How to make a CreateSpace Cover Using Gimp

If you don't want to spend extra money on typesetting your CreateSpace cover, then you probably will download Gimp. Gimp is free. It does basically the same things as Photoshop will do. Why shell out good money? If you are avaricious (rather than greedy), the way I am, you will opt to use Gimp to make your CreateSpace cover.

However, be warned that using Gimp can be a little tricky. There are many pitfalls for the unwary novice. Gimp allows you to use layers, just like Photoshop, but it won't let you export directly to pdf, which is what CreateSpace demands. Gimp will allow you to paste pictures into layers, but unless you specifically tell it to make the new picture file you opened into a separate layer, it won't. Gimp will allow you to type a text capsule onto your CreateSpace cover, but its default settings will make the characters invisible to the naked eye.

Do not despair. It's doable. I'll walk you through all the steps and share the common mistakes that I've made along the way.

Gimp and Freedom: Enough Rope to Hang Yourself With

Gimp actually gives you a lot of freedom. You have many choices about each setting. For instance, the ppi on your layers. You get to choose. They give you a lot of rope -- enough to hang yourself with if you're not careful.

I had no idea what I wanted the ppi to be, the first time I tried this, so I left it with the numbers that were already in the box. Then a warning flashed across my screen: "If you choose this ppi for your layer, then the universe may implode. Do you wish to continue? Yes or Cancel."

Panicked, I hit cancel. Think what might have happened if by some accident I had hit "Yes"!

200x200 pixels

A two hundred by 200 hundred pixel square Image Credit: Wikipedia
A two hundred by 200 hundred pixel square Image Credit: Wikipedia

Same dpi looks worse when printed than on screen

It looks better on the screen than on the page with the same dpi Image Credit: Wikipedia
It looks better on the screen than on the page with the same dpi Image Credit: Wikipedia

What is ppi?

Okay, it didn't really say that. I'm exaggerating. But it did say that if I chose that ppi for my layer, there would not be room enough in memory to make any more layers. I ask you, if that's the case, why is it their default ppi? After that, I tried to figure out by trial and error which ppi I should use, because it never offered me any suggested alternative. It wanted me to tell it exactly what ppi I wanted.

What is ppi, anyway? You are probably already familiar with dpi, which stands for "dots per inch". But there are dots ... and then there are dots! A tiny splotch of ink on paper can be a dot. So can a pixel on your screen. According to the wikipedia, "DPI value tends to correlate with image resolution, but is related only indirectly."

Ppi stands for "pixels per inch" and is a unit of resolution. The wikipedia tells us that dpi for a printer needs to be a lot higher than the pixels per inch of a video display in order to produce output with a similar quality.

This means, that even if it looks nice on our computer screen with a lower ppi, the image needs to contain much more information, and take up a lot more space in memory, in order to look nice when it is printed out.

My CreateSpace Template: 5100x3300 pixels

The Template I got from CreateSpace
The Template I got from CreateSpace

Choosing your ppi: Remember the Template

Maybe, I thought to myself, as I was doing all this, I should stick to the ppi of the image the CreateSpace people gave me as a template. That image is a 5100x3300 pixel rectangle. That's for a cover that is 8.5 by 5.5 inches. The ppi used by CreateSpace appears to be 600ppi.

The CreateSpace Template in Gimp

I open the CreateSpace template in Gimp
I open the CreateSpace template in Gimp

My Background color

The background color I chose.
The background color I chose.

My Mode of Operation on Gimp

Even though I have two finished novels, I decided that my first CreateSpace book would be a children's title with lots of pictures and few words. Many people make this decision. Here are some of the reasons:

  • Practice makes perfect.
  • It's better to make all your mistakes on a minor work.
  • If the text is short, editing it will be easier.
  • There's an unnatural market for children's books, because they are not bought by the children themselves.

My book is based on a poem I wrote for my daughter and a painting or two that go with the poem. So my first layer that I created for the cover was just a fill color that goes with the dominant background of the principal painting.

The next couple of layers were details from the paintings. The paintings are narrative in nature, so I would not want to print either in full on the cover. I chose specific details and fitted them where I wanted them by scaling them down to the space they would occupy.

After that, I added text. One text for the title and by-line, and another text for the blurb at the back.

My Book Cover in Progress in a Gimp Window

My Material Added onto the Template
My Material Added onto the Template

Gimp Can Measure the Height of your Letters in Yards

This is a picture of me selecting yards as the unit of measurement for my letters
This is a picture of me selecting yards as the unit of measurement for my letters

Editing Text in Gimp: It's all about scale!

I encountered a very similar problem when working on the text as I did with the ppi of the layer. Gimp wanted me to tell it how big the letters should be. Not being really good at estimating sizes, I figured I would go with the default size of letter, and adjust as need be.

What happened was that nothing showed. There was the text box superimposed on the background, but no letters. I began to worry that my computer didn't have the right fonts, or that I had installed Gimp wrong or that there might be a bug of some sort. But no, it was all a matter of scale.

If you choose letters that are a millimeter long, you may not see them, because they are too small. Conversely, if you choose letters that are a yard long, you may not see them because they are too large. That's right, Gimp will allow you to choose letters that are a yard long, to go with your mile high layer, and yes, I did try it! Some people must have gigantic printers!

Like Goldilocks, eventually I found a size that was just right! But until I figured out that this was the problem, I was pretty panicked.

Turning Off the Guides Layer in Gimp

When I felt reasonably satisfied with the cover elements I had assembled, I wanted to turn off the Guides layer. The CreateSpace book cover template warns us in big red letters: "IF YOU CAN READ THIS SENTENCE IN YOUR FINAL PDF IMAGE, YOU HAVE NOT TURNED OFF THE GUIDES LAYER."

I didn't know how to turn off the guides layer. My eleven year old daughter came home from school, and she helped me to open the little side panel with the layers in it. We figured that the little eye symbol by each layer meant that that layer was visible, and when we made the eye symbol disappear, the layer should be invisible.However, even though we succeeded in turning off the eye symbol by the Guides layer, still we could see those annoying words in bright red on the screen:

"IF YOU CAN READ THIS SENTENCE IN YOUR FINAL PDF IMAGE, YOU HAVE NOT TURNED OFF THE GUIDES LAYER."

Well, this isn't technically speaking my final pdf image, I consoled myself. Maybe when I export this as a pdf, the Guides layer will disappear. So the next step was to figure out how to convert to pdf.

Gimp won't allow you to convert to pdf

This is probably the biggest problem with Gimp when you are trying to prepare a CreateSpace cover: it allows you to save the file in all sorts of formats, but pdf is not one of them. In order to export to pdf, I needed to download OpenOffice. Like Gimp, it is free.

Once you've downloaded Open Office, the procedure is easy. Just insert a picture into a document file and eliminate all the margins until the picture fills the page. Then save your document and export as a pdf.

A pdf file of the cover in Adobe PDF Reader

Here is my exported pdf file in Adobe Reader  -- the warning is still visible. The Guides were not turned off
Here is my exported pdf file in Adobe Reader -- the warning is still visible. The Guides were not turned off

Starting from Scratch

So I exported the file from Open Office to pdf, and then I opened the pdf file in Adobe Reader, and guess what? That warning in red was still there. The Guides were not turned off.

If this happens to you, here is what probably accounts for it: some of the layers have merged, so even though you thought you turned the Guides layer off, the guides are now part of another layer. You will have to start from scratch, from your CreateSpace cover template, and make sure that every new image you add to the cover is saved as a separate layer with the same ppi as the original cover template. If Gimp doesn't allow you to do this, you probably don't have enough memory, and you will need to clear more memory to allow for more layers.

Be careful when you do this not to make the universe implode!

Copyright 2010 Aya Katz

The exported cover without the Guides layer
The exported cover without the Guides layer

Comments 12 comments

Ef El Light profile image

Ef El Light 5 years ago from New York State

I do the text on Picasa after the image is done on either Gimp or Photoshop. Text is the best feature of Picasa.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Hi, F.L. Light, I'm glad you dropped by. I realize that you have a lot more experience at this than I do, and I could certainly use your advice. Is Picasa free?

How do you edit the interior of your book? I'm still struggling with that question. More specifically, before you export to pdf, do you bookletize the document? If so, how?


Ef El Light profile image

Ef El Light 5 years ago from New York State

Picasa is a free Google app.

Since all my books are 6" by 9", I go to page setup in Word

and make the page 6 by 9. I tend to use small margins, 0.7"

both sides. There is no need to "bookletize." Createspace does that.

Sometimes I make the title pages and text into two pdfs from two files, using pdfill (freeware)Then with the same program I merge them into a whole manuscript. I do this to have page one on the first page of text.

If by bookletize you mean setting up title page, copyright page, etc, then the author is supposed to do that.

Createspace will always allow you to revise a book or change the cover. But they charge for a proof copy. I've revised about seven or eight, including Shakespeare Versus Keynes.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The Ozarks Author

F.L. Light, thanks for the additional information.

By bookletize all I meant was prepare the sheet layout as opposed to page layout, but you and others in the CreateSpace community have already given me really good answers on that: CreateSpace takes care of which pages appear on which sheet and what sheet is printed on the back of which other sheet. That's a big relief, not having to worry about that.


Ef El Light 5 years ago

HP has some book-producing printers, which cost at least 50 k. You give it the file and it makes a book.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The Ozarks Author

F.L. Light, that's good to know about those printers, though I certainly can't afford to buy one. Do any of them print letters a yard long?


Xenonlit profile image

Xenonlit 4 years ago

I just downloaded Gimp because I am desperate to make a cover for my book at createspace. Hopefully, I will get my image and text right this time. Great and useful hub!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Xenonlit, I hope you find Gimp helps with making your cover.


Xenonlit profile image

Xenonlit 4 years ago

Aya, Gimp is so far over my head right now that I had to do the thing in Word. I hope it takes at Amazon.

Don't worry, I've been looking for a rich photo editing software and will be working with Gimp for my next cover. I do my own photos and did a lot of graphics work in the past. Gimp looks like a great option.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Xenonlit, doing it in Word is definitely possible and can yield some fine results. You can also use OpenOffice in the same way.


Paul Andrulis 4 years ago

Try paint.net (Name of program not a link)

It supports layers, and is pretty powerful, with a lower learning curve than gimp.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Paul. I've heard it's pretty good.

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