As an artist creating album artwork is an important part of your overall brand and can communicate a lot about your music to your fans or potential listeners. Your album artwork is the audiences first visual exposure to you as an artist; often before they even hear a song they might see your album cover on a shelf or in a digital store on the internet. The artwork can set the tone for the album, convey the type of music and generate an idea of what they can expect from the album. This is another way for an artist to communicate who you are to the audience and make a good first impression on a potential fan. When it comes to designing album artwork, there are several factors to keep in mind, concerning the actual look of the artwork and the many technical factors to address throughout the design process.

Choose your look

When brainstorming design ideas, think about what kind of tone you want to set and if you want to carry that into future album covers. Maybe you want to establish a reoccurring theme, look, motif or design element? This can be something that carries over to all your future album covers and identifies you as an artist or band. Also, keep in mind if you want to create other materials to go along with the album cover, then you might want to include an element that can be carried over to t-shirts or other swag items you might want to sell at a concert of performance.

Think about size

Throughout the design process keep in mind the size in which people will likely view your album cover. These days most people don’t go to a store and flip through physical CD’s but rather view them online on digital platforms like iTunes, Spotify, Amazon or on review sites or blogs. In all these cases, people will just see an album cover as a small thumbnail on their desktop, phone or tablet. Imagine the album cover as a small thumbnail, shrink it down and see it still catches your eye and make sure you can see all the details. If anything gets lost, is illegible or distorted then you might want to rethink specific design elements.

Keep your end goal in mind  

Before you get too deep into the design process think about your end goal; will you be producing a digipak or jewel case CD? Digipaks are usually wider than jewel case inserts and will have different design requirements. If your album will be sold in stores, then print your name and album title on the spine so if it is sitting on a shelf people will be able to read it clearly. If you are releasing a digital version only then refer to the previous section and ensure your design is eye catching and will stand out in an online music store. Keep in mind that you should design for the end product.

Technical specifications

If you are printing your digipak or CD, then you will need to choose a printing house and design your cover according to their specific design guidelines. Each printing house will have templates available for download; you will likely need one for a digipak, CD label, CD tray insert and CD booklet (your needs will vary depending on if you go the digipak or jewel case route). Finding your print house, downloading these templates and designing with them will make your life easier in the long run because you won’t have to adjust the files later in the process. Once you have downloaded the templates, they will have clear guidelines for the print area, trim lines, and bleed lines.

Text safety/print area –All text and images within these lines area printed on the final product. Anything you want to make sure is printed and legible on the final product should be in this area. Any design elements placed outside these lines will be cut off during the trimming process.

Trim lines or cut and fold lines – These lines indicate where the item is trimmed after printing. Keeping all you text and design elements within the trim lines will ensure you get your desired result.

Bleed area – The bleed area is extra space to allow for a margin of error when trimming. You will need to extend the design elements past the cut line and to the final bleed line as indicated on the template.

Finally, each design house will likely have a design specifications document you should refer to for other information. This will convey information such as color profiles, how to treat linked files, acceptable file formats and much more.

From the initial concept ideas to the actual design process, creating album artwork has multiple steps, but if you keep these guidelines in mind, you will have a final product that reflects you as an artist and attracts both current fans and new listeners.