How to design a thesis cover

This article was recently translated to English. Translating the images is still on my todo-list 😉

You want your dissertation to look great. But you also want to make it yourself…

That’s certainly possible!

Designing a thesis cover isn’t that complicated, but there are a lot of things to take in account. I’ve designed a few and the basics are always the same.

This article shows you the steps and guides you throught the process of designing a cover.

You can do this!

Where to start

Do you have an idea for your cover? Or an example you like? That’s a great starting point.

What if you lack inspiration?

Well, think about what you want to show on your cover. Look at other theses. What do others in your field and faculty use? What do you like? What don’t you like?

  • Can you show the core of your research with an image or figure? Or can you show it in a metaphoric or abstract way?
  • Is there a 3D-model you can use or adjust?
  • Can you photograph your (lab) setup? Or something you work with? Or a detail from it?
  • Do you like certain colors or color combinations? Or certain fonts?

It’s useful to make an overview of your wishes. So you can use that while designing your cover.

WHAT do you actually want to make?

You know what your cover has to look like, but what is it you want to make? What does a printing company expects you to deliver? And which information do you need for that?

I will explain it all. We will start by collecting and structuring the information you need.

What do you put on the cover of a thesis?

A cover usually has the following elements:

  • The title of your research
  • Your full first and last name
  • The logo of your university
  • An ISBN-barcode (optional)
  • A background image

Layout

The printer expects you to supply the cover and the content (interior) as seperate files. The cover needs to be on one page:

  • The back at the left
  • The front at the right
  • And the spine in the middle
Cover thesis layout for printing

That maybe seems weird, because you’re used to work from left to right. But open up a book and look at the cover. The back is at the left, then the spine and the front is at the right. 🤯

The title and your name are on the front. Your university and the ISBN-barcode on the back. Repeat your name and title on the spine.

Format

The default (Dutch) format of a dissertation is 17 × 24 centimeters. But that is only one side. The printer needs the front, spine and back on one page.

Hoe groot is de cover van een proefschrift?
What is the size of a thesis cover?
  • Width: 34 centimeter (2 x 17 cm) + spine width
  • Height: 24 centimeter

Bleed

Bleed

Your thesis cover is printed on a big sheet of paper. Which is then cut in the right size. A machine does the cutting. But machines have small deviations.

This means that cuts are not always exactly on the edge, which can result in unprinted paper at the edges.

How to fix unprinted edges?

The solution is to design your cover a few millimeters bigger. The extra millimeters you add is called bleed. 3 or 5 mm is a regular bleed for covers.

Spine width

The spine width depends on the number of pages, the type of paper and the binding method.

I advise to start designing your cover when you – sort of – know the amount of pages. Because when you change your page count, the spine width also changes. That means that all elements on the spine and front also have to be aligned again.

The less adjustments, the better.

Portable Document Format (PDF)

Printers prefer PDF-format. Because it renders the same everywhere.

What do you use to design a thesis cover?

You’ve chosen what you want to design, have all the information and know what a printing company needs. But how do you create that?

You can actually create a cover with a every program that let’s you:

  • set page size
  • set bleed
  • exports to PDF

The general name for such a program is Desktop Publishing (DTP) program. The abbreviation probably dates back from the time when desktop was two words. It often also works on a laptop.

Do you know or have such a program? Then use that! That gives the fastest results. If you don’t know a DTP-program yet:

These programs are suitable to design a thesis cover:

  • Adobe InDesign (the best option) – download here
  • Scribus (the cheapest option) – download here
  • Have it done (the quickest option)
    • Sometimes the printing company also offers a cover design at a favorable price.
    • But you probably want to make it yourself. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.

Which document settings to use when creating a cover

When you create a new document you can setup a lot of things. The options are different per program, but these settings are commonly used by every program:

  • Set the width to 34 centimeter + spine width
  • Set the height to 24 centimeter
  • Set the bleed to 5 millimeter
  • Set the color space to CMYK
  • Set the margins/slug to 15 millimeter

When you created the document you can add guide lines. I always add guides for the spine. Add a guide at 17 centimeters from the left; and one 17 centimeters from the right.

These are the steps I use designing a thesis cover

When I design a cover I alway start with a background. An image first, then a semi-transparent color over it, then the text, logo and ISBN.

Image

First I fill the whole page with an image. Note that the image has enough resolution. If the image has less than 300 dots per inch (DPI), the image becomes unclear and pixelated on paper.

At this moment it doesn’t matter if the image is placed precisely, that can be adjusted later. Lock this layer if that’s possible.

Image via https://unsplash.com/photos/5YM26lUicfU

Color

Now I fill the whole page with a colored rectangle. This is to create enough contrast between the text and the background. I often use opacity between 75% – 90% . Make sure that you can still see the image underneath it. Dark colors work best.

Also lock this layer if possible.

Text, logo & ISBN

Title

Now we add the title in the right top. The color white works best considering contrast. Eventually you can use another color for the linking verbs.

I always align the title right on the right margin.

Choose a good font. In this example I used Futura. If you have a long title you can also use Rift. That font is a bit more narrow. So you can fit more letters in a smaller space.

You can find a lot of good free fonts at fonts.google.com

Name

Add your name at the bottom right. Use a color that complements the background.

Use the same font that you used for the title. Otherwise the design seems unsettling.

Align your name on the margin right (and bottom).

Spine

Also add the title and your name on the spine. Use the same colors you used with the title and your name. I always align the text on the center of the spine.

If you can make the text start at the top margin and end at the bottom margin, it looks the most balanced. But that is not always possible.

Logo

Add the logo of your university on the back. I always use the white variant, because of contrast. Oftentimes your university offers a white variant of the logo on the corporate identity page.

ISBN

Add the ISBN-barcode on the back. I always place the barcode on a white rectangle background. The more contrast, the more scannable by machine.

Tweak

All the elements are on the cover now. It’s possible that the background image has the wrong placement. Or that the opacity of the color doesn’t work. Just tweak it a little bit. If you’re satisfied you can export the cover.

Export

Use these settings for exporting:

  • PDF 1.4
  • Include bleed

Have you chosen a printing company yet? If yes: ask which export setting you can use best. If a printer really can’t work with your file they will let you know. If you’re lucky they also let you know what to change to fix it.

Proof

A lot of printing companies first send you a proof (print) of your dissertation. That means you have a moment to check if everything goes right. Often the colors are a bit different on paper. Does your cover has enough contrast? Is everything readable? No pixelated/blurry images?

It isn’t very useful to print a proof at home to preview the colors. Because the printing company doesn’t print the thesis from your printer at home.

Closing words

I hope this article helped you succeed in making a cover for your dissertation. Do you thing something is unclear, or do you have any questions? Please let me know in a comment or send an e-mail to albert@coverprof.com .