The Meaning of Color in Book Cover Design

QUOTE_colorBy Abigail Carter

We have all heard that consumers look at a product for mere seconds before making their buying decision and thus we all want our book covers to stand out. With my upcoming novel, I am embarking down the path of getting a book cover designed. A good friend, painter Sheri Bakes was my inspiration when writing one of my characters, so when I started to think about a cover, I thought it would be cool to commission her to do a painting. Sweetly she obliged, refusing the commission, insisting it would be a gift. I am beyond excited to be seeing the painting in progress.

Of course, I also know I am probably falling into the trap of a lot of authors in trying to orchestrate my own book cover. I have no intention of designing it myself (I have Writer.ly for that), but I do want to understand what makes a good cover. I should have learned this already from my mother, a book designer. Certainly, I know a lot more than most. But I’m interested in the finer details – things perhaps you learn in design school.

There is lots of knowledge about the psychology of colors as they are used in marketing. We all know, for instance that red attracts. We have so little time to convey a message about our books, that color is a good way to get that message across. Here is a little more information on the psychology of color as it pertains to book cover design:


Sunshine, laughter, happiness is yellow. Yellow is the most attention-getting color which is why it is used on cautionary road signs. It is known to raise serotonin levels in the brain inspiring creativity, but too much and it becomes fatiguing to the eye due to the amount of light being reflected back. For this reason, it can be an anger-invoking color which is why people are more likely to lose their tempers and babies are more likely to cry in yellow rooms. In book design, yellow is used sparingly to grab attention.


Similar to yellow, this color is tied to warmth, adventure, enthusiasm and like red, it is often used by marketers to attract attention but must be used in moderation as it can overwhelm. The right shade can convey affordability, confidence and independence. Orange is well responded to by children and young adults.


This is a color that elicits strong emotion – anger, love, excitement, intensity. It is known in marketing to create urgency in buyers by increasing a person’s heart rate. In a cover design, it can make important information such as a title pop.


A hue of red, pink is associated with love, romance and the feminine which is why it is used mostly on covers marketed to women. It is a positive color that gives signs of hope (think cancer) and inspires appreciation, respect and admiration. Rooms painted pink are known to calm, but over prolonged periods of time can lead to feelings of agitation. Combining pink with dark colours such as black or gray can infuse it with a dash of sophistication.


The color of monarchy, royalty, wisdom and spirituality, purple can lend an air of respect, but also mystery. Purple is a color of originality and individualism and commands respect. It’s purple’s sense of magic and fantasy that leads many fantasy book designs to use the color heavily.


Blue is associated with dependability and wisdom (think banks), loyalty and honor (hence blue police uniforms). It inspires higher ideals and people are found to be most focused and productive in blue rooms. Most shades of blue have a calming effect on the body, though some shades have the opposite effect. It is the most universally liked color and suggests both safety and success. There is a reason many business-related books use the color blue.


A calming, positive colour that’s pleasing to the senses, whose lighter shades are associated with nature, fertility, balance and harmony. It encourages generosity, kindness and sympathy. In darker shades, green conveys wealth, greed, envy and selfishness. Books well suited to green are usually seen in genres such as environment, health, finance and spirituality.


Brown is a down-to-earth color representing stability, structure and support. It relates to quality and comfort, and is honest, genuine and sincere. It can also be sensual (hello chocolate!), embracing a spirit of comfort and support. For men, this color can represent reliability, strength, security and practicality, whereas for women it can be seen as dirty or boring.


Gray is an unemotional color and thus is a neutral. It is associated with practicality, dependability, conformity. It can balance other colors and tone them down. Too much and it can convey depression, grief and sadness, but adding color will reverse this effect.


Black conveys strength, power, authority and intelligence which is often why it is used in luxury product packaging. It also represents death and grief which is likely why, in publishing it is often used in the Mystery/Thriller/Sci-Fi genres.


We all know that white is the color of innocence and purity. In marketing it can convey a sense of calm, space, peacefulness but it can also exude feelings of coldness or sterility. So in a cover design, white can create space and thus an idea of calm which can feel inviting and contemporary, but too much and you risk being sterile and cold.

Now that you’re armed with the meanings of color, take a look at your favorite covers and reassess their meanings and the sense and feelings in you that they produce. This will be valuable information when it comes to assessing your own covers.

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  1. I’ve seen numerous cover designs recently with a greyscale background scene and some version of red letters superimposed. Although they look striking, so many authors are using them that they’ve lost some of their impact.