Taking Stock: How and Where to Find Images for Your Book Cover

You've heard the old adage “don't judge a book by its cover”, but rightly or wrongly, when it comes to books most of us do. Your cover is your book’s first impression to its prospective readers, so it's important to ensure it's a great one! 

So, how do you plan for a cover that will attract eyes and turn people from browsers to buyers?

One of the best resources available to authors looking for a unique book cover is stock images. Stock images provide the starting point from which your designer can create imaginative and innovative cover designs, at little or no cost to you. There are millions of stock photos out there just waiting for you to discover them. But not all of those images make for great covers – there are a number of things to keep in mind while you wade through the jungle of internet imagery. Read on to learn all you need to know about finding, assessing, and purchasing a stock image for your book’s cover art.


Free stock images can be found quite easily, and there are plenty of interesting ones out there, but beware: free images are often too low quality to successfully print, and tend to be more generic in terms of design opportunities. They also have less clear legal usage information, so be sure to check that a free image is public domain before using it. 

That said, with a resourceful designer and a little digging, free stock photography (and fonts!) can make for a great cover. And luckily for writers, there are dozens of great websites out there that offer inspiring and breathtaking stock images at no cost to you. Some great examples are:

Pay-for-use stock image websites have a much larger library of images for you to chose from, and include exceptional quality images. The licenses required to use these images are awarded to you upon purchase, so you legally acquire the right to use the image from its source (more on this in the next section, “Copyright”). There is an extensive range of options and specificity within a pay-for-use website, but it is a great idea to search both paid and free sites: you never know where you’ll find the right image for you. Some great examples of pay-for-use stock image websites are: 

Bear in mind that you can use elements from multiple stock images to create your cover concept. Should you find a pay-for-use image (or a few) that you like but are not ready to commit to, your FriesenPress designer can create a sample cover using the free watermarked image available on the website. Think of it as a test drive, so you can be sure it’s the right image for your cover before you pay for it. 


Once you’ve found a great image that you think might work, be sure to check its copyright information. Every image online has an owner from whom you must purchase the legal rights to use it. The only exception to this rule is images in the public domain, which will be marked as such. 

Ensuring you've obtained your images legally and that you have the correct usage rights is fundamental to ensuring that you don't run into legal issues down the road. Be careful when downloading from any stock website, free or paid: most paid stock sites include the copyright in the price of the image, but some do not—be sure to check their terms and conditions before making a payment and make sure to look for what its license covers. In the case of your book cover, it should include distribution. If it does not, distribution rights may be available to purchase at an additional cost, a must for books entering the commercial market. 


Printers and computers speak two different languages when it comes to images. A computer displays an image by transmitting light, and the size of the image it requires to successfully display it is much smaller than that of a printed image. The image you see on a computer screen will not translate to print in accord with the original image without it being specifically processed and tweaked beforehand. There are three important aspects to consider when analyzing your chosen image for its print readiness:

  • Colour Format: Computers use a colour format called “RGB” (an acronym for red, blue, green); printers use “CMYK” (which stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, key (black)). 

    It’s important to remember when choosing a cover image that if it’s found on the web it is almost certainly in RGB format. The RGB colour spectrum is much larger than that of CMYK because it is easier to create images with light than it is with printing. This means the colouring you see on your screen will be different to the colour of the image once it’s in print. Your designer will be able to convert your image from RGB to CMYK ahead of printing for you to approve. 
  • Image Density and Scale: Web images use “PPI” (Pixels Per Inch) and Print images use “DPI” (Dots Per Inch). For all intents and purposes, these terms are interchangeable, though most designers work in DPI. 

    Images intended for the web are only 72 DPI, whereas images intended for print should be no less than 300 DPI. Simply put, this means that the pixels/dots on a web image are spread roughly four times further apart than a print image, so attempting to print a 72 DPI image will result in a blurry, pixelated image. Images for print are much more pixel dense than those found on a screen in order to produce a crisp, clear image on paper. So make sure that the image you choose for your cover design is at least 300 DPI.

Your FriesenPress Account Manager can assist you with an image assessment when it comes time to choose a stock image for your cover. 


As self-publishing becomes increasingly popular, there are more and more authors browsing the same websites for their cover images. When searching for yours, keep in mind that it will act as the foundation for your cover; a good designer will use it as a base around which to create a truly unique and creative concept. A “clone cover” can confuse readers and reflect poorly on the commitment and hard work you’ve put into your writing. 

To ensure your cover design is a standout original, consider elements that are unique to your book. Ones that will give readers clues about what your book has to offer. For example, if your book is about immigration, try to stay away from airport signage or a generic queue of people. Instead, consider the relationships or themes of the book as subject matter, or take elements from the locations involved and imagine a way to merge them artistically. Your cover design should be a collaborative effort with your designer.  With both of you thinking outside of the box, your cover will avoid the terrible fate of being stuck on the shelf! 

To further ensure your cover stands its ground and knocks readers out of their proverbial seats, consider investing in additional design hours, which will enable your designer to spend more time with your cover and turn it into an intricate and specialized work of art. 

Written by Molly Dlugaj, FriesenPress Author Account Manager
Edited by Kate Juniper, FriesenPress Editing and Illustration Coordinator