Color plays a big role in creating the look and feel of any book cover design. The dominant colors in an image influence mood and play a role in creating the contrast necessary to draw attention to the design. In addition to black and white, which work great for copy, most book covers look best with two or three colors. Complementary colors (those found opposite one another on the color wheel) create energy and punch, while analogous colors (those next to one another on the color wheel) provide tranquility and harmony.

Complementary Colors                         Analogous Colors

Red and Green                                        Yellow, Orange, and Red

Blue and Orange                                     Red, Purple, and Blue

Yellow and Purple                                   Blue, Green, and Yellow
Book covers, Colorwheel

Contrast between bright tints and dark shades increases visibility and ensures that the best book covers stand out on the shelf or a search results page. While complementary colors contrast naturally, you can increase the contrast in any color scheme by combining light (or bright) and dark shades. Pale yellow and bright green on a dark blue background, for instance, is an analogous (calming) palette that would create a lot of eye-popping contrast for book covers.

When using images for book covers, the one or two colors that dominate the photo will drive your color choices. The first of the three book covers below adds a color band at the bottom taken from color in the butterfly. Alternately, the second book cover image uses a background color complementary to that of the graphic (orange and blue). If you aren’t using graphics, you can include color blocks (see previous article: Color Blocks and Lines) to add color and create contrast to your book covers, as shown in the third example, with analogous colors.

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Plain white or off-white backgrounds come across as clean, simple, and clear cut book covers. Dark background colors like black or navy blue form book covers that convey a sense of seriousness, suspense or authority. Pastels such as pale yellow or green soften the look and, therefore, are often suitable for book covers of heartfelt stories and lighter subject-matter. As a rule of thumb, bright and bold colors convey bravado; soft and pale colors express nuance and delicacy.

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Book Covers and Color Selection

Color selection for your book covers should begin with the mood you want to create. Next, look to your graphics for direction. A bright orange butterfly, for example, will pop off a dark blue background to create a striking design (complementary colors).

To achieve a vibrant appearance that’s less severe, place the same butterfly on a bold yellow background (analogous colors). Alternatively, for an approachable tone, make the background a softer, pale yellow. All of the mentioned colors will work with the butterfly and look good on a cover. The question is, which mood best suits the book? Why kind of book covers are you designing?

Below is a list of colors and the tone or feeling each one conveys when it is a dominant color on book covers. Avoid the temptation to choose an entire palette based strictly on the descriptions, however. These guidelines are helpful as a starting point or suggestive resource, and are most valuable when you need ideas for a background color.

Red Energy, enthusiasm, emotion, power
Dark Red Passion, depth, dominance, prestige
Orange Positive, dynamic, optimistic, confident
Pale Yellow Friendly, approachable, warm
Bold Yellow Ambition, motivation, creativity, cutting edge
Green Nature, vitality, environment, health
Blue Dependability, trust, thoughtfulness, calm
Dark Blue Deep sincerity, intuition, truth
Light Purple prosperity, spirituality, creativity, harmony
Dark Purple Depth, wealth, mystery, fantasy
Grey Sophistication, knowledge, prestige, wisdom
Pink Youth, playfulness, emotion, innocence
White Clean, straightforward, self-sufficient, simple
Black Authority, power, control, mystery, suspense
Brown Natural, of the earth, comfortable, organic

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When you design your own book covers, trust your judgment to choose a palette that looks good and works well in the design—your instincts are usually right.

Next: Back Cover & Spine

Previous: Small Images, Color Blocks and Lines

By Stacie Vander Pol