I’m working on a short story collection at the moment – which will hopefully be ready for publishing at the beginning of July – and since there’s only some editing left to do on the text I had to focus on the book cover.

See here how I compared free and proprietary software to finally answer the question for myself: Is freeware really so much worse than the commercial software in the field?

Things I tested:

    • Retouch
        Photoshop, Gimp
    • Frame Picture
    • Add Colored Background (Frame)
    • Add Text
        InDesign, Scribus

Additionally:

    • Color Grading
        Photoshop, Gimp

What did I do? – Step by Step

First I had a scan of the picture I wanted to be featured on the cover:
Original, painted picture for the cover

Since I kicked one of the stories out I wanted the sign in the upper right corner removed:

Step One: Retouch

Photoshop: Gimp:
Retouching in Photoshop - writing, darker painting still visible Retouching in Gimp - writing, darker painting still visible
Retouching in Photoshop - writing, darker painting gone Retouching in Gimp - writing, darker painting gone

With Photoshop I used the mixer brush to remove the sign. In Gimp I used the clone/stamp tool (works just like in Photoshop) and something called smudge tool. Probably should’ve used the stamp tool in Photoshop too; to get a better result… If you want to know how the tools look like just click to enlarge the pictures.

Note: Both programs are in German but the layouts and icons are the same. I also try to mention the proper English names of the tools I've used for your convenience.

After I was satisfied with the result I saved the picture as a .png.

Keep in Mind: In Gimp you have to export to save your picture in a common graphic format. Under save you'll only save the project.

Step Two: Place Picture

InDesign: Scribus:
Resolution Window open in InDesign Resolution Window open/Starting a new project in Scribus

First I opened a new projet and set the resolution to 1600×2400 (Smashwords’ recommended size for book covers). Then I created a picture frame and placed the picture inside.

InDesign: Scribus:
Place Original Picture in InDesign Import Original Picture to Scribus

As you can see InDesign conveniently places the picture, so it fills the frame. With Scribus you have to place it yourself.

Note: In InDesign you can also adjust the picture "underneath" the frame so only a portion of it shows. In Scribus you can't.

Scale Picture to match the Size of the final Cover Place Picture in Scribus using the Properties Window

Just right-click and choose adjust picture to frame. Then (precisely) center the picture and its frame by doing the math in the properties window. See the picture on the right. (Maybe there’s an easier option. But I haven’t found it yet.)

Step Three: Frame Picture

InDesign: Scribus:
Frame_InDesign Frame_Scribus

I wanted the picture itself framed and a background beneath it to give off a frame-like effect.

InDesign: I simply clicked the picture frame and set the outlines to a color and changed their thickness. Then I added a rectangle using the rectangle tool and gave it a radiant fill.

Scribus: I right-clicked the picture frame choose properties and there opened the lines field and increased the parameter. Then I clicked on the colors field and picked black for the outlines.

Frame_Scribus_01 Frame_Scribus_02

This is important otherwise you won’t see a change.

Then I created a default shape and added a radiant fill under Properties -> Colors. I played around a bit with the colors and the transparency. I was mostly inspired by this tutorial: How to create a fuzzy-edged picture frame on wiki.scribus.net. It also shows you how to create your own colors. (Unfortunately I have missed out on that one when I first read it.) But the basic colors suited me just fine.

Step Four: Place Text

InDesign: Scribus:
Text_InDesign Text_Scribus

In InDesign: Open a text field, type your text. Change font, font size and font color to your wishes.
In Scribus: Open a text field, load your text into the field, right-click on the text field and under Properties-> Text change the text to your wishes.

Caution: You have to create some kind of text document to be able to load your text into Scribus. A text editor file will work just fine.

Text_Scribus_01

Additionally…

So at this point you could be done with your cover and split. But if you or some one you know aren’t quite happy with the color of the original picture – now that you see it framed – you can simply load the retouched file you saved and work on it again.

Step Five: Color Grading

Photoshop:
ColorGrade_Photoshop_01
Gimp:
ColorGrade_Gimp_01 ColorGrade_Gimp_02

With Photoshop I used the automated color correction. With Gimp I played around with two options but stuck with the original picture in the end. You have to know for yourself what you like best. I counter-checked with the two different layouts in InDesign and Scribus until they looked like this:

InDesign: Scribus:
Cover_Fertig_Adobe Cover_Fertig_GNU_OpenSource

Conclusion

Working with InDesign is a breeze. And of course it will get you way faster a somewhat classier look (with a bit of talent) but I must say do like the outcome of my Scribus Cover. I might change something in the future but for now it works fine for me. (Good thing smashwords allows you to reload covers… XD)

I might need more experience with the software – I am aware that you could do much better with it – and I really think I’ll check out some tutorials in the future. Still I think Scribus is a bit klutzy. Especially when compared to InDesign.

Whereas Gimp really surprised me as a very good alternative to Photoshop. The tools work just as fine and options appear to be just as sufficient. I haven’t check on the layer function in Gimp or tried drawing something from scratch but for remodeling or adjusting an existing file it’s just fine. But who knows maybe I’ll try on the other things in the future. We’ll see… 🙂

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