Book Covers, Dust Jackets, and Case-Wrap Books

by | Nov 20, 2009

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


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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