two samples of how to make an album cover

How to make an album cover

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Your songs are mastered, your tracks are ordered, you’ve got a killer album name picked out, and you’re just about ready to send your master to Disc Makers for CD manufacturing and disc duplication. One last major step? Creating cover art that will communicate your artistic vision and grab listeners’ attention in multiple contexts. How do you make it happen?

From color and typography to imagery and style, the choices you make when creating your album cover art can help your music shine. Here are three easy steps to help you get there.

What makes a great album cover?

Glad you asked!

  1. Great album covers grab people’s attention and make them want to find out more about the artist and music.
  2. Strong album artwork amplifies your artistic vision and reflects the character of the artist and music.
  3. An effective album cover is memorable, instantly identifiable, and can stand the test of time.
  4. Good album art is easy to read and appreciate across all formats and media.

That may seem like a hefty list of goals — and even when you do your due diligence, you’re not always going to hit all of them. Luckily, there are specific strategies to increase your chances of making an iconic album cover that will blow your existing listeners away and attract lots of new ones, too.

An album cover is both a work of art and a marketing tool

While many indie artists may wish to create their music completely outside the world of commercialism, if you want to expand your audience and make money off of CD and vinyl sales, downloads, or streams, it’s important to view your album cover design as a marketing asset as well as an expression of your creative vision.

Seeing your album art as a marketing tool doesn’t mean selling out — far from it. What it does mean is approaching your design from the standpoint of what will draw new listeners to your music and what will pique their curiosity about you and your album. You don’t need to dumb down your vision or pander to do that. You just need to use the advice in this post to create an awesome CD cover that makes your artistry shine.

What are the key components of your album cover?

Three key components go into your album cover:

  1. Color
  2. Typography
  3. Imagery

Choose colors that reflect the vibe of the artist and music

Suppose your album is dark, aggressive industrial metal. In that case, you may want to edge towards a color palette that signals those qualities for listeners — stark, high-contrast colors including black, gray, and red might be traditional places to start. Or, if your music is more in the direction of wistful and melancholy folk, perhaps something less aggressive — shades of blues and purples, or earth tones — could be a good place to begin.

There are no hard and fast rules to choosing the right colors to suit your music, and sometimes album art can shine by doing the unexpected. That said, if you don’t have design experience, your best plan will be to seek professional design help, like the professional designers at Disc Maker’s design studio.

Pick fonts and typography for multiple formats

Here are some key formats in which people may be viewing your album art:

  • On a poster
  • On a physical vinyl record
  • On a physical CD in Digipaks, jewel cases, or other format
  • As a tiny thumbnail on Spotify on a smart phone
  • As a larger graphic on a laptop web browser

In short, make sure that any text you include is legible in all the above. That means avoiding fonts that are overly ornate or difficult to read, minimizing the amount of text overall, and making key words and phrases as large as reasonable without compromising your overall design.

Not sure if it will work in the end? Try viewing your draft album art as a one-inch thumbnail and as a blown-up, full-screen image. If it looks good and translates in both contexts, you’re on the right track.

Imagery and style

If you want to use photographs or artwork on your album art, there are a couple key things to keep in mind.

File size

First off, make sure that any files you supply are appropriately high resolution. That means 300 dpi at the size you plan to print. So, if you’re making vinyl LPs and you have an image that will take up the entire cover, that means you need an image that’s at least 12.5” x 12.5” at 300 dpi.

If you get something that’s 72 dpi — a resolution often used for web images — your picture will end up pixelated when printed and will be all but unrecognizable if enlarged.

Sourcing images for your album cover

Make sure you’re sourcing stock images from an appropriate source, securing whatever permissions might be needed, and including appropriate credits. The easiest thing is to include a high-resolution photograph, graphic, or artwork you created yourself; that way, you don’t need to worry about licensing anything from anyone else.

15 Music Promotions guideBeyond that, you can search online image libraries for compelling high-res pictures and either download them for free (if the library allows) or pay a licensing fee to use the picture. These days, you might even consider AI-generated artwork, but again, be sure to read any legal text about ownership and permitted usage of an image before putting it into your album art design.

Regardless of where you source your pictures, make sure to include photo credits somewhere in your album design following the copyright holder’s instructions.

Disc Makers offer disc package templates for all our CD and vinyl packages, and the professionals at the Design Studio will ensure that your images are properly sourced, your typography is excellent, and your album cover looks as good as your music sounds.

Tips for designing your first album cover

Let’s put this plainly: if you don’t know what you’re doing when it comes to design, defer to an expert and have a professional designer create your album art. Just like you wouldn’t call in someone who has never played guitar to lay down a solo on your single, trying to create a design and get the file sizes and specs right — not to mention the actual artistic endeavor of getting expert photos and creating a graphic design — is no small feat. Or, if you prefer to be more hands-on and take on the creative direction, explore our CD digipak templates.

Given the many ways that people will be viewing your album art and the importance of having a cover that draws in fans and new listeners, your files and design must be appropriate for digital consumption and physical printing.

Ask for external feedback during the design process

Whoever ultimately designs your album cover, it never hurts to ask a few fans and third parties for input. If you have trusted people who know and love your music, they might consider it an honor to be included in the creative design process. Swear them to confidentiality, send them a couple different mock-up ideas, and see what they say. They may come back at you with unexpected ideas that could take you in great new directions — or just reinforce what you already thought was your best choice.

Ready to release your album?

When your music is ready, and your artwork is created — whether by you or the professionals at Disc Makers Design Studio — turn to Disc Makers for your CD and vinyl manufacturing needs. There’s a reason why musicians have been trusting us with their music releases since 1946!

The 90-Day Album Release Planner

Philip Kinsher kinda smiling

About Philip Kinsher

Philip Kinsher is a writer, editor, and musician with a predilection for YA Sci-fi Fantasy books and rock and roll. And golf and pickleball.

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