They say you should never judge a book by its cover, and the same rule should probably apply for music.
We all know that we should probably pay more attention to what’s inside the box rather than outside, but it’s just a matter of fact that a beautiful exterior design can make the interior just that little bit better.
01. Colour Me Cohesive
This sleek album cover was actually designed by the musician himself, Tycho, also known as Scott Hansen. The design is built on a strong colour scheme, showcased in sharp geometric shapes, and each colour has been made to correspond to a track. Creating a strong palette that can be used cohesively with the content can make for a pretty effective design.
02. Explore Die Cutting
Die cutting is used to create cut-out areas in your design, and when used correctly it can create a unique depth to your design. Check out the geometric die cutting done in this album sleeve from David Marsh, that allows for the two-tone cover to peek through, adding a sophisticated extra layer to the design.
03. Why Not Pop-Up?
Who said pop-up pictures were just for childrens’ books? This example from Tyler Stout pairs fully illustrated cover art with a pop-up picture of the artists, just quirky enough to capture the comedic tone and genre of the music.
04. Use The Whole Canvas
When it comes to album cover design, it is easy to consider the design from the standpoint of each panel being separate. But another option is to embrace the entire length of the case, just as Kamil Borowski has done in the example. Instead of limiting your artwork to just the front panel, consider extending it to expand over the width of the case, and perhaps even across the disc, just as has been done in this example, to create a larger image.
05. Get Creative With Packaging
Why is it that round albums have to come in perfectly square boxes? Being a bit creative with the shape of your packaging can really help highlight your design and give it a unique physical presence on the CD rack. Check out this angular album cover packaging by inCentea, that goes against almost everything you thought you knew about album cases.
06. Get Interactive
Consider how your audience will interact with your design, and how this interaction can be enhanced upon. Bonus points if this interactive element ties directly into the album title, as this heat-sensitive cover designed by Modo ties into the title “The Second Law”, referencing the second law of thermodynamics.
07. Visualise It
There are endless ways to visually represent the ideas an album projects, but consider the idea of visualising the tracks literally. Check out this example from Shiro to Kuro that depicts the sound waves of each track and uses them as cover art for the album.
08. Display Type
Album covers can be a great chance for you to experiment with some zanier typefaces and type treatments than you normally would. Consider how your use of typography and typefaces reflects the music you are designing for, just like this example by Ill Studio does. The genre of the album is an electronic “spaced-out musical ceremony… bound to give you sonic hallucinations”, and the ultra-modern, geometric typeface works to reflect this.
09. Experiment With Illusions
A sure-fire way to grab a consumer’s attention and hold onto it is to toy with optical illusions. Much like a pointillist painting, this album cover design by Richard Robinson has to be viewed from a certain distance to understand exactly what it’s communicating. Because of the elaborateness of optical illusions like this one, it’s probably a good idea to balance it out with something simple, as this example has done with a back cover with plenty of white-space.
10. Good As Gold
Looking to make your design a little more sophisticated, a little more fancy? Perhaps consider including a metallic finish on your final design for that added element. Have a look at this example by Ben Drury, where the entire design was printed onto gold foil-wrapped board to give the design an intriguing two-tone effect.
11. Combine Your Type
Designing an album cover may be just the chance you needed to experiment with combining typefaces. Why not take two contrasting pieces of type and try to combine them together, just as Steven Wilson and Thomas Burden have done in this example. The combination of the bold, black band name, woven with the fluorescent and colourful neon lettering creates a contrasting design that is captivating.
12. Match The Mood
A good starting point when it comes to album cover design is to familiarise yourself with both the music and the artist(s) you are designing for. A thorough understanding of the tone that the music is trying to achieve can make the design process a lot smoother. Take, for example, this album cover designed by Carla Cascales who noted that “The feathers are the symbol of the Group and the absence of color represents the simplicity of their music.”
13. A Portrait With A Twist
Many album covers tend to have a portrait of the artist in some capacity, usually a photograph, but not always. Consider an artistic and stylised representation of the artist(s) for your album cover, just as Lance Stirling has done in this geometric portrait of Liszt.
14. Be Transparent
Consider playing with the idea of transparency to create an interesting design, as this clear silk-screened sleeve for Bass Clef has done here. Incorporating opaque symbols over a translucent sleeve creates an interesting effect that showcases the record held inside.
15. Pick Up The Pencil
Technology is an amazing thing, and by all means, work with it and learn from it whenever you can, but don’t limit yourself to it. Check out this impressively intricate hand-drawn album cover by David Smith that proves sometimes there is no better way to tackle a brief than to pick up the pencil and draw.
16. Look For Patterns
Contrasting a pattern with a box of type can make for a very effective design. For example, take a look at this cover by Noah Collin, that pairs a soft floral pattern with a simple white box and wide set type, creating a very simple and yet nicely balanced design.
Using a texture on your album cover design can create the appearance of depth on a flat surface, just like this example by Shiro to Kuro. The dark, faceted texture, paired with the clean sans-serif typeface makes for a sharp and sleek design.
18. Complementary Palettes
Choosing a colour palette can take a bit of work, particularly when you need it to complement photographic imagery and one simple soltution to this is to sample directly from your photograph! Check out this album design by Aim that has used colours similar to the backdrop, the model’s hair and shadow tones throughout the design. Sampling colours directly from your photographs can help create a harmony between each element.
19. Be Bold
At the end of the day you are trying to communicate to the consumer what the can expect with this album, so why not be bold about it? Have a look at this cover design by Matt Willey that uses a sophisticated typeface, strongly contrasting colours and diagonal grid system to communicate not only the genre but the mood, all in one very simple, very sharp design.
20. Let It Interact
Consider the idea of creating a design that allows for the disc or record to interact with the cover design, as has been done in this example by José Guízar, where the disc has been created into the sun to allow it to blend in with the cover art which has been die-cut to look like the ocean. Interacting your design with the contents of your cover can make for an unforgettable design.
21. Embrace Typography
This list has discussed typography in many forms but it really is a tool that you can limitlessly play with in the medium of album cover creation. Take a look at this example from Ignacio Fretes that uses overlay colour effects to create multi-layered typography that is viewable with red-blue 3D glasses. Test your type and push it, you never know where it might end up.
22. Text Vs. Photos
The battle between text and photographic elements doesn’t have to be a battle at all. Experiment with aligning your type with certain elements of the photograph and using contrasting or complementary colour schemes to make the pairing seem natural and effective. A good example is this cover by Reid Miles. Aligning the bright type along the shoulder of the subject creates a neat balance between the two.
23. Don’t Be Afraid Of White Space
White space is arguably a crucial design tool, it helps your design breathe and helps the viewer focus on what you’d like them to focus on. Check out the neat use of white space in this example from Ivo Matić, that helps the well-aligned graphic and type elements stand out and not look cluttered or too busy.
24. Experiment With Hand-Type
Hand-crafted typography can give your design a unique personal touch, one that nobody else will ever be able to exactly recreate! Have a look at the hand-crafted painted type that Garrett DeRossett, that contrasts very effectively against the soft background image and simple sans-serif subtitle type.
25. Try Some Effects
If you’re going down the photographic route, this doesn’t mean you can’t still be creative when it comes to putting the design together. Maybe you can experiment with some stylistic effects, see how far you can push your photo and what you can do with what you have. For example, have a look at the pixelated effect that Jack Crossing applied to this photograph. Just experiment, have fun with it and explore your options, you never quite know what will work!
26. Create An Experience
I’m sure we all recognise the feeling of buying an album and pouring through the booklets and images inside, getting a thorough idea of the mood and tone of the album, and the work put into it. Backstage Design Studio worked to achieve just this with this album cover and content design. The album has a strong theme and aesthetic that goes throughout the design, right from the cover through to the pull out map with hidden messages and secret codes, inviting the reader into a world of their own. Consider how your design can create a unique experience for the consumer.
27. Be Deliberate About Your Palette
The choice of palettes is an important step in all of design and album covers are no exception. When designing your cover, have a good think about your use of colour and what it will say about your design. Take a look at the interesting use of colour in this example by Pedale Design. The album consists of Christmas music, but the colour palette goes against the traditional festive red and green palette. As the design team noted: “ It needed to feel like a Christmas piece, without feeling generic” which has been achieved through the light red card and silver ink. A careful palette choice has kept this design delicate, original and not at all gaudy.
28. Get Simple. Get Geometric.
Geometric shapes can create a very simple but very effective design when used right. Have a look at this album cover by Chet Purtilar that uses simple concentric circles, soft, calming gradients, topped off with neatly set type to create a basic but pleasing design.
29. Go Minimal
Want the focus to be solely on the music? Then perhaps consider a more minimal approach. Sometimes taking things away can make for a more intriguing design, as is the case for this simple cover by Büero Ink. A clear external case, white disc, a plain black sticker and minimal type makes this design incredibly simple but unexpectedly effective. A minimal approach could nicely complement minimal, soft or relaxing music.
30. Visual Type
Have you considered blending your type and imagery into one? Superimposing photographic or visual elements into type can make for an effective result. Have a look at the way this cover for HTRK’s album works a monochromatic seascape photograph into a large, bold and sharp serif typeface to create something eye-catching and really effective.
31. Focus On The Disc
Thanks again to die-cutting you have the ability to make the disc the focus of the design. Check out this example by Eva Blanes that pairs a very minimal outside cover with a carefully positioned and shaped window that allows for the colourfully designed disc to peek through and create its own visual element.
32. Feature Colours
Adding a splash of one colour to an otherwise monochromatic design can help draw attention to certain elements and gives you a very flexible design. Have a look at the way feature colours have been used in this series of album covers by Happycentro, adding one different colour to each album not only breathes life into each illustration, but also allows for the series to be cohesive in the overall design but unique in each individual album.
33. Have Reason
Try to consider ways that subtracting or adding things to your design can help the meaning-making for audiences. This example by Nick Steinhardt is playful in the way it replicates “bright light and dissipating legibility” through the taking away of crossbars and other elements of type.
34. Throw It Back
Remember when mixtapes were all the rage? Well, why not channel them into your design? Hand-drawn imagery and hand-written type can give your album a more personal and nostalgic touch to it. Have a look at the fully hand-illustrated album design by Mister Millerchip that just uses black and white to create a very creative and fun design.
35. Have Fun With It
If you have fun with the design process, this usually translates to the consumer. Check out this creative album cover by Phil Yarnall that plays with a photo-realistic image of an amplifier. While the design is fun and clever, it also says a lot about it album – making it into an amplifier communicates the genre and the idea that this album should be played loud! A simple, yet fun and creative design attracts attention and can enhance the experience of the album.
36. Mash It Up
An interesting idea, as demonstrated on this Tegan and Sara cover, is to mash up individual photographs of band members to create an interesting collage effect. Don’t be afraid of experimenting with your photographs.
37. The Devil’s In The Detail
A fine, detailed and intricate design can be time-intensive to create but can be completely worth it at the end. Have a look at this crazily detailed design by Pragun Agarwal, the detail in this piece helps emphasise the themes of the album, which are, as ___ notes, “hard work and dexterity that is inherent within everyone working day in day out”. A very intricate design allows for you create a strong visual to complement strong themes in an album.
38. Know Your Art History
Another avenue of research to explore is art history. Look into iconic art movements and draw inspiration from them, put your own modern spin on Cubism or take some ideas from Impressionism and work them into your design. For example, the cover for Franz Ferdinand’s album is modelled after a 1924 Russian avant-garde poster. You never know where your inspiration may come from, so search everywhere.
The double-exposure effect is a very popular one as of late. Superimposing a textured image (usually a nature-based one) inside another (usually a portrait) can create a nice result. In this example by Jónas Valtýsson, the superimposition of the oceanscape over the artist’s image creates a peaceful visual that sets the tone for a peaceful album.
40. Seek Inspiration Everywhere
Have a look everywhere for inspiration for your design, book covers, posters, magazine spreads, whatever you can get your hands on! You never know where you might find the spark you’re looking for. Take, for example, this design by Karl Hebert for a narrative-based album. The design draws inspiration from old film posters, from when the type was dramatic and the images were grainy. Expanding your research beyond other people’s album cover designs can help you unlock something really interesting and fitting for your album.
Music can be inspirational, mood-inducing, personal or immersive, and so can design. The aim of the game, at the end of the day, is to create something that people will remember, be interested by and will associate with the music behind the design.
So, look for inspiration everywhere, experiment with new or wacky ideas, think hard about your composition and pay attention to the themes and tone of the album you are designing for. And then, mix all of these elements up and try to create a design that complements (and maybe enhances) the music.
BONUS: 9 Album Cover Tips To Help You Reach Your Audience
01. Choose a layout for your album or podcast
Find album cover templates in Canva and alter the text, color, and images of existing layouts or create your own.
02. Choose fonts, colors and images to reflect the album
Just like all those albums above, capture the mood and content of the album with images, colors and fonts.
These layouts feature clean, crisp lines and geometric shapes for a contemporary feel. Perhaps for an electronic or dance music?
Love a lazy Sunday? Pastel colors and relaxed fonts suggest chilled out, acoustic tunes.
Apply filters to alter the mood or style or your album cover. These covers go from desaturated to ‘whimsical’ to vivdly saturated and each has a very different feel and suggests a different mood of music.
03. Use your own images
Add a personal touch with your own photos or illustrations as a background. For podcast album covers, try uploading a portrait of yourself; for musicians, dig up some snaps from your last awesome gig.
04. Resize it for your social network cover photos
Update your cover or banner image across all social media channels by adapting the image to the required dimensions (easily done in Canva).
05. Now post it on social media
Update it again with the dimensions of a social post so you can easily tweet it, pin it and Facebook it. Keep using the same album cover design and making small modifications to suit the altered dimensions.
06. Upload your album cover as a background to Youtube
Gain traction on Youtube by uploading your album cover as a background and add the audio for your music or podcast.
07. Join music communities
Load the sound file to SoundCloud and include the album cover, which appears to the left of every track uploaded. It will also feature on playlists, shares, and any pins on blogs or websites.
Check out this list for other music communities to join.
08. Link your podcast via iTunes Link Maker
iTunes Link Maker can help spread the word. Access a searchable URL for your podcast via this link, which will direct listeners to a landing page including your audio and podcast cover.
09. Create campaigns around your album cover
Post regularly to social media keep listeners interested and informed.
- Thank your fans once you reach milestones (number of shares)
- Add lyrics or quotes from your music to visual posts
- Transform the cover into posters
Keep the art of album design living on with creative and experimental designs that reflect the content of the album and those who made it. A memorable album is a great piece of artwork to get going viral and a great addition to any music, podcast or public speaking marketing strategy.