, , , , ,

Dear Kelsey,

I loved seeing your cover designs—including the ones you didn’t post!—and have decided to stay on theme, for once 🙂  But instead of focusing on the art-design aspect of book covers, I want to talk a bit about the interesting things you can do with cover treatments. Obviously, design plays a huge role in the execution of these treatments (and without a great designer, none of them could have been pulled off), but I think it’s also important to look at some of the mechanics of these designs. So without further ado…

Spot Gloss

It’s pretty common for covers to be matte or glossy—or to use spot gloss to highlight the author’s name or title. But, as the cover below shows, Spot Gloss can also be used for impressively creative detail.

Brain Camp Laurence klavan Susan Kim cool Spot Gloss Cover Treatment horror scary story ghost story cover

Brain Camp, by Laurence Klavan and Susan Kim

The top cover is the artist’s design, and the pink in the second cover shows where the gloss will be applied. According to the art designer for First Second Books (another imprint of MacMillian, by the way!), the idea for the spot gloss didn’t occur immediately. They went through many iterations of the cover, and when they finally had to scrap the bird/claw image, they figured out a way to work it back in. The final result, as I think you can see, is amazing:

I love this cover not only because it’s a brilliant and terrifyingly effective use of spot gloss (key word: terrifying), but also because it shows that brilliant ideas don’t spring up fully formed. To find out more about Faith Erin Hicks and Colleen Venable’s design process (and for one of the most frightening gifs you’ll ever see!), click here.


Since, probably, time immemorial, authors and designers have been in an epic battle with bookstore owners over the display of titles. The thought has been—and rightfully so—that front covers (“face out” books) get much more attention that books with the spine out. And so authors or fans will turn their favorite books face out and weary bookstore employees will return the books to their proper position and on and on and on…

But then there are books like Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series that use their inevitable spine-out position to great advantage.

Patrick O'Brian Master and Commander series Spines interesting series design naval Patrick O'Brian Aubrey-Maturin series spines interesting cover books

We couldn’t get a picture of the full set (over 20 books long!) but as you can see from these images, when shelved in their proper order, the spines make up an epic naval scene that spans the entire series. It’s an eye-catching and truly impressive use of extremely overlooked book cover real estate.

Belly Bands

I used to think these were pretty much the most annoying things ever—half the jacket for all the price! Way more fragile—and ineffective bookmarks to boot! Plus, as far as I can tell, the official name is actually a “belly band,” which sounds pretty gross right there. But these two designs have changed my mind forever:

On the one hand, you have something absolutely gorgeous. On the other: symbolically relevant. How could you resist?

Transparent Dust Jacket

iq84 cover transparent dust jacket cover design

Apparently one of the “Best Covers of 2011,” 1Q84 has been admired from every angle. I haven’t read it yet, but layered reality and distorted perception apparently play a huge role in the book, which is evident in this innovative cover.

Van Gogh: the life book cover transparent dust jacketVan Gogh: The life book cover painting without cover

A different take on this design is Random House’s biography of Van Gogh: The inside cover is Van Gogh’s iconic self-portrait, while the translucent jacket gives such relevant information as title and author.

Die-cut Dust Jacket

Things I have Learned in my Life So Far Stefan Sagmeister Die Cut book Cover

The cover for Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far combines crazy die cutting with crazy interior design. 15 unbound signatures allow you to view the book and change the cover in many different ways. In fact, the cover is really more of a slipcase, but with all the delicate lacework, this decision was probably for the best 😉

A video of this book can be seen at Amazon.com

the sherlockian Graham Moore book cover die cut dust jacket treatment design

Inside cover coming soon!

Once again, I have you to thank for showing me this one: the design, of course, plays a key role in the effectiveness of this cover—the pipe and the inkblot are classic symbols of Sherlock Holmes. But the die-cut inkblot reveals the foil-stamped Sherlock in profile (deerstalker included!) on the inside cover.

For a particularly impressive use of die-cutting within a book, check out this video of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes (another book I haven’t read but feel obligated to check out immediately):


Penguin Threads embroidery covers embossed book cover emma black beauty secret garden

These are cool on a couple of levels—Jillian Tamaki hand embroidered these covers!!—but to make them even cooler, Pengin is embossing the image of the threads so they actually are raised. Like spot glosses, embossing is usually limited to an author’s name or the title (and often only in the romance novel set), but here, it takes these visually stunning covers a step further into an amazing tactile experience.

Penguin Threads book cover Black Beauty Embroidered cover embroidery embossed cover treatment jillian tamaki

Series Design

Oliver Sacks Covers Series Design Neurologist Books

I couldn’t decide whether this counts as “design” or “cover treatment” but I thought it was worth a brief mention—if only because it’s not something you see in the everyday experience of most books. When does one spread their books face up on a horizontal surface (except by laziness and happenstance)? So this series design for Oliver Sack’s books on neurology barely squeaks by, but is definitely worth some admiration.

Did I miss anything?  If anyone has an interesting example of Foil Stamping, I would love to see it! I haven’t found any such covers that caught my eye, but I would love to add it to the list 🙂 And what are some of your favorite covers? Have they done anything clever with the printing? Let me know in the comments below—or better yet, share pictures!