Color and Brightness in Designing Your Own Book Covers

When designing your own book cover, or hiring a professional cover artist from Fiverr, it is critical to remember how Amazon and Lulu print. Otherwise, your cover will be too dark.

Yep. That happened to me. This is another excellent reason to order at least one proof of your book before clicking that Publish button.

The images we work with are digital. That’s true whether we design our own in a 3D art program, hire a professional to make one using photomanipulation, or take our own photographs. Even if we use a film camera, the final photograph will be scanned. Covers for Lulu are either jpeg or png format files, while Amazon wants a PDF of a jpeg or png. In other words, digital.

Color in digital is read as RGB, or Red-Green-Blue. So is your computer. It’s what we computer users are familiar with. Print, however, is CMYK, or Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black. It’s called the Four Color Process. Amazon throws a monkey wrench into the system by printing in RGB.

Transferring from digital to print darkens it by up to 40%. It can also throw off the colors. If you notice, one system uses green, while the other uses yellow. Cyan and magenta are also not as saturated as blue and red. It doesn’t seem to matter if a RGB image is printed in RGB format. Printing to paper is what throws off the colors and brightness, because paper wants CMYK. To understand what I mean, print a photograph from your computer on an ink jet printer. The colors won’t match, and the image will be darker.

Here is what happened with mine.

This is the original cover, as it appears in digital format.


Now, here is the cover to the paperback proof.


It’s much darker in life than in this photo, too.

That is simply the nature of the beast.

Unfortunately, there is no one method for correcting this problem. The rule of thumb is to make the cover image much lighter and brighter than you think looks good. It will translate into the final cover. For some, merely increasing brightness and contrast is sufficient. Professionals on Fiverr probably know this, and take it into account from the start. For me, I’m rerunning the render, at garish light levels. I also lightened the skins, clothes, and set. It looks horrid for an art piece, but ought to suffice as a cover, given how dark it prints.

But, hey. It’s my cover, on my book, with my story. It says what I want it to say. That much freedom is worth that much extra work.

3 thoughts on “Color and Brightness in Designing Your Own Book Covers

  1. Pingback: Book Cover Sizes and Specs |

  2. Pingback: More About DIY Book Covers |

  3. Pingback: Color and Brightness in Designing Your Own Book Covers — nboutwell | Arrowhead Freelance and Publishing

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