Please note the following updates to this post on 5/19/2012:
- Barnes & Noble Embedded Cover: 600px x 730px
- iBooks Embedded Cover: 600px x 860px
- Amazon Embedded Cover: 600px x 800px
- Amazon Catalog Cover: 1562px x 2500px
If you self-publish, you should read this post before hiring a cover designer. I get a lot of covers from authors whose designer made a standard cover without knowing what size is best. I’m not sure how they decide on the image size, because it’s never optimized for anything. Also, I’ve seen cover designers give clients the wrong size, and then charge more when their client asks for the right one.
SPECIAL NOTE: This is a long, detailed post. If you’re not interested in all the whys and wherefores, I suggest reading this first section, then reading the last section: the Quick and Handy Guide.
Designers tend to rely on their customers to tell them what they want, so if you self-publish, you need to know what to ask for.
Let’s do simple first.
If you only get one size for ebook formatting, go with these specifications:
- 600px x 800px
I think most ebook formatters and developers can and will optimize it as best as possible from that… or at least I do, by rule. I can’t change proportions, though… and each format calls for a different proportion. So if your designer can give you covers in various proportions and sizes without resizing it out-of-whack, then please send them to the handy guide at the bottom of this post.
600px x 800px is the best choice if you pick one. At the eBook Artisans, our digital cover + epub + Kindle special includes a 600px x 800px cover.
NOTE: By optimum size, I mean the size at which the cover image fills the screen perfectly without extra white space on the top, bottom, or sides.
Ebook Cover Design
I’m no graphic designer, obviously. The only important thing I can say about cover art for ebooks, is that the cover will be automatically resized to a thumbnail on the device library and, most importantly, in the retail catalog/website—which is usually the first place your customer sees your cover.
Because of this, the cover should look good when the large Catalog Cover image is automatically resized to about 150px high, give or take some, depending. Large fonts for the title generally look good, as well as not-too-busy covers.
And, of course, the cover should look good full-sized. LOL!
A Quick Glossary
Keith Snyder had a great post about the distinguishing and naming the different type of covers. It’s better, funnier, and more in-depth. In a nutshell, your cover will serve the following functions:
- Embedded Ebook Cover: The cover embedded inside your ebook that displays as the first page. This can (and probably should) be separately sized for each different store.
- Catalog Cover: The cover that shows up in the ebook store on Amazon, B&N, iBooks, and other retailers. Generally uploaded separately.
- Print Cover: For the print edition. Unlike an ebook cover which is only a front, a print cover also needs a spine and a back cover… and higher-resolution graphics.
- Publicity Cover: I’m no expert on the best sizes for this, but this includes your website, blog headers, ads, postcards, business cards, etc. Your designer probably does know!
Choosing a size for a digital cover, when it will automatically be resized depending on what device the reader views it on, is difficult. I generally operate under the following priorities:
- Majority Rules, Minority Protected: I like the cover to look good on all devices, but I like the cover to look best on the most-used device. Each of the retailers allow their ebooks to be read on a wide variety of devices, and none of them publish statistics on where there books are most read. So it’s difficult to determine.
- Big to Small: In general, a big cover automatically resized to be smaller usually looks better than a small cover automatically resized to be bigger. Small to big usually results in ugly blurriness, while big to small generally results in not-so-great but readable font.
- The Retailer’s Guidelines
Color vs. Grayscale
Color. For Kindle formatting, it used to be better to sharpen and convert your cover image to grayscale. Times change quickly, though. Now that Kindle books are read on PCs, Macs, iPads, Androids, Tablets, and iPhones, color is the way to go. It’s predicted that Amazon will be coming out with a tablet in the next year, and a color e-reader will probably be coming out at some point, too.
Kindle is the largest ebook retailer. The Catalog Cover has exact specifications released in the Amazon Publishing Guide. It should be:
- A “minimum” of 500px wide and a “maximum” of 1280px tall.
- 72 dpi
- JPEG or TIFF
For the Embedded Cover, this is more difficult. The published guidelines are as follows:
- 600px x 800px
- 300 dpi
- Under 127 KB
Getting an image both at 300 dpi AND under 127 KB is very difficult. The Kindle displays are actually 167 ppi… so I’d suggest altering the resolution to 167 ppi – 300 dpi, or as high a resolution that you can get while staying under 127 KB. Many say 72 dpi is just fine.
Barnes & Noble Covers
The Nook Store is the second largest retailer of ebooks. According to the B&N Publishing Guide, the Catalog Cover can be between 500px x 600px and 600px x 730px.
Here are the exact specifications they suggest in their guidelines for the Embedded Cover:
- 600px x 730px
- JPG, PNG, or GIF. As they say, “The choice of format is optional and should be based on a compromise of image quality and file size.”
- Under 300 kb.
The Nook Color.
The Nook Color has a screen resolution of 1024px x 600px, and as far as I can tell, it’s their bestselling device by far. (Please correct me if you find statistics that prove me wrong.) So going with both the Majority Rules, Minority Protected and the Big to Small priorities, I suggest the following guidelines, if you’re looking to fill the screen perfectly:
- 600px x 1024px
- JPG, PNG, or GIF
- Under 300 kb.
- 170 ppi
The iPad is doing some great things for ebooks, like fixed-layouts. If you want an iPad-optimized ebook that takes advantage of the fixed-layout, it’ll cost more and probably won’t work for other retailers, but it can be well worth it, depending on your project.
For the purpose of this post, let’s stick with cover size for general iPad epub books. Liz Castro explains in detail why 600px x 860 px is the best size.
These are the optimum specifications for the Embedded Cover:
- 600px x 860px
- JPG, PNG, GIF
- 132 ppi
- Under 200kb
A Note About Smashwords
Smashwords randomly suggests 500px x 800px as a good cover size. I don’t know why, because that’s optimized for… nothing. At least with a 600px x 800px cover size, you’re optimized for the largest retailer: Amazon. But perhaps they have their reasons that work with their Meatgrinder Software.
Quick and Handy Guide
All images should be RGB and not CMYK. Lulu will reject sRGB, if you want to use them to get into the iBookstore, but other retailers accept it.
Again, always go for the correct file size first, at the cost of resolution if necessary; not the other way around.
- EC = Embedded Cover (give to ebook formatter to embed)
- CC = Catalog Cover (you’ll upload separate from ebook)
- n/s = Not Specified
||Size in px
||1562 x 2500
||600 x 800
||167ppi – 300dpi
||JPG, GIF, PNG
||600 x 730
||JPG, GIF, PNG
||600 x 730
||JPG, GIF, PNG
||600 x 860
Again, 600px x 800px will pretty much cover your bases, so if you choose one size, I suggest that one.
And if you ever need a cover, the eBook Artisans teams up with Ink Slinger Designs to offer ebook formatting and cover art. (I had to put in a plug!) You can view some sample covers here.
Any questions? Any new info to add? Any corrections?