In the first of our ‘Expert Tips’ fortnightly series, we’ve asked eBook Cover Expert, Matt Nieblas to share three Photoshop tools he couldn’t live without. If you’re planning on using Photoshop to create a book cover and have experience in using the programme, then these tools are definitely ones to try.
Creating visual cohesion is paramount to creating a believable and well crafted book cover. Many times book covers use photography in order to create one unique composition, and each part (photograph) needs to feel as if it naturally belongs as a part of the whole. As the Creative Director at EbookCoverExpert.com I use these following tips daily in order to deliver incredibly crafted and well-designed covers.
Creating realistic lighting in Photoshop could be covered in more than one article and still, there’d be room to write more, so let’s concentrate on the way light is cast on objects. Imitating the way fire, a mysterious glow, or a ray from the clouds illuminates the objects it reaches can be a daunting task. Adjusting the object with a ‘levels adjustment layer’ and painting in where the light hits, often creates an unbelievable looking highlight. That’s why I use my ‘Channels’ (often next to your ‘layers’ and ‘path’ tab). Here’s how:
Go into your channels cycle through your red, green, and blue layers. After finding the one with appropriate contrast, copy the layer and use your levels to crunch the channel even further. Pressing ctrl/command and selecting the layer with your cursor, will select the white areas in the channel (your highlights). With the selection made, go back to your layers, fill it with the appropriate highlight colour and set the blending mode to soft light, or screen. Immediately you’ll see that the light catches areas that naturally would be lit while leaving dark shadows intact. See this tip in action in this tutorial.
Working non-destructively within Photoshop separates the amateurs from the professionals. A non-destructive file is created without directly affecting the photography, and can be manipulated and changed with ease in the future. Spend hours and hours on a piece of work just to find nothing can be easily revised, and you’ll see the benefits to working this way!
Adjustments to colour, saturation, lighting, etc should always be done with an adjustment layer. Using as few as possible is also important, as it will keep the art from becoming ‘muddy’. Adjustments to individual photographs should be limited only to those needed, in order for it to fit within the composition. See this tip in action in this tutorial.
This folder sits at the top of the file and effects the entire composition. In this folder, your global ‘colour’, ‘noise’, and ‘high pass’ sit (see below). Applying global colour will shift all your work below making it feel cohesive. If I were designing a Sci-Fi book cover for example, this is where I would find the genre-specific green colour that’s cast over the entire artwork.
Typically, I suggest using a gradient map to achieve this effect. A gradient map set to soft light and 20% (or under) opacity, will shift your entire composition. Generally, layering your colour works to your advantage as well. Applying a colour balance adjustment layer shifted either ‘cool’ or ‘warm’ will also create greater cohesion. In order to avoid a ‘cartoon effect’, never set your colour much higher than 20% opacity (as a general rule this works well, but every piece of art varies).
Below your colour, I recommended creating a noise layer. Noise set to ‘soft light’ and 15% opacity creates a blanket of texture over the entire piece. This noise helps blend the entire image together (especially when a variety of different quality photos are used).
Lastly, in order to really make your piece pop and appear finely finished, I recommend creating a high pass layer. Merge a copy of your entire image (leave the noise out), set the layer to high pass (found in Filter > Other > HighPass) and no more than a ‘5’ on the settings). Set the layer to ‘soft light’ and notice how the high pass creates a delicate sharpness over the entire image.
At this point, I like to take a step back and really study the composition. These finishing touches really add the last bit of finesse that makes a book cover pop. See this tip in action in this tutorial.
EbookCoverExpert.com is the creation of Matt Nieblas. As an art director in entertainment he works with a mastery of photoshop, creating complex compositions and posters. His work in Ebook covers began after seeing a need in the space for affordable well crafted covers. Find out more about how Matt can help you create an expert book cover, here.
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