DIY Design with Canva

Design is the lighting up on an ideaby C.K. MacLeod

If you’re engaged in social media tasks to promote your writing or editing business, you’ll know that visual design is essential to helping your message stand out.

Do you have a blog? You need a banner.

Just wrote a book? You need a cover.

Going to a conference? You need a business card.

So, what do you do when your currency is words, and making a message visual isn’t your thing? Hire a graphic designer? Sure. But if that’s not in your budget, try Canva.

Canva is a free, online graphic design tool that you can use to create book covers, business cards, social media banners, and yes, even digital holiday cards. I created this holiday card in under one minute:

“But I’m not a graphic designer!” you say.

The folks at Canva know that. Which is why Canva contains correctly-sized templates and predesigned drag-and-drop elements in an easy-to-use interface that nondesigners can use. Building a business card, for example, is as difficult as building a tower with wooden blocks with a two-year-old. If you’re still not convinced, Canva offers free step-by-step design tutorials that will take you through the design process.

Canva has a nice selection of free professional-looking, pre-designed elements, so you can try designing something without spending a cent. If you decide to spring for paid elements, they’re inexpensive, at only about a dollar each.
Still unsure? Why not take a page from the pros? Self-publishing author Joanna Penn announced on The Creative Penn Podcast (episode 245) that she used Canva to create a simple book cover for Destroyer of Worlds, a book she’s released on pre-order on iBooks.The cover will be placeholder until she has the final version professionally designed by her graphic designer.

The online world is a visual place. Canva ensures that word people can now join in on the fun.
Image by David Joyce

Preparing Pictures for Ebooks

Paint.net logo

by C. K. MacLeod

If you're writing a nonfiction ebook, including pictures in your book can help readers to better understand concepts you're describing with words.

Using pictures in your book requires a bit of extra tech knowledge. But you can manage this tiny learning curve with a bit of know-how and a free image editor like Paint.net.

Tip: work with your pictures outside of your ebook file in Paint.net, Photoshop Elements or similar photo editing software, and then re-insert your pictures into your ebook file later.

Quick-Steps

Here are the quick-steps for preparing pictures for ebooks:

  1. Decide on an image format (png, gif, or jpeg).
  2. Edit your image in an image editor.
  3. Resize your image in an image editor.
  4. Compress your image in an image editor.
  5. Insert your image into your ebook file.

How-tos

Here's how to accomplish the steps above:

1. Decide on an image format. Most images can be saved in a variety of formats. JPGs,  PNGs and even GIFs are the recommended formats for ebooks. Line drawings look best when saved as PNGs or GIFs, and photos look best when saved as JPGs.

Save line drawings as PNGs
Save line drawings as GIFs
Save pictures as JPGs

2. Edit your image (optional). I'm not an image editing expert, but I do know that taking a picture in good light or finding a quality image can reduce the amount of image editing you need to do. I also know that the tiniest tweak in image-editing software can sometimes make a big difference to the appearance of a photo. If you're a bit of a hack, like me, you'll keep things simple by cropping, sharpening, and maybe adjusting the light levels of your image.

I like to use Paint.net for image editing because it's free and simple to use. I've also experimented with GIMP (also free), which I've heard is a lot like Photoshop. GIMP is an excellent tool, but I've found that it's a Mercedes when a Volkwagen will do.

Here's how to do some simple image editing in Paint.net:

Crop
  • Cropping: Click on the Select Rectangle tool (see the image on the right) on the Tools bar: Image, Crop to Selection (video)
  • Sharpening: Effects, Photo, Sharpen
  • Adjusting light levels: Adjustments, Brightness/Contrast

3. Resize your image. Ebook distributors have restrictions on how many pixels wide and how many pixels high your image can be. Most distributors can accommodate an image that is a minimum of 300 pixels wide and maximum of 800 pixels high. Check your distributor (Amazon or Lulu, for example) for exact image measurements.

To adjust your image size in Paint.net: Image, Resize and fill in the desired pixel width. Your image will keep its height and width proportions if you have the Maintain aspect ratio box ticked, reducing the chances of a distorted image with that "stretched" or "squashed" look. Play with the height or width so that your image is within your distributor's pixel range.

4. Compress your image. Compressing your image reduces the amount of file space your image will take up. This is important because distributors have restrictions on how big a picture file can be. True, compression slightly reduces the quality, but high quality images are not as necessary for ebooks as they are for print.

You can compress a JPG image in Paint.net by setting the image quality to about 75%. Go to File, Save As, insert a file name and a menu will pop up. Set the Quality slider to 75%. For a PNG, set your image resolution to 72 ppi: Image, Resize, Resolution.

5. Insert your image into your book file. If your book is in Word, insert your image by going to Insert, Picture. Make sure that it's left-justified or inserted "inline." If you're using Jutoh to convert your ebook, this image will travel with your book document when you convert from Word to Jutoh. Otherwise, it's also possible to insert your image directly into Jutoh.

That's it! With the right tools and some simple instructions, including images in your ebook is a snap.

Want to know more about images in ebooks? Check out Aaron Shepard's book, Pictures on Kindle. For help using Paint.net, consult the Paint.net beginner tutorials or the Paint.net manual.

Updated. Originally posted at the Beyond Paper Editing blog.