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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Building Covers for CreateSpace

You want to self-publish a book, you have cover art and a design, but you don't have Photoshop or an equivalent big-boy graphics software that will pull that together and put it into a  PDF file that CreateSpace will accept? Have no fear, Rick is here. Again, this is a writer/publisher techy article. If this isn't of interest to you, pass on, otherwise read on.

I've just self-published a book. I designed my own cover using completely free programs. It was accepted by CreateSpace and looks great. So I thought I would share what I've learned for others like me, who can't even think about finding a few hundred dollars to to buy those programs because you simply don't have the money. While a big program like that will provide some bells and whistles that these don't, this will allow you to create a good book cover.

I'm not going to deal with how to create and design a cover. I'm going to assume you have the picture(s), and the skill to create it in a software program. Whatever picture you use, it needs to have a high enough resolution to be 300 dpi on the cover size you'll need. We'll go over that in a minute, but I'm not going to discuss how to create the cover itself, only what programs you can use.

Your raw files you'll need:

  1. A background art work or photo, preferably in the 3500 x 2500 pixel range or higher. Much lower than that, and you'll be hard pressed to get a sharp picture on the standard size cover.

  2. The png template from CreateSpace for your cover size. You create this where you specify how many pages the book is, which determines how big the spine will be. You then download a zip file. Unzip it and the png template will be in there.

The free programs you'll need:

  1. Inkscape - to create the cover.

  2. Faststone Image Viewer - to set the DPI, also good for resizing if needed.

  3. Open Office - to create the final PDF to upload to CreateSpace

For the purposes of this example, I'm going to assume we are publishing a trade 6" x 9" paperback, black and white pages, on white paper, 180 pages thick. First, determine the dimension in inches of the full cover, front, back, and spine.

CreateSpace wants the width of each page, front and back, plus a 1/8" trim around the whole image that will be cut. So, for height, you have a 9" page, with 1/8" on each side, which means the height of the image needs to be a total of 9.25".

Going across, you have 6" for the front page, and 6" for the back page, plus the 1/8" on each side. So a total of 6+6+0.25= 12.25". But, you also have to include the spine in that. To get the spine width, CreateSpace says for regular white pages, you multiply the number of pages by 0.002252. So, 0.002252 x 180 = 0.40536". Add that to the width and you get: 12.25+0.41 = 12.66" total width. We rounded the spine to two digits, as it is safest to go too big than too little.

So the cover image needs to fill out a 12.66" x 9.25" printed space. At 300 dpi, that means the image will need to be 12.66 * 300 x 9.25 * 300, or 3798 pixels wide by 2775 pixels high.

You'll want to find an image or artwork that is close to that pixel dimensions. If they are off by a lot, the resulting image you'll get when you adjust its size could either be distorted and/or create a blurry image on the final product.

Open Inkscape. Inkscape is handy for the creation of the graphic image because it is a vector based program, which means it will output good resolution at most any size since it doesn't deal with pixels. Add a layer, I'd title it Background. Then import your image into this layer from the menu using "File" and "Import." Once in, click on the image to select it. On the tool bar, you'll see fields labeled "X," "Y," "W," and "H." The X and Y will probably have zero in them. The W will show the current pixel width, and the H the current pixel height. Making sure the "lock" between the W and H is unlocked, enter 3798 in the W field and 2775 in the H field. This will effectively change the pixel size of the photo to be 300 dpi in a 12.66" x 9.25" page.

Change the "document" size to fit the background image. Select the image, then go to "File" in the menu, and select "Document Properties." Expand the "Resize page to contents" section by clicking on the + sign. It will open up showing the width and height in pixels you just resized it to. Click the "Resize page to drawing or selection" button. Then close that window.

If you have additional images to add, it is best to create new layers for each image to make them easy to manage. Position them where you want them, resize if necessary.

Now add a new layer and call it "Template". Use the "File" and "Import" function in import in the pgn template file created by CreateSpace for the page count and size of book you are creating. You should be able to overlay this image over your background image and position it so that it fits. If there is a little bleed over on the ends, that is fine. Just center it between the two edges. The template shows you where you can safely put your text without risking it being cut off or covered up by the resulting barcode image.

Create a final layer called "Words" or "Text". Add the front and back cover text using the text function. Create the spine text if the book is big enough. Once you have everything where you think you want it, select the template layer (drop down box at the bottom of the window) and click the eye graphic beside the drop down box. It will hide the template layer, and you can see what your cover looks like as the cover.

Once you are satisfied with the look and position of everything, save a copy of the file in Inkscape's svg format in case you wish to edit it later and recreate the file. Then make sure you are on the template layer, and click in the menu "Layer" and "Delete Current Layer." It should delete the template layer, leaving you with you book's cover art and text.

Inkscape has the ability to save the resulting file to a pdf file. However, it doesn't have the ability to confine the output of the file to specific page dimensions. I've tried several things, including exporting to png format, setting the dpi, reimporting into Inkscape, and then saving to pdf. The result is always a dpi of 72 to 90, and a print size around 42" wide. CreateSpace will not like that, though my first attempt I did that and they passed it. However, after updating the insides the cover failed their review because of this problem. Reason being, they want it to by default print the right size without them having to fit it into the cover's space. After trying several things, I realized Inkscape can't do this.

This is where the other two programs come into play. First, we want to set the internal dpi setting to 300 without changing the pixel size of the graphic. If you try to set it to 300 dpi in Inkscape, it will change the pixel size, and you don't want that.

So once you have the cover as you want it in Inkscape and you've saved it in the svg format, use "File" and "Export" to save a copy of the resulting image in png format. If you use the "Page" area to export and you did expand the page to the background image as we discussed above, when you export it, you should have a png file of the cover.

Open this file in Faststone Image Viewer. Once opened, notice the pixel size of the image at the top, left. It should match what you changed it to. Then move your cursor to the far right side of the screen.  A window should appear showing various bits of info about the picture. One of those is what the DPI is, and it will have a "DPI" button to the right of that.

A note about DPI. DPI is meaningless for a digital picture. And actually, isn't accurate for pixels per inch (PPI) either since Dots Per Inch (DPI) dealt with how many dots a printer could print per inch across and down. A printer "dot" isn't equivalent to pixels. What is really meant when people talk about DPI nowdays is PPI, how many pixels per inch would print, and so it determines the size of the output and what resolution the image would have at that output.

So you may see something along the lines of 72 dpi on this image, and it shows it would output a 42 x 35 inch page, or something like that. If you then click on the DPI button, it will show a window of pixels X pixels dpi. Enter 300 in each field and click OK. You'll note the pixels don't change, but the page size it says it will output to does. This is what you want. And the page size, if we've done our math right, should show our 12.66" x 9.25" page. This step is purely for the reviewers. It doesn't really change the picture in any way, it only puts into the metadata that this should be at 300 dpi and print out on a 12.66" x 9.25" page.

Hit escape and have it save the resulting file. If the reviewer looks at the dpi of the file it will show 300 dpi, though that won't determine the actual dpi. Rather, having the same pixels fit into an actual printed page of that size will.

This is where Open Office comes into play, because it focuses more on establishing a page size, and has an excellent PDF exporter. Open up Open Office Draw. This is the suite's graphics program. Once open, import in the png file by clicking "Insert" in the menu, then "Picture" and select "File" from the submenu. Find the file on your hard drive and import it into the first slide.

First, you'll want to establish the page size. Click "Format" and "Page" in the menu. In the window that pops up, select "Landscape" for an orientation. In the Width field, enter 12.66, and in the Height field, enter 9.25. Then set each margin to zero. When you click on OK, it will warn you that it will print outside the printer's margins. Tell it that you're all right with that, and it will change the slide's page dimension to the size of our intended cover output.

Then change the size of the picture. Select the picture, then right-click it and select "Position and Size" at the top of the menu that pops up. In the window that appears, set position X and position Y both to zero. Then set the Width field to 12.66 and the Height field to 9.25. Click OK. What you should end up with is a page filled from edge to edge with the cover image.

Now you can save a PDF file, and it will put this image into a printable PDF onto a 12.66" x 9.25" page. Go to "File" in the menu and "Export as PDF". JPEG compression is fine at 95%. Select "Reduce Image resolution" and set it to 300 dpi. Unclick anything else, and if you have used this with other settings, you would want to reset those to the default on the other tabs. Click export. It will give you the option of what file name to save it in and where.

Once exported, you will have a PDF file with the image that should pass CreateSpace's review. It will show and be 300 dpi for the right size cover outputted. For different size covers and different page counts, or if you use the cream colored pages, make adjustments accordingly in how big the resulting page will be and how many pixels across and high you will need. How good it looks will in part depend on the quality of the images you use, and how well you can design a cover. But using these instructions, you should end up with a cover just as good as one done with Photoshop or one of the other high dollar programs, and it won't cost you a cent.

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