Album Cover Art: How to Design a Good Album Cover

Music Distribution
Album Cover Art: How to Design a Good Album Cover

When it comes to album cover art, people will judge your album by its cover. Your music won’t attract attention without good album art in this highly visual world.

That’s why it’s so important to put real effort, thought and creativity into your album cover.

Every little detail needs to be considered—from typeface to your project’s logo, to the style and aesthetic you’re going with.

The decisions you make send a powerful signal to your audience about what they should expect when they hit play on Spotify or Apple Music.

So getting your album art right is key.

If you’re wondering what to include in your album art or how to get inspired, here’s some history, tips and advice for putting together the perfect look for your sound.

What is album art?

Album art is a set of covers, liners and inserts that historically came packaged with the original vinyl LP format.

When musical artists started writing albums for mass consumption in the 1960s, the vinyl the albums were printed on needed to be sold as part of the package.

Inevitably, the album art format was born. It created a new way of representing music with some sort of visual art form. whether that be a design, drawing or photograph.

Today still the album cover remains a huge part of the experience of listening to music—it’s not uncommon for people to remember the cover of an album, instead of its name.

Album art is a set of covers, liners and inserts that historically came packaged with the original vinyl LP format.

Let’s look at what album art usually consists of.

Album cover art

Album cover art is the most important part of an album art package—that’s because it’s the first and foremost artwork most people will see, especially on streaming platforms.

You need your album art to simultaneously represent your aesthetic, catch eyeballs and entice viewers to click.

It nearly goes without saying that good album art paired with good music will enhance the experience and memory of listening to your tracks.

Liner notes and inserts

Liner notes are the supplemental material that’s sold with any physical copy of your album.

They may include lyric sheets, writings and thoughts about the creation and meaning of your music, extra artwork, posters or behind the scenes pictures from the recording period.

They’ll be poured over by anyone who loves your music enough to invest in a physical copy, so any liner notes and inserts need to be a thoughtful reward for your most dedicated fans.

Album cover art design in the age of streaming

Whether you’re releasing a single or an album, streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple music require you to submit album artwork with your release.

It makes sense, since album artwork is the main vehicle for packaging your music. In many cases, it’s the object users will click to play your album.

No wonder album artwork is absolutely part of an album’s success—or at least how memorable it ends up being to streaming platform users.

Digital distribution album art guidelines

Of course, streaming platforms outline a handful of formatting and content requirements in order to successfully post an album cover that passes muster.

Here’s a few guidelines that your album cover art must adhere to:

  • Minimum 1500 x 1500 pixels
  • Aspect ratio of 1:1 (Perfect Square Cover Art)
  • JPG or PNG format
  • RGB Color Mode
  • No blurriness or pixelation
  • No URL
  • No social media logos
  • No references to brands
  • No pornographic images

If you want more details on formatting your album properly for distribution, check the LANDR Distribution FAQ section for album artwork.

You can always get in touch with LANDR Distribution’s (incredibly responsive and helpful) support team, if you distribute your music with LANDR Distribution.

How to design a good album cover

Making great album art takes time and consideration. It will take time to find inspiration and when it hits, you might need help from a professional designer, if you don’t have design skills.

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If you’re stressing about your album art, remember that no matter what art you go with, over time your music and the art will give each other meaning.

Arguably, no matter what artwork you go with, your album art will take on its own meaning to the listener.

But, your choices will ultimately guide the listener and send signals about to expect underneath the tin.

1. Get familiar with image editors

Maybe you’re particular, maybe you have a unique vision, maybe you want full creative control.

If that’s the case, you might need to take some time to get familiar with image editors like Photoshop or Canva—Photopea is another browser editor that’s free if you’re on a budget.

It’ll take some time and energy away from making music, but knowing how to make designs with a digital image editor could pay huge dividends down the line.

Remember that audiences will make assumptions about what inside the tin based on its label.

You never know when you might want to make a design to share on social media. If you work on your design chops you’ll be able to make your own show posters, memes, album announces and more.

But getting good at design isn’t easy and it takes a certain kind of design-minded person to really hone an aesthetic and build up a good design repertoire.

So if that’s not you, your next best option is to…

2. Work with a professional album art designer

Not everyone has design skills. Your focus is on making great music and while your sound design and songwriting skills are top-notch, you’re not quick or adept at design.

That’s okay, because there are tons of professional designers waiting to take on an album art project. All you have to do is hire the right one for your style and aesthetic.

A great option for finding talented designers is to browse online service marketplaces like LANDR Network. There you can easily find tons of album cover designers who are extremely talented at making eye-catching album art.

Take a look at what LANDR Network has to offer and collaborate with the perfect designer for your release!

Find a professional designer for your album artwork

3. Get inspired by your favorite album covers

Take stock of all the album art that’s inspired you in past years. Maybe, go and pick up the album at a record store or at least go and hold it in your hands and analyze it.

What about the artwork draws your eye? Are there details in the typeface, textures or visuals that make the artwork special or pop out?

It’s often the minor details that make album art that much more memorable.

4. Take lots of pictures

It’s pretty common to use an image of yourself on the artwork for your album. So many iconic albums have a picture, painting or drawing of the artist on the cover.

Whether it be a candid photo or a stylized photograph, set aside some time to take pictures.

You might want to make a “making of” style collage for the liner notes. You might even get lucky and take a candid picture that makes sense for the album cover.

No matter what, using an image of your face and body to sell your sound is a tried and true way to connect with your audience and add a personal touch to your music.

5. Get inspired by AI

Looking to go with a more abstract aesthetic? With modern AI-generated art, you can essentially prompt an AI tool to create anything you can imagine.

I really think that high-volume producers who constantly need artwork, are going to turn to AI-generated artwork more and more.

It’s so easy to get interesting, copyright infringement-free artwork made at a moments notice.

Even if you can’t get exactly what you want, AI-generated artwork is a great way to brief a human designer to get close to a final product too.

In any case, heading over to Dall-e or any AI image generator is a great option for getting inspiring album artwork.

6. Design a logo and typography for your project

An important part of your project is having a logo or typography for your project.

An important part of your project is having a logo or typography for your project.

So many artists use a logo or stylized typeface for their project.

From the iconic Rolling Stones mouth, the Beatles font or even the fonts that modern pop artists like SOPHIE used, having a logo for your project is super useful for branding your project. It gives fans something they can instantly recognize and latch onto.

So consider thinking up a logo or typeface for your project. You can use it throughout your album cover, artwork and liner notes.

7. Put your artist and album name on the cover

You may not have decided whether or not you have a branded image or logo. But it’s definitely best practice to put your project name and the title of your album on your album cover.

In many cases, online viewers will only see the image of your album.

So, if it doesn’t have any names on it, it’ll be hard to know who made the release and your album cover will be less memorable.

That’s why it’s a very good idea to at least include the name of your project on the cover.

8. Know your aesthetic and stick to it

Remember that audiences will make assumptions about what inside the tin based on its label.

So, if you write sugary sweet pop country tunes your album should look at least somewhat different from a grindcore heavy metal band.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with borrowing aesthetics from other genres—many artists do this.

But, they do it while being aware that their own music needs to match the energy of their music.

9. Include bonus artwork for your physical release

Anyone who buys your physical releases are fans of your music.

So make sure to add an extra personal touch with some additional artwork and deluxe inserts. Things like additional pictures, drawings and lyrics are great ideas to add to the packaging.

If you’re making a small batch, adding a personally written or signed note thanking your fan for supporting you is a great touch too.

The future of album art

Album art is continuously evolving—it’s influenced by emerging technologies, design trends, and cultural shifts.

Even though the change from physical to digital music has had a significant impact on the visibility and function of album covers, their importance has not waned—it has merely transformed.

Today, album art needs to be optimized for the small thumbnail format used by streaming platforms.

Causing a move towards bold, minimalist designs that catch the eye even when scaled down.

But what does the future hold for album art? Here are a few key trends that we expect to see more of in the coming years:

Immersive album art

With the rise of augmented and virtual reality technologies, we may see a surge in album art becoming more interactive and immersive.

Picture this: you’re exploring your favorite band’s album cover in a 3D virtual space, interacting with elements that reveal more about the music, lyrics, or the band’s story.

One interesting example is Kid Koala’s recent physical album art release that doubles as a board game.

Motion covers

Motion graphics and videos like Spotify Canvas are becoming more prevalent across digital platforms.

Animated or “moving” album covers might become the norm, providing an eye-catching element to draw listeners in.

Personalized album art

In an era of personalization, the idea of customizable album art could take hold.

Imagine an album cover that changes based on listener’s preferences or interaction, creating a unique connection between the artist and the fan.

AI-Generated artwork

As artificial intelligence grows more sophisticated, we can expect to see an increase in AI-generated artwork.

This could lead to more abstract and unique designs, shaped by data and algorithms.

The greatest album art

Is the kind of album art that gets people talking, makes you memorable and makes your album stick out.

You’ve worked so hard to write, record, produce, mix and master your music. Congratulations for making it to the release stage.

Don’t sully your hard work with lazy artwork. Putting some time into making a great album cover, with great album art will pay huge dividends.

Best of luck with your upcoming release!

Alex Lavoie

Alex Lavoie is a drummer, music producer, songwriter and marketing professional living in Montreal, Quebec. He works as a staff writer at LANDR by day and writes indie post-punk tunes in his band UTILS while moonlighting as drummer for folk-rock outfit The Painters. Connect with Alex Lavoie on LANDR Network!

@Alex Lavoie

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