ebook cover: shape, size, key elements

Endorsements, call-outs, and subtitles are now in ebook metadata. This is because:

  • Most text is unreadable on cover images on ebookseller websites.
  • The text inside images is not searchable.

An ideal ebook cover will differ from its print counterpart.

What not to do

Take a look at the email sent to 7 million book lovers. The thumbnail cover images do the promotional work.

Goodreads Email

These covers missed a great selling opportunity. You can’t tell anything about them from their covers. They because they’re straight from print book covers. No thought was given to how they would translate in the digital world.

Elements of a cover

Pare back an ebook cover to its essential elements. Narrow your cover to a single focus. Your ebook cover should do one thing well.
Create a cover design from three layers:

  • Background
  • Image
  • Type

The three layers convey the mood and the message.

Mood and context

Once Upon A Tiger Cover

Your design should convey a broad sense of the ebook’s subject matter or style. The place to start is a review of books in the same genre or subject. A romance, a thriller, and a fantasy novel will each have a recognizable style. Military history will look different from a spiritual self-help genre. While you’ll want your ebook to convey its genre, try to avoid using cliches or obvious images to achieve this.


Your cover should have a background color, texture, or image rather than being plain white. Plain colors can be a bit dull so consider using a graduated color background or a background image. A good quality image adds a professional look. It should provide a strong contrast for the typographical elements.

Buy images from a stock photography library. You can search millions of professional images and buy one for a few dollars. These services let you try before you buy by downloading a watermarked ‘comp’ image to test your design.


Some book covers can work well without an image if the other elements work together. But a strong image can lift your cover design, give it a focus, and convey something important about the book’s subject or style. As with background images, make sure this image is of high quality, and consider using a stock photo library if you don’t have anything suitable. The image must work with both the background and, importantly, the type. If you need to use an amateur image, you can often improve it with smart cropping or special effects such as fading but don’t overdo these: Like the use of too many fancy fonts, it can end up looking, well, amateurish.


ECDA Feb 2012

Typography is a real art and sets the best book designers apart from the rest. On covers, effective typography is the single biggest success factor. It must suit the book’s genre and be clear and readable at the smallest scale.

The top half of the cover is prime real estate so, as a general rule, use it for your main type area. You’re unlikely to be able to fit in much more than the title and author. And a short subtitle or series cover line visible in the larger images. For non-fiction titles drop the author to free up space for a subtitle.

Covers are the one place you can work with type styles because the cover type will only appear in an image. The sorts of fonts that work for covers are quite different from the fonts that work best for body type. For instance, readable body type is open. Strong headline types are tighter with less white space and, often, more height. You should only use one or two fonts on a cover. They need good size and contrast against the background and images.

There are lots of great sites for fonts on the internet.

Shape and size

ECDA Mar 2012

Consider the three basic shapes you should use for ebook covers:

  • Rectangle 3:2 ratio. This approximates the shape of a typical printed book. It’s also the shape for a Kindle screen.
  • Rectangle 4:3 ratio. This is the ratio of an iPad screen. It’s a common ratio for digital photos and video. But not HD video which is a 16:9 ratio — also a common ratio for many smartphone and tablet screens.
  • Square 1:1 ratio. While not a screen ratio, the square is a common shape for product images on websites.
ECDA Jan 2012

Within these shapes, there are four size variations you need to consider with an ebook cover. Digital image sizes are measured in pixels, not in centimeters or inches.

  • Thumbnail. This is the most common view of your cover and it’s very small. On Amazon.com, this is 80 x 115 pixels which display at about 2 x 3 cm on a computer screen.
  • Product page. This is the expanded view that readers will see when they click on your ebook in search results. On Amazon.com, this is 200 x 300 pixels.
  • E-reader screen. This is the image that readers will see when they open your ebook on their e-reading device. It’s the least important because it’s only seen after purchasing your book. On older Kindles (still out there), this will be 600 x 800 pixels which will also work fine on an iPhone. On an older iPad 2 or iPad Mini, the optimal image would be 768 x 1024 pixels. Remember that a full-screen iPad image is not a different resolution, it’s a different shape. Later iPads introduced much higher resolution but the shape is the same.
  • Future-proof. It’s good practice to keep a master copy in the highest resolution possible. You can re-generate your cover to take advantage of improved technology.
Velvet Dogma Cover

The ‘best’ size for an ebook cover image

The short answer is that there is no best size. A good, general rule of thumb today is to upload a cover that is 1600 pixels on the shortest side.

The specifications differ among ebook distributors and change regularly as new devices, with better screens, come on to the market. In addition, the major distributors and/or the devices themselves will make adjustments to the images to optimize for different displays.

Upload the highest resolution you’re allowed to.

Minimum specifications (will look good on high-resolution displays)

  • The best ‘universal minimum’ size to design today is 1600 pixels wide. This will meet Apple’s minimum requirements (1400 px) and Amazon’s (1600 px).
  • Other distributors allow (or require) smaller sizes, some now recommend larger sizes of about 2500 pixels wide.

There are two other aspects to ebook cover size: the file size and the resolution.

  • There’s are limits to the size of files accepted which can range from as little as 2MB to 10MB or more (Amazon is currently 5MB).
  • Files for screen viewing are generally best at 72 or 96 DPI (safe for web viewing). But, again, with advances in screen technology, especially for the tablets and mobile phones common as ebook readers, this is moving to 300 DPI.

Minimum specification for older and low-resolution screens

  • The best size for older and low-resolution devices is about 600 x 800 pixels (the original Kindle screen size).
  • Acceptable variations are in the range of:
    • 550–700 pixels wide
    • 800–1000 pixels high
Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲