Book Cover Illustrations Design Process, Tips, and Examples

book cover illustrations

Table of Contents

An illustration design is a commercial art created for specific industries. It is a visualization, drawing, painting, collage, engraving, and photo designed by an illustrator to explain a concept, topic, or anything with special meaning.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that most illustrations must have a meaning or pass a message across, if not, it is a drawing, not an illustration. Many book authors love to have illustrations in their books because young children in learning age get fascinated with colorful drawings which motivate them to learn.

Many children’s books have illustrations to make children learn how to read and mostly because they are capable of transforming a simple story into an existing and fascinating one. Aside from illustration in the books, the majority of these authors also love to use illustration in their book cover design to make the book beautiful, colorful, and visually captivating to the children and fitting to the theme of the book.

Although there are many options available on the internet to get inspiration for book cover illustrations, many illustrators and graphic designers still struggle with creating the perfect illustrations for a book design. For this reason, we have provided the steps, tips, and examples to help you create perfect illustration designs for your book cover projects.

What is an Illustrated Book Cover?

An illustrated book cover is the use of illustration, drawing, or painting on a book cover instead of a picture. In this situation, an illustrator, digital artist, or graphic designer designs illustration art or design to visually interact and appeal to the specific audience.

It is one of the methods used to design contemporary book covers. Essentially, authors and designers use a book cover illustration to convey the message of the book and evoke certain feelings that influence the readers to read or buy the book.

What Does a Book Cover Illustrator Do?

A book cover illustrator or artist is a person who is responsible for drawing or illustrating the story, theme, and tone of a book such as textbooks, graphic novels, children’s books, or other books in a book cover illustration.

An illustrator or digital artist works with an author and publishing house to create visually compelling designs that help you capture the attention of its target readership. These professionals understand visual psychology and how different design elements can be combined to evoke certain feelings or emotions in a customer.

By combining their skills, experience, and knowledge of visual design, illustrators create visually appealing book covers that attract attention, establish a connection with the audience and increase the company’s revenue.

Why do Book Cover Illustrations Matter?

Book-selling business can be very tricky, so if you don’t understand how the whole process works, you might struggle to make it. A lot of times, book visuals tend to carry more weight at the assessment stage than the content of the book (well, except for best-selling authors and books that people are already anticipating).

If not, it would be tough to sell a book with poor (basic) visuals to new customers that are scrolling through the large library of books or browsing the shelves of a bookstore to find a good book. As much as we don’t want to admit to the saying of not judging a book by its cover, this is the reality of bookselling.

Following reports that humans are highly visual beings, it’s not surprising that strong compelling visuals rule the game. High-quality, compelling illustration designs can significantly impact the first impression of a book. Illustrations have a way of attracting book lovers and getting them to anticipate the book before actually reading it.

Since most cover art illustrations are a preview of what is actually inside the book, special care and attention must be given to the illustration design.

Important Questions Your Book Covers Should Answer

A good book cover design should be very clear about its message and help you answer the following questions from your readers:

  1. What is the book genre?
  2. Is it a fiction or non-fiction book?
  3. What age category does the book cater to?
  4. What is the book about, generally speaking?
  5. Is the book made professionally or just thrown together?
  6. What is the tone of the book?

Book covers are important to the overall success of books. There are two important things that you need to keep in mind when designing covers for your books.

1. Be Honest

Your book cover is your selling point and the key element that would determine whether how your customers will interact with the book. Be honest when doing this. Ensure that whatever you have added to your book cover is a reflection of what the book entails. If you have written a recipe book, for instance, let that be evident in the book cover design.

2. Avoid misleading or false images or information

Don’t lie or deceive your readers or customers into buying the book. If your book does not cover a particular topic or character of public interest, don’t include that on your front cover just to make them buy it. Even if you succeed at making them buy the book, your reputation is probably gone by now because these customers will make it a point of duty to write negative reviews about the dishonesty and encourage others to never trust you again. Check out some best book cover designs.

Benefits of Illustrated Book Cover Design

Here are the key benefits of illustrated book cover design:

1. It builds positive first impressions

A good design illustration design can help you build a positive first impression on the audience. High-quality illustration covers attract your readers and get them interested in the book.

2. It is Unique

Most illustrated book covers are tailored to a particular book. Unlike imagery and other forms of book covers, the images and colors of the illustrated book covers are selected to fit the overall mood of the design. Aimed at capturing the reader’s attention, book cover illustrations connect the reader with the details of the books.

3. Focus on Details

A book cover illustration can be made to contain more detail about the main characters and story of the book. An illustrator can also include unique features and graphic design elements to customize the book cover.

4. It helps create awareness

Aside from the captivating element, illustrated book cover design can also help impart specific energy to your work. A well design book cover illustration boosts the sense of the author’s distinctiveness among other writers. Importantly, it helps to improve the audience’s experience and knowledge of the book.

5. It helps convey the right idea

Illustrations are an effective tool to convey abstract ideas, appeal to the audience’s visual perception, and interact with the readers. A well-designed and thought-out illustration will appeal to the reader’s imagination, share deeper meaning with them, and make the book more memorable.

Aside from the above benefits, illustrated book cover designs are also important to:

  1. Set the tone and emotion of the story
  2. Boosts sales when marketed correctly
  3. Attracts eyes and touches when in printed form.
  4. Attracts clicks for online eBooks or digital versions

8 Steps To Design a Book Cover

It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and funds to design high-quality book covers. However, before you get to the design and publishing stage, there are many steps that you need to go through to create one. These steps include:

Step 1: Search for Book Cover Inspiration

tips & tricks for designing a book cover

Whether you are going to design the book cover yourself or outsource it to a professional graphic designer, ensure that you look for book cover inspiration that aligns with your book cover interests. You can find illustrated book cover illustrations from the following platforms:

1. Find Ideas on Pinterest

Pinterest is an American image-sharing, social media service, and visual discovery engine that helps you find information or ideas on the internet using images like recipes, home and style inspiration, and more in form of pinboards.

There are thousands of cool and creative illustrated book covers that you can find on Pinterest and get design inspiration from there. Aside from the book cover, Pinterest can also give you inspiration on the content, message, and genre of the book.

2. Check out your book genre expectations

When you check out the inspiration for your book cover illustrations and identify the genre that the book cover fits into, the next step is to look for the genre expectations for the book.

Importantly, you must ensure that your book cover design fits into the layout, font, color schemes, images, and common elements of the genre to help it stand out, look eye-catching and be well-made to fit this genre.

3. Check out Amazon or Kindle

Amazon book was a chain of retail bookstores owned by online retailer Amazon while Kindle is an online library with a large number of free ebooks available. You can find many inspirations from these online sources.

Step 2: Choose Your Book Design Software or Designer

An important step to creating a high-quality illustration book cover is to find a good book design software or graphic designer with the right feature, skills, and experience to create something nice for you.

If you have an experience in graphic design and understand how to combine different design elements to create functional and meaningful designs. If this is your situation, you should consider looking a sophisticated book design software like Canva, Adobe InDesign, Book Brush, Affinity Publisher, etc.

Otherwise, if you have no experience in design, find yourself a professional and competent illustrator or graphic design service to help you out. Consider a design service agency like All Time Design to create high-quality, compelling, and visually striking book cover illustrations.

Step 3: Select Your Book Cover Dimensions

The next step to creating your illustrated book cover design is by selecting your book’s cover dimensions to meet every market requirement. For this, you need to choose the right width-to-height ratio so that your book cover design fits appropriately.

Below is an image of these book cover dimensions to follow from Kindlepreneur:

benefits of illustrated book cover design

Step 4: Find Images for the Book Cover

Although most illustrated book covers are drawings or paintings created by an illustrator, you might still need to use a creative and visually appealing image in your book cover. Importantly, when choosing your cover image, ensure that the image can trigger emotional reactions such as suspense, excitement, intrigue, lust, innocence, etc. when people look at it.

For example, a romantic novel should contain a sexually exciting image to stimulate lust and compel the customer to buy the book. Keep in mind that the two main types of images to use are illustrations and photographs.

You can find images for free stock photos sites for commercial use such as Pexels, Unsplash, Pixabay, Canva, Stock, etc. Otherwise, you can use paid sites like Shutterstock, Getty Images, Adobe Stock, Dreamstime, BigStock, Depositphotos, etc. to purchase the image you want.

Step 5: Pick Your Colors

why do book cover illustrations matter

Colors are one of the most important design elements that can influence the audience’s decision about a design. They bring life to a design and can significantly impact how readers interact with the design.

For best effect, consider using 2-3 colors for your book cover illustrations to create the mood and message that you are trying to pass across. Check the color wheel to find colors that match and look good when placed in contrast.

Step 6: Select Your Font

what does a book cover illustrator do

Fonts are important graphic design elements that are used in design for two main purposes. One is to improve the legibility of the content while the other is to help communicate the messaging, tone, and sentiment of a design. It enhances visual aesthetics and helps to create a clean and minimal design.

Although most authors tend to focus more on the color, images, and appeal of the design, you should not overlook the importance of fonts in your book cover design. The font you choose for your book title should help convey a clear message, invoke emotion and reinforce the genre. Keep in mind that if you use a fancy font for your title, consider using a simple font for the author’s name.

Step 7: Test Your Book Cover Design

After deciding on all these design elements, the next step is to start designing and bringing all the design elements together. Create many samples of the book cover designs and share them with your friend, family, and coworker on social media to choose the best design.

Alternatively, you can use online customer research platforms like PickFu, UserTesting, SurveyMonkey, etc., to test your book cover illustration and see which one people like more.

Step 8: Create a Mockup

Creating a visually appealing book cover is not enough, you also need to create a sleek mockup for marketing purposes. Doing this makes the book feel more real to you and to the people you are planning to sell the book to.

Consider making your flat 2D image into a 3D book to make it look more professional for advertisements. Aside from this, also consider other options you can use to make your book covers look more realistic, professional, and sellable.

20 Professional Illustrated Book Cover Designs

Here are the 20 best-illustrated book cover designs you should get design inspiration from.

1. All This Time by Mikki Daughtry and Rachael Lippincott

All This Time is a novel about an emotional portrayal of growing up and growing into one’s self. The book cover illustration conveys a deep message about relationships and issues that people go through when in relationships. The colors, visual hierarchy, and fonts all look amazing and instantly attract anyone’s attention.

2. When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert

When We Were Infinite is a novel that tells an emotional story of the time when the transition from high school to college was full of pressure. This novel has a watercolor cover design combined with an artistic pencil drawing that just blows your mind.

3. Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi

New York Times Bestselling author, Mary H.K. Choi wrote this story about two estranged sites switching places and committing insurance fraud to save one of their lives.

The book cover made use of the bright and vibrant color yellow and a very deep meaningful drawing of a lady that illustrates her falling into space. Ths color and message instantly arouse your curiosity.

4. Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott

New York Times Bestselling author, Rachael Lippincott in this novel tells the story of two teens who fall in love with just one minor complication. This book has a stunning book cover with a visual representation of lungs that transition into blue and coral flowers that are unable to touch each other.

5. 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario

This novel tells the story of a high school senior who attempts to salvage her reputation among her Ivy League-obsessed classmates by writing their college admission essays and learns big truths about herself in the process.

This book cover features many human figure characters disappearing up into the clouds with soft colors and super attractive and relaxing font.

6. An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

New York Times Bestselling author, Margaret Rogerson, tells this interesting story about a teen girl with mythic abilities who must defend her world from giant restless spirits of the dead.

The book cover has this gorgeous painting of a teen girl with a bird on her shoulders. If you are the type of person who loves and would certainly choose anything that looks magical, then this book right here would top the list.

7. Your Heart, My Sky by Margarita Engle

Margarita Engle in this novel tells a heartfelt story of love in a time of hunger inspired by her own family’s struggles during a dark period in Cuba’s history. The book cover illustration is a smooth blend of fruit illustrations and male and female illustrations. The cover illustration tells a story that will make your reader buy this book.

8. Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Legendborn is a 2020 fantasy novel by Tracy Deonn that tells a story about a black teenage girl who discovers a secret historically white magic society. If you are a lover of fantasy, superpowers, and everything mystery, you will instantly fall in love with this digital art cover. The red, blue hairs with her hair and eyes all look fantastic.

9. The Cold is in Her Bones by Peternelle van Arsdale

Inspired by the myth of Medusa, Peternelle van Arsdale tells a story of a teen girl who must uncover the secrets of the past to save her friend from a terrible curse. This moody, fierce heroine book cover illustration with snakes curling their way out of the teen’s hair instantly tells the tale of dark fantasy.

10. Little Red Riding Hood by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm

Little red riding hood by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm is a European fairy tale about a young girl and a sly wolf. This illustration of a little girl and a wolf with the green and red color, and playful title font instantly intrigues any children’s book lover.

11. Turtle Under Ice by Juleah del Rosario

Turtle Under Ice by Juleah del Rosario tells a story of a teen who navigates questions of grief, identity, and guilt in the wake of her sister’s mysterious disappearance. This book cover features a pale green sky, a girl in a sweater and the cloud-like mask over her left eye instantly suggests mystery.

12. Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman tells an emotional story of loss, life, and music and finding oneself in the wake of tragic loss. This book cover illustration has a drawing of birds flying on a beautiful wave. It was designed by Art director/Book designer, Sarah Creech.

13. Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Internationally bestselling author, Margaret Rogerson tells a story about a world called Austermeer, where books are alive and can be used for good or transformed into horrific monsters. This illustrated cover features a girl’s face with light over her cheeks and nose and a clear graphical representation of magic, mystery, and feminine power.

14. Wings of Ebony by J. Elle

J. Elle in this novel tells a story about a black teen from Houston who has her world turned upside down when she learns about her godly ancestry and must save both the human and god worlds. The book is covered with yellow, pink, and purple colors, and a teen with a hoodie looks exciting and makes you want to read it.

15. Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera

This dystopian science fiction novel tells a tale of a girl who is the leader of a group of 5 girls living in a futuristic dystopian world where women are the prominent and dominant group. This book cover illustration’s yellow floral pattern with a drawing of a girl creates a surreal, dream-like feeling.

16. The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson

This novel by Shaun David Hutchinson tells the story of two teens who are granted extra time to resolve what was left unfinished after one of them suddenly dies. The vibrant yellow, black, and pale green colors immediately catch the eye and make you want to read it.

17. Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju

Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens is a story about sexual and gender identity, friendships, and giving people a second chance. The book cover illustration has a smooth blend of the colors blue, pink, and purple with teens dancing adds so much personality to the book.

18. For All Time by Shanna Miles

For All Time is a romantic novel about two teens who relieve their tragic love story over and over until they uncover what they must do to change their fate. The cover illustration with a male and female character with some flowers in the background can easily capture the audience’s attention.

19. Just Wreck it All by N. Griffin

This fictional project tells the story of a sixteen-year-old girl’s life who was crippled with guilt after causing a horrific accident two years earlier. This book cover features a stunning bird cover with a smooth blend of bright collages of colors that are used to illustrate the wings and drawn head, looking up, ready to take flight.

20. The Great Unknowable End by Kathryn Ormsbee

The Great Unknowable End is a Sci-fi novel that explores a wide range of characters, self-doubt, and many other issues in Kansas, a small midwestern town. The book cover features the color pink and purple, people, and how they fade into the background. This type of cover instantly intrigues you and prepares you for the mystery in the novel.

Tips & Tricks for Designing a Book Cover

Here are a few helpful tips to consider when designing a book cover:

1. Give the readers a sneak peek of the story plot

Your book cover should give a little information about the content of the book. When potential buyer picks up your book, they should be able to get a general framework of what they can expect from the front and back cover.

Without giving out too much information, ensure that your cover design hints at the overall theme and plot of the story, giving them enough information to make an informed decision on whether they want to invest their time and money in the book.

2. The cover should let readers know the book’s genre

In addition to the previous tip, your book cover should also clearly showcase the book’s genre. Since many book lovers have genres that particularly interest them, having your book cover reflect this can significantly influence their buying decision.

For example, a sci-fi novel with a book cover with characters dancing or cuddling will most likely mislead the sci-fi book lover, however, if your fantasy book cover has an illustration of a forest, enchanting characters, and potions, etc, this would instantly excite a fantasy lover.

3. The book cover should introduce the protagonist

Your book cover should illustrate the protagonist of the story, irrespective of how they can be – a model citizen, superhero, anti-hero, or however they might be to help the reader connect with the story and protagonist. Creating a connection with the protagonist before they even open the book can significantly impact how they enjoy reading the book.

4. The book cover should set the right tone

Whatever your story is about and the message you are trying to pass, your book cover should set the tone of your book to attract the right readers. If it is humorous, the book cover should not give off dark vibes.

5. Book covers should follow the rules of design in a way that makes sense for the genre

When designing your book cover, there are some very specific rules and guidelines to follow to create the right impact and lure in your ideal readers. For this, you must ensure that you use fonts, colors, and visual elements that are appropriate for your genre and are easy to read. Also, use text hierarchy to emphasize the important texts on your cover.

Also, remember to use contrasting colors and leverage color psychology to elicit the right emotional responses from your readers.


The ultimate purpose of a book cover design is to attract the attention of your potential readers, illustrate the book content and help sell them on the idea that the book is right for them. As much as you want to always focus more on the content of the book, you should never underestimate the importance of a good cover design to the success of your book.

In as much as we all don’t want to be judged by our appearance all the time, this rule doesn’t apply to books. The reality of bookselling is that many people judge a book by its cover, and so when your book cover fails to follow the stipulated guidelines regarding the fonts, colors, and general visual elements, it’s most likely going to fail no matter how well-written the book is.

For this reason, you must ensure that your book cover follows all the stipulated guidelines. If you can’t do this yourself, consider getting a professional graphic designer to do this for you. Alternatively, you can get in touch with our team at All Time Design to get started on your book cover design today!

February 8, 2023
10 min read
49 reads

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