Top 5 Free Book Cover Makers–Don’t Break the Bank, Create Your Own!

best free book cover makers

Your cover is arguably one of the most important selling points of your book.

As authors, however, we often face tight budgets. Deciding where to spend our money and where to tighten the belt isn’t easy. Covers are one of the more expensive aspects of production. Pre-made covers often start at $100, and custom, full-spread artwork alone can cost up to $4000 a book depending on the artist.

So how do you create an eye-catching, on-brand cover without breaking the bank? DIY! With a bit of skill and some market research, producing an awesome cover is simple and completely free!

From crisp, basic composites to full photo manipulation, I’ll show you the top 5 FREE programs and help you determine the best option for you.

In this article you will learn:

  • Each program’s basic features
  • When to design your own covers
  • How to determine the best program for you
  • Common DIY cover pitfalls

Top 5 Available FREE Programs (ranked in no particular order)

  • Krita
  • GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program)
  • Paint.net (not the Windows one!)
  • Canva
  • Over

The first three are desktop programs and are essentially analogous to Photoshop. The latter-most two are app/browser based and, while more directed at creating thumbnails and info-graphic materials, are great for whipping up a cover quickly if you don’t have complex photo-editing needs. Personally, I use and love Krita, but it’s important to find whatever program works best both for your books and for your technical skills and artistic abilities.

Below, you’ll find a table of these 5 programs and some of their basic features. I’ve also included links to quick tutorial videos and my thoughts on each.

FeaturesKritaGIMPPaint.netCanvaOver
FormatDesktop Program- Open SourceDesktop Program- Open SourceDesktop ProgramBrowserApp (Android and Apple)
Photo Manipulation
Dynamic Layers
Text Effects
Forums
Integrated Stock Images
Premade Designs
Social Layouts
Paid Upgrades
TutorialKrita TutorialGIMP TutorialPaint.net TutorialCanva TutorialOver Tutorial

Krita

Krita book cover software

Krita is a Photoshop clone, so to speak, with great capabilities. It’s my particular favorite and what I use for all my more complex photo editing, including covers. I find it very intuitive, and between the forum and Google, I can learn how to do almost anything. It does require a fair bit of processing power, however; and while they claim to have a tablet version, I’ve only had success with the desktop version.

Download Link: (http://krita.org)

Tutorial Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TH2EDTNjvBw

GIMP

gimp software for book covers

GIMP is possibly the oldest of the free photo editors, and the most widely used by the artists I polled. The Honda Civic, if you will. Though its design is basic, it’s also classic and has virtually every function photoshop does. Though I prefer Krita due to familiarity, GIMP is my backup. Bonus: there’s a browser version for Chromebooks.

Download Link: (https://www.gimp.org)

Tutorial Link: https://www.gimp.org/tutorials/

Paint.net

paint.net free book cover

Paint.net is a basic, clean program, with most tools a photo editor needs. My biggest criticism is the site looks like something that would give your computer a virus (though as far as I can tell, it’s totally safe), and some controls weren’t as intuitive as I expected, partially due to its old-school layout. That said, I figured out most of the main tools pretty quickly, and any bigger issues seemed answered on the forums.

Download Link: (https://www.getpaint.net/index.html?)

Tutorial Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=my7T6bKA2Uc

Canva

free book cover from Canva

Canva was the most popular among the authors I polled. It’s great for quick promotional materials and covers if you don’t need something super complicated. I love using it for YouTube thumbnails and social media cover photos, since blank templates set to the appropriate dimensions are available. Their selection of stock photos is fairly good, though most are paid. My one quibble, since I’m often without internet when I travel, is, being browser-based, it requires Wi-Fi.

Download Link: (https://www.canva.com/)

Tutorial Link: https://designschool.canva.com/tutorials/getting-started-canva/

Over

book cover made with free Over software

This was another one that was new to me, but I really enjoyed the touch-screen friendly interface. Though there were few free options as far as integrated fonts and image, it has far more dynamic tools than Canva does, like text shadows. What fonts it did have, though, were quite unique and there were some great ones for covers!

Download Link: (https://madewithover.com/)

Tutorial Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pldgPq2MuAE

Is Designing Your Own Cover Right For You?

Even if you just lurk on the edges of many indie author communities, I’m sure you’ve heard the warnings against designing your own book cover: it’s unprofessional, it doesn’t sell, the art isn’t competitive. I invite you to shift your thinking a bit. Those are, indeed, hallmarks of poorly designed covers, and some DIY covers fall into that category, but so do some professional ones (looking at you, Fiverr).

For people whose creativity extends to visual art, a DIY cover can be a perfect choice. To design your own cover you need emotional distance from your book, a good grasp on comp titles within your genre and demographic, and a few folks who will provide honest feedback. Remember, your cover doesn’t have to be an exact scene from your book. It has to accurately sell what’s inside. Being honest about your skills and your limits will make a world of difference when deciding the best route and getting feedback.

Keep in mind, too, that cover design and cover art aren’t the same, though many people use the terms interchangeably. Cover design is the layout and style of the text in relation to the images, the format of the back copy, whether you include an image and bio on the back, etc. Cover art is the actual art and images. (Sometimes the text becomes so stylized it is, itself, part of the art–like with several contemporary YA titles from around 2015-2020.) For my fantasy series, I commission art for my covers, then do the actual design myself.

Other key factors, as mentioned above, are your genre and your age demographic. Highly stylized cartoon figures are common in middle-grade books, but darker, more atmospheric art is common for adult fantasy. Photos and graphics are typical for non-fiction, chick lit, and some sci-fi. My first suggestion is always to check out the covers of the top sellers in your sub-genre (i.e. your comp titles).

For more, check out this article on mastering cover design!

Determining The Right Software for You

The best program for you will be based on your skill level and needs, which is where comp titles come in. You don’t need a complex photo manipulation program to create a catchy, bold graphic cover for your humorous memoir, and a clean drag-and-drop creator won’t suit the needs of a broody thriller.

The five features you will need to consider when picking a program are photo collage, templates, text editing effects, layers, and photo manipulation.

1. Photo Collage

Overlaying images or combining without changing the overall appearance of the source images themselves. This is what many simple, app-based or browser-based programs use, and for graphic covers, or those where the title text takes center stage, it's really all you need. Many authors also use these for promotional materials.

2. Templates

Pre-made designs and dimensions for covers. If you don’t have the strongest background in graphic design, templates can be a great consideration. Often with just a tweak here and there and some custom art behind, you can have a nice, clean cover. Many of the app and browser programs mentioned above also offer pre-made design layouts.

3. Text Editing

Changing fill or adding effects like glow, shadows, and 3D. When I refer to text effects and editing, I’m thinking beyond simple changes like font and color, which every program listed below offers. Text effects are a bit different, and only more complex programs offer true text editing, often through layer effects. Many urban fantasy books have a piece of the title appear like it’s on fire or covered in magic, and using text effects is how you produce that look.

4. Layers

Multiple overlaid sections of a project that allow for dynamic editing. If your genre requires a more complex or atmospheric feel, using a program that has layers might be for you. You can add the illusion of smoke, for example, without permanently impacting the photos or art below. While all these programs layer each piece of the image, not all have truly dynamic layers with effects. Layers are most useful when coupled with text effects or photo manipulation.

5. Photo Manipulation

Changing the opacity, color hue or saturation of images or art or erasing selected sections. This is probably the most skill-heavy aspect of DIY covers, especially if you’re working with stock images, as opposed to commissioned custom art. Using photo manipulation can elevate a free stock image to looking just like your character and save you from the curse of the “cookie-cutter cover.” This is a feature the larger programs listed have, and is great for certain genres, though it takes some trial and error!

Words of Warning

There are 2 major points to consider as you craft your cover and get to know your chosen program.

Branding Concerns and Stock Photos.

Branding Concerns

I mentioned the genre/demographic aspect of branding above, but there’s more to it. Whether you write series or stand-alones, you’re going to need consistent branding. Consistent doesn’t need to be synonymous with matching everything (though that’s how I roll). It just needs to be memorable and recognizable as your author brand. You can achieve that with any of these programs; and many times, you can just duplicate the cover you made and swap out the art and title for the next-in-series.

However, if you’re picking up a new program to use for your covers mid-series or mid-career, I’d recommend running your previous covers through the new program to iron out any glaring inconsistencies so your branding remains consistent.

Stock Photos

The next issue to keep in mind is that of the infamous stock photo. A few of the programs above include integrated access to stock photos, both free and paid. This goes for all sides of your business as an author: make sure you read the fine print whenever you’re downloading a photo, be it from a program you’re using or a huge stock site. The last thing you want when launching a book is to get it ripped down and have to spend your marketing budget on legal fees! Essentially, be smart: plan for the worst, hope for the best.

If you want more in-depth discussions on stock photos, be sure to check out the Legal Guide to Stock Photos.

In Conclusion

When it comes to making sales, your cover is one of the most important parts of your book. Choosing to design your own book cover is a big decision, but it can save you a lot of cash and also enable you to find the perfect fit for your story. While many authors and designers use big-name programs, you can get all the same features with free programs. As long as you have a good grasp on what your book needs and a few members of the author community willing to give you honest feedback, going DIY is a fantastic option!

Have another program you think should be on this list? Let us know in the comments, so we can check it out for ourselves.

Sara VoorhisAbout the Author:

Sara Voorhis is the creator of Amphibian Press, a hybrid press dedicated to giving authors creative control over their work and boosting voices. She writes SFF under V. S. Holmes (the award-winning REFORGED series and the archaeological NEL BENTLY BOOKS) In addition, she has a blogging residency at Aspiring Authors where she discusses writing disability and mental illness.

35 Comments

  1. Kim Leane on November 6, 2019 at 10:47 pm

    Can you clarify – do all these programs make the front/back/spine full covers?

    • Dave Chesson on November 20, 2019 at 2:23 am

      No…you’ll have to make them individually

  2. Pauline Wiles on September 23, 2019 at 11:47 pm

    I’m a huge fan of GIMP although There is definitely a learning curve, and I’m sure I only use a tiny fraction of what it can do, which extends far beyond photo editing to other aspects of graphic design. Over the years my book covers have evolved as my design skills have become more adept. I agree, many authors should steer clear of making their own covers, but for those like me who find it fun (and if a fairly simple composition suits your genre), it can be one of the most rewarding parts of the publishing process!

  3. Samantha Silverstein on May 29, 2019 at 10:10 pm

    Hi. I wondering. If I publish my bools on Amazon or use a agator site, how much does the avarage author make without useing a email list? (This is if I do the basics of getting my book noticed on Amazon/other sites all without an email list.) Thanks.

    • V. S. Holmes on July 5, 2019 at 12:06 pm

      This is probably a question for a marketing post, but I know the average is much less when compared to the average indie author who does have an email list. Unless you have a huge marketing budget right off the bat–like traditional authors–It is not going to be easy.Email lists are a way for you to always have access to your fans. Even if you have a ton of fans on social media or book sites, when those programs inevitably go under or lose popularity, you lose access to those fans. I did not pursue my email list for a long time, but when I finally started actively marketing my email sign-up and reader magnet my sales doubled, then tripled.

  4. Tina Scribner on May 27, 2019 at 3:29 am

    I use GIMP 2.10 to create my husband`s book covers. There is definitely a learning curve to it and I have spent a lot of time searching the net for tutorials on how to do certain things like text manipulation. It is definitely not as simple as clicking on preset definitions, however, I enjoy the challenge. Great article!

    • Dave Chesson on May 27, 2019 at 11:12 am

      Yes, exactly! It can really have a large learning curve.

      • Tina Scribner on May 27, 2019 at 1:55 pm

        But it is pretty satisfying when you get it to do what you want! Of course, if you are not one that enjoys the challenge of figuring out how to tame software to do your bidding, GIMP might not be the right choice, despite It is great results. There are, of course, classes out there that will teach you how to GIMP. It is all in what you have patience for.

        • Dave Chesson on May 27, 2019 at 2:22 pm

          Yeah, I’ve found that they all have something extra which requires more attention/practice/training in order to get that extra something out of it. With the free ones, it usually takes a bit more work to get that extra out of it, but it can really be satisfying indeed.

          • Pauline Wiles on September 23, 2019 at 11:49 pm

            Yes! With GIMP, every few months I learn a new part or take time to explore “what does this tool do” which is always entertaining! But the basic level of, say, adding text over an image, was not hard to fathom.



  5. Laraine on May 25, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    I have Photoshop CS6 so I’m afraid that is what I used to design my covers. I do not expect to be moving to print, but if my heirs want to do so they can make up their own minds what software to use.

    • Dave Chesson on May 27, 2019 at 11:13 am

      That is what I use too…but It is a pretty penny.

      • Laraine on May 28, 2019 at 6:54 pm

        I’ve had Photoshop CS6 for ages so it costs me nothing now. Once I cannot use CS6 it will be “Good-bye, Adoble!”

  6. Traveling Ed Teja on May 25, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    You might note that Krita is Windows only. It is frustrating to read about a program and decide to check it out only to find it is not available for Mac.

    • V. S. Holmes on May 25, 2019 at 11:24 pm

      Hey there! Sorry you’re having trouble. Krita is certainly available for Mac–my colleague has only ever used Mac and has had Krita for years. I found this link after a quick Google, and it should also be available on their site. Good luck!https://filehippo.com/mac/d

  7. Marshall Gaddis on May 25, 2019 at 5:48 am

    Aren’t you overlooking one critical requirement of hardcover or paperback book covers? Paint programs that only support pixel-based raster graphics are fairly useless as submission to POD print services have strict requirements for properly setting up vector-based PDFs using CMYK color space rather than RGB. AFAIK, of the programs you list, only GIMP fully supports vector graphics. Krita, which looks interesting, supports vector layers and the SVG vector file format, but the overall cover will be saved as a raster file format, and Krita cannot save to PDF.
    The other programs are intended for display on computer screens or other devices. RGB dithers pixels anytime the art is resized, and raster fonts are never crisp enough for book covers.
    In practice, since I’m more a writer than cover designer and do not know every feature of every piece of software, I find it easier to move my cover art between GIMP and Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe InDesign (for ultimate font control).

    • V. S. Holmes on May 25, 2019 at 11:27 pm

      Almost all my books are available in paperback through Ingram and KDP print, since I do a lot of conventions. I’ve a great workaround using CutePDF writer or online converters to switch from PNG to PDF. I have yet to try something, font-wise, that I could not do in Krita–but I’m sure there are a few techniques I just have not tried yet!

      • Marshall Gaddis on May 26, 2019 at 2:45 am

        Thanks for the reply. I was not aware of Krita until this article so I downloaded it and am eager for a test drive. I’m a big fan of open source s/w. Back when I was first working on my novel in an old version of Adobe FrameMaker, it could not output to a Ingram- or KDP-approved PDF version and my Acrobat Pro was old too and could not specify black saturation levels. Result was that my interior text was way too muddy and my cover, which used an old, hand-painted magazine cover illustration I had to scan from a transparent photographic plate into an RGB raster file suffered when converted to CMYK. I finally threw in the towel and sprung for Adobe Create Space…

        • V. S. Holmes on May 26, 2019 at 11:31 am

          Ugh That is so frustrating! I’ve certainly battled a few learning curves, but it gets easier with every update

  8. Susan Tilghman Hawthorne on May 25, 2019 at 3:44 am

    I use Paint.net on my windows computer. I’m not sure why you say “not the windows one” when the site you linked to says you can download it from the windows store?
    The only drawback to paint.net is There is no mask layer.

    • Susan Tilghman Hawthorne on May 25, 2019 at 3:45 am

      I also have affinity photo, but like paint.net better!

    • V. S. Holmes on May 25, 2019 at 11:28 pm

      Ah! I meant the one built into Windows OS, as in the old-school MS Paint which is a very simplistic editor. Good point!

  9. Douglas Owen on May 25, 2019 at 1:34 am

    GIMP is great! But remember, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. If you need help, There is a facebook group for cover critiques and help:https://www.facebook.com/gr…Just tell me you came from Kindlepreneur and you’ll be let in.

    • V. S. Holmes on May 25, 2019 at 11:29 pm

      Awesome resource, thank you! As I mentioned, getting honest feedback is really key! I have several CPs I run things by, and genre author “support groups” are great as well.

  10. Michelle Cornish on May 25, 2019 at 1:09 am

    I love Krita and use the desktop version on my Microsoft Surface. So far, it works like a charm. Thanks for the great tips!!

    • V. S. Holmes on May 25, 2019 at 11:30 pm

      No problem! Thanks so much for reading!

  11. Virginia Reeves on May 24, 2019 at 11:42 pm

    Another helpful post Dave. Thanks for sharing options to making book covers.
    Hey – when are we going to get an updated picture of the little princess?

    • Dave Chesson on May 27, 2019 at 11:14 am

      Thanks! Haha…not sure…I guess on my personal facebook. Just took my son to the Renaissance Fair. Fun times.

  12. Harald Johnson on May 24, 2019 at 11:21 pm

    Good overview! I’m a Photoshop guy and am spoiled by its power. But if I were to consider any of these, only two fall into the acceptable category. And those are the ones offering the first 3 features you list. Those are a must-have, as far as I’m concerned.
    (I’m NOT the Admin here 😉

    • V. S. Holmes on May 25, 2019 at 11:31 pm

      Totally agree with you there!

  13. Good Guy on May 24, 2019 at 11:08 pm

    I love paint.net (and you ‘re right about the virus-y appearance) but I really wish it could open a Photoshop file. Can Krita do that?

    • V. S. Holmes on May 25, 2019 at 11:32 pm

      Yep! It even keeps the layers, if I recall correctly. My colleague and I often trade covers back and forth for little tweaks, or if deadlines loom. She`s a PS gal, and I’m Krita all the way!

  14. mary on May 24, 2019 at 10:17 pm

    Thanks, V.S. I’ll try.

  15. mary on May 24, 2019 at 9:59 pm

    Thanks for the information. I tried to print it so I could use it as a reference, but I could not.

    • V. S. Holmes on May 24, 2019 at 10:11 pm

      If you highlight and paste into a word processing program it might work, or shoot me an email for a PDF. (Email can be found on my site`s contact page in my bio)

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Hey Guys, I’m Dave and when I am not sipping tea with princesses or chasing the Boogey man out of closets, I’m a Kindlepreneur and digital marketing nut – it’s my career, hobby, and passion.

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