Ebook Specific Cover Design: #2 – Size and Resolution

In digital environment the book's cover rarely fills the display (cover image from "Robocalypse" by Daniel H. Wilson)

When you make a decision to publish your book only in digital format, you are also making essential change in how you approach cover design. You no longer have to deal with dots per inch in a high-quality print.

The goal is not 9 × 6 inch, 300 dpi any more. It’s 1024 x 600 px, 118 ppi of a typical netbook’s screen or 800 x 600 px, 167 ppi of a Kindle 3 display.

We also have to keep in mind that the readers very seldom will have a chance to see the cover in full screen. If yes, it’s going to be after the book is purchased.

Resolution of electronic screens as well as sizes of images displayed on them are changing the way we should look at book covers. It’s limiting on one side, but it’s good to focus on finding benefits – and that’s what I’m trying to do with this series of posts.


People judge books by their covers. It’s still true, but while designing for the web we have to switch the perspective. In my opinion: totally.

Let’s use the example. Someone wants to buy a technothriller. In a bookstore, when you look at the shelves, you just see the covers, nothing else. The cover is using 100% of space devoted to a book – because this is a book.

Things change dramatically when you browse for the same book on the web. Check the screenshot below from Kindle Store. The cover of a single book has an average size of 80 x 115 pixels! This is the size of the book at a very important moment – the moment when the reader makes a decision which book to click and possibly buy.

Typical search page in a Kindle Store

If we treat browser window as a bookstore’s shelf, the four book covers you see above take no more than 5% of the total display space.

Obviously, this applies not only to ebooks but to print books as well. It’s a pity that you spend long hours to design a beautiful cover, worked out and retouched in every tiny detail and afterwards what you see is 80 x 115 px thumb.

It gets a bit better when you open a page with a single book. A size of the book cover area is set to 300 x 300 px – and this includes the margin and Kindle bar at the bottom. That makes 9% of the display – at best.

A book cover takes up to 9% of the total space devoted to a book

Not looking good, right? What can we do about, then?

There are a couple of solutions.

1. Make it look good when it’s small

One thing every cover artist has to keep in mind, is that a book cover should look good not only when it’s enlarged, but also when it’s reduced. Before finding a general concept it’s good to have in mind that a cover could be communicative also when it’s in a thumbnail size.

Think of what is the most important part of the cover – and try to make it more visible. What would be seen as dirt when a cover is small? Try to remove it.

2. Remove some elements of the cover

As I wrote in an previous post, all elements of the cover which convey text information are duplicated by other parts of the web page, so it’s not mandatory to keep them in the layout. Instead, it would be great to focus on finding a relevant, convincing key visual, which works well in both big and small size.

3. Test check different sizes

When designing a cover you can check from time to time how it looks in a medium size (f.e. 300 px in height) and a thumbnail size (100 px in height).

4. Optimize the cover for a specific destination

This is the thing you can always do. If you want the cover to be displayed at your blog and the width of the post area is 500 px, save your cover specifically with that width. While doing so, you’ll have opportunity to enhance and adjust the elements which don’t look good enough at this size.

Another example: if you plan to publish a book only at a certain self-publishing platform and this platform is optimizing the look of the covers to specific size and proportions – prepare a version exactly with the maximum dimensions of both width and height.

5. Think of a cut-out area

When you’ll plan the layout it’s good to think of what you could cut out of the cover that would represent most of its values. Think of a square area like a title or a main illustration, which you can use at web sites which display small book covers. Why square? Because it’s the proportions many web stores use to display their products. Both vertical and horizontal images have chances to be equally visible.

Check below how the cover I’ve already used in this post, J.A. Konrath’s Origin, looks when displayed in 115 px height: regular vs. cut-out:


Designing for screen means designing in smaller resolution – and this is a big opportunity. You don’t need to have a super powerful desktop computer to create the ebook cover. It’s very probable that a laptop you own can do the job. Additionally, you don’t have to use dtp programs like Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress. You can create everything in a photo editing application.

The maximum resolution to think of could be the one of displays used for reading. As I wrote above, before the purchase the chances to see a full size are small. Assuming that the image would exactly fit the screen, the cover tailored for iPad should have 1024 x 768 pixels at 132 ppi.

There is another opportunity – you can use a camera in your smartphone to shoot pictures to be used in a cover. A photo taken with an iPhone has a resolution of 2592 x 1936 px. This is especially exciting as you can design a cool cover solely on the smartphone using one or a few applications. Take Instagram. You can apply one of cool vintage filters to your photo. If you’re using the app frequently, just think of it as a tool to grab ideas for your next book covers.

If you want to add a title, you can use another great app, Picture Show. It allows you not only to apply several filters and effects, but offers a simple type tool. You can design the whole cover just with this one application.

If you write a non-fiction book, you can get a professional look by using a Phoster application. It provides as much as 72 design templates and they all are fabulous. Read more about this fantastic app here.

Smaller resolution means also that you’ll have to spend less money for images. Many services, naming only iStockphoto ot Fotolia, charge different fees depending on the file size.

For example for this vintage photo from Fotolia you’ll have to pay:
– $0.75 if you buy a 375 x 320 px file with 72 dpi resolution
– $6 if you buy 3124 x 2664 px file with 300 dpi resolution

• • •

The issue of a size applies also to print books as it comes with a question where for a first time we get in touch with a book or/and make a decision to buy it. Is it a bookstore where I can take in my hands a beautifully printed copy of a book – or is it a web site, where the book is represented by 80 x 115 px part of a screen?

Make it look good on a screen and when it’s small – this is my general advice on size and resolution.

28 Replies to “Ebook Specific Cover Design: #2 – Size and Resolution”

  1. You’re absolutely right that covers must look good small and at low resolution, but there may be times when you need larger versions too. For example, I produce Kindle covers at 800 x 600 pixels but need a larger version for the product image which is uploaded to the Amazon site. I work in Illustrator with bitmap images at a suitably high resolution and everything else as vector elements. That way I can re-size the cover as required.


  2. It’s always good to have the option to re-size to a bigger scale if needed. Every author should ask himself a question whether and when it can happen.

    I’ve designed several covers specifically for ebooks. I’m using the same limit: 800px in height. So far it was enough for all the instances.


  3. My thoughts: Don’t forget that BN and Kindle adds  their logo on the bottom strip of the cover on the product page. Bummer!  I agree that the less text on the cover, the better, but the bottom strip really limits your options. Look at this cover which I — a pure amateur — designed for an ebook. http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/workers-writebook-jack-matthews/1100572933  I highlighted one key word on the cover, gave a pretty picture that looked good in e-ink and in different dimensions. I pretty much gave up on trying to keep the author’s name on the cover on the bookseller’s page. Oh, well!

    I seem to remember that Lulu requires  covers be larger than 600pix width while one of the other devices requires that cover art  be less than 600px. Arrgh!

    I heard one ebook designer ask, “Why do they call it ‘cover art’? What does it cover?'”


  4. Hi Robert,

    You’re right with the e-bookstore’s elements over a cover. I’ve seen your book at B&N, I see your point.

    Safe area is something worth keeping in mind. It’s not only Kindle and B&N bottom bars, but I imagine them (and other web stores) adding stickers and promo labels, so top corners are also unsafe.

    “Why do they call it ‘cover art’? What does it cover” – love it!


  5. You seem to make the same mistake that too many other designers make who are print-familiar: you speak about all-digital objects, such as covers for e-books, by saying things like “the cover tailored for iPad should have 1024 x 768 pixels at 132 ppi [pixels per inch].” That ’s both confusing and just plain wrong. An e-book cover shown on a computer screen is not the same as a cover printed on paper. The 132 p.p.i. is immaterial to the display of the image in the context of the computer screen. I could have a book cover that is saved at 132 p.p.i., and the same image saved at 13200 p.p.i., and, as long as the image was 1024 by 768 pixels in size, each would look the same when shown full-screen on an iPad. There is NO difference. The only thing that matters is the actual size of the image in pixels.


  6. Thanks for correcting. Does that mean that the cover designed in 1024 x 768
    pixels at 10 ppi looks the same on screen as the one designed in 1024 x 768
    pixels at 132 ppi?


  7. That’s true of course but the ppi is still interesting to know since it gives you an idea of the resolution of your display (iPad display here) and it allows you to show your image in “real size” (how it will be displayed) if the ppi is correct.
    The ppi (point per inch) makes the link between the quantity of real information (the pixel count) and the intended display size of the image. In this sense it still has some importance.


  8. Yes, it’s handy if: (1) you REALLY need to see how the cover will look at it’s final true size on the display where it will be seen, and (2) if you can find a way to display it on your computer at the same d.p.i as the final display, which is often hard to do. You might be better off doing a little math and figuring out what size the final display is in inches or centimeters and placing your cover image, at those dimensions, into a page layout program and printing it out on paper. Then you will see it at the final size that it will be on the display device.


  9. Excellent info. I’m not a graphic artist by any means, but I have found cover design is actually quite fun, though very times taking for me right now. My goal? To get better with practice.


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