Lightning Source Book Cover Templates for DIY Self-Publishers

by Joel Friedlander on January 6, 2011 · 41 comments

Post image for Lightning Source Book Cover Templates for DIY Self-Publishers

Lightning Source, Inc., the print on demand supplier that’s a division of Ingram Book Company, is arguably the biggest supplier of digital books to the publishing trade. They are used by many traditional publishers, and by competitive self-publishers who want to make use of Ingram’s distribution channels.

One of the really neat features of their otherwise routine and business-oriented web site is their terrific cover template generator. This is an easy to use software application that will produce a detailed and highly accurate template for you to use in assembling the cover of your book.

In fact, Lightning Source (LSI) requires that your cover be assembled on their template. If you send in your cover as a regular PDF, they will place it on the template for you, since this layout is required by their equipment. Do you want them to do that? Well, it might not hurt, but it might also end up in a rasterized cover. Here’s what Aaron Shepard says about how Lightning Source handles files that are not “favored”—prepared exactly to their specifications—in POD for Profit:

Lightining will rasterize the entire cover—turn it into a bitmapped image at a lower resolution. . . That image is then screened when printed, and your type winds up with edges that look either slightly bumpy or slightly fuzzy—at least to someone taking a very close look.

Using the Cover Template Generator

One of the ways to avoid this outcome is to take on the cover template yourself, even if it looks complicated at first. For professional layout artists and book designers, these templates are actually a boon. Exact measurements are worked out by the software—spine widths are calibrated in thousandths of an inch—saving you a lot of time.

Here’s what the software looks like, with all necessary fields filled out:

LSI Cover Template Generator for self publishers

Click to enlarge

You can see that this cover is for a 242-page softcover book that’s 5.5″ x 8.5″ printed in black ink only on LSI’s cream paper.

You can choose from several formats to receive your template:

  • Adobe InDesign, version 3 and newer
  • Quark Xpress, version 7 and newer
  • PDF
  • EPS

These last two formats are useful if you’re producing your cover artwork in Photoshop or Illustrator or a similar program. You can put the template on a layer and add your elements to match the template’s guides.

Putting the Book Cover Template to Work

Pretty soon after you hit the “submit” button on the cover template generator you’ll receive an email with instructions on how to use it. The file itself will arrive as an attachment to the email. Here’s what the template looks like when opened in InDesign:

Cover template for self publishers

Click to enlarge

This represents the 12″ x 15″ sheet your cover will be printed on. You’ll notice a lot of blue guides, a couple of barcodes and a summary of the specs you entered to get the template, along with an internal tracking number. (This is a different template than the one specified in the first screen shot, by the way.)

You can move the barcode that will print on your back cover, you don’t have to leave it in the middle like that. You can’t move the smaller barcode that LSI uses for tracking your print job.

Guides Everywhere

When I first started working with these templates I found them a bit baffling. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of where you are. But each side, I realized, had three guides and each represents the same things:

  • The outer guide is the “bleed” and any artwork intended to go off the edge of the cover needs to extend to, but not past, this line.
  • The middle guide is the “trim” and shows where the book will be cut after it’s printed and bound.
  • The inner guide is the “safety” boundary, as defined by LSI. Keep all type, barcodes, logos or essential graphic elements inside this guide.

This only becomes complicated around the spine, where there are lots of guides and you can get a bit dizzy trying to figure them out. Take a look at this detail:

Lightning Source Cover Template detail

Click to enlarge

Here you can see the three types of guides. Although the template tells you the safety area is outlined in red dots, you have to enlarge the image to over 200% before they really become apparent.

Avoid This Cover Layout Mistake

One of the most common errors I’ve seen on self-published books is a gap where the front or back cover meets the spine. This is pretty easy to do, since you may think you’ve butted two frames together, not realizing there may be a tiny gap or an unintended stroke around the frame.

You can solve this with a small overlap, and being very careful about the “stacking order” of your text boxes and graphic elements. You can move each item forward and backward, but make sure you take a close look at an enlargement of your final cover PDF to determine if everything meets up properly.

How It All Comes Together

We usually don’t know how many pages are in the book until it’s completely laid out. That’s why our workflow for cover design often begins with a document just for the front cover. Later we add the back cover and spine, and right at the end, when we have the complete specification for the book, we’ll get the template and assemble the cover from its separate pieces.

The LSI cover template makes this fairly easy if you are proficient with almost any graphic software. It’s a terrific resource for self-publishers that will help ensure your job runs smoothly when it gets “on press.”

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    { 39 comments… read them below or add one }

    alan January 20, 2015 at 7:21 am

    Hi Joel, love your blog. I have a quick question: I have downloaded the LSI PDF cover template and sent it to my cover designer. Should I ask for the cover to be sent back to me when its completed as a PDF or a JPEG or some other format for submission to LSI, In other words what file types do they accept for their covers. Thanks and keep up the great work


    Joel Friedlander January 22, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Alan, all the covers I’ve submitted to LSI are in PDF but I wouldn’t be surprised if they also accept JPG files as well.


    Michelle Eastman August 28, 2014 at 7:20 am


    I am using LSI for my 32 page children’s picture book. As you know, LSI does not allow spine text on books under 48 pages. So, I am facing the prospect of adding 16 pages or printing a book with no spine text. Neither is ideal. It has been suggested that if I rasterize the cover file, I can add spine text. I appreciate your insight as to whether this can be done. If it can be achieved, what do you feel are the pros and cons? I am grateful for any knowledge you can send my way.

    Thank you,


    Lisa Hainline August 29, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Michelle, while you can “Legally” put text on a spine for 48 page count, it’s not worth it when you’re talking about using any text below 12-point fonts. It’s way too unreadable and people will not even try. This is really thin, and Createspace has a limit of 130 pages and even that is thin with text begin 12 point (think; “Typewriter” font size). Design wise it’s not a good idea either. It is what it is. Blessings, Lisa


    Max Terman February 18, 2014 at 7:12 am

    Is it possible to use Powerpoint, save files to pdf, to design covers for LSI?


    Jasper Kerbow April 5, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Thanks for the blog loaded with so many information. Stopping by your blog helped me to get what I was looking for. I found your site in yahoo. And I will be back next time, thank you.


    Lisa Hainline March 21, 2012 at 1:37 am

    i download LS’s pdf, open it as CMYK /300 dpi in Photoshop C5 and build there. i then cut and paste the barcode so i can move it where i want, and then i mask out the box part of the guide, cut and paste in place on another layer, being careful to delete the crops from the guide layer that lists the size of the book, and then I hide the new box guide when i make a pdf x-1a directly from photoshop.
    i’ve heard about rasterizing the barcode but it won’t work in photoshop and i’ve not had a cover come back yet.
    (love your site, Joel!)
    Lisa Hainline


    Becky Blanton December 9, 2011 at 12:57 am

    I managed to open the .eps file in Photoshop elements and in Pixelmator, create my cover and then simply erase the red and blue lines on the template layer. It looks great, but who knows. I didn’t have any way to convert my RGB photo to CMYK before creating the cover. I found an online FREE convertor but it turned out mostly black and horrible looking so I used the RGB jpg. I’m also not sure what I needed to check when I saved as an .eps file rather than a .psd file. – like interpolation and ACSII versus jpg and embed color files or not. Does anyone know if the color photo will make a big difference or not?


    Joel Friedlander December 9, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    I’ve never tried that particular scenario, Becky, but it may work. You might end up with a cover that’s been rasterized by the software at Lightning Source but, depending on the subject, your cover might come out fine. Hopefully a reader with experience in this method can offer more specific advice.


    david sorani January 4, 2015 at 2:37 pm


    Thank You. david a sorani


    Stephen Tiano October 20, 2011 at 4:56 am

    The cover is about the only circumstance I’d use a template for. It pretty much guarantees the file will pass muster with the printer. Of course, that’s assuming one has all fonts correctly embedded and all art issues resolved. I’ve always had the greatest success importing Photoshop files into InDesign and distilling the PDF either from Acrobat Distiller or from within InDesign itself.

    An 800-page book with 3/8″ margins is the kind of thing that doesn’t serve the reader; it’s off-putting in its awkwardness. This is the kind of thing I always say you want professional design and production on, because it’s tough enough making a dent and getting noticed with all the books published. You need to get your book noticed in a good way, to actually attract readers.


    Joel Friedlander October 20, 2011 at 11:45 am

    I’ve grown to appreciate having these templates because they are generated individually for each cover and save a ton of time doing the measuring and layout by hand.

    Good point about why you may need professional design, it really depends on the book. As you say, Stephen, people who aspire to a wide market really need a book that can compete with professional books. Thanks for adding to the conversation.


    Billy Cook September 10, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    I need a template


    Joel February 16, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    I actually am using a 3/8 margin for the outside page edge due to my need to keep the page count reasonable. I’ve tested this on sample prints and comparisons with published texts of my same genre.

    So for me to avoid the gutter issue with less than 1/2 inch margins, I’m providing an alternating gutter than adds a 1/2 inch to the 3/8 at the gutter. My test with only the recommended 1/2 inch for left and right margins as that the gutter side went too far into the binding angle for comfortable reading.

    And my text is 800 pages, hardbound. So flopping the book open for wider exposure will be harder.

    Thanks for your clarifications. That helps a great deal.

    I look forward to your input on the cover template question follow-up.



    Joel Friedlander February 17, 2011 at 7:52 am

    Mike, you might want to re-think your production, or experiment with an ebook first. An 800-page hardcover at LSI will cost you over $17 each to manufacture, and a book that size with 3/8″ margins is likely to be difficult to hold, and awkward to read. Give it some thought.


    Joel February 17, 2011 at 7:55 am

    Will do. And thanks for your availability here in this forum.



    Joel February 16, 2011 at 7:31 am

    Another question I’ve never gotten answered is for the text block submittal. I am building into my block an alternating gutter for front and back pages. I was not instructed to do this, but LSI says they will not make any adjustments in what I submit.

    Also, someone on another forum got a note back from LSI that her text was in the gutter. So I assume it’s because she submitted a MS that was centered on all pages.

    Do you know if alternating the gutter is an assumed expectation on submittals to LSI?



    Joel Friedlander February 16, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Lightning Source doesn’t care about your gutter margins as long as they are at least 1/2″. You can set them up any way you like. If you run the text closer to the spine than 1/2″ you might get a note about “text in the gutter.” There is no “assumed expectation” about whether you use symmetrical or asymmetric page margins, use whatever you like.


    Joel February 16, 2011 at 7:20 am

    Sorry I meant to address this to you Joel. Thanks for picking this up.

    I don’t have an editor that will read in the PDF cover template and use it
    in design. I was originally thinking I could compose this all within Acrobat 6.0 where you can combine images. My cover image and text were created in Corel Draw and Paint. Saved out as .bmp or .jpg.

    So my plan was to import the image file to Acrobat 6 Pro and lay it over the lines in the template. You can do this using the menus in Acrobat.

    But the result is a combined content of lines and image, even though the image overlays and hides the lines. I’m assuming if I sent this to LSI, their tools might detect the lines in the template with image. Don’t know so I’m guessing.

    My alternative was to screen capture the template into Draw where it can become a layer for registering the overlaid image, then import the image, position, turn off the lines layer, export the final as a PDF/X1a and send it to LSI.



    Joel Friedlander February 16, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Well, I’m skeptical your method will work. Mostly the templates are placed and used as guides. The InDesign version is an actual InDesign file you can simply drop your artwork on. In Photoshop and Illustrator and similar programs you can add a layer or adjust the transparency, place your artwork and turn the layer off or delete it. Acrobat is not intended to be used as a way to create graphics.


    Joel February 17, 2011 at 6:27 am

    So let me verify this one point. LSI does NOT want the lines, crop marks etc. included in the cover file sent to them, correct?



    Joel Friedlander February 17, 2011 at 7:50 am

    That’s right, Mike, they are intended to be non-printing guides and should not appear on your final cover.


    Michael February 15, 2011 at 11:51 am

    I’m having trouble using the cover template in Acrobat 6.0 Pro. The lines and crop marks and comments are not selectable in order to create them as a layer that can be turned off. Like Marcus above, I fear that I will get a rejection for not turning these off.

    So is the template supposed to be copied as an image into an image editor and created as a layer.

    Also, I intend to combine my text for the cover in the image layer. Is this less preferable than adding text as an overlay to the image within Acrobat, which is then distilled into a PDF exchange file?



    Joel Friedlander February 15, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    Michael, it would help to know what program you are creating the original files in. There are no layers in Acrobat. Lightning Source provides the templates in different formats to be used in InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator or similar programs. Are you intending to send this to Lightning Source? Let me know and I’ll try to help out.


    Joel February 16, 2011 at 7:29 am

    Another question I’ve never gotten answered is for the text block submittal. I am building into my block an alternating gutter for front and back pages. I was not instructed to do this, but LSI says they will not make any adjustments in what I submit.

    Also, someone on another forum got a note back from LSI that her text was in the gutter. So I assume it’s because she submitted a MS that was centered on all pages.

    Do you know if alternating the gutter is an assumed expectation on submittals to LSI?



    Mike Piper January 6, 2011 at 4:44 am

    I’ve used GIMP to do all my covers. I wish LSI’s template generator had an option for a .xcf (GIMP working file) output.

    As it stands, I’ve always not used the template. It usually isn’t a problem, but twice I’ve had to go through an extra proof/revision cycle because I used a font that apparently forced them to rasterize the cover. (And the result is definitely noticeable!)


    Joel Friedlander January 6, 2011 at 7:52 am

    Mike, thanks for that. The cover generator doesn’t supply cover templates in other formats, and it doesn’t supply covers for all sizes or types of books that LSI produces. I guess it’s a limiatation of the software, and I would be surprised if they offered files for GIMP since far fewer people use it. There are people who have sent in covers that don’t use the template and had them print without rasterization, but for most users, following the LSI guidelines should result in a smoother production.


    Michael N. Marcus January 6, 2011 at 1:38 am

    In 2008, the first time I tried using the template, I left in the blue outer guidelines, assuming that LS would ignore them during the printing process. LS rejected my file.

    Since then I’ve had my LS covers done by a professional artist. Carina did not make the same mistake that I did.

    Also, the cover templates supplied by CreateSpace are much simpler for amateurs to work with than the LS templates (but much more limiting). I sometimes use them if I’m in a hurry to publish and Carina is too busy to take on a project.

    For eBooks, Lulu can accept a cover with no template, as long as it is an appropriate size, shape and file type. I often make a quickie design with the ancient Microsoft Image Composer and upload a JPG image.

    Lulu is much more expensive than CS or LS for printing books, but can be a good choice for PDF or EPUB eBooks.There are no fees for setup or revisions, books are on sale in minutes, and the author gets a big piece of the cover price.

    I doubt that many people browse for books at Lulu, but if you direct traffic to your listings on Luilu, you can sell books.

    The situation may change. Lulu is making an effort to become a better bookstore, and now sells titles that it does not print or publish — including one book of mine that’s printed by Lightning.

    Lulu will even establish a mini-bookstore page ofering all of the books by one author, at no charge: .

    Lulu is too expensive to use for POD printing (except for proofs), but is priced right for eBooks. On a $9.99 eBook, I make eight bucks, which is better than my revenue on the $19.95 pBook version.

    80 percent of the cover price is hard to resist — it’s ten times what I made on the book Doubleday published for me.

    Michael N. Marcus
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),”


    Joel Friedlander January 6, 2011 at 8:02 am

    That’s interesting, Michael, I haven’t had the occasion to print at Lulu and I’ve often wondered if the “store” was there for book buyers, or simply as an inducement to authors, since I’ve never heard of anyone selling many books there. However, there aren’t as manhy outlets for PDF books as we might like, and it’s great to know you can vend them through LuLu. Thanks!


    Bryan April 17, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    If you aren’t supposed to leave the blue lines intact in the template when you submit the file, what part of the LSI template DO you leave intact?

    I’m trying to find a way to guarantee my files don’t get rasterized. Also, how important is it to use Distiller to create the PDF?


    Joel Friedlander April 17, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Bryan, the blue lines (and the red lines) are guides and won’t print in any event, so you can just leave them in place.

    I use Distiller because I know the files will run without problem when they get to Lightning Source. If you have it, I would recommend you use it.


    Bryan April 17, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    I have distiller but I’m having a heck of a time exporting my Photoshop file to a format that distiller likes. EPS format doesn’t preserve the fonts. I can’t get Photoshop to print to a postscript that distiller likes. Any ideas?

    On the other hand, I found some instructions on LSI website (I can share the PDF if you haven’t seen it – it was buried pretty deep) that seem to provide how to properly save from Photoshop – and distiller isn’t a part of those instructions. So, maybe that will be enough to prevent them from rasterizing my file?


    Bryan April 17, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    Oh yea one more thing … have you seen the video on LSI website about how they verify file compliance? Never mentions distiller.


    Joel Friedlander April 17, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    Bryan, I’ve never tried to go directly from Photoshop to a PDF, I use InDesign for all my output. It has much better controls and is much better at handling type.

    As I said, the reason I use Distiller is because I ship lots of files to LSI and I can’t afford to have them start bouncing, there are many clients’ schedules involved. The files I run through Distiller run 99% of the time without a hitch at LSI.

    Mike April 18, 2011 at 8:37 am

    Bryan – I was successful in getting my cover to LSI and it came out surprisingly well done. But I couldn’t use the LSI template as a foundation within an editor for the artwork. I don’t have the recommended authoring tools that will read the template.

    What I had to do was scan the template to scale and mount it to scale within Corel Draw, where it can be turned off as a layer.

    I then drew in guides that matched the scanned in template lines. I could then switch these to top over my graphics.

    When doing final, I turned off both my guidelines and the scanned layer of the LSI template, re-verified my margins and placement, and converted it to EPS file type out of Corel.

    Distiller will take in the .eps file and convert it to the PDF-X1a spec.

    So you DO need to turn off the template lines or any guidelines used in sizing. LSI wants the equivalent of an image file PDF that matches the template without the template being included.



    Bryan April 18, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Mike – thanks for the tips, the only problem with your procedure is that it sounds like you didn’t include vector fonts in the file which leads to sub-optimal text printing.

    Joel – I emailed you last night about your services, haven’t heard back from you yet. Get my email?


    Mike April 18, 2011 at 10:11 am

    The EPS conversion no doubt did what you observe above, BUT . . the results were as crisp and clean as having used vectored fonts. I literally can see no evidence of any rasterized effects. Truly. Even tiny fonts on the spine were clear and sharp.

    So I’m not sure if the worry over vectored is justified. Then again, I haven’t seen your design.


    Mike April 18, 2011 at 8:42 am

    BRYAN – I left a comment for you below/above but it didn’t indent under your question from April 17 5:39 PM. See down in these replies.



    Joel Friedlander April 18, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Thanks for that, Mike. I haven’t seen a copy of Corel Draw in many years, but your method sounds like it would work fine. In my comment to Bryan I was referring to the guides on the InDesign template that I show in the illustrations to this article. In all the Adobe Creative Suite programs, guides like these are non-printing objects, so there’s no need to turn them on or off when it comes time to image the artwork.

    And it’s good to point out that iprogram software, no matter what it is, can create postscript (*.ps) files, you can probably run them through Distiller to create your final print file.


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