File Set Up

In this cover design tutorial we will begin at the start. The absolute start. With file set up. 

File set up is not the most glamorous step in designing a cover, but it certainly will be the first step. You might not think there is a lot to file set up, and you would be correct most of the time. But, one day something could come up that you didn’t expect. If you didn’t know to prepare your files properly then you could be forced to do hours more work, or even worse not be able to use your cover at all and have to restart!


There are a multitude of programs that you can use to create a cover. From design suites such as Adobe InDesign, to free graphics editors like Gimp, to the program that most every writer probably owns - a word processor.

No matter what program you use, the file type will be one of three things. It is a good idea to think about what kind of file will best suit your purposes before starting. Personally, I mix programs.

Type A: Vector Files

Common Programs that use Vector Graphics: Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, CorelDraw

Vector graphics are mathematical formulas that use nodes and curves to form shapes. What this means is that no matter how large, or how small your graphic is it will always scale to that size correctly and it will never artifact (become all blurry with pixels).

The most common form of vector graphics is type. 

If your cover has silhouettes or symbols on it, then you will benefit from using vectors. Vector programs are used less in cover design, but they do have a billion uses.

Type B: Raster Graphics

Common Programs that use Raster Graphics: Adobe Photoshop, Gimp, MS Paint

Raster graphics are coloured pixels placed side by side. When viewed from a distance they produce a crisp image.

The most common form of Raster Graphics are photographs. 

If your cover will have photographs and text effects you will benefit from using raster graphics.

Type C: Layout Files

Common Programs that use Layout Files: Adobe InDesign, QuarkXpress, Miscrosoft Publisher

This isn’t really a file type per se, but it is important enough to include. A layout program will reference other files on your system and help you to lay everything out. Not a necessity, but they can be handy, especially when you have a series of book covers and want to keep everything together.

If your cover mixes elements of raster and vector graphics this might be the type for you. 

Additionally: Vector programs often allow the use of raster graphics as well as vectors. They are not as powerful at laying out as the powerhouses, but consider using one as they often have better text layout capabilities than raster programs.

What you pick is up to you. All of these programs and more can be used to make a book cover!


Sizing is one of those choices that can break your cover later, so taking a few moments to get it right now could save you a lot of time in the long run.

I am going to make a suggestion: Regardless of what you think your book will be, plan for the possibility that it might one day become a print book! 

If you are making your print book cover with a print on demand service, then they will likely have a cover template you can download for the exact size, which can save you a lot of time. 


There are a lot of set sizes for books on print on demand services that you might like. If you have no idea I suggest going for one of the most common sizes, like 6”x9”.


This. This is one of the things that can break your cover in the future. 

Raster graphics programs will require this before you even start the file. The important thing to know is that resolution can always be lowered at a later date, but it can never be raised. Online book sellers will often say that their minimum requirement is for the file to be at 72 dpi (dots per inch). I suggest that you don’t listen to them. 

Print files for book covers need to be much higher than 72dpi. I would never make a print file with less than 300 dpi, and prefer to be as high as 600 dpi. A 600 dpi file can bog down your system, but if it can handle it, then do it. This will allow you the most flexibility in the future.

Vector programs and layout programs will not require a resolution. It is important to note that any raster images you import into those programs should be at a high enough resolution to fit these requirements.



Printers cannot print to the edge of a piece of paper. This is where bleed comes into the picture. Bleed is an additional area of graphics that bleeds off the final image size. On a book cover the standard amount of bleed is 1/8” or 0.125”.  This means that your final document size will be larger than the finished size by 1/4” in both dimensions.

Ebooks do not require a bleed but it is still a good idea to include this. If later you go to a physical book and used graphics that cannot now be moved around, you will be in trouble. Nobody wants a thin white line around their covers and bleed is easy enough to remove if you need to! :)


Margins are safe areas right inside the final ‘cut line’ that help to protect your vital graphics from getting cut off. These are also 1/8”. Margins are handy in ebook covers are they prevent you from putting graphics too near the edge of your cover. Some readers and sites might cut off a little bit of your cover to fit their standards, so having this safety space can prevent you from losing portions of your text. 

Combined, margins and bleed work together well. Here is an image showing how they look.


if your design program does not allow you to have bleeds and margins automatically setting up a guide to work on top of with the bleeds and margins will help. Even if you take a piece of paper and draw the margins, final size, and bleed, you will be in better shape than going in blind!

This concludes the tutorial on File Set Up, let me know if you have any other questions about File Set Up! I will try and answer them.