How to Design a Horror Book Cover: A Step-by-Step Guide


When it comes to horror novels, the book cover is often the first thing that catches a reader’s eye. A great horror book cover can give a glimpse into the terrifying world that lies within its pages, and if done correctly, can entice readers to pick up the book and start flipping through the pages. In this guide, we’ll take you through the step-by-step process of designing a horror book cover that will grab potential readers’ attention and keep them intrigued.

Understanding the Elements of a Horror Book Cover

Before diving into the creative process, it’s important to understand the essential elements of a horror book cover. A well-designed horror book cover should convey a sense of mystery, suspense, and foreboding. It should also be eye-catching, utilizing colors, typography, and imagery to draw the reader in. In order to create an impactful horror book cover, you’ll need to consider the following:

Color Palette and Mood

The colors you choose for your horror book cover can have a big impact on the overall mood and tone of the design. Typically, darker colors such as black, grey, and deep shades of red or purple are used to convey an ominous feeling. These colors are often associated with fear, danger, and darkness, which are all common themes in horror literature. However, if you want to deviate from the norm, you could incorporate brighter colors in a creative way to make your book stand out. For example, using a bright red or orange color could create a sense of urgency or danger, while a bright green could create a sense of unease or otherworldliness.

In addition to the colors themselves, you’ll also want to consider the overall mood you want to convey through your color choices. Do you want your book cover to feel eerie and unsettling, or do you want to create a sense of dread and impending doom? The right color palette can help you achieve the desired mood for your cover design.

Typography and Font Choices

The typography and font choices you use for your horror book cover can also make a big difference. Choosing the right font can give your book a sense of personality and character while reinforcing the genre. Bold, serif, or handwritten fonts are popular choices for horror books as they give the cover an edgier feel. Serif fonts, in particular, can create a sense of tradition and timelessness, which can be effective for horror novels that draw on classic horror tropes.

When selecting a font, you’ll also want to consider the legibility of the text. While it’s important to choose a font that fits the genre and mood of your book, you don’t want to sacrifice readability for style. Make sure that the title and author name are easy to read and stand out against the background of the cover.

Imagery and Visual Elements

Visual elements like images or illustrations can play a huge role in defining the horror aesthetic of your book cover. You’ll want to select images or illustrations that allude to the book’s contents but don’t give away too much information and spoil the mystery. Using visual metaphors can also help to create a sense of intrigue and add depth to your cover design.

For example, if your book is about a haunted house, you might choose an image of a dilapidated old mansion with a ghostly figure in the window. This image alludes to the haunted nature of the house without giving away too much about the plot. Similarly, if your book is about a supernatural creature, you might choose an image of a shadowy figure with glowing eyes, or a clawed hand reaching out from the darkness.

When selecting imagery for your book cover, it’s important to consider the quality of the image. A blurry or low-quality image can detract from the overall impact of the cover design. Additionally, you’ll want to ensure that the imagery you choose is appropriate for the target audience and doesn’t contain any offensive or insensitive content.

By carefully considering the color palette, typography, and imagery of your horror book cover, you can create a design that effectively conveys the mood and themes of your book while also capturing the attention of potential readers.

Step 1: Research and Inspiration

Before you start sketching out ideas for your horror book cover, it’s important to gather inspiration and research what’s currently on the market. You can browse online bookstores, horror-related websites, and social media platforms to get a feel for what’s already out there. Take note of what works and what doesn’t, and start analyzing what makes certain book covers stand out from the rest.

Additionally, it’s helpful to read reviews and synopses of popular horror books to understand what themes and motifs are common in the genre. This can help you create a cover that accurately represents the content of your book and appeals to potential readers.

Analyzing Successful Horror Book Covers

Take a closer look at the horror book covers that have been successful. Analyze the color palettes, typography, and imagery they use to create a sense of intrigue and mystery. Take note of the layout and size of all the elements and ask yourself what stands out the most. Also, consider how the cover designers have encapsulated the essence and vibe of a book in their design.

For example, some successful horror book covers use bold, contrasting colors to create a sense of unease and tension. Others use eerie, atmospheric imagery to convey the tone of the book. By analyzing these successful covers, you can start to identify design elements that you can incorporate into your own cover.

Gathering Visual References

When you’re gathering inspiration, it’s important to keep track of what stands out to you. Save images or links that catch your eye, and start developing a collection of visual references that you can use as inspiration for your cover design. You can create a mood board or use a folder to keep your inspiration organized.

Try to gather a variety of visual references, including photographs, illustrations, and typography examples. This can help you create a well-rounded design that incorporates multiple design elements and techniques.

Overall, taking the time to research and gather inspiration can help you create a horror book cover that accurately represents your book and captures the attention of potential readers.

Step 2: Concept Development

Now that you have a sense of what you want to achieve with your horror book cover, it’s time to start developing your ideas. During this stage, you’ll want to brainstorm potential concepts and sketch out rough thumbnails of your initial ideas. You’ll then refine and iterate these concepts as you move through the design process.

Brainstorming Ideas

When brainstorming, let your imagination run wild. Jot down any ideas that come to mind, whether they’re good or bad. This will help you generate more ideas and eventually refine them into a few solid concepts. Remember to keep your target audience in mind and consider what they are looking for in a horror book cover.

Sketching and Thumbnails

After you’ve narrowed down your concept ideas, start sketching them in more detail. This will allow you to see how different elements could potentially fit together on the cover. Keep refining your sketches until you have a few strong concepts to choose from that are worth pursuing further.

Step 3: Choosing the Right Tools and Software

Once you have a few solid concepts that you want to work with, you’ll need to decide on the right tools and software to bring your vision to life. Here are some popular software options you could use:

Adobe Photoshop

This is the go-to software for many designers. Photoshop is great for manipulating images and adding effects to your book cover design. Learn how to use layer masks and blending modes to create a unique and visually striking cover.

Adobe Illustrator

If you’re planning on using vector graphics, then Illustrator is the tool for you. It’s an excellent program for creating logos, text, and illustrations. Use Illustrator to create custom font designs and vector images to fit your book cover’s theme.

Canva and Other Online Tools

Canva is a free online design tool that gives you access to tons of templates, images, and design elements. It’s a great option for those who don’t have access to professional software or want to create a quick design. Other online tools that are useful for designing covers include Pixlr, Fotor, and GIMP.

Step 4: Creating the Cover Design

With your concept in mind and your software selected, it’s time to start the actual cover design process. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Setting Up the Canvas

Depending on the book’s genre and your personal preferences, you can choose different sized canvases for your design. When creating a print-ready file, a 6×9″ canvas size is standard; however, it’s always best to consult with your publisher or printer before choosing your file size.

Incorporating the Title and Author Name

The title and author name are two of the most important text elements on your horror book cover. Make sure they are easy to read and stand out on the page. Consider playing with the fonts for these elements, and experiment with different colors and effects to make them as visually striking as the imagery on the cover. You can create a custom font to use for your title or author name to add a personal touch to your design.

Adding Visual Elements and Effects

Now that you have your layout and text elements squared away, it’s time to start incorporating the visual elements that will make your book cover stand out. Start by adding the primary image or illustration that you want to use on the cover. Consider adding other images, patterns, or design elements to fill in gaps and bring more context to the cover.

You can also play with different Photoshop effects, such as layer masks, typography textures, or halftone dots, to give your design a unique and eerie feel. A horror book cover is a great opportunity to push boundaries a bit and have fun creating something that will attract readers.


A great horror book cover is a balance between the essential elements of color, typography, and imagery. Research, brainstorm, sketch, and iterate until you have developed unique and visually striking concepts that reflect your book’s essence and vibe. Follow these steps to create a horror book cover that will grab readers’ attention in bookstores and online.

Remember, with the right tools and an eye for design, you can create a cover that accurately represents your book’s story, genre, and mood. Don’t be afraid to step outside the box and experiment with different design elements and tactics. With these tips in mind, you can create an unforgettable horror book cover that keeps potential readers up at night.