Pictures in Your Book

“I’d love to include some photos and illustrations in my book. What do I need to know before I contact my graphic artist or start shopping on a stock photo site?”

In my hands, I have a 1965 edition of Trixie Belden and the Mystery of the Emeralds. One of the pages has a full-colour illustration that goes right to the edge. A different book, a Sherlock Holmes this time, has small vignettes by Sidney Paget in pen and ink to enhance the story. My book about artist Mary Cassatt has glossy photos of her family and full-colour images of her art.

Illustrations and photographs have long been used by traditional publishers to give that extra cachet to books.

Can a self-publisher do it, too?

Yes… but….

You knew that was coming, didn’t you?

Here’s what you need to know about using photographs and illustrations in your book.

Grayscale vs Colour

Print Books

It costs more to print in colour than grayscale (shades of grey) and this cost is passed on to your reader. Typically, if one page is colour (cover excluded),  ALL pages are printed in colour even though there are no images on a given page.

If you want colour pages to be inserted randomly or as a section, find a local printer who’ll accommodate you, but expect to pay even more.

Print Cost Minimum List Price
IngramSpark B&W $4.60 $11.99
IngramSpark Colour $10.60 $23.99
KDP Exp. Dist. B&W $4.45 $13.99
KDP Exp. Dist. Colour $14.85 $57.99

Note: Estimates are calculated using tools provided by the distributors, and are based on a 300 page book with at least a $1 profit.

BTW, do you find that $57.99 KDP Expanded Distribution minimum list price as shocking as I do? I ran the estimate a couple of times to make sure it was right. For more info on pricing, see Pricing Your Print Book.

Have your graphic artist show you what your images will look like in grayscale, especially photographs. Some adjustment may be required to prevent murkiness. Print the adjusted photos on a black and white (monochrome) printer to preview how they will turn out.

Your Friendly Formatter can change an image to grayscale using Microsoft Word functions. ALWAYS request a proof to see what’s actually printed.


There are millions of book-reading devices out there, e-readers, phones, tablets. Phones and tablets will show colour images in all their glory. Many e-readers will show images in black and white regardless of their original form.

Formatting the books is the same regardless of image colouring.


Print Books

This refers to the quality of the image. Computers measure it in pixels per inch (PPI). Printers measure it in dots per inch (DPI). The two terms are used, incorrectly, interchangeably.

Photographs (including head shots) must be created at 300 PPI. Check the setting on your camera and scanner for high-quality images. Line drawings (including images at scene breaks) require 600 PPI to get those lines nice and crisp.

There’s an in-depth discussion here about pixels and dots.


There’s a huge variety of  PPIs depending on the device.  Many reading devices will alter the image for best presentation on that device. 300 PPI is the standard used during formatting.

size Matters

Print Books

The standard print book has a trim size 6″ x 9″. Inside the standard margins (.75″ top, .5″ sides and bottom, .16″ gutter), the maximum image size is 4.84″ x 7.75″.

Do consider how the illustration will be presented.

If you click on the image to enlarge it, the crop marks show where the margins lie. The split map in Figure 2 looks great. The full map in Figure 3 has lots of room to spare but to use it up, the map would be distorted.

Note: The gutter is extra width added to the inside margin to accommodate the binding of the book so you won’t have to break the spine to fully view the content. You can see it on the left side in Figure 3. It’s there in Figure 2, but we’re so accustomed to it, that we don’t see it; the pages look perfectly balanced.

Before you commission original art, discuss the final layout and dimensions with the artist. Pay attention to where, precisely, the image will be split so important words and elements aren’t awkwardly severed.


The recommended width for images is 600 pixels to ensure reasonable-sized files that download quickly. So, your image may not fill the device’s screen and it may also be hard to read as shown in Figure 4. If the device doesn’t provide zooming, your readers will have to accept the image as is.

Split-page presentation is an option, though the constant flipping back and forth might annoy a reader; unless they’re on a tablet that allows a two-page spread.

Debate is still raging about the best width to height ratio to use. At the moment there are eight ratios in use; 4:3 and 8:5 seem to be winning the race.

Consider offering a full-colour, full-size illustration as swag on your website or gifts for your street team.


Print books

An image can be created to go beyond the margins like my mock-up of a wine book shown at the top of the page. This is bleed.  The image will be cropped 1/8″ to 1/4″ on the top, outer edge, and bottom during printing. Also consider what will fall into the gutter at the bound edge of the book.

When the image is contained within the margins, this is no bleed.  The image can be either a vignette with no border,  or be enclosed within a border or frame, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Using a vignette on a title page, chapter open page, and as an ornament in a colour section


The presentation of images in an ebook depends on the formatting of the ebook file and the device on which it is viewed.

Bleed is a bad thing as some ereaders will arbitrarily crop the image, some will show portions on subsequent pages, others will downsize the image to fit. As mentioned in the discussion on size, images present best when loaded at 600 pixels in width.

In the ebook version of Game On, only the title page retained its ship. The photographs were each presented on their own page with simple black lines for frames instead of the byte-eating coloured frames in the print book.


IngramSpark Publisher Compensation Calculator
Kindle Direct Publishing Paperback Royalties

Device Display Resolution Chart