Basic Gimp for Cover Art

When I started actually producing books back in 2012, I needed covers. Since my books weren’t bringing in money yet, paying for a designer to create a cover seemed way out of my price range. Fortunately for me, I had more time on my hands than money. I decided to make my own.

Fortunately, I had an online community of writers to consult (Thanks, Holly!) “It’s fun!” they said.

I looked at Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop to be exact, but just like paying for cover design, it was outside my budget. Right now lists an individual license as  $49.99 per month. That’s almost $600 dollars a year!

Then members of the community suggested a program called GNU Image Manipulation Program, or GIMP. “It works just like Photoshop,” they said, “and it’s free.”

Well, it was simple to find, I read the website pages to learn about the program and back on the home page, hit that red download button. The current version is 2.8.22. This is an open-source program, so if you are a whiz with programming, GIMP allows you to modify your program and even submit it to the owners for inclusion in the base program.

The help files that come with the program are quite extensive, perhaps too much so. Even after using it for years, I end up in what seems like endless searches through the help files looking for what I need. Mostly this struggle is because of, both then, and now, my inadequate understanding of the program and my lack of proper words to do a keyword search. Finally, after three weeks of struggles, I had made a cover.


How did I like the program?

Once I understood what layers were and how they worked, my progress improved.

Layers are stacked elements in your art project until they are finally merged. Let’s just talk about covers for now. The bottom-most layer is the background. So, if I want a black cover for my book, I select that layer in the Layers Tool window, change the color to black using the paint bucket tool, and the background changes to black. You can also import a picture to use as your background. For example, in my “Brown Rain” series books, I used pictures either I or my husband had taken, modified them with the Color Tools to achieve the effect that I wanted, and made the rest of the background (for a whole cover) a matching color.

Another thing about layers is that their locations in the Layers “Stack” are meaningful. At one point I was struggling with a text layer. I didn’t see it on my cover but it was clearly in the layers list. I think I struggled for a couple of hours until I clicked on the layer I wanted in the toolbar and slid it up the list until it was past the photo layer I had added. Once that was done, my text appeared on my cover. Whew!


What else did I learn to do?

I learned to cut out sections of a photo, for example, a picture of an oleander flower and a picture of a mortar and pestle, and to then arrange them on the cover of my book “Recall.” With a black background and red lettering, the sweet pink of the oleander and the marble mortar and pestle are really striking.

Elements on your cover can be twisted and turned in a number of ways by using the scale, rotate, shear and flip tools. That’s how I made the “Recall” title slanted


Speaking of text, you can add fonts to the font list. By finding your chosen font and downloading it to your computer, you will have it available in your GIMP program. It reads the fonts from your computer’s files and picks them up to use in your artwork. The only problem with this is that if you change computers, the font will no longer be available unless you remember to find and re-save those fonts again. This is a mistake I’ve made a few times as I’ve replaced computers.

Mistakes I made.

Here is a big mistake I made, when I first opened GIMP. I eliminated the Toolbox and Layers windows. Then I had no idea how to get them back. So, I deleted the program from my computer and re-downloaded the program. (Insert eye-roll here.) Yep. I really did. Now I know that I can go to the GIMPS Windows tab and reopen the Toolbox and Layers windows. Before, I didn’t even know what they were called so I had no idea what to look for. Lesson learned.

Because different people work differently, GIMP allows you to select tools from the separate windows, or from the tabs at the top of the screen. Keyboard commands are also allowed. No matter how you work, it’s easy for you to get the tool of your choice.
Another fantastic feature is that while the program creates in xcf format, it will save in pdf, jpg, bmp, or png formats. The png format is wonderful for saving pictures that have a transparent background. Different companies and organizations prefer one format over another. Createspace wants you to load your cover as a pdf, for example. Twitter only wants a jpg.

Expert Tip:

One thing I do with pictures is to save them as the original jpg, then change the file name to reflect a new format, then Save As to the new format. That has saved me multiple times when I’ve made a mess of the file I’m working on. At least I can go back to the original or the 2nd or 3rd step and start over with a clean file.

The GIMP program allows you to import your cover templates from places like Createspace and Smashwords. That makes designing your cover so much easier. I generally develop my whole cover with the Createspace template, then cut the front cover out for Smashwords. It saves a ton of cover development time for an e-book cover.

Now I also use GIMP for creating marketing memes for my books, in addition to the covers. By using just one element from your cover, or using the same background color as your cover, you can easily create all of the marketing materials you might want to use for promoting your book pre-launch, during your launch and post-launch. I even have used promo memes when I have a sale!

Video Help

A final great thing is that YouTube has plenty of GIMP how-to videos. I mentioned earlier that I cut out parts of pictures to use on my covers. The best way to use them is to give the file a transparent background. I followed a video on making a transparent background (there are several just on that topic) by watching it through once. Then I opened my GIMP file in one window, the video in another, then while watching the video, I stopped it at each step, then implemented that step. Since these videos are made by bloggers or non-techie people, the audio or video quality isn’t always as good as we’d like. Sometimes the instructors talk too fast, or mumble, or at times, do the steps too fast to follow. That’s when it’s time to search for another video that you can work with.

I’m happy to say it no longer takes me three weeks to create a cover. If I have all of my files ready: cover art, selected fonts, blurb, bio, author picture, and so on, I can get a decent cover done in a couple of hours.

Have I paid people to do my covers? Sure, especially when I’m looking for something outside of my skill set. But overall, even though I’m not a graphic artist, I belong to a great writing community and many members are graphic artists. They can give great feedback on your cover design.

So, I encourage you to give GIMP a try. You may find you like it!

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Connie Cockrell

An Air Force career, computer operations company manager, wife, mother, sister and volunteer, provides a rich background for Connie Cockrell’s stories. After 16 books, inclusion in 5 anthologies and published on and, Connie's still on the lookout for a good story idea. Beware, you may be next. FIND CONNIE HERE: Connie's Random Thoughts