As 2020 draws to a close, we’re looking forward to all the new book cover design trends we’ll be seeing on bookstore shelves, digital and physical, in 2021.

When you look at the upcoming book cover trends for 2021, you’ll notice a lot of them play with the idea of distorting the image in some way to build suspense. You’ll see illusions and complex images that contain elements that aren’t obvious at first glance. You’ll also see nods to unconventional design styles that haven’t been popular choices for book covers before.

Ready for a sneak peek at what book cover designers will be dreaming up in 2021? Check out the eight book cover design trends that will be filling up your bookshelf:

The top 8 book cover design trends for 2021 are:

Interrupted and partially hidden titles

There’s nothing worse than getting interrupted when you’re in the middle of a good book, right? Well, one of 2021’s top book cover trends plays with just that: interruption and missing a key part of the image.

green and dark blue book cover design of evenly laid thin stones and purple text
Book cover design by BINATANG
dark green book cover with white text partially obscured
Book cover via Amazon. Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux

But unlike getting interrupted while you’re reading, these covers make the reading experience more enjoyable by teasing and tantalizing readers about what’s to come. There are a few different ways designers are working with this trend, like how BeeDee created a design for Through the Shattered Mirror that magnifies certain letters and turns them into mirrors reflecting the image of an eye back at the viewer. Mila also uses broken glass in their design for How to Navigate Darkness, but instead of magnifying certain letters, the glass here obscures them.

black book cover with an image of a light bulb, glass and white text
Book cover design by Mila.
gray book cover with red text and images of eyes and shattered glass
Book cover design by BeeDee.
red book cover with yellow text and an image of a hand
Book cover design by cakamura
image of a tablet showing a white book cover with black text and a mirror frame]
Ebook cover design by Mila.
white book cover with red and black text
Book cover design by Mila.
dark-colored book cover with white text and trees
Book cover design via Barnes and Noble. Published by HarperCollins

All-over patterns

Move over, minimalism—there’s a new book cover trend in town, and it’s LOUD. In 2021, expect to see lots of books with bold all-over patterns across their front and back covers. These covers grab attention and demand you take them off the shelf and read them right now. In a world full of screens and digital distractions, old-school paper-paged books need to be loud if they want to compete for our attention spans. These covers do just that.

medium teal book cover with white text and yellow leaves
Book cover via Amazon. Published by Harper
all-over book cover design in red, pink and white dots
Book cover design via Amazon. Published by Custom House
pink book cover with line-drawn eyes against white circles
Book cover design by Boja
Book cover design by Annie M
book cover covered with intricate yellow and pink pattern
Book cover design by ERosner
rainbow book cover design in vertical stripes
Book cover design by nevergohungry

Blurry covers

Partially hidden titles aren’t the only way book cover designers are building suspense now and through 2021. Another one of the top upcoming book cover design trends is blurry images, which make the viewer feel like they’re looking into an alternate reality.

light-colored book cover showing a woman turned toward a wall of mirrors
Book cover design by n23art
book cover showing a brightly colored, colorblock design
Book cover design via Amazon. Published by Riverhead Books

One thing you’ll notice about these blurry cover designs is that a lot of them incorporate glitch art, a design aesthetic that started picking up traction in web design in 2019. Glitch art rose to prominence as a comment on the strange, futuristic world we’re living in, where we’ve never been more dependent on machines and increasingly cannot imagine functioning in a world without them. That’s still true and in 2021, book cover designers will keep playing with that idea.

book cover showing a woman’s face in the clouds, partially obscured by text
Book cover design via Amazon. Published by MCD
book cover in shades of blue with a face and yellow text
Book cover design by hortasar
distorted image of a old fashioned car against blues and pinks
Book cover design by Alek
glitch art design in mostly shades of purple, showing a woman’s face
Book cover design by Adrenaline Design

Title and imagery as one

Somewhat similar to the trend of disrupting and partially obscuring letters in the book’s title, this book cover trend replaces letters with objects to connect the book’s title with the cover’s imagery.

yellow book cover with gray and white text and a paper ball for the letter O
Book cover design by arte digital graphics

Some of these designs replace letters with literal objects, like in arte digital graphics’ design for Thrown Off Script. Others replace them with abstract objects, like the lines signifying a staircase that aksamantra used to replace the E’s in their design for When Women Lead. And then there are others where all the text is some element of the design, like in BINATANG’s design for You Only Get What you Order.

white book cover with black text and an abstract door within the text
Book cover design by Boja
yellow book cover with an oil lamp and text comprised of the pink smoke from it
Book cover design by BINATANG
tan book cover with red text and a steak with a long fork in it
Book cover design by alehandro Petrovic
blue book cover with yellow text and an illustration of a woman standing in a doorframe
Book cover design by aksaramantra

Illusion of depth

On a flat surface like a book cover, you’ve got to be creative with colors, shapes and textures to create the illusion of depth. And that’s exactly what book cover designers will be doing in 2021 with this trend.

white book cover with a design that looks like descent through layers of paper
Book cover design by Hortasar
tan book cover with red text and a torn-away image revealing a woman’s eyes
Book cover via Amazon. Published by Custom House

By creating depth on a book’s cover, the designer draws readers into the book’s pages. This kind of design communicates to readers that there’s depth within the book they’re holding in their hands, like Hortasar does in their design for Tainted Canvas. The design doesn’t have to look like something that’s literally deep, like a cave or the ocean (though this is certainly an option!); it can also be playful and abstract, like the torn-back paper design for The Talented Miss Farwell. In other examples, like YU_’s design for The Art of Loving Yourself, the designer creates the illusion of depth through perspective.

black book cover with yellow papercut image of a man looking into a landscape
Book cover design by Super South Studios
book cover with gun shot hole
Book cover design by Ivanol.

Surrealism

2020 felt like a dream. Not a pleasant, dreamy dream, more like being trapped in a groundhog day-esque nightmare scenario. And so, in 2021, one of the biggest book cover trends (and design trends in a more general sense) is surrealism: creating a sense that you’re having an unreal experience, like you’ve stepped out of reality.

white book cover with a distorted image of a man’s face and text]
Book cover design by Mila.
dark book cover with an image of a rainbow ladder and a lamb at its base
Book cover via Amazon. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

As you take a look at all the design trends that will dominate 2021, you’ll notice a lot of them are direct responses to the experiences we all had in 2020. Surrealist design will become popular in places other than books, like in illustrations for packaging, album covers or t-shirts. Other trends, like maxed-out geometric designs, will also become popular in multiple categories.

gray book cover with black text and an illustrated image of a distorted sculpture
Book cover design by Boja
book cover showing a woman’s face in mirror shards
Book cover via Amazon. Published by Riverhead

Rough sketches on covers

In contrast to the complex and tech-inspired book cover trends like all-over patterns and glitchy blurred images, some designers are taking cover designs in the opposite direction: rough sketches that look like they came straight out of an artist’s sketchpad.

white book cover with black line image of two men and text highlighted in red
Book cover design by Boja
blue book cover with an image of a foot underwater
Book cover design by Juh D

These covers have a rough, raw feel that shows readers what to expect from the stories inside. They’re stories direct from their authors’ hearts, stories that share a piece of their authors’ souls with readers. The covers working with this trend feature a wide range of different techniques: some are going for a scribbled or smooth pencil effect while others aim for an artistic watercolor sketch look. No matter what style the designer chooses, these book covers have a distinctly unique feel to them.

Book cover design by Juh D
Book cover design by hortasar
Book cover design by rejenne
Book cover design by Maria Stoian

Pixel art

In 2021, what’s old is new again—at least when it comes to book covers. One interesting development is designers getting inspired by design elements and styles borrowed from the infancy of modern technology, and in 2021, we’ll see them playing with the contrasts between analogue and digital media using pixel art, lines of code and computer typography.

light blue book cover with 8-bit yellow text, designed like a Pacman level
Book cover design by BINATANG
white book cover with yellow 8-bit text
Book cover design by GSPH

Simply put, it’s a cool aesthetic. And it’s a broadly appealing aesthetic, particularly to Gen X and Millennials (who sure do love them some nostalgia!) It’s also an aesthetic that hasn’t been a common concept for book covers before now, which makes it feel fresh and new despite emulating an old-school aesthetic.

Book cover design by GSPH
Via MCD
black book cover with yellow text that looks like code
Book cover design by Gandalf

Ready for the book cover trends of 2021?

Echoing what we’re seeing in almost every aspect of graphic design, book cover design trends will be defined by creativity and contrast. We’ll see designers playing with unique effects, illustrations, colors, patterns, lettering and more. It’s safe to say that we’re in for an exciting year in book cover design. We can’t wait to crack the spines and jump right in!

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