February 8, 2022

Using Gimp to Create an Ebook Cover

Suspense-Thriller author Jeb Bohn

By Jeb Bohn



Self-published authors have to be masters of wearing many hats: writer, website creator, marketer, and—in many cases—cover designer.

Thankfully, there are a ton of great tools out there for authors to utilize. What’s even better? Some of them are free to use!

Today, we’ll look at one that can be used to create book covers, marketing material, social media graphics, and more.

Bring Out the GIMP

Calm down, there aren’t any ball gags here.

In this instance, Gimp is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program.

Really though, what is Gimp?

It’s a free program that can be used to edit photos, create eye-catching graphics, and a lot more. In many ways, it’s similar to Adobe Photoshop and, if the price has prevented you from working with that software, Gimp is worth a look.

Now, before we get into the meat of this article, I need to make something clear: I am not a Gimp expert. This will not be an encyclopedia of features and functions. Instead, we’ll look at how you can use the software to create a killer book cover.

Sound good?

Feel free to work in Gimp and refer back to this page as needed. Don’t have Gimp? Fret not, you can download it for free right here.

Creating an Ebook Cover

Ebooks are a major market.

That’s news to absolutely no one. Perhaps you already have one published. Maybe you have a dozen. Maybe you’re ready to publish your first, but you just can’t get the cover right.

Whatever your situation, I hope to offer some help.

For this demonstration, I’ll be utilizing the cover that I created for my book Bermuda, the first entry in my Herman Ingram series.

Once you have the program open, click on the File menu and select New. 

how to make a book cover in gimp
creating a new file in Gimp

You’ll be greeted with a dialogue box that allows you to set the image dimensions. I typically go for a width of 1600 pixels and a height of 2560 pixels. This is the minimum requirement for Amazon and is compatible with most other online retailers.

set your image size

There’s also an Advanced Options area. Clicking here will allow you to determine the background color. Typically, I select the Fill With Transparency option.

Once you’re done, click OK, and you’ll be greeted with your blank template.

kdp cover gimp
your blank ebook cover

Selecting Your Image

Now, one thing Gimp does not do is provide you with free-to-use images, so you’ll need to settle on one you like. There are several sites that offer such photos, such as Pixabay and Pexels.

The important thing is to make sure the image creator has permitted their work to be used for commercial purposes. Just as we don’t want people stealing our work, we must honor that same principle for other creators.

Luckily, every image on Pixabay is okay to use in such a manner. As such, they each show this disclaimer:

Once you’ve found (and downloaded) your cover image, import it into Gimp by clicking File and then Open. Just find your download and select it. To help me stay organized, I created a download folder and named it Cover Images.

When your image opens in Gimp, it will be in its own tab:

Now, click the tab for your blank file. On the left side of your screen is a grouping of four small windows. Click the one on the right:

You’ll see a list of all open images appear. Click on your cover image and drag it over to your blank file. Once done, the cover image will appear as a new layer in your project. (Layers are listed in the lower right-hand area of Gimp)

In all likelihood, the image you selected will not be the same size as your ebook cover (1600 x 2560).

That’s okay!

Find Layer in your toolbar, click it, and select Scale Layer. Before doing this, make sure that the image you downloaded is the selected layer, as you see in the image below:

the active layer is shown highlighted
selecting the scale layer option

This will open a dialogue box similar to the one you saw when creating your project. You can adjust the height and width of your cover image, just be sure that neither number is smaller than your cover template dimensions (height should be at least 2560 pixels; width at least 1600 pixels).

Also, take note that when the Scale Image dialog box opens, the height and width are linked, meaning that changing one automatically changes the other. This is to keep the image properly scaled.

You can unlink them to change height and width independently, but be aware that it can stretch the image and cause visual distortion.

It’s okay if the image is slightly larger; however, if it’s smaller, you’ll be left with transparent areas in your cover, and—while that may sound cool—it will create more work as it will make your cover ineligible for use.

At this point, you have the basis of your cover.


Enhancing Your Cover

If you’ve spent time looking at top-selling books in your genre(s)—and you absolutely should—you’ll have a good idea of what stylistic choices are used. As a matter of fact, you’ll likely see some repeated on different titles by different authors.

Now, we don’t want to emulate another cover, but taking a few pointers to help identify your book in its genre.

As an example, I added a gradient overlay to my original cover image:

before and after adding gradient overlay

That’s not to say you have to add anything. I like the vibrancy it added to my cover, but with your cover, it’s entirely up to you. I recommend playing around with some of the options and seeing what you like, just remember to undo (edit – undo) if you don’t like a change.

Another idea that you can toy around with is the addition of other graphic components. I found a factory illustration that I liked, so I added it to my cover (again, be sure to verify copyright status before using any images).

added factory image with reduced opacity for blending

Adding Text

Now comes the part that drives a lot of us mad: adding text.

Seems simple enough, right? Add your name, the book’s title, maybe a series name, or some other tidbit.

Then you realize there are approximately 17 trillion fonts and you develop a migraine.

Your computer, no matter the operating system, comes with a fair amount of fonts out of the box, but I’ll let you in on a secret:

The Google fonts website has a ton of free fonts that you can download and install. You can also type in your title to see how it will appear!

It’s important to note that fonts—like images—are not all freely available for commercial use. Be sure to check the license for any fonts you like to ensure you can use them in your cover design.

previewing Google fonts

You can search by font types (serif or sans serif, display, handwriting) and get a few ideas.

There are also sites such as Font Squirrel, however, you need to verify that any fonts you’re interested in are available for commercial use (it will be listed on the font’s page).

For Bermuda, I opted for Futura Medium Condensed for my name and the subtitle and Economica for the title.

Then I used the alignment tool to center everything. Depending on your preference, you can center the text or align it to the left or right of the image.

Once that was done, I added a little shading behind my name and the title.

author name and title with minor shading

While I won’t go over every trick in this article—it would likely overwhelm my server—I will break down the method I used to add the shading:

  1. Under Layers, make sure your text layer is selected.
  2. Click on Layer in the toolbar; go to Transparency – Alpha to Selection.
  3. Add a new, transparent layer above the text layer you want to highlight
  4. With the new transparent layer selected, click on Selection in the toolbar and select Grow; choose the amount to grow the selection (for my demonstration, I chose 6); click Okay.
  5. Select the paint bucket tool and the color you want the shading to be; fill the selection with your color of choice.
  6. Click Selection in the toolbar and select All.
  7. Click Filters in the toolbar and scroll to Blur; select Gaussian Blur; set the desired blur and click Okay.
  8. Click Select in the toolbar, then click None.
  9. Drag your text layer so that it sits directly above your shaded layer.

Exporting and Saving

If you’re a writer, I don’t need to preach the importance of saving your work!

Well, your cover is no different. Just click File in the toolbar then select Save As and name your project appropriately.

With your cover ready, you’ll need to export it so that you can upload it to Amazon, Draft2Digital, Facebook, Twitter, and your own website.

Amazon allows two formats: JPEG (smaller file size) and TIFF (better quality image). I opt for TIFF, but it’s your choice.

Before exporting, you’ll need to flatten the image. To do this, click Image in the toolbar, then select Flatten Image.

NOTE: DO NOT save your project while the image is flattened. Doing so will leave you unable to access the individual layers. Once you’ve exported your cover, select Edit in the toolbar then click Undo Flatten Image. Now you’re free to save the project!

To export, click File and select Export As. When the dialog box appears, you can name the cover image however you like and set the file type and the save location.

Presto! You have your new ebook cover!

Let me know what you think. If this was helpful at all, leave a comment or shoot me a message. If the feedback comes, I’ll work on one of these for paperback covers as well!

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