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A Beginner's Guide to Book Design

By Giulia Caparrelli, Maisie Jane Garvin and Juliette Tulloch

People say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but if you work in book production and design, judging a book cover is going to be the main part of your job. In today’s oversaturated book market and media landscape, products need to catch attention. A cover can make or break a book. Finishing techniques are tools used to make a book stand out and convey the story's message through exciting visuals.

Sprayed and Printed Edges

Probably one of the most celebrated book finishes among reading communities, sprayed edges can turn a book into something more than just a stack of plain white paper. Literally, this technique involves painting the top, bottom and fore edge of the book’s pages with ink. These can be painted with a single colour or printed to show a more complex texture and stencilled design. Special limited editions from retailers such as Waterstones and Goldsboro Books often feature sprayed or printed edges. Beautiful examples of this finish are Sistersong by Lucy Holland, Freckles by Cecilia Ahern and Still Life by Sarah Winman.

Spot UV

Spot UV is a process where varnish is hardened using an ultraviolet light. The varnish is applied on top of the printed surface that will create a high-gloss shine. Most usually, a spot UV is placed on top of an image, for a book cover it is most likely to be a logo or title to make it stand out against a matte or uncoated background. Creative use of spot UV can be found on the covers of Lisa Taddeo’s Animal and Phoebe Wynne’s Madam.


Foiling is a process where an impression is created on a book cover using either a die or lettering. This technique is stereotypically used on more prestigious literature, has become more common within publishing houses today. Foiling is done by adhering foil onto a surface with heat, it creates an indent to the cover. The foil is not just your basic gold and silver, today it can range from pigmented and holographic foils too. Most commonly, foiling is used to decorate the spine of hardcover books but an example of a more artistic usage of this technique can be seen on the paperback cover of The Vegetarian by Han Kang.

Head and Tail Bands

Found on hardback books, these bands are a decorative finish used to cover up where the pages have been glued or sewn in. Not all hardbacks include them, but they offer a simple way of making a book feel and look more luxurious to a reader.


A dust jacket is a detachable outer cover of a book with folded flaps. The idea of the jacket is to protect a book from dirt and damage since the flaps wrap around both the front and back of the book covers. In the 1880s, dust jackets were to preserve cloth-covered hardback books but today they are a great opportunity for publishers to enhance the presentation of their book. They are a perfect way to add extra information about the author, reviews of the book or extended plot summary.

Embossing and Debossing

This technique adds a tactile quality to a book cover by either raising or pressing down certain elements on the page such as the book title, the author’s name or even parts of the design. Whereas embossing is done by pushing a metal die into the paper from underneath, debossing is achieved by pressing the metal die to the front of the paper. Emboss and deboss can be decorated with ink and foil or can be left as they are for a subtle ‘blind’ effect. The hardback version of Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi is a perfect example of an emboss embellished with a copper-like foil.


Endpapers keep hardback books text bound to its case and offer the design team another chance to get creative. Endpapers can be plain ends, pre-dyed ends or printed ends. Some even include a unique space for an author to sign their special edition book. Endpapers may act as a continuation of the cover design as in Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times or depict a recurring pattern related to the story such as in Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club.

Gloss vs Matt Lamination

There are four main types of cover finishes, the most popular being matt lamination for covers and jackets. Soft touch lamination, also known as super matt lamination, will give a cover a rubbery texture while enhancing the colours – however it's most likely to be marked by fingers. A gloss finish can also intensify certain colours, whilst uncoated covers and jackets use only a sealing coat to create a rougher texture.


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