Need a creative gift for an upcoming birthday or anniversary? Why not try making a DIY book cover? Read on to find out how one Ooligan student did it!

It was my best friend Jamie’s birthday a few months ago. She tells me she only reads because of me. But the way I see it, I’m just really good at picking ‘em for her. Like a personal shopper, but literary. She’s lucky to have me. In any case, I knew that for her birthday I had to secure a copy of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild—my friend, who has endless wanderlust and dreams of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail herself, had never read it (or even seen the movie). The book is popular to the point where I knew I’d be able to find a copy on my first pass through the used bookstore in my neighborhood, and I did.

There was just one problem: the big hiking boot on the front… the sort of glamorous serif font… the red and white… it just didn’t scream Jamie. Now, before I get hate mail, hear me out. It’s not a bad cover by any means. But in a world where the books we read often perform as style accessories on top of sheer storytelling vessels, I knew there was an opportunity to give her something more unique—something she’d love to pick up based on the cover alone. Not to mention that personalized gifts are always the best anyway!

I got to work whipping up a reimagined cover for this Reese’s Book Club favorite. My intention from the start was to print the new cover and somehow affix it over the original cover, so step one was figuring out the trim size of the copy I’d picked up (hint: most trade paperbacks are 5.5 x 8.5 inches). After that, I hopped into Adobe Photoshop and InDesign to start playing around with different images, compositions, and typefaces. If you don’t have an Adobe subscription or haven’t tried your hand at many cover designs, Adobe Spark or Canva are great places to design as well.

I ended up keeping it pretty simple: a nice silhouetted image of my friend and me from our own travels along the Pacific Coast, a title in a rough-edged typeface up top, matching author byline at the bottom, and the words ‘To Jamie, From Bev’ in a funky little handwritten font over our shadowed heads. I downloaded my file as a PDF, sent it to Walgreens for printing, and was able to pick it up less than an hour later.

Now, this is the part I might lose people at, but I did indeed paste that picture right on top of the original cover. Using tape. (I recommend glue or Mod Podge, but I was in a bind.) I left the spine and back cover as is, but tackling those could really take this upcycle to the next level. I wrote a little inscription on the inside, wrapped it up along with another thrifted gift, and gave her a birthday present she adored.

Why am I talking about this? The joy of gift-giving aside, as a student learning book design, this exercise helped my creative juices flow in a fun, low-stakes way, and allowed me to experience what it might feel like to feel and hold my very own cover design. This exercise in total cost less than $10 (excluding the Adobe subscription) and resulted in a fun and heartfelt gift for a cherished friend. I think all practicing book designers should try their hand at DIYing some personal book covers for old favorites or random thrift finds. We can recognize the craftsmanship in the official covers while reimagining them to fit our own visions, styles, and tastes. If the thought of actually affixing your cover to the book makes you squirm, just leave it on your screen—it’s still a wonderful creative exercise to train those cover-design muscles. You might consider using a 3D mockup tool to get an image of what it would look like as a physical book.

Next time you want to make a great gift for a friend, work yourself out of a creative rut, or get acquainted with book design software, consider remixing a classic and seeing how it feels!

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