In this simple-to-follow tutorial you’ll learn how to create a full paperback book cover in Adobe InDesign, and take away a template for using with other cover projects.

As an example, we’ll redesign a paperback cover for War & Peace, and give it a distinctively modern design.


1. Before We Begin… 


Before we delve into designing our paperback cover for War & Peace, here are a few top tips for creating book covers in Adobe InDesign:

  • It’s always best to design the front of your cover only first, before you create a full cover, with spine and back. This will allow you to visualise the arrangement of type and images, and judge how well elements are centered on the page.
  • Duplicate the front page, and keep the original as a stand-alone front cover—this will be useful for online promo shots, and eBook covers.
  • You should expand the duplicate page using the Page Tool, and expand it to the full width of the cover, including both front and back cover widths and a spine width (we’ll look at this in more detail below).

In this tutorial we’ll look at giving Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace a modern makeover. I’ve tried to recreate the mood and theme of the book, with collage-style silhouettes of St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow—one filled with an image of floral-printed china, to represent peace and domesticity; and the other filled with a military-style map of Prussia, to represent war.

Redesigning covers for classic novels is becoming increasingly common in publishing design; allowing publishers to market vintage classics to new, younger audiences. Discover some of the best examples of recently redesigned covers here.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback redesign classic cover war and peace tolstoy front cover

You’ll learn how to set up a paperback (softcover) version of the full cover in Adobe InDesign and create a collage effect with the help of Adobe Illustrator. We’ll bring in a bit of stylish typography too, to give the cover a modern design.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback redesign classic cover war and peace tolstoy full cover

This design style can be adapted to all sorts of book covers—just switch up the silhouette and inside image!

Ready to create your cover? Great! Let’s get started…


 2. Set up the Cover Template in Adobe InDesign


Step 1

Open up Adobe InDesign.

Go to File > New > Document, and set the Intent of the document to Print. Increase the Number of Pages to 2 and deselect Facing Pages. From the Page Size menu choose Custom.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Name the custom size Paperback Book and set the Width to 132 mm and Height to 197 mm. Click Add and then OK to return to the New Document window.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Step 2

Set the Margins on all sides to 11 mm and the Bleed to 5 mm. Click OK to create the new document.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

We’ll work on the front cover design on Page 1—it’s always much easier to work on the front cover design alone at first. Then, a bit later, we’ll expand Page 2 of the document into the full cover, complete with spine and reverse, with the help of the Page Tool.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Step 3

With the rulers visible (View > Show Rulers) click and drag a guide out from the left-hand ruler and drop it onto Page 1 at X position 66 mm, which marks the center point of the page.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

indesign tutorial book cover paperback


 3. Give the Cover a Colored Background


Step 1

Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and drag onto Page 1, across the whole page, extending up to the edges of the bleed on the top, right and bottom edges of the page. On the left edge, just extend to the edge of the page, not all the way to the bleed.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Step 2

Expand or open the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches). Create a new CMYK Process swatch, C=100 M=97 Y=48 K=56. Click Add and OK.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

From the Swatches panel’s drop-down menu choose New Gradient Swatch.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Name the swatch Blue Gradient and set the Type to Radial.

Move down to the Gradient Ramp and click on the left-hand stop to be able to edit it. Choose CMYK for the Stop Color and set the levels to C=89 M=49 Y=62 K=62.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback gradient swatch

Click on the right-hand stop and adjust the Stop Color to Swatches. Choose your new swatch, C=100 M=97 Y=48 K=56 from the list below. Click OK.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback gradient swatch

Step 3

Apply the Blue Gradient swatch to the Fill Color of the rectangle shape. This will apply a lovely subtle gradient to the background of our front cover.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback gradient swatch


 4. Create Collage-Style Graphics


Step 1

Expand or open the Layers panel (Window > Layers) and double-click on the default Layer 1 name. Rename the layer as Background Color and click OK.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Click on the Create New Layer button at the bottom right of the Layers panel to create a new layer. Double-click, and rename the layer as Graphics.

Lock the bottom layer, Background Color by clicking in the blank space to the right of the eye icon, next to the name of the layer in the panel.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Step 2

Now we’re ready to start working on our cathedral graphic!

File > Save As your InDesign document, and minimize InDesign. Open up Adobe Illustrator and create a new document.

To make our collage-style cathedral, we need to first create a basic vector silhouette of the cathedral, and then, a bit later, we’ll fill it with a photo image.

You can download a ready-made vector image of St.Basil’s Cathedral here.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Step 3

Making sure your silhouette has only a simple black fill and no stroke color, select it, and then go up to Edit > Copy in Illustrator.

Return to your InDesign document and Edit > Paste the vector onto Page 1 of your document. Hold Shift to adjust the scale of the pasted vector.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

From the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches), set the Fill Color of the vector to [None] to get rid of the [Black] fill.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Step 4

Next up, you need to choose an image to ‘fill’ the cathedral silhouette. I’ve chosen a commons image of an antique map of Prussia, which you can download here. Download the image and return to your InDesign document.

With the vector selected go to File > Place and choose the map image. Click Open.

Click on the Fill Frame Proportionally button in the top control panel to size the image to the frame. Double-click inside the vector frame to manually adjust the scale of the image, holding Shift while you do so, to make sure you’re happy with the effect. Make sure the image extends across the whole of the silhouette.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Step 5

Select the vector and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste.

Ctrl-Click (Mac) or Right-Click (Windows) > Transform > Flip Vertical. Position this flipped cathedral at the top of the page, and go to File > Place. Choose a different image to fill this vector with—to represent ‘Peace’—I’ve gone for a photo of a vintage china plate, which you can download here.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback


 5. Add in Typography


Step 1

Create a new CMYK Process swatch, C=3 M=0 Y=19 K=0, and rename it Cream.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Step 2

Unlock the Typography layer and use the Type Tool (T) to create a series of text frames on Page 1.

Here I’ve used the Columna Solid typeface for most of the text, with the central ampersand set in Adobe Caslon Pro.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Set individual characters in separate text frames to be able to have more freedom with how you place the type on the page. Set some of the text in [Paper] and some in your new swatch, Cream.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback


 6. Expand Your Design into a Full Paperback Cover


Step 1

Unlock all the layers in the Layers panel, then drag across Page 1 to select everything on the page. Edit > Copy, then scroll down to Page 2 of your document.

Edit > Paste in Place to make a copy of the front cover on the page.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Now we need to work out the width of the full length of the cover. This will depend on the width of the spine, which in turn will depend on the number of pages inside the book. You can find calculators online for working out the width of a spine depending on the page number and paper weight (gsm), such as the Print on Demand calculator.

Using this I’ve worked out that to accommodate for 1456 pages (the length of War & Peace—yup, it’s a long one!) printed on white offset 80 gsm paper, we will need to have a 73.7 mm spine width.

The equation for the full width of the cover is this:

Front Cover Width (x) + Spine Width (y) + Back Cover Width (x) = Total Width (x + x + y)

So, for ourWar & Peace cover it’s going to be…

132 mm + 73.7 mm + 132 mm = 337.7 mm Total Width

Step 2

Select the Page Tool (Shift + P) and, holding down Option (Windows) or Alt (Mac), drag the left-hand edge of the page out to the left, increasing the page width to the full 337.7 mm. When you let go, the page width will remain at its new width.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

If you’re struggling to get the width exactly right as you drag, you can simply type in the correct width in the box at the top-left corner of the workspace.

Step 3

From the left-hand ruler pull out a guide to X position 137 mm, to mark out the left edge of the spine.

Pull out a second guide to 168.85 mm, which marks out the center point of the spine.

Finally, pull out a third guide to 68.5 mm, to mark out the center of the back cover.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Step 4

Return to the Layers panel and lock all layers except the Background Color layer.

From the Swatches panel, click on the Blue Gradient swatch to select it, then click on the New Swatch button to duplicate it.

Double-click on the duplicate swatch to open up the Swatch Options window.

Rename the swatch Blue Gradient Spine. Keep everything as it is, just move the right-hand stop on the Gradient Ramp to the left, until you reach about 46%. Click OK to save your edits.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to create a shape that extends across the spine, and up to the bleed on the top and bottom (73.7 mm in Width). Set the Fill Color to Blue Gradient Spine. The gradient on this is a bit tighter, so the lighter tone will not extend too far away from the central part of the spine.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Create a second shape using the Rectangle Tool (M), extending it over the whole of the back cover, up to the left edge of the spine, and up to the bleed on the top, left and bottom edges of the page. Set the Fill to Blue Gradient.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Step 5

Return to the Layers panel and lock the Background Color layer. Unlock the next layer up, Graphics.

Copy and Paste the cathedral vectors on the front cover, onto the back cover, and arrange them as shown below. You can switch up the fill image of the vectors too, if you like.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Paste a couple of vectors onto the spine too—here, I’ve removed the image fill, and given them a pale blue Color FillC=57 M=12 Y=21 K=0.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Step 6

Lock the Graphics layer and unlock the top layer, Typography.

Zoom into the spine and create a few rows of text frames using the Type Tool (T). Type in the title, allowing one text frame for each line of the title, and mimic the typography formatting used on the front cover but at a smaller Font Size. Set all the text to Align Center and make sure the frames are perfectly centered along the center guide.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Use the Ellipse Tool (L), and hold down Shift, to create a circle on the center of the back cover. Select the Type Tool (T) and click into the circle to transform it into a text frame.indesign tutorial book cover paperback

Add a blurb to the back cover, aligning the text centrally. Here, I’ve set the Font to Columna Solid, Size 10.5 pt, Leading 13 pt. Use the swatch colors we created earlier to add a touch of color to the typography.


 7. Export Your Finished Cover


The artwork for your paperback cover is finished, fantastic work!

All that’s left to do now is to export it ready for printing.

Of course, you can also export Page 1 of your document as an eBook cover (check the file format requirements of the eBook store before you upload it), but here I’ll walk you through the steps of exporting this as a print-ready file, which is suitable for sending to a professional book-printer.

Step 1

Go to File > Export. Choose Adobe PDF (Print) from the Format drop-down menu. Click Save.

In the Export Adobe PDF window, choose [Press Quality] from the Adobe PDF Preset drop-down menu, and  adjust the page range from All to Range: 2, just to export your full cover.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback export pdf

From the left-hand menu in the window, click on Marks and Bleeds. Check All Printer’s Marks and, under Bleed and Slug, Use Document Bleed Settings.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback export pdf

Click Export to create your print-ready cover.

indesign tutorial book cover paperback export pdf

In this tutorial you’ve learned how to give a classic book a modern makeover, and set up the full paperback cover in Adobe InDesign. Awesome work!

Want a free paperback cover InDesign template? Of course you do! Find it on our Templates page.

Looking for some book design inspiration? Head over to our Inspiration page to pore over beautiful book covers, and find great ideas for book typography. Find out more about creating inside pages for your books with this straightforward tutorial


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