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How To Design Album Artwork: Ultimate Guide

7 Minute Read


From the prismatic nature of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon to the highly recognisable Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. The longstanding synergy between music and art is something that we can all relate to.

Left: Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon. Right: Fleetwood Mac - Rumours


Having a well-designed album cover gives you the opportunity to catch the attention of listeners and gives them a deeper insight into the music it portrays. A great album cover can be the difference between a customer flicking past the vinyl at your local record store or picking it up with intrigue, scrolling past the music on a Spotify playlist or clicking through to discover the artist.


Whether you’re a musician wanting to create an album cover for your next release or a designer looking to expand your knowledge and learn how key design principles can help you design the perfect album cover for your clients. This guide will serve as a blueprint to help focus your design skills on creating album art.


Contents


Getting Inspiration

Inspiration is important for all art mediums. Whether you’re creating music or designing something, you may be inspired by a sound, an image or even a feeling - creating album art is no different. Ask yourself questions about your senses: How does the music make you feel? What do you picture when you listen to it? It’s these types of questions that can help you get a clearer sense of what you want from the album art.


Looking at other album art is also a great way to get inspiration for your own cover. Now I’m not saying to flat-out copy a piece of art that you love, but there is no harm in taking inspiration from it. Collecting imagery and other ideas is a great way to get those metaphorical cogs ticking and help come up with ideas for your cover.


Top Tip (For Musicians):

Create a board on Pinterest and pin album art you like as well as any other imagery you take inspiration from. Sharing the board with a designer will give them a clearer understanding of what you want from your next album cover.



Key Components of Every Album Cover

Every album cover is made up of several design elements; from the colours used, the font type and even the imagery. All these components follow key design principles that are combined to make a professional album design. These elements can be overwhelming at first but we will break these down individually so things are more manageable.


Colour


Colour Psychology

Colour can have a great impact on what we feel when we see it. The connotations of a colour can evoke different emotions in us, this is why companies use certain colours in their logo, branding or packaging.


The same can be applied to album art. In order to portray the music in a certain way and evoke a response from the listener, different colours and colour combinations can be used.

​Energy, Romance, Warmth, Love, Comfort

Wisdom, Loyalty, Sophistication, Spirituality

​Friendly, Cheerful, Youthful, Positivity, Happiness

​Nature, Reliability, Confidence, Security, Friendship

​Excited, Prosperity, Warmth, Playfulness

​Love, Romance, Warmth, Playful

​Luxury, Authenticity, Truthfulness, High Quality

​Nature, Wealth, Tranquility, Harmony

Top Tip:

After listening to the music and reflecting on the subliminal message you want the art to portray. Find a relevant emotion from the table above and use the corresponding colour (or a different shade of that colour) as the main colour in the design. Then read the colour scheme section below on how to apply this further.


Colour Scheme

You may have identified a colour that you’d like to use in your album cover and you may even want to use it throughout your career to create synergy with your branding. Monochromatic colours are often used for their simplicity however colour theory can help you identify colours that complement your chosen dominant colour.


Complementary colours create the most dynamic visuals by creating contrast. These colours are opposite each other on the colour wheel.

Colour wheel showing a complementary colour scheme
Complementary colour scheme on the colour wheel

It's important when using a complementary colour scheme to choose one dominant colour and use the other as an accent. These contrasting colours are a combination of warm and cold colours so it's important to determine the theme of the design and choose the dominant colour accordingly.


Reducing the saturation of the chosen colours can help soften the look of the design whilst maintaining a high level of contrast. Check out how to apply this in practice with the tutorial and example below:

Adapted from a tutorial by Vikalp Kaushik


Another method is the Analogous colour scheme. This scheme is where colours are close to each other on the colour wheel.

Colour wheel showing the analogous colour scheme
Analogous colour scheme on the colour wheel

Being similar, these colours naturally work well together. Check out how to apply this in practice below:

Adapted from a tutorial by Vikalp Kaushik


You could also opt for a triadic colour scheme. This is comprised of three colours that are equally spaced out on the colour wheel. Use an equilateral triangle on the colour wheel to assist in finding the three colours.

Colour wheel showing the triadic colour scheme
Triadic colour scheme on the colour wheel

This colour scheme creates a vibrant and playful feel. A best practice is to use one of the colours predominantly whilst using the other two as accent colours. Here is a guide on how to use a triadic colour scheme in practice.

Adapted from a tutorial by Vikalp Kaushik


You could also decide to go for a monochromatic colour scheme. In its simplicity monochromatic means using all one colour, however, this can often be used in different shades to add more dimension and complexity to your art. A monochrome design is one of minimalism and simplicity and can be a very bold choice to help portray a certain mood or to even let the music speak for itself.



Typography

As with colour, typography can help portray the music in the way you want it to. There are many different types of fonts:


Serif

Serif fonts are seen as the original, traditional font style. Serif’s are fonts with extra strokes on the end of their letterforms like the examples below.

Serif Font Examples
Serif Font Examples

Feelings Evoked: History, tradition, integrity and trustworthiness



Sans Serif

Sans Serif fonts embrace a minimalist and modern feel. They are similar to Serif fonts but are without the ends of their letterforms like the examples below:

Sans Serif Font Examples
Sans Serif Font Examples

Feelings Evoked: Casual, informal, friendly and approachable



Script

Script fonts are cursive and look handwritten. This can give a more personal touch that creates a sense of elegance.

Script / Cursive Font Examples
Script (Cursive) Font Examples

Feelings Evoked: Creative, classic, formal and stylish



Imagery

It remains quite common to utilise pictures of the band or individual artist on the album cover. However many designs opt for other types of imagery such as abstract shapes, graphics, drawings or even paintings.


When using faces, it's important that the image reflects the same feelings you are aiming to portray with the chosen font and colours. Facial expressions easily leave an impression on the viewer so it's worth bearing this in mind when choosing the photo or discussing poses during a photoshoot.


A minimalist approach can be a striking choice for album art. This can help put the focus on the music itself


Important:

When designing a piece of album art, you must have full legal rights to use it for your intended purpose. To get started, here are some websites that give you full rights to use their images for commercial use:


Important Details

Whether the music is released digitally on streaming sites or printed for physical release on CD or vinyl, there are design elements that should always be considered.


1. Artist Name & Album/Track Title


You could choose to display the artist's name and album/track title. If you do, it needs to predominantly feature on the design. If you're considering releasing it for CD or vinyl, we recommend that you feature the artist's name and album information. At the very least, this should feature on the spine of the cover.


2. Tracklist

This heavily depends on whether you’re wanting to release a single or an album/EP. With the rise in streaming, playlists have seen a rapid growth in popularity. This has encouraged the release of singles over albums, negating the need for a tracklist. However, if you are releasing an album and considering a physical release, the tracklist should feature on the reverse of the cover. This should be displayed with a legible font that utilises the colour theories from earlier to ensure the tracklist is easily readable.


3. No Socials!

As much as you want to promote your socials in any way you can, don’t put them on the album artwork. The music and the album design with it are timeless pieces of art. Unfortunately, there isn't a guarantee that current social media sites will be used or even exist in the future. It is therefore best practice to not include such information on the cover.



Size Matters

Whilst we primarily deal with artwork for digital releases, it’s important that you consider the artworks use in different contexts. You need to ensure that the cover design will not only look good in a physical format such as vinyl and CD’s but right down to a thumbnail on your smartphone.



Need Artwork?

If you’re a musician and you’ve read this entire post, you will now know some of the key components needed to create artwork for your next release. This deeper understanding of how a designer will look into who you are as an artist, and how you want your music to be portrayed is a great skill to hone. Being able to effectively communicate that to a designer makes their job a lot easier and lessens the need for revisions, saving you time and money.


Through effective communication, the designer you work with will love you for it. They get clear communication and you get a product that you’re happy with. Creating a lasting relationship with a designer can be beneficial for both parties. You get a designer you can rely on and they get the repeat business they work so hard for. It’s a win-win.


Now, I know it can be hard to think of exactly what you want in a design but that’s where we can help. Our custom album design service is a great way to get a professional but cost-effective solution for your album design. No matter if you’re coming to us with a clear idea of the exact cover design you want, or you want to lean on our wealth of experience to suggest a direction for your next release. Our team of designers can help bring your vision to life.



Check out our Custom Album Design service



Earn An Income

Cover Design Agency not only provides musicians with professional album art but we’ve also created a platform for freelance graphic designers to sell their work.


If you’re already a designer or want to put what you learned above into practice then sign-up as a designer for Cover Design Agency today. If accepted, you can begin to upload your designs and sell them for whatever you think it’s worth, keeping 70% of the sale price.



Sell Your Art


(Left: by Athena | Middle: by Oblique | Right: by Yoana)

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