Print and e-Book Covers, a Matter of Resolution

by | Jan 13, 2012

One of the regular tasks of a book cover designer is preparing cover images for a client’s use in promotions, website design, a whole host of things.

Today that was one of the things on my to-do list, and I prepared two JPGs, one for print and one for web use.

The book is 5.5″ x 8″, a size I’ve been using a lot recently. I ended up with two files:

  1. Hi-res—This file was 5.5″ x 8″ with 300 dots per inch (dpi, can also be considered pixels for the purpose of file size). This is the resolution that’s needed for high-quality printing.

    This gives us these dimensions for our image file:

    5.5 x 300 = 1,650 pixels
    8 x 300 = 2,400 pixels

    So the resulting file is 1,650 x 2,400 pixels, or a total of 3,960,000 pieces of data.
  2. Lo-res—This file was also 5.5″ x 8″ but it had 72 dpi, which is the resolution used for images on computer screens.

    This gives us these dimensions for our image file:

    5.5 x 72 = 396 pixels
    8 x 72 = 576 pixels

    So the resulting file is 396 x 576 pixels, or a total of 228,096 pieces of data.

Book cover file resolution

What The Figures Show

What I’m getting at is this: the print-resolution file has over 17 times more image data in it than the screen-resolution version.

I can’t think of a clearer example of what direction designers need to be thinking when coming up with covers for e-books. Browsers will be looking at 1/17th the image information available on the printed book.

Don’t fall in love with those big images you’re looking at on your monitor. Keep it simple, direct, clear. You’ll be way ahead.

Photo by comedynose

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Felix

    Hi Dave.
    I’m not a professional designer, but I need to design my ebook cover myself because I don’t have the budget to contract it out to a designer. I really don’t get the point of your post.
    Are you saying it’s better to make my ebook cover 300dpi or I should stick to 72dpi used for computer screen.

  2. Diane J Mills

    Thank you for this article.

    I have just completed an article (5 parts) on what I need for my ebook covers. I have come to the conclusion that ebook covers are not the same as print book covers. For ebooks I need to choose an area of the print book cover equal to the size you displayed for an ebook cover.

    For example, f the print book cover is an army on the move scene, then the ebook cover should just be the army leader. In other words, create the cover for the print book (your grey area above), then look for the best part of the image to fit in the blue small square area and use that for the ebook cover.

    I will link this article into my article.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Diane, that’s an interesting way to approach it. I think you are exactly right about extracting a single image from one that’s complex to represent the book. And if you have a strong single image somewhere within a larger design, you can size it appropriately for display where it’s likely to be seen. Thanks for your comment.

  3. David Bergsland

    The only quibble I would have is that even for your 300 dpi JPEG, that really is not printing quality unless you didn’t use any type. Type really needs 2400 dpi (or a 1200 dpi minimum) to render the details of the font. I use 300 dpi Photoshop pieces saved as PSDs added into my covers designed in InDesign. That way all my type and drawing is vector (PostScript). This is one of the reasons that Lulu covers look so much better than Createspace covers—Lulu can handle vector images.

    Createspace requires me to rasterize the cover to 300 dpi throughout (plus, they cannot handle any transparency). This means that I have to be sure to use linework that is over a .5 point minimum. It means that I need to be careful of images with tints smaller than 10%.

    One of the real problems with on-demand printing is the lowering of standards like this. I wish I knew of a way to get Createspace to kick it up a notch. There’s plenty of equipment that can handle the vector images. I thought CS was using Indigo presses. They can do great work. I’m puzzled by the lower quality of CS.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Good point, David. I do my covers the same way, creating artwork in Photoshop and/or Illustrator and using InDesign to assemble all the pieces and do the output.

  4. Sharon Beck

    Is there any reason the ebook cover needs to be visually identical (albeit with lower resolution) to the pbook cover? I know the pbook cover does need to look good as a thumbnail, also, but couldn’t a streamlined version be used for the actual ebook cover?

    • Joel Friedlander

      No, and that’s the whole point. As long as it’s recognizably the same book, and carries over the branding or other visual elements that the publisher wants on the book there’s no reason they need to be—or should be—exactly the same. I did this with the print and e-book covers for A Self-Publisher’s Companion.



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