Beyond Book Covers

It’s no secret that we judge books by their covers (hopefully only on bookstore shelves and not in everyday life!) so why haven’t more publishers improved the appeal of this gateway to their content? In the age of eBooks, which enable content to be conveniently distributed and sold in bytes versus atoms, publishers are being forced to innovate the design and production of printed books. Whether they like it or not, they must to add value to physical books and offer more than a casing for the content inside. Thankfully, there are some expertly creative souls in the publishing world who have produced covers that scream, “Pick me up! I want to be read!” Here we examine three examples of expertly crafted book covers that quite literally take their designs to the next level.

Tactile Sensory Covers

Ruckus Books is a publishing company with something very different to offer consumers. They create and distribute complete 3D sensory books that are designed for adults instead of children. Their products look and feel like subject matter featured inside and their catalogue includes books in the shape of a bottle of wine, a handbag, and a vinyl record, to name a few. These incredibly unique book covers look and feel completely different than any other informational product beside them on store shelves, transforming the book from a place to contain content into a showpiece to share with friends. Check out The World of Wine book here:

Multi-Purpose Dust Jacket

Dust jackets are an integral component of hardcover books to protect the delicate case underneath. While most dust jackets do an excellent job protecting the case, many fall short of their full potential. Brewed Awakening: Behind the Beers and Brewers Leading the World’s Craft Beer Revolution by Joshua M. Bernstein and published by Sterling Epicure, features a fold out map on the reverse side of the dust jacket. The map reveals a guide to the taxonomy of beer, including the two major categories, ale and lager, with subcategory offshoots and examples of craft beer offerings from around the world. This is not only a unique design feature that makes the reader want to learn more about the content inside the book, but it also provides a very visual understanding of how subcategories of beer are connected to one another; something that would be difficult within the pages of the book. The slip cover method also allows the map to be transported without the book (unlike a foldout insert) and it is a simple way that the publisher has added value to this book product.

3D Printed Book Cover

The limited edition of On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee and published by Riverhead Books, received a lot of mainstream media attention when it was first announced in January 2014. This was the first-ever 3D printed slipcase for a book, which envelops about three quarters of the cover and was printed by Makerbot machines. The storyline of the novel takes place in the future, and so the publishers wanted to carry the theme through to the cover in a way that had never been done before. The cover itself features simple typographic design, using the modified styling of the Futura typeface. The 3D printed slipcase fits seamlessly with the typography as it gradually extends off the cover. This is a really interesting idea, however there are some very practical drawbacks.

Drawback #1: Each slipcase took approximately 15 hours to print. Running at maximum capacity and around the clock on one machine, it would take an astounding four months to print the meager 200 copies that were made available for sale. The limited edition slipcases sold for $150 each.

Drawback #2: Although books have existed a simple rectangular blocks for centuries, it’s not likely that book covers will make the huge leap in evolution to exist in 3D form anytime soon, if for no other reason that they would be logistically difficult to pack, store, and shelve because of the non-uniform shape.

Watch a video all about this 3D printed slip case at:

All of these examples demonstrate the evolution of book cover designs and the future of value-added product design in this industry. In an age where just about any information can easily be searched and found online, it’s clear that there is still a demand for expertly curated content available in a physical format that captivates readers’ imaginations. eBooks and digital content are becoming ever more popular in our society.  However, unique book products are just as relevant for different reasons.  Long live the book!


Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.