By Josias Jensen
I’ve always been told never to judge a book by its cover. But when it comes to prop books for movies the opposite is true!
Production design and authentic looking props, is an important part of the filmmaking process. I want to show you how you can make a prop book for your film, in an easy and inexpensive way.
All you’ll need is:
- a decent photo editing app like photoshop
- a book
- A4 sized paper or any other paper size that will fit your book
- a glue stick
- a sharp knife
- access to a printer.
Find the right book.
The first step in the process is finding a book that is the right size and shape. Take into consideration what kind of book it is supposed to be/represent. Is it supposed to be a biography? Then it might serve you best to find a thick book. Is it meant to be a novel? Find a smaller and more portable one etc.
The book I will show you how to make, is the typical shape and size of a novel. You don’t have to use a brand new book, you can use an old one as long as it is not falling apart.
Choosing smaller books is a slightly easier process because an A4 sized paper can cover the whole outer surface of the book. If you choose to use a bigger book, you will have to use multiple A4’s or use an even bigger paper size. In this article I will use an A4 but many of the same principles apply if your were to use a bigger book or any other paper size. You just need to make sure that your printer supports the paper size you have chosen.
Measuring the dimensions of the book will help you when you create a visual design for it. The dimensions you need to record are the width, height and thickness.
You can use these measurements to create a template/boundaries for the design. Because we are using one sheet of A4 to cover the whole book, the whole design will be in one piece. This means that you are basically creating a design that is one big rectangle. In the middle of that rectangle is where the spine of the book will be.
In the picture above there are three rectangles that together form one big rectangle. (the back, front and spine of the book each being a rectangle).
Use the dimensions for your design.
To create the design of the book cover, I used Photoshop but many of the principles and methods would be the same with different software. Create a new project/backdrop with the dimensions of your paper of choice. My paper was an A4 with the dimensions; 297 mm width and 210 mm height. Choose a decently high resolution, I chose 300 dpi.
Draw the rectangles you saw earlier using the shape tool. The fastest way to do this is to create one big rectangle representing the whole outer surface area of the book, and then a smaller one representing the spine of the book.
The width of the big rectangle will be the width of the book, multiplied by two, plus the thickness of the book (2 x width + depth). The book I used was 128 mm wide and 14 mm thick, which made the width of my rectangle 270 mm.
The height of the rectangle is the same as the height of the book. The dimensions of my rectangle were 270 mm x 197 mm. Because Photoshop shows you the dimensions of the rectangle you are drawing, getting the dimensions right is easy.
Create the smaller rectangle representing the spine of the book. Here you must use the height of the book and the thickness of the book for your dimensions. My small rectangle was 14 mm x 197 mm.
Center both rectangles.
These rectangles will only be used to make it easier for you to create the design, so that you know what elements to put where. As soon as you have finished the design, you can make the layers you used to for the rectangles invisible so the rectangles don’t show up on the final design.
This part I will not cover in great detail, as it would simply take too long. However there are plenty of great tutorials for you to learn how to do basic graphic design.
Instead I will give you a basic guide to what you should take into consideration when you design your book cover, as well as some basic steps in the design process.
One of the first things to think of is what kind of texture you would like the cover to have. Is it meant to be a brand new book? Is it meant to be old? Look at books that are similar to the one you want to make and get a feel for what the texture is like.
Then search for images of different materials that resemble the texture you are looking for. For my book I found a photo of some old paper that I then choose to layer with a different colour.
I desaturated it completely and lowered the opacity, put it on top of a layer of orange. This resulted in a slightly vintage and used look.
You can play around with different colours, multiple layers and how they interact with each other, to create the desired effect.
The next step in the design process is creating the lettering, adding any images or logos you would want and the barcode. Most books will at least have the title and author on the front page. On the spine you will most often find the title, author and publisher. On the back there is usually a short synopsis, possibly some quotes, the publisher and the barcode.
This is just a guide, have a look at books in a similar style or genre to see what they include on the cover.
I chose a very simplistic and vintage inspired style for my design. I encourage you to experiment and put effort into this process, the sky’s the limit. Before you export this project make sure you make the layers you used to draw the rectangles invisible so they don’t show up on the final print.
Print the book cover using a colour printer. You might find the printer has given your book cover a slightly different hue or brightness than on your screen. In that case you can go back to your design and make adjustments to make sure you get the look right. Mine turned out a bit darker and more contrasty than on screen, which in this case is ok.
If your book is supposed to look quite old and worn you can age it using coffee or tea before glueing it to the book of your choice. This can be done by gently pouring tea or coffee on the paper (covering the whole surface) and letting it dry.
Before you glue the cover to the book, it is important that everything is lined up correctly. Make sure the writing for the spine is as close to the middle of the spine as possible (or where ever you intend it to be). Then gently push the cover against the spine forming a gentle fold on either side. This fold will help you keep the cover in the right place when you glue it.
The next step requires a bit of care to get right. Throughout this part of the process you must make sure the cover stays aligned with the spine by holding the cover in place.
Gently put the book down and lift up the cover at the front of the book. Put glue on the right side of the front of the book and press the cover against it.
Cover the whole surface with glue. Throughout the whole process it is better to cover the whole surface of the book rather than smaller spots. This way bubbles and strange folds won’t form later.
If you see any air pockets push them out with your hands or a ruler. Always push the air pockets out towards the edge. This is something you will have to watch out for throughout the whole glueing process.
Once this part of the cover is in place it is a bit easier to maintain the proper alignment of the cover.
Lift up the rest of the cover while holding the cover in place where it has already been glued. Apply glue to the rest of the front of the book and press the cover against it. Make sure there is glue right up to the edge of the spine.
Carefully place the book front facing down. Apply glue to the part of the cover that will stick to the spine as well as the edge and the area on the back of the book close to the spine.
Cover the rest of the back of the book with glue and press the rest of the cover against it. Before moving on to the next step, make sure you have pushed out any air pockets.
As you can see in the photo above, the cover is bigger than the book. This means you have to perform a few cuts and folds to make it the right size.
Make a cut at the exact spot where the book folds. Cut it right to the original cover of the book. With my book this spot was actually not in the same spot where the spine ends. I’ve found that a sharp scissor is the easiest tool to use for this.
The reason why you must cut it right at the fold, is so that the part of the cover that is attached to the front of the book can be folded onto the inside of the original cover.
Do the same thing for the other side.
Cut the corners of the cover like in the picture shown above. I got a little trigger happy and cut off a little bit too much. If you want the inner fold to look good, cut it in an exact 45 degree angle and cut it gradually until the fold looks the way you would like.
Apply glue to the parts of the cover that are exposed and fold them inwards gently. Make sure that your fold lines up with the edge of the original cover as well as possible.
Do the exact same thing for the back of the book (cutting and folding). When you have done that you will notice there are still bits sticking out by the spine of the book. Rather than cutting these with a scissor (which would make it difficult to cut it right to the edge of the spine), use a sharp knife.
Cut it gently and cut it right to the edge. As soon as you have cut these you are basically done!
A character in your film may be interacting with the book in a way where we see the inside of the front and back. If you dislike the look of the folds, you can glue a clean sheet of paper to these to cover the folds in whichever way you would like.
Alternatively you can cut your cover right to the edge of the original cover all the way round instead of folding it. If you do this you need to make sure that you have glued the edges well. There is a slightly higher risk that the edges of your cover will tear or separate from the original.