Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Cover Composition - The Rule of Thirds and The Golden Ratio

 Cover Composition

The Rule of Thirds and The Golden Ratio

We all know the adage, don't judge a book by its cover, but we all do! The cover is what grabs the reader's eye, especially in this age of the Internet, when you make have even less time to snag a reader as they scroll down Amazon or Smashwords, than while they wander through a book shop.

I design my own book covers, mostly because I enjoy it and, now that I am on Wattpad, it's kind of important because even fanfic needs a cover. Over time I have learned many things, and one of those things is how to layout a book cover to make it pleasing to the eye. Let's not mention my early attempts when I knew nothing - I am gradually replacing any of those that still exist ;).

The thing is though, there is more than one way to do it.

Of course there is :) - there couldn't just be one magic formula could there. Today I'm going to talk about 2 techniques I have used in, what I hope, is a successful manner.

The Rule of Thirds

Until recently, I have almost exclusively used The Rule of Thirds, which is the easiest to layout quickly. It is very straightforward to add to an image:
  1. Add guidelines to the cover vertically and horizontally to divide the cover into 3rds like so (I made a cover template with the correct guides in place and use it whenever I start a new project).
  2. Use the thirds to divide up the elements of the cover, e.g. put the title in one part, the main image in another etc.
  3. To build drama place significant parts of the cover over the lines or intersections, which are known in some circles as power points.
Here is an example of a cover I designed using the rule of thirds (it's for The Soul Reader Series, books 1-3 that will be coming to paperback soon):

As you can see I used the bottom third for the title and the top 2 thirds for the image. I also made sure each of the figures was place over a power point and the main action was nearly completely in the middle third.

I don't know why the human brain finds this pleasing, but it does :).

*If you would like to know more, here is a great article about The Rule of Thirds from Cover Design Studio.

The Golden Ratio

The other option I am learning about for book covers is the Golden Ratio. This is a little more complicated to layout, but also seems to give a good feel for a cover. I've only just started using this, but I find is especially useful for laying out titles. Because this golden ratio can be scaled, it can be used within elements of the cover as well as for laying out the full cover.

This is the golden ratio:
It is made by dividing a quarter of a circle by 1.618 and adding the part together to create a spiral.

The easiest way to get it, is to google it and download a png or vector of it someone has already made :). (Like this one).

THERE IS ONE IMPORTANT RULE - never scale the golden ratio without the relative dimensions being fixed, or you will wreck the whole point of it!

There are many ways to use the golden ratio, it can be used to frame an image, or to arrange an image, but what to remember is that important bits of the image should line up with bits of the ratio pattern.

This is a cover I created for my fanfic Opposites (ReVamped) (which I am currently posting to Wattpad) using the Golden ratio to lay it out:

The main elements of the image follow the ratio, ending with Richie as the focus, because he's the star of this particular story.

F.Y.I. I also used the Rule of Thirds to place the title, which was created as a block, once again using The Golden Ratio, as well as using RoT for my name.

As I mentioned I'm new to this technique, and I'm not sure I quite have it yet (I think Richie might need nudging to the right a smidge ;)), but you see the general idea.

*If you would like to know more, here is a more in depth article about The Golden Ratio by the Keith Draws Blog .

The Rule of Thirds vs The Golden Ratio

Personally I like the look of both layouts. I think some covers will lend themselves to one, while others fit more with the other.

The Rule of Thirds is definitely more intuitive and straightforward than The Golden Ratio, but they have a similar effect, on my eye, at least.

One thing I do know for sure is that having a layout in mind when designing a book cover makes the process easier if nothing else. Deciding where to place things it one of the hardest decisions when creating something from scratch and a layout really helps.

In my experience it also makes the end product superior.

Do you design book covers? Do you use one of these techniques or do you have another?

As a reader, do you have a preference for cover layouts, or do they not make a huge amount of difference to you?


  1. I knew about the rule of thirds but not the other. It's fascinating how our brain works. I like your covers so there must be something to it =)

    1. I had vaguely heard of the other, but had no idea how it was supposed to work, so I finally went and looked :). Our brains are very strange and wonderful things :D
      Thank you :D


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