortunately, barcodes can’t be read by scanners on busy backgrounds, so we’re going to have to use a white block. Select the Rectangular Marquee Tool and make a selection beneath our two reviews. With the Paint Bucket Tool, fill the selection with white on a new layer called “ISBN Background.”

Reselect the Rectangular Marquee Tool and highlight a area at the bottom of our white ISBN background. Fill the selection with the off-white color we have been using throughout the tutorial.

Grab the Text Tool and rough out some text. I’m going to use: “USD 9.99,” “GBP 5.99″ and “EU 6.99,” “Cover Design by Callum Chapman,” “Be sure to visit PSDTuts+ website at http://psd.tutsplus.com/,” and “ISBN 000-0-0000-0000-0.” Style your text – you know what to do! Make sure you use pure black, though! Instead of finding an actual barcode, just use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to produce a rectangle to use as a placeholder.

Step 7: Adding Some Interest with a Stock Photo

We’ve got two things left: The spine, and an image on the front cover. We’re going to leave the spine until the last minute – we’ll simply be duplicating, resizing and rearranging some items from the front cover to produce our spines content. Head over to sxc.hu and download this great free stock photo of an old ammo box. Once you’ve downloaded the stock photo, place it into your document twice.

Grab the Magic Wand Tool and click on the white areas of both images – hit the delete key to remove the background. If you find the Magic Wand Tool is selecting areas of the stock photo that you don’t want to remove, try lowering the Tolerance in the Magic Wand Tools options at the top of the screen.

Rename your two layers to “Ammo Box 1″ and “Ammo Box 2.” With “Ammo Box 1″ selected, go to Edit > Free Transform or press Command+T to resize the photo. Whilst holding the shift key, drag the image right out of proportion.

Change the Blending Mode of the layer to Overlay, and using the Eraser remove some of the outer areas of the image – for example the part that is overlapping the spine.

Go to Edit > Free Transform or press Command + T on the “Ammo Box 2″ layer and scale it up a little – don’t worry if it’s a little pixelated – we’re going for a grunge look and pixelation all adds to it! Change the layers Blending Mode to Hard Light. Duplicate the layer twice: Lower the first ones Opacity to 30%, and the second ones Opacity to 20%. With the second duplicated ammo box still selected, hit the Shift + Cursor Down key to move the selection down – move it a little to the right and rotate it by going to Edit > Free Transform or by pressing Command + T and dragging the corners round.

Step 8: The Spine

That’s our front cover complete! We now have to move onto the spine. Locate your authors name layer and your book titles layer – select them both and drag them down to the ‘Create New Layer’ icon at the bottom of the Layers Palette to duplicate them. Rearrange your two layers so that they’re at the top of the Layers Palette. Arrange them so that they’re sitting next to each other, as seen in the screenshot below:

With the authors name layer selected, go to Edit > Free Transform or press Command + T and scale the selection down whilst holding the Shift Key to keep it in proportion. Rotate the selection whilst still in Transform Mode and arrange it neatly into the spine.

Repeat the previous instruction again with your book title layer. Once the text is on it’s side, grab the Text Tool and edit it. Delete the mini description, and spread “Book Cover Tuts+” across two lines by pressing the enter key to send any words after it onto a new line. Line the new text up with the author name.

Hopefully you’ve taken my advice and have already put our stock photo layers into a group. If not, do that now! Once that has been done, duplicate the group, go to Edit > Free Transform or hit Command + T, resize to a suitable size and rotate the selection round. Rearrange the image so it nicely fits in the center of the spine.

That’s it, we’re all done! If you’re following this tutorial for a real project, you will need to replace your barcode placeholder with a real barcode, as well as setting the file up ready for print – all printers require different settings, so it’s always best to speak to them first!

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