Spectacular pencil drawings may be lousy candidates for book covers. What looks good on a wall can be a pain to transform into a decent cover that stands out in the Amazon catalog. There are several good reasons why you should think very hard about using a drawing as a cover or featured illustration.
So what’s wrong with pencil drawings?
Ginormous file size.
Details drop out at thumbnail sizes.
They often lack dynamic range.
Dimensions never match what’s needed.
Authors love drawings. Unlike the rest of us who also love drawings, authors pull them off their walls, buy them on eBay, or commission them to use as book covers. A drawing may capture the essence of a book and work well as an engaging cover or illustration, or it may simply have an emotional attachment for the owner. Pencil drawings with subtle shading and details require a lot of careful adjustments, and in spite of great effort, may not hold their own in a product catalog.
Drawings can be beautiful, but expect extra prep time and work because:
The same issues come with faded old photographs. They can be manipulated, but if the information is scratched, blown out, or obscured in the original, it can’t be fabricated out of nothing. Eventually, you’ll face working with pencil drawings or blurry faded photos or even pass up a job that is sure to disappoint.
My example for this post is a hand-drawn penciled map, central to the story of a memoir. The end results look good, but it took experimentation with dimensions and meticulous clean-up to make it work.
The general process is the same for most drawings:
- A high-resolution scan of the original art will probably be your starting point. It may be too big for email, so be prepared to have it sent to a shared folder in DropBox, or use a file transfer service such as DropItToMe. For the example image, I received a PDF copy of the scanned pencil drawing and a JPEG version. The PDF was about 79MB, and the JPEG, 22MB. The final illustration would appear in a print version for CreateSpace, and eBook versions for Kindle, B&N, and iBook.
- Save versions of working copies of the image as you go along. Never work directly on an original. Photoshop can open and work with PDF files, even layered ones, but you’ll probably want to save a copy of any PDF as a native Photoshop file. If you don’t use Photoshop, an image editor that supports layers and layer masks is desirable. With layers, you can hide smudges and speckles that are not meant to be part of the drawing in a non-destructive way.
- Work at 300 dpi for CreateSpace. Use RGB as your color space. You can make a CMYK version for print later or submit an RGB version to CS, which uses a proprietary color profile. There’s some difference of opinion on what to submit to CreateSpace, by the way. For the eBook covers, you’ll definitely need the more vibrant color range of RGB. If you work on a wide-gamut monitor, make sure it’s calibrated for accurate color reproduction. I think it’s easier to go from RGB to CMYK than the opposite if you need to do that. If this stuff is gobbledygook, just go with RGB. CreateSpace will do a decent job with the conversion.
- Straighten your working copy of the image if necessary, before making other changes.
- Clean up stray pencil marks in the drawing and noticeable blobs or specks from the paper texture. Don’t overdo it; edges of pencil drawings are not supposed to be robot-machine perfect. The objective is to get rid of the noise that bloats file size without adding to the character or appeal of the drawing.
- Get rid of any unwanted color cast that gives the drawing an overall tint and enhance contrast as needed by using a Levels or Curves adjustment layer. Levels is simpler, but you can do more with Curves. Using adjustment layers lets you experiment without altering the underlying image layer. Adjustment layers save a lot of time!
- Experiment with fonts and placement of text and graphic elements on cover images. Save copies of ones that look promising as comps for further review. I like to use 600 x 800 pixel images because they’re a good representation of what the final image will look like and small enough for zipping up as an email attachment or downloadable file.
- Crop or resize the original image for specific purposes. Organize these images in folders, especially at the end of the process. You may need to find a particular final image someday to make changes.
- Send the client extra versions of the completed image in convenient sizes for reuse on the web or print.
Here’s a very small version of the completed drawing, which is 5028 pixels wide:
Larger versions of the map may be viewed in the Look Inside the Book option for Island Born by Frank Burnaby. I also posted a PDF version on the author’s website, which is one of my favorite website projects. The cover for this book is also a pencil drawing which was cropped, recolored and edited to bring out detail. The cover is also shown on this page.
Resizing the image for your purposes
This large horizontal map has way too much text to be readable in an eBook and barely enough room in a printed version. This problem is solved by splitting the map exactly in half for display on two adjacent portrait-oriented pages. The pages are facing in the print version, but not always in the eBook version, depending on screen size and orientation.
My goal for CreateSpace was to make the image fill the page width without being resized or compressed by Word upon saving the book file. Word will, by default, resize your beautiful 300px images to a maximum resolution of 220px unless you tell it not to in File/Options/Advanced/Image Size and Quality. Check the box for Do not compress images in file.
I experimented with images at 100% size to see when scaling stopped being triggered in Word upon saving the file. To do that, I extracted the images from the saved copy and compared against original dimensions. In case anyone else needs this information, in a 6″ x 9″ book template with standard borders and gutters, the original 100% size image was preserved at a width of 1333px and a proportional height of 1734px.
So, for Createspace, the final left and right halves of the map were each 1333 by 1794 pixels, 300 dpi TIFFs. At this size, the images filled the width of two facing pages and most of the height, retained the required 300 dpi resolution, and passed CreateSpace review. The halves were precisely positioned vertically to align perfectly when viewed side-by side in the paperback. The extra effort was absolutely worth the results.
For the Kindle and standard ePub versions of the book containing this map, the images were proportionally resized to 600 by 800 pixels. For the iBook version, the images were 1200 by 1600 pixels, which comes in under the 2-million pixel limit for interior illustrations. A small screenshot of the iPad horizontal view is shown below:
Some drawings can be successfully cropped and work just fine as a cover. Some will require an overlay or creative positioning of text, which would otherwise become illegible. The author may resist sacrificing some of the image for textual clarity, and some images will be a bear to fade in the right places without looking like a vignette gone wrong (with milky fog over a semi-transparent area).
There’s usually some emotional investment in client-supplied images, so it’s important to preserve the integrity of the original image. The artist or photographer should get a line on the copyright page or attribution, even if your contribution is “transparent.” If a book has a pleasing cover that adds complementary typography and composition to artwork, it’s nice to acknowledge the designer as well as the artist.
And yes, I highly recommend the book, Island Born, as a great adventure story and romance as well as a true memoir of a young couple who sailed “the wrong way” around the world and had a child on an uninhabited island in the Maldives. It’s an amazing story and very well-written.