29 March 2024

How to Turn Your Book Cover into Matchbox Art

I live in a town that sports a stupid amount of gift shops. Such abundance delights the tourists, and keeps the economic engine of this little mountain town purring. Some years ago, my wife picked up two handmade items in one of those shops that we keep on a side table in the living room. They are matchboxes decorated with the covers of vintage mystery novels. They’re so adorable that we never use them, preferring to light candles with an electric gooseneck lighter made by Zippo. The matchboxes just sit there, looking pretty.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve handled them over the years, wondering how hard it would be to turn one of my book covers into an equally cute piece of decor. Turns out, it’s really easy.

  • To decorate your living spaces
  • To give as gifts (they make nice Christmas tree ornaments, as I’ll shortly reveal)
  • To offer as swag to book clubs or fans
  • To appease the insatiable gods of book promotion
Now, yes, it is much simpler to print bookmarks, bookplates, and the like than it is to create handmade matchbox art. But the process is so straightforward (and cheap) that you could assembly-line the whole process, pressing the kids and grandkids into service, and whip up a sizable batch that will delight family members and others who have supported your books over the years. You could also surprise author friends with matchboxes featuring their books. These days people are over-wowed by handmade items.

Matchboxes (a typical 10-pack of 32-count wooden matches costs about $5 at a supermarket.)
A few sheets of white card stock
Chisel-tip markers or paint
Glue (Elmer’s, contact cement, glue gun, glue stick, etc.)
Scissors or X-Acto knife
5-inch piece of ribbon or twine (optional)
A high-res .jpg or .tiff file of book cover
Computer and printer
An accountant to write off these business expenses

1. How lucky we are that the dimensions of the wooden-match matchbox conforms so well to those of the standard book cover! Before you start, measure the width of your matchbox. I’m betting it’s 1.25 inches. (Regardless of the size of yours, round down to the nearest quarter inch to simplify your life.)

Look, ma! I'm a hand model!

2. Dash to your computer. Find the .jpg or .tiff file of your book cover. (You must use a high-resolution version.) Duplicate the file so that the original remains pristine. Double-click on the file copy, and it will most likely open in Acrobat or Preview, depending on your system. Choose “Adjust Size” from the dropdown menu.

3. You’ll be presented with the dimensions of the current image. Ensure that the width and height are “locked” and that you are working in inches.

4. Change the width of the image to the width of the matchbox. (I typed 1.25 inches in the Width box.) When you do this, the Height will change to the appropriate proportional dimension. Ensure that the resolution is somewhere between 200 and 300 pixels/inch. If the software tells you that cannot perform this operation until you convert to a .tiff file, agree to the conversion and name the resulting file. We’ll wait while you open the new file, adjust the size of the image, and change the pixels.

5. Either way, once you’ve adjusted the size, hit OK.

6. Open the new file. It will look smaller, but not necessarily matchbox sized.

7. From your File menu, choose print. You’ll get a dialog box that shows how your cover will print—a tiny matchbox cover embedded in the center of a giant sheet of white paper. If you’re just making one match box, you’re probably going to have to sacrifice this one sheet of paper to the tree gods.

Yes, folks, Murder, Neat is a little masterpiece.

8. If you’re moving beyond a single prototype, let me assure you that you can use software such as Canva (free), Pages (for Mac; paid), or some other design program to “tile” your new file on a single sheet of paper, so you can print, say, 16 mini-covers on a single sheet in one fell swoop. This will work as long as the image you tile conforms to the new matchbox dimensions. Go ahead and print your file on card stock.

9. Away to the workbench! With paintbrush or markers, prettify your matchbox to hide the manufacturer’s logo and other details. I used acrylic paint markers, but Sharpie glitter or metallic markers are fine too. (A fat “chisel-tip” marker covers a lot of terrain at one stroke.) Regardless of what you do, you’re probably not going to be able to disguise all of the print on the box. That’s okay. The ones sold in gift shops look just like yours.

10. Paint carefully around the strike zone so the wooden matches can still be used.

11. Allow each painted side of the box to dry before moving to the next.

12. Feel like painting the internal drawer that holds the matches? Go to town.

13. Cut out your book cover with scissors or an Xacto knife.

14. Apply glue to the blank side of the book cover. Gently affix the cover to the box. Let dry. 

That’s it! You’re done. Unless, of course, you want to upscale the heck out of this project…

15. Fold your optional ribbon in half and glue the ends. 

When dry, glue the ends to the inside bottom of the matchbox drawer.

When dry, you now have a loop from which you can hang the box. A wire hook is all you need to display the “book” on your Christmas tree, for example.


Paint the matchbox a color that will contrast nicely with the predominant color of the book cover. If you need help picking a color, squint and see which colors pop out at you.

Here’s what I mean:

Since the cover of our recent (and most excellent SleuthSayers anthology) Murder, Neat is largely black, I painted the box red, which makes the black pop, and echoes the color of the title font.

I used red again to echo the cherry on the cover of my book.

I’ve always loved the cover of editor Josh Pachter’s Jimmy Buffett anthology, but the cover would disappear against the backdrop of an equally orange box. So I contrasted the cover against the blue of the parrot’s wing. (Call me crazy, but I think a margarita-green color would have also worked.)

The cover of Art Taylor’s On the Road With Del & Louise presents a challenge. The biggest fields of color are teal, orange, and red. If I had chosen one of those colors for the box, sections of the cover would have faded into the background. I went with basic black, which echoes the asphalt of the road depicted on the cover. He said hopefully.

I’m sure that a professional crafter would be able to crank out far more competent work, which is why they’re selling them in gift shops! My scissor skills are not the greatest, and my cover placement could be straighter. But I’m happy with how these turned out. If nothing else, they have enlarged my understanding of what is meant by the craft of writing.

If you need more inspiration, you will find countless videos on YouTube by searching under Matchbox Art.

Join me in three weeks when I will show you how to assemble an FBI-grade forensics kit using only a cereal box, a can of motor oil, and a banana!

* * *

I’m out of here. You know where to find me.

They don't let you smoke in bars anymore.
Yet they still give away matchboxes. Go figure.


  1. Great idea! And thanks for the shoutout to The Great Filling Station Holdup. I really like that cover, too!

    1. Thanks, Josh. Definitely an odd post for this space, but why not?

  2. Elizabeth Dearborn29 March, 2024 14:15

    I still smoked cigarettes back when I published my books! But if I ever get a color laser printer (no more inkjet crap for me), I just might give it a try anyway!

  3. Brilliant idea.

  4. Love this idea!!! I'd also like to know how you set up your page scroll with the blood splatter icon. Very cool.


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