• The Publishing Post

Deluxe Cover Design for Deluxe Editions

Waterstones recently ran a competition where you could win one of five deluxe editions of Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. Bloomsbury approached Lucy McGrath, owner of Marmor Paperie, to create these magnificent five-of-a-kind books.


The cover of these deluxe editions is full marbling. Recently, we have seen a surge in marbling, but this trend is anything but new. Dating back to the 19th century, marbling was seen on almost every cover as an inexpensive way to make books appear more luxurious for private libraries. It is a hand-created process that consists of using paints and water thickened with Irish moss. According to Lucy’s blog, paints are added to the water and sit on the surface, after which they are manipulated into patterns. Paper is then laid onto the surface, picking up the pattern, and is hung to dry. For Piranesi, a dark blue was used with white and delicate copper swirls, to symbolise order versus chaos, being lost and sea foam. Lucy cites representing these themes as her favourite part of creating the cover.


Fore-edges and Binding

With the entirely marbled cover of Piranesi come the marbled fore-edges of the book. A fore-edge is the fourth edge of the pages where the reader usually thumbs through the book, which is held together by the spine. Decorating fore-edges with a colour, effect or image has long been a part of the production process, having begun in the 16th century to make books more beautiful.


Piranesi goes a little further, as all the edges – top, bottom and fore-edge – are marbled to fit with the overall elegant effect. In her blog post, Lucy outlines the process, which involves deconstructing the text block of pages from the binding, securing them between wooden blocks and then marbling them, continuously and carefully casing the page block in with glue to the endpapers of the book to complete the binding process.


The result is mesmerising and well suited to the historical fantasy of Piranesi and the labyrinthine house that plays a central part in the story. The beauty of marbled fore-edges is the uniqueness of the pattern that sits quite comfortably with full marbling, yet sets itself apart as a standalone decorative feature – perhaps an implicit nod to the unusual themes in Piranesi.


Hot Foil Process

Lucy McGrath utilised the printing technique known as the ‘hot foil process’ to create the metallic, gold text on the spine of the book. Hot foiling became extremely popular in the 18th and 19th centuries when artists would use real gold leaf in their hot foil press to add expense and embellishment to book covers. However, more common metals are used today such as aluminium and tin, which are combined with a colour layer to achieve the desired result.


The process requires the artist to etch their design onto a metal die before applying heat. The foil is then placed between the die and the book cover, and when pressure is applied, the foil binds to the surface, producing a beautiful metallic effect. McGrath explains that she carefully placed the author’s name on the spine of the cover instead of the front in order to avoid disrupting “the flow of the marbling on the cover”.


The hot foil technique combined with the lavish marbling creates a richer, more luxurious appearance, which is perfect for a limited-edition book cover design. 


More information about the art of marbling, book binding and hot foiling by hand can be found at marmorpaperie.co.uk. You can even learn to do it yourself!