How to Make an Album Cover Without AI in 4 Steps

Music DistributionMusic GearMusic Promotion
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The recording is done. You mixed every song. Your album sequencing is perfect. And you are done with mastering. Perfect!

Time to distribute your music right?

Hang on… There’s still one more important step! And it’s just as creative as the rest of your workflow: Your album or mixtape cover art.

Album art is still important. But the truth is, it’s usually an afterthought in the creative process especially with AI album art generators promising to make things easy.

It makes sense—you spend enough time honing your music and probably don’t have time to become a Photoshop wiz too.

The thing is your album art is deeply personal. You’ve put so much time into writing and producing your tracks, so why waste all that effort on shoddy impersonal artwork hastily made by an AI that doesn’t know you.

Sure AI album art can work just fine (especially if you combine it with your own designs) but there’s something special about making something that’s deeply personal and unique to you

So, if you think making your own album artwork is the way to go, no sweat.

We put together this quick guide on how to create your album cover online for free—including where to find free photos, album cover templates and how to use online photo editors to make it your own.

1. Decide on an artistic concept

Your album art has to uniquely represent your music, stand out and be memorable.

Think about what your music asks of your album art.

Are you a singer-songwriter? Might be good to have a nice picture of yourself on the cover.

Do you make minimalist electronic music? Maybe your artwork should be minimalist too.

Should your artwork reflect the pre-defined aesthetic of your genre, or are you willing to strive for something new and unique?

Once you have an idea of where you want to go, take a look at some album art that inspires you and note what about the art makes it so memorable.

When you have an idea of the concept it’s time to find the tools and start designing.

Unless you’re going to take pictures yourself, hire a photographer or designer—you might need to get your hands on low-cost (or no-cost!) tools to help you get the job done.

Let’s take a look at the easiest ones to start using now!

2. Work with free design tools and royalty-free images

Album art is still important. But the truth is, it’s usually an afterthought in the creative process.

The first step is finding royalty-free images to work with. Just like audio samples, your album artwork has to be copyright-cleared to use.

Hot tip:

If creating album art on your own is not your thing, consider connecting with dozens of freelance artists available on LANDR Network to create a meaningful album cover that matches your aesthetic.

Many free image resources provide royalty-free photos that you can download, edit, remix, chop up and mix to make album artwork that’s all your own.

Here’s 8 royalty free image resources:

Canva

Album-Cover-Design_Canva

Canva goes way beyond a simple stock photo resource (but it’s that too). It’s also a full featured editing suite to edit your images, add text, change fonts and basically do all the stuff you need to do before you release.

You can create any kind of design incredibly easily, including album covers

Hot tip: Canva features a built-in album art creator, but you’ll need to sign in to create album art in the minimum 3000 x 3000 pixel size required for LANDR Distribution.

Use any of the photos or layout templates for free, anytime. Just signup with your email for access (more than worth it for what they offer).

Unsplash

You spend enough time honing your music and probably don’t have time to become a Photoshop wiz too.

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Unsplash is “over 550,000… free high-resolution photos” that can be used however you want. That includes album art for your next release.

Type in a keyword, browse the results, find something you like and edit it to fit your album. No fuss, just good images ready to use and hassle free.

Free Images

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Just like the URL says, Free Images is a giant site of over 600,000 (you guessed it) free images.

Browse by collection or keywords to find the perfect image.

Note: Some of the images included are from the paid service iStock, but a lot of the search results are free to use and cleared to go without paying any fees.

Pexels

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Every photo on Pexels is free to use for commercial or non-commercial use.

Plus, every high-quality photo is handpicked from photos uploaded to Pexels or from other free image resources to ensure a wide array of choices.

Pexels is browsable by handy collection tags or by keyword—Perfect for when you need to match an image to the mood of your latest album.

Burst

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Burst is a free stock photo platform from Shopify.

While it’s not as extensive as some of the other resources on this list, it does provide a lot of superb high-quality images for free.

Browse by category, collection or keyword to find photos or inspiration for your release.

Free Photos

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Free Photos bundles photos from several other free photo resources all in one place to make browsing and finding the right image quick and simple.

Like every other resource on this list, the images on Free Photos are 100% royalty-free for personal or commercial use.

Take the time to find the right visual and tweak it to make it your own.

Stocksnap

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Stocksnap provides another extensive database of high-quality images all covered under the CC0 license.

Which means they’re all good to go for your album art.

Find all kinds of album art inspiration via search, tags, or categories, edit them to fit your vision and you’re ready to go.

Pxhere

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Pxhere is another CC0 stock photo gallery great for finding starting points for your album art.

Search by tag or keyword, or if you’re really stuck use the helpful random tool to generate some ideas to get you started.

3. Edit your image to make it your own

Your album art is the visual representation of your music on all streaming platforms and stores, so you need to take time to make it unique.

Your album art needs to represent you and your music. Don’t just settle for the first raw image you find.

Every image from each of these resources isn’t just free to download, they’re free to edit too… So edit them!

You don’t have to be a top-notch designer either.

Here’s some online image editing tools:

Use them to collage several images together, change the colors, add some layers and overlay your album title and artist name with a font you like.

It’s completely up to you.

Every image from each of these resources isn’t just free to download, they’re free to edit too… So edit them!

Album-Cover-Design_How-To

Your album art needs to represent you and your music. Don’t just settle for the first raw image you find.

Take the time to find the right visual and tweak it to make it your own.

4. Album cover size and specifications

To distribute your music to Spotify, Apple Music and ever other major streaming platform, your album art has to fit some criteria.

Follow these guidelines and you’ll be good to go when it comes time to release:

Album cover size:

  • Minimum 3000 x 3000 pixels
  • A square
  • Minimum 72 DPI
  • JPG or PNG format

Album cover specs:

  • No blurriness or pixelation
  • No URLs, hashtags or handles
  • No pornographic images
  • No references to brands

Use the image editing tools I mentioned above and your album art will be all set when it comes time to release your music.

Album cover design ideas and trends in 2024

In the ever-evolving landscape of music, visual representation plays a pivotal role in helping your album stand out.

Staying updated with the latest trends in album cover design can give you an edge in crafting a cover that resonates with today’s audience.

Here are a few noteworthy trends in 2024.

Bold Typography

The bold typography effectively completed the aesthetic for Toro Y Moi's album cover on Mahal.

The bold typography effectively completed the aesthetic for Toro Y Moi's album cover on Mahal.

More and more artists are relying on bold and distinctive typography to make a statement.

Creative use of fonts can command attention, convey your music’s vibe, and make your album cover text-centric yet visually stunning.

Minimalistic Design

Simple lines and colors used for Omni's album Networker reflected the albums minimalist sound.

Simple lines and colors used for Omni's album Networker reflected the albums minimalist sound.

Less is often more when it comes to design.

A minimalistic album cover with clean lines, simple color schemes, and uncluttered design can evoke a sense of elegance and sophistication.

Abstract Art

Alex G's decision to go with a psychedelic painting veered into abstract territory with God Save the Animals.

Alex G's decision to go with a psychedelic painting veered into abstract territory with God Save the Animals.

Abstract art has always had its place in album art, but its prevalence has increased recently.

Unusual shapes, color combinations, and compositions can stimulate curiosity and draw listeners to your music.

Nostalgia and Retro Vibes

A nostalgic cover for a nostalgic band. This picture of Haim in a diner evoked the band's decidedly 70s vibe.

A nostalgic cover for a nostalgic band. This picture of Haim in a diner evoked the band's decidedly 70s vibe.

While it’s important to look ahead, many designs are also looking back.

A retro-inspired album cover can evoke nostalgia, connecting listeners with past eras of music.

This could range from ’80s neon to vintage ’70s aesthetics.

Digital and Glitch Art

Lil Yachty went with some glitchy AI-generated art for his 2023 outing Let's Start Here.

Lil Yachty went with some glitchy AI-generated art for his 2023 outing Let's Start Here.

In our increasingly digital age, album covers that incorporate digital elements, pixelation, or glitch effects can feel contemporary and edgy.

Mixed Media

This photo of DOMi and JD Beck in front of a painted back drop with fake plants is a great example of mixed media artwork.

This photo of DOMi and JD Beck in front of a painted back drop with fake plants is a great example of mixed media artwork.

Using mixed media techniques, combining photography with hand-drawn elements or typography, can create a dynamic and eye-catching album cover.

Monochromatic Color Schemes

Turnstile's pink hued album cover for GLOW ON evoked the dreamy but raw sound of the album. Arguably it also shied away from tired aesthetics found throughout most punk and hardcore music.

Turnstile's pink hued album cover for GLOW ON evoked the dreamy but raw sound of the album. Arguably it also shied away from tired aesthetics found throughout most punk and hardcore music.

Single-color album covers with different shades, tones, and tints are trending.

They give a cohesive, impactful, and visually pleasing look to the album art.

The finishing touch

Your album art matters.

These tools and tips will give you everything you need to make something meaningful and appealing in no time flat.

So take the time to do your album art right. And release your music knowing the it sounds and looks its best.

LANDR

Various contributors from the LANDR team of music mentors.

@LANDR

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