Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Digital Design How-To

Roseanna M. White pens her novels beneath her Betsy Ross flag, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two children, editing and designing, and pretending her house will clean itself. The Lost Heiress is Roseanna’s tenth published book. Her novels range from biblical fiction to American-set romances to her new British series. She lives with her family in West Virginia. Learn more at www.RoseannaMWhite.com


Since I shared the behind the scenes on the design of Rachelle Rea's The Sound of Diamonds, I've had quite a few of you email me to ask me for some tips and tricks for designing. Since it's something so many are interested in, I thought it would be fun to pay another visit and share with all the advice I've shared with a few of you already. =)

Digital design takes many forms in this day and age. There are memes. Blog headers. Buttons. Cover images for Facebook, Twitter, Google +. There are book covers, bookmarks, posters, ads, logos, and any number of other things that you might want that perfect image for.

But when we're just starting out, we all have the same questions.

  • Where do I find good images?
  • Where do I find good free images?
  • How do I make them look right?
  • Where do I get textures?
  • Fonts?

I've been building my list of answers to these questions for years, and while I'm in a fairly comfortable place with them, I also always keep learning about new sites and making new discoveries--so if you have a favorite site I'm not listing, please chime in in the comments! But for now, here's my list of go-to sites for all the various elements.


Gotta love a good quote image, right?

Good images are the basis of a good design. But what kind of image you need really depends on what you're working on. For memes and buttons and some book covers even, you might want illustrations or vectors. For other things you might want photographs. Sometimes we mix them. Most image sites have both vector images and photographs, and you can sort your searches accordingly. Here is a list of paid, royalty-free sites that will charge you to use their images, but which have a greater number of choices. Here's a list of my favorites with pros and cons, where applicable.

Owned by Getty Images, but a cheaper option than Getty, which is not royalty-free--you pay per number of copies sold. Istock often has options exclusive to their site...on the other hand, they have 2 different price levels, so some images are 3x the price of others. This is one of my top 2 sites.
Shutterstock is the one I go to most often. They have most of the images you can find on any of the sites below, but their pricing is usually better.
Pricing is competitive, and occasionally I've found images here that I haven't found on other sites.
I've never actually purchased from BigStock, though I've found a few promising images. They are a subscription-only site, and I've never subscribed, largely because most of the images I've found on here I've also found on Shutterstock.
In addition to the 2 I listed first, Fotolia is the other site I've actually bought from. I've found images here I haven't found elsewhere, and their prices are roughly equivalent to Shutterstock's.
Dreamstime often has good results, and a lot of people love them. Personally, I've yet to find any images here that I can't then find on another site where I've already purchased credits, which is primarily why I haven't used them.
Lightstock is uniquely Christian, specializing in faith-based images (from biblical characters to Christmas/Easter/etc themes, people praying, etc) "without the cheese." Most of the images I've found on this site I have not located on the others, making them targeted but excellent. Pricing is in the normal range

More Expensive Options

Getty has some fabulous images...at rather large prices, beginning at about $300/image. If that's in your budget, it's certainly worth checking out. If not, then just avoid it. ;-)

Most of the photos here can only be described as STUNNING. Their prices are based on number of copies you expect to sell, beginning at about $300 too. 

Only for Book Covers
I was just directed to this one, and I'm in love--but it comes with a warning label. ;-) First of all, these photoshoots obviously had romance novels in mind, the kind that result in bare male chests. So beware of that. BUT, that said, there are also some absolutely gorgeous shots of ladies in period gowns and men in period suits (individually), as well as specialized modern apparel. But they are intended for indie or small press authors (with prices starting at around $8 each!!) for books and the promo material that goes along with books.

This is always my first stop for vectors, illustrations, textures, background illustrations (especially for ads or cover photos), flourishes, frames, borders, dividers, corners...you name it! It's all totally free, and there are tabs for vectors, photos, etc. Definitely one for your bookmarks!

I just discovered this one and haven't explored it too much, but it comes highly recommended.

Same as above



Very artsy images--I haven't used any yet, but they're all lovely




Most of the images here are free, but check the licensing on any image you want to use. Some require attribution, others can only be used in certain ways.


I don't want to list this under one of the categories above because it doesn't fit in just one. But definitely check www.DeviantArt.com for both photos and illustrations, textures and overlays.
Some Deviants clearly state that you can use their designs for free, no questions asked. Others say you absolutely cannot. Most say you can for personal use, but not for anything meant for commercial purposes (like book covers). Others give limited permissions...some say to message them for details. Just make sure you check out each person's specifications. That said, I've found a fabulous photograph that the artist let me use for the low price of a copy of the book when it comes out, and I also found someone who will colorize B&W photographs for a very reasonable fee.


I love this site. You can search by whether you need 100% Free / Public Domain, Donationware, etc., by style and type and...it's awesome. And the right font is CRUCIAL to a professional looking digital design, so do study successful images in the category you're aiming for and try to find similar font styles. Don't be afraid to play around with all caps, no caps, and extra spaces between letters.

Putting It All Together

 Okay, now that I've exhausted my bookmarked sites, what do we do with those images? There are plenty of people who use free programs like PicMonkey to design covers. I hear that's great, but I can't say anything beyond that, LOL. I have Photoshop, so that's what I use. But I'm going to assume that most of the steps are universal.

If you find an image that is, itself, perfect for your uses, then you're in luck. You can slap your text on it and be done. But...that's rarely the case. Often we find a figure we like, but the background's wrong. Or the lighting's lackluster. That's when we have to get creative--and technical.

Even now, there are times when I select a figure from its original background, slap it on the background I want and wrinkle up my nose because it looks like I did just that--slapped it on. Sometimes the problem is that the perspective is off--you have to make sure the images you're using work together in terms of aspect ratio and perspective. You can't have a full-length image against a distant shot of mountains or they look like they're floating in air. ;-) So pay attention to that sort of thing as you're selecting images.

And lighting. Lighting is huge. If your figure has highlights, then you need to make sure the background does too. You can adjust lighting in the programs and with filters and textures, but it helps to make sure there's a lightsource apparent in the background (sun, moon, lamp light, even if the thing itself is not in the frame) that lines up one the correct side with any highlights in your figure. You can also often colorize (change the tinting toward red, blue, green, magenta, cyan, or yellow) to help images match up better, or change saturation or brightness.

And a lot of times, adding a texture is the final step toward unity. =) I usually find these in brilliant ways like searching "Photoshop free texture blue." There are tons of texture packs that designers make available to other designers at no cost, and this is a great way to find them.

A few other tricks:

Note how in the original, the model is centered, though the frame still cuts her off at the knees.
In the final cover, I made her fill out the frame on the top, side, and bottom
and left room for the series title and title
  • Make the image over-fill the frame (cut part of it off, whether it's a side, the top, or the bottom.)
  • Leave room for text (if applicable)
  • Blur anything that isn't the focal point
  • Choose images whose combination asks a question
Why is the girl wearing a veil...with a red dress?
Why is she looking at the NYC skyline with such attitude?

To Sum Up

Creating images is art, so there's no exact way to tell you how to do it. But knowing the resources available is always the first step. And then it's a matter of knowing what you want to do and figuring out how to do it. Don't be afraid to Google "Photoshop tutorial fog" or any other effects you want to learn how to do. You'll find limitless blog and YouTube tutorials that show you how to do anything you could possibly want to do, from getting hair to look natural when you cut a figure out of  a background (like so) to simple things like fading out layers (here's one).

I have quite a few cover design blogs up on my author blog and also my new-ish design blog, Behind the Design. I go into more specific detail there and am always happy to answer questions!


  1. Thank you for sharing your secrets, Mrs. White! ;) Hearing about your cover designing is always fun; you're so good at it!

  2. When I want a 'quick' idea of a book cover, I use the following website: http://apps.pixlr.com/express/ It's not very professional, but when you want a temporary cover, you can perhaps use this one.


  3. Thank you for this post! I recently designed a cover for my Camp NaNoWriMo Novel: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/459085755741387621/
    I created it with GIMP.

    The sites that I use most are:
    http://publicdomainpictures.net/ and

    1. Oh, I've gone to that first one but apparently didn't bookmark! Must remedy that. =) I love having a long list of resources! Thanks for sharing, Faith.

    2. You're welcome. :-) Thanks for sharing your links.
      The second one, Public Domain Textures, hasn't been posted on in a while, but it still has many textures on it. I've used several.

  4. Great post! I am going to have to book mark this for late use. :D

  5. Wow! This is an AMAZING help! Thank you sooo much, Ms. White! :)

  6. My question is how to you put the models on new backgrounds with out them having a fuzzy line around them where you can tell they were not from that original background? And thanks for the cites, I have just started manipulating my own covers and other images, and needed to to know some of these cites. Already use DeviantArt and Fotolia!

    1. Also, what photo editors do you use?

    2. I use Photoshop CS6 for everything, so when I'm pasting a model onto a new background, I usually start with the magic paintbrush (not sure what it's actual name is, LOL, but it's a tool that shares a button with the magic wand selector). Using that, I can select what I want of the model, and it gets pretty close to exact. I often end up with a pixel or two outline. I just go in with an eraser to clean it up. You can also select it and right click on the selection and click into the Feather options and toy with it there. That's good for things like hair that you don't want really crisp.

    3. I have Pixlr, and I found the feather option, but have not quite figured it out. It has a manual option, but I have not found yet were I can select a part of the picture for to do on its own.

  7. Thanks for this post, especially for the links! I do a little bit of graphic design on the site of my writing, so the picture sites will, I'm sure, be super helpful.

  8. I ran across a post on Canva that has a great list of 74 websites and blogs that have stock photos, some of which are even public domain. It gives each site a rating and explains what license each resource is under. I visited several of these sites, and they are definitely useful for stock.


  9. These are great resources, so thanks for sharing, Roseanna! I love using Pixlr because it's like a free version of Photoshop. Another great resource that I use for completely free images is Unsplash. They have some gorgeous photos that often work well for my blog posts.

    1. Oh, yes! I thought I had that one bookmarked, but I must have overlooked it. Definitely a good one. =)

  10. I needed this, Roseanna! Thank you so much! I have made a book cover before with an image on Pinterest (just for my own personal use and pleasure) but I want to make one that I can share with the world!

    1. I totally get you! I used to make some just for me, but knowing I can legally share them was a definitely plus. ;-)

  11. Patience BledsoeApril 7, 2015 at 4:01 PM

    Thank you very much for the post, Mrs. White! I was so excited to see that you stopped by here today! :D I enjoyed reading your post as always, and found it very interesting. :) I'm making a book trailer with Windows Movie Maker for my debut novel, so I was excited about the free sites you shared. :) You do such a beautiful job with your covers, Mrs. White! Thank you again for the post and sharing all this with us. :D

    1. I've yet to try my hand at trailers, but I have helped some of my authors with the photo selection for them, LOL. Best of luck with yours, and you're very welcome!

  12. How exciting! I always love your designing post, Rosanna. They're full of great information! Thanks for the resources and advice. I've already bookmarked your blog and I can't wait to explore it some more! Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Joy! I always have fun with them, and I'm always happy to share what I've learned. =)

  13. This is awesome! As someone who has never graphically designed-- ever!-- this answers a lot of my questions. : ) Thank you!

    1. It can be so much fun! (It can also be a headache, but you know. My goal is help alleviate that part, LOL)

  14. I literally squealed when I read the title of this and bounced in my seat through the whole post. THANK YOU SO MUCH! I will absolutely be using this the next time I have a book cover to do. Finding images is always the hardest part, so I really appreciate all the links you shared. :)

    1. Always a challenge for sure--happy to help!!

  15. I love posts on book covers!!!!

  16. Thanks for this post. It's awesomely helpful.

    Anyway, I had a question. I'm possibly considering trying to get into designing book covers as a career, and I was wondering if you could maybe give some advice on how I could maybe get myself started with that? Of course, I haven't decided officially on this yet, but…yeah. Thanks!