Though this article is about designing great book covers by improving the appearance of text, it could just as easily have been titled, Thumbnail Appearance for Book Covers. If you’re new to self-publishing, the thumbnail image is the one shown to shoppers at online retailers such as Amazon. If you’re an experienced self-published author, you likely see 80% or more of your book sales from alone. Designing for the thumbnail image can be tricky. The key is to make book covers that looks good in person and on a thumbnail.

How do you design book covers that are legible on a thumbnail? You rely on clean lines, size and contrast. Clean lines are found on classic typefaces that DO NOT use the additional shadows, embossing and other text effects that are available in many graphics and word processing programs. When designing book covers, I suggest you avoid them.

You rarely see them on professional book covers because such “effects” usually serve to make the words harder to read. Not to mention, they often give these book covers a decidedly home-done appearance.

In addition to clean lines, large letter size makes text easy to see. Sharp contrast between the letters and their background makes it easy to read.

Book Covers need Contrast

Without light/dark contrast, even large words recede into the backdrop and disappear on a thumbnail. Sizeable letters with clean lines and stark contrast are crisp and legible, even at one inch. Your book covers are far more likely to stand out when people can make out the key words of the title.

Images of book coversCombining backgrounds with letters of similar darkness or brightness turns them invisible on even the loveliest of book covers and are impossible to read on a thumbnail. Patterned or textured backdrops should also be avoided because they greatly decrease the legibility of text, especially when the background is a midtone color (left).



pictures of book coversText is most visible when it is a dark color on a light background (black and off-white works great), or vice versa. Book covers can successfully us colored backgrounds (or letters), as long as they have enough contrast.



Great Book Covers have a Strong Online Display

Because the backdrop of most online booksellers is white, most white book covers disappear on websites such as Amazon (see below). To avoid losing your book in the search results page, use a very pale grey or off-white background, instead. Shoppers always perceive these book covers as white, and they stand out against the background of the website.

pictures of book coverspictures of book covers

Book Covers as Thumbnails

When the majority of a book’s sales come from online retailers (as is the case for nearly everyone in self-publishing), the thumbnail image should be considered the  most important marketing piece, and a critical step to increase book sales. For many self-publishers, the appearance of the thumbnail is the chief consideration in a book cover design. It’s the first impression buyers receive, and the primary trigger of interest for any given title.

pictures of book coversAt full size (6 x 9 inches), the title words on Oliver Twist are so large, they’re almost brash. However, when the image is reduced to one inch, the title remains readable. This edition sells almost exclusively on Amazon, so legibility of the thumbnail trumps the full-size appearance.


The simplicity and smaller point size of the title work well on the full-size cover below, but are barely passable at one inch. Nonetheless, this cover works because the powerful image communicates more about the book than the title does. If you choose to go this small with text, make sure your image communicates enough about the book to compensate for it. (For more on images, read Graphics and Images for Book Covers Part 1.)

pictures of book covers

Hope you enjoyed  Type: Contrast & Legibility for Great Book Covers. Thanks for reading!

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By Stacie Vander Pol