Book Covers, Dust Jackets, and Case-Wrap Books

by Joel Friedlander on November 20, 2009 · 26 comments


The post continues the Book Construction Blueprint, a series of posts providing reliable guidance to anyone taking on the construction of a book that must conform to generally-accepted practice.

We’ve already looked at the parts of a book, book pagination, the copyright page, the use of chapters and subheads, and the elements found on the book page. Now we turn to our final topic, the covers and jackets of books and their function.

Categories of Book Covers

All books by their nature have a cover. We categorize book covers into hardcover and softcover, but they are better referred to as casebound and paperbound. A trade hardcover book is a bookblock (the interior pages taken together) glued, or sewn and glued, into a case, constructed of laminated cardboard and covered with cloth or paper.

Casebound books are sometimes issued with paper covers, or case wraps that are printed to identify them and also to act as advertisements for the book, establishing a mood or carrying commercial messages and endorsement designed to appeal to potential buyers. These books are sometimes known as case-wrapped.

Cloth cases are frequently stamped with the title, author’s name and a publisher’s name or logo. Paper cases are often printed and laminated before being wrapped on the cardboard and consequently don’t need dust jackets. Special impregnated cloth can also be used for this purpose, for instance on textbooks.

A feature unique to casebound books is the use of endsheets, a four-page sheet of paper at both the front and back that helps connect the bookblock to the case, while covering the edges of the case wrap for a neater and more durable book.

Paper covers

Printed heavy weight paper is used for the majority of softcover books. The bookblock is glued into the printed and scored case, then the entire book is trimmed on three sides to the final trim size. A book bound in this way is said to be perfect bound.

A variety of finishes can be used on the paper covers before binding, including:

  • foil stamping
  • embossing (creating raised areas)
  • debossing (creating sunken areas)
  • varnishing
  • laminating with either liquid quick-setting plastic laminates, or with film that is then affixed to the cover with heat and pressure. Film lamination affords the best protection, but may cause the cover to warp in conditions of changing humidity.

Paper used for softcover books is usually uncoated on the inside to create a more porous surface for the glue to adhere to.

Content and Use of Jackets and Covers

The three main sections of a book cover are the front, the spine, and the back cover. Copy that occurs on the back cover of a softcover book would generally appear on the front and back flaps of the dust jacket of a casebound book. The other major difference between dust jackets and the covers of softcover books is that the cover is intrinsic to the book and cannot be easily separated from the bookblock.

The back cover of a paperback or a dust jacket, or the back cover of a case-wrap book needs to display its Bookland EAN Barcode, which is covered in a separate article. The barcode is typically printed in black against a white or very light background, since it needs to be scannable.

The most common uses of the back cover involve:

  • Excerpts from the book
  • Promotional copy
  • Testimonials to the book’s quality (blurbs)
  • Author photo and biographical paragraph
  • Category and human-readable price
  • Publisher’s logo and/or brief contact information

Spine

The spine of dust jackets, paper covers, or case-wraps is usually printed with the author’s last name, the title of the book, and a way to identify the publisher. This might take the form of the publisher’s initials, a shortened version of the publisher’s name, or the use of the publisher’s logo. The subtitle of the book is usually omitted from the spine.

Front Cover

In non fiction books, the cover or front of the dust jacket is an extension of the publisher’s marketing plan for the book. The graphic approach, colors, and style will be used to position the book within its niche or category. The title, subtitle, author’s name, exceptional blurbs, and other inducements to buy are often featured on the cover. Serious non fiction books are typically more restrained, but in the world of design there are few rules.

This is most clear when examining the covers of novels and short story collections. Besides genre-identifying features, these covers attempt to convey some quality drawn from the narrative, often in subtle and surprising ways. Here rules are often broken with intent, and there is a whole class of novels that have been issued without any type on the front covers at all.

Credits for artwork, or for author photos, is printed on the back cover of paperback books, and on the inside back flap of dust jackets, although this credit may also appear on the copyright page of a softcover book since the cover is not typically separated from the rest of the book. If a credit is needed for artwork printed on the case of a hardcover book, it too can be printed on the copyright page.

Putting it All Together

This completes our tour through the various parts of the typical trade book, and the logic behind the way they are built. Armed with this information as a reference, you can be assured of constructing a book that conforms to standard practice, and for that reason can stand the test of time.

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    { 25 comments… read them below or add one }

    karen August 17, 2014 at 5:11 am

    Hi Joel
    A very interesting article!
    I have a book that I have written myself, It’s on Amazon, But I would love to get it bound in the padded cased wrap around style as it’s a chidlren’s story is this option open to self published books?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 17, 2014 at 10:45 am

    Sure, Lightning Source and Ingram Spark offer the casewrap binding style for most of their trim sizes.

    Reply

    Cary June 26, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Hello,
    I recently learned that books having “bonded leather” and “imitation leather” covers contain latex (to adhere all the small pieces of leather into a “sheet” of leather). I’ve been having allergic reactions on my hands and need to avoid contact with potential allergens (e.g. latex). Therefore, I’d like to try to make a cover for those bonded leather/imitation leather covers, so I can have a barrier between my hands and the latex material. Any suggestions? Thank you! Cary

    Reply

    james wharam May 30, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    can a books paper jacket/dust cover be reproduced or is it also copyrighted ? it is badly torn and I wish to save it from more damage. thank you.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 30, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    You can make a copy for your own personal use, but yes, it’s copyrighted also.

    Reply

    Ray E. Johnston January 15, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    Hi, I was just wondering about the old axiom, “show me, don’t tell me.” Why would you leave out illustrations in a step by step manner for case books and other hard covers? Dust jackets need to be sorted by type and illustrated by photos. I have hundreds of book cover photos, free.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 1, 2014 at 9:18 am

    Hi Ray, this article is one of the first I ever wrote for my blog, it’s over 4 years old at this point, and at the time I was not very good at including illustrations, perhaps some time I’ll go back and revisit these “basics” posts and include more visuals.

    Reply

    Jay September 13, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    I want a matte cover for my softback book and hardcover dust jacket. My printer is offering me a matte laminate finish. Can you describe this paper to me, or tell me a title of a book that uses it so I can take a look at it in Barnes & Noble? If it’s the common matte finish on book covers that I’m thinking of it would have a soft satiny feel to it. Is that right?

    What I don’t want is that matte textured (or maybe uncoated) new composite plastic type stuff that’s often use son books covers today.

    Can you tell me the difference?

    Thanks,
    Jay

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander September 14, 2012 at 11:26 am

    Jay,

    Unfortunately, I can’t help with this because there’s no way to tell exactly what finish your unnamed book printer is using. Just ask them to send you a sample, and you should know right away whether that’s the finish you want for your book. That’s what I would do.

    Reply

    Owen jauncey October 30, 2013 at 6:31 am

    Hi, i was just wondering what the best material used for a dust jacket is?

    Reply

    Felix April 30, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    I would love to know what the best material to make a dust jacket is also.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 1, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Felix, most printers use a 100# coated stock for dust jackets.

    chris July 12, 2012 at 9:50 am

    Speaking of the back of the book…I’m looking at creating the content for the back of the book. I can easily gather a handful of similar books and compare the text on the back but it assumes each one was done the right way.

    Regarding the text on the back for marketing purposes (author box, paragraph text, button points, reader quotes, etc), do you have a link for any articles specific for writing the back cover text for non-fiction books?

    Reply

    PETER BERINSTEIN June 18, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    We’re currently designing a book the client would like produced without a dustjacket and sewn. I believe you refer to it as “bookblock.” Most all of the covers appear glossy for the lamination, and that could be a problem with this particular book. (The cover should look “aged’). Instead of a gloss cover, is it possible to wrap it with a dull or matte laminate? Does it exist? Many thanks….Peter

    Reply

    Regina Campton October 6, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Thank you ever so much for the quick response. It is very much appreciated!!!

    Reply

    Regina Campton October 6, 2011 at 8:56 am

    I have a baseball encyclopedia that goes into a hard-cardboard “box” with the name of the book on it. Can you tell me what this case/box that the book slides into before it is put on the shelf is actually called? Thanks much!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 6, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Hi Regina, it’s called a slipcase.

    Reply

    Shannon September 6, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Hi,

    I’m interested in creating some customized children’s books and wanted to start learning as much as possible. I was wondering what the casewrap book covers are made of. I know something covers the Davey Board, but I don’t know what the paper is called. Is it affixed onto the board with an adhesive after the image is printed on the paper? Where could I get covers printed if I want to print customized covers? Thanks. I’m new to this, so I’m just trying to learn as much as possible

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander September 6, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    Hi Shannon,

    Casewraps can be either paper or cloth, but the materials are designed for this purpose. They are printed then glued to the boards that make up the case. The edges are wrapped around to the inside and glued down. Each printer has their own standard materials they use for binders board, casewraps, cloth for binding and so on, and when you choose a printer you can ask to see the samples of their components. Each cover is custom printed for each book, so no problem there.

    Hope that helps!

    Reply

    Gary Roberts June 28, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    Joel

    Thanks for the reply. That certainly answers my question. As I have a research library and digital imaging background, most of my work has focused on preservation activities within secured facilities. Thus my needing to learn about what goes on in the outside world!

    My imprint features facsimile reprints of early books, complete with replication of the original covers. It would be nice if Lightning Source were to offer a print-on-cloth or even a matte finish alternative, but I have to work with what there is. The end point is to produce reprints at affordable prices. What use conservation and replication of rare books if no one can afford them?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 29, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Gary, I wouldn’t rule digital printing out completely. Although Lightning Source doesn’t offer printed cloth or matte finishes, many book printers are acquiring digital “presses” for proofing and for short runs, and it would pay to check on their capabilities. There are also dedicated digital printers that may be expanding the product offerings. The problem is that most of this equipment is highly automated and can produce only a small variety of products. I expect this situation to change pretty rapidly as the equipment continues to improve and demand rises for these services. If you find anything out, perhaps you will report back.

    Reply

    Gary Roberts June 28, 2010 at 12:10 am

    Fascinating information and well worth the time to delve through your blog. I have one question on covers. There is the other option of a case laminate hard cover with the image and text printed directly on the casing. Some bookbinders hate this type due to early failure of the spine and chipping along the board edges. What is your take on the current crop of hard cover laminate books for POD? Has there been any significant improvement in quality and longevity or is this type of cover really meant for the academic titles and juvenile titles?

    Thanks
    Gary Roberts

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 28, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Gary, thanks for that. The cover you are describing is what I’m calling a case wrap book. I did one of these at Lightning Source a couple of months ago. The book came out fine and the client was very happy with it. From my point of view the limitation is that you can only get a high-gloss cover, whereas many of the best looking casewrap books I’ve seen are printed cloth rather than paper, and often use softer finishes. Other than that, I wouldn’t hesitate to do another casewrap at a good-quality digital printer. And I don’t think they are confined to academic or juvenile titles either. They used to be much more common and there’s a large number of examples if you hunt them down from the 1950s and 1960s that show what you can do with this format. I have a couple of photography books I’m scheduled to do which I hope to do with casewraps and I’m pretty excited about the design possibilities.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Reply

    Zane Smith May 9, 2010 at 6:03 am

    Joel: Where can I get an online primer of how to design a book cover for Kindle?
    Thanks,
    Zane

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 29, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Zane, sorry I missed your comment. I’m not sure I know a resource devoted exclusively to designing covers for Kindle. If you are having a book converted to the .mobi for use with Kindle you can simply supply a JPG for the cover, which gives you a lot of latitude. Hope that helps.

    Reply

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