Illustration Vs. Photoshop in Book Cover Design

If you’re not going to hire an illustrator, avoid looking too “Self-Published” with Photoshop!

Shelby Sullivan


Anyone who says Tumblr is dead has clearly never seen the quality content I do daily. As a book cover designer (and overall book cover fan), this particular one yesterday really caught my eye:

Screenshot from Tumblr; OP bcnnibeau-deactivated20200330

Choosing the better design between these two designs is, in my opinion, a no-brainer. The 80s-looking cover (from 1995), the saturated maroon words on a blue/purple background, the hair, the rippling muscles — all painted by hand?

How could you ever choose the 2015, clip-art style, Photoshopped, washed-out-pastel version of this book?

The user on this post claims that the “worst crime capitalism ever committed was eliminating Horny Oil Painter as a viable career option.” While I think that statement is hilarious, they do have a point.

The Cost of Covers

By-hand illustration (even if done on a digital tablet) is expensive. Many artists charge upwards of $250+ for a full cover layout, front-to-back.

As they should! Artists are talented at their craft, and they deserve to be paid for their efforts. But as technology makes it easier for authors to create their own book covers, self-published authors with minimal budgets will often turn to Photoshop to create their own.

Yet there are benefits of hiring an illustrator who can create a single, detailed image that represents your story and characters. The absolute dedication of the first cover, though not for every reader, can’t be denied.

There is a love for the genre here; an understanding of what worked (at the time) and what readers want. A good illustrator will be able to help you harness your ideas, bring your characters to life, and create something totally unique to your book.

Still, as a champion of publishing on a budget, I want to highlight the dangers of doing it yourself, how you can make a cohesive cover, and what pitfalls to watch out for!

Understanding Design (Illustration Vs. Photoshop)



Shelby Sullivan

6 years as a professional writer, editor, blogger, and designer. Learn to make book covers and contact me at !