This post is a part of Ebook specific cover design series.

This is the most exciting part of the series, as it opens infinity of possibilities.

Starting point: book cover doesn’t have to be rectangular any more. In this post I’ll explain why.

I’ve designed a cover for Water’s Edge by Robert Whitlow to show my point of view. The jpeg image placed into the post is square, but you don’t see the edges. This image doesn’t seem to be rectangular.

The cover of a print book is determined – and limited – by the edges of the physical object a print book is. The cover on a screen is determined by the edges of the screen. The thing is that the book cover rarely fills the screen completely. It grabs only a part of a space, it’s usually surrounded by other elements of the web page or ereading application.

When somebody makes an ebook version of a print book cover, there is not that much to invent. But if you design a cover specifically for ebook – don’t put yourself into a rectangular box, if you don’t have to.

There are three values to play with: background, visualization and transparency.


Select for your ebook cover the background color of the destination web page and you’ll get rid of the rectangular border. Let me show you the example. Most of ebookstores use white background. Below there is a mock-up design of the book cover. On the left you see it placed against white background. On the right it’s visualized on a paper book.


As you see, if there are no indications of the border, you see a round image. Circle – this is the shape of your ebook. It’s different in print. What you see is a round design on a rectangular cover of the book.

Circle is just one of billions of two-dimensional shapes you could imagine – if you only borrow a background from a destination web page. It’s as easy as that.



We have to be aware of the additional elements of the ebookstores’ web pages, which can bring the feel of the border. For instance, in Kindle Store they are placed on top (Look Inside arrow) and bottom (Kindle Edition bar).

2D shape is a part of the story, as there are also visualizations.


Visualizations are popular already. They are designed to resemble paper book, or more precisely – a physical object the print book is. Many readers are looking for tangible proofs they made a good choice by purchasing the ebook. They need a proof that ebook is a book. It’s hard to imagine a file, backed up at Amazon servers, right?

Unfortunately, most of the visualizations are not good. And sometimes you just don’t need them, especially if they contradict the idea of the cover. I wouldn’t do a print visualization of Water’s Edge. The idea is to show that there are no borders, edges and limits and that water flows freely. Print book visualization would kill this idea.

Visualizations of print books are just one of directions to follow. If we miss the tangible look of the ebook, why don’t we make visualizations on a screen of a device this ebook is designed to be read?

Next idea: playing with context. The context is the screen and its content. You can visualize an object hanging above it, you can show a damaged screen, you can play with other elements of the web page.

There are a lot of beautiful examples of print books covers playing with context. There are absolutely no barriers to do the same with ebook covers.


Transparency is different from background, although it can be used the same way.

First a simple tip how to make a transparent file. You can save it as png, instead of jpg or gif. If in your design there is no background, usually the website’s background will fill the space.

One more step forward is using transparency in advanced, iTunes-like interfaces, sliders and carousels. Such interface, a slide animation of book covers from your library was used in Stanza application. The carousel is also one of the most prominent elements of the user interface of Kindle Fire.

It’s worth checking the possibilities transparency creates, because it can bring amazing results. Here is how our circle cover would look in Stanza’s slider (and now imagine how would it look like if the cover was a visualization of a broken dark glass):

Transparent covers in unlimited number of shapes, in view of popularity of Amazon tablets may become a totally new form of art. I wish it happened. What covers need to show is that the same old good books are now refreshed for the challenges of the digital environment.

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It’s a very important issue whether the lack of classic, rectangular shape will move associations away from a book.

I think we do not need frames for everything. I don’t feel neither better nor safer when I see a rectangle, bordered cover of something which should be limitless. If the border doesn’t help the idea of openness come through, we don’t have to limit ourselves and use it.

When you leave the rectangular shape, when you stop thinking of 6″ x 9″ standard cover proportions, you’ll feel like leaving the box. Leave the box – it’s what books teach us.

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There are three more posts in a series: color, animation and finally, some examples (it’s good to visualize what I write about). Stay tuned, get free updates here – and share what you think in the comments.

Images used in this post: Water – by Irochka/Fotolia, Book cover – by Mckee/Fotolia

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