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How to Create an Album Cover for Your Album or Single

How to Create an Album Cover for Your Album or Single
Wu Tang Clan Album

As an independent or newcomer artist just getting started on the music scene, you’ll have to figure a lot of things out on your own. From writing and recording your own songs, growing your fanbase and establishing a strong online presence, to promoting your music and landing gigs, there is a lot of time and effort that goes into this early stage of your career. 

This effort also includes creating artwork for your upcoming single or album releases. If you don’t have a record label to back you or a solid budget that allows you to work with marketing agencies or graphic designers, don’t stress. There are plenty of tools and resources out there that enable you to create amazing and eye-catching visuals for your singles and albums on your own. Here’s how to get started with it. 

Why is an album cover important?

Firstly, you might ask yourself why an album or single cover is really that important, especially at this early stage of your music career. While we agree that the focus should always be on the quality of your music and the messaging you’re trying to get across, we also know that in this digital age, that’s not enough to capture people’s attention. When chosen right, an album cover can become iconic, and serve as inspiration for generations of other musicians. Amazing artwork can also enhance the overall listening experience and complement the lyrics and melodies with powerful imagery that inspires and delights the listener. 

Think about some of the most iconic album covers of all time, like The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, Abbey Road by The Beatles, Nirvana’s Nevermind, or Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. You don’t even need to see the name of the artist or album name to instantly recognize the albums - they are forever associated with the songs they represent. Other album covers in history have captured the audience’s attention by sparking controversy, like Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones or Yesterday and Today by The Beatles, so that’s one way to generate buzz around your album. However, for a newcomer artist, it’s best to just focus on quality artwork that showcases your style, your influences, your message, and your overall vibe. 

Things to keep in mind when creating your album cover

Before starting to actually work on your artwork for a new single, EP or LP, it’s important to plan ahead and think about what you want your visuals to express. Here are the most important factors to consider in this process. 

Your target audience

First, think about your fanbase, or your target audience. You should be able to visualize a profile of your ideal fan, what they listen to, where they hang out, what hobbies they have, and what types of visuals appeal to them. It’s similar to crafting a user persona in marketing, which basically means thinking about your target audience, fans or listeners, and trying to understand what would appeal to them, visually speaking. Depending on the genre of your music, you will also be able to figure out the average age range of your listeners, and that can impact your artwork, as well. If your fan base consists mostly of teens or young listeners, you’ll want to be careful not to include artwork that is too graphic, controversial, or explicit. 

Your style 

We think it goes without saying that any visuals, whether we’re talking about album covers, social media content, music videos, and so on, should represent your own style and your own voice and vision. There’s no point in having a clean, neutral-colored album cover if your personal style is vivid and colorful. Your artwork and album covers should represent you, what you like, what inspires and delights you. You shouldn’t try to change or be something you’re not just to appeal to a wider audience, because fans recognize and appreciate authenticity. Be yourself and make sure that your artwork and visuals represent you and make you proud. 

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Your color scheme

It's important to choose a color palette or color scheme when you start designing artwork for your new single or album. Of course, the sky's the limit here, and you can use all the colors in your toolbox if that’s what you think works. But if you’re working on something a bit more conceptual or clean, then it would be helpful to work with colors that go well together and eliminate colors that don’t work from the list. This elimination and selection process will make it easier for you, as you won’t be overwhelmed and distracted by all the different colors and hues at your disposal. 

Sizing and quality 

While it’s true that album covers don’t need to be complex works of art to elevate your next release, they do need to be high-quality. If you’re releasing a single or album digitally, as many independent artists do nowadays, you’ll need to follow the guidelines imposed by streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Music. Usually, that means a minimum of 1500x1500 pixels, and an aspect ratio of 1:1. Additionally, requirements usually include a JPG or PNG format for album covers and artwork, RGB Color Mode, with no blurriness or pixelation. Basically, your album artwork needs to look sharp, crisp, have the right format and sizing and a high resolution, so that users can check out your cover and appreciate the detail and effort put into it. 

Fonts and details 

A lot of times, artists and bands will release albums that feature no written words on the cover at all, like Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures. You might prefer your official artist name, logo, and album title to be featured front and center on the cover, in which case you’ll have to put a bit of thought into the fonts you want to use. You don’t want to use Arial or Comic Sans on your album cover, but you do want to pick fonts that are easy to read and that mesh well with the artwork and overall vibe of the record. Even if you don’t want to feature any written words on the cover, you’ll still need to pick fonts for any B-side artwork, sleeve, or track list if you’re also planning a physical release in CD or vinyl format. Make sure the fonts are all well integrated, that there are no typos or errors, and be careful not to include any URLs, social media logos, references to other artists, and so on. This is your album cover, not a marketing asset or advertisement, so keep it clean and to the point. 


This is merely stating the obvious, but you want to make sure you give credit where credit is due and that your copyrights are all covered, whether we’re talking about song titles, chords, samples or beats, or the album cover itself. If you’ve worked with a graphic designer, illustrator, or visual artist on your album artwork, you need to make sure that they’re given proper credit. If your artwork is made entirely by you, you have full rights over it and you need to make sure that’s made clear, to prevent others from using it. 

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How to create your own album cover

Now that we’ve gone over the main factors to consider before you even start working on your album artwork, it’s time to talk about the tools and resources you have at your disposal to create the album cover of your dreams. 

Work with a graphic designer

If you have the budget and don’t want to take the time and invest the effort in creating your own artwork, then you can find a graphic designer that can handle all the technical things and turn your vision into reality in an efficient and timely manner. But if you don’t have money to waste on hiring someone else, and want to go at it on your own, there are various resources to help you do that, even if you don’t have any graphic design experience. 

Make use of online image editors

There are several handy image editors to choose from, including the classic Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom, which is a lighter version of Photoshop, if you will. However, both tools require a subscription and might be a little tricky to figure out if you’ve never worked with them before. Other good options would be Canva, Figma, Gravit, or Adobe Spark, to name just a few. Play around with different tools and see which one works best for you. 

Use your own pictures

If you want to use your own pictures for your artwork, then you’ll need to make sure that you take lots of pictures for inspiration, preferably with a good camera that can ensure the quality required by the platforms you’ll be launching your release on. Luckily, you don’t need to invest lots of money into a fancy DSLR or professional camera. Smartphones nowadays feature very powerful cameras that take exceptional pictures - movie directors are even starting to use iPhones to film entire motion pictures and documentaries. Just make the best of your camera settings to capture images that inspire you, and then you can simply upload them into your preferred image editor of choice and create original artwork. 

Use copyright-free images 

If you’re not into photography or just don’t have time to take pictures, you can always use copyright-free images. You can find such images on Unsplash, Pexels, Pixabay, and other similar websites, and you can edit and use them for your covers. Just be sure to check the copyright requirements and make sure that you’re free to use these images for commercial purposes. 

Use AI to generate your album cover 

There is, of course, another way to go when designing your album cover and planning your next release. If you don’t want to take pictures, edit, work with graphic designers, and all that jazz, and your style is more digital-heavy, futuristic, and creative, you can always use AI to generate your desired album cover. All you have to do is feed the algorithm your thoughts and ideas, your preferences for colors, fonts, lighting, and other relevant details, and it will create something for you from scratch. Midjourney is probably the most popular resource for this purpose right now, so why not give it a go and see if it can help you come up with the album cover of your dreams?

Frequently asked questions

Does album cover matter?

Yes, album covers matter. The album cover serves as the visual representation of the music contained within and can greatly influence a listener's perception and interest in the album. A compelling and well-designed album cover has the power to capture attention, evoke emotions, and create a memorable impression. It can also serve as a reflection of the artist's identity and artistic vision, establishing a connection between the music and the audience. A strong album cover can enhance the overall experience of the music, making it more enticing and engaging for potential listeners.

Can I use any picture for my album cover?

Using any picture for your album cover may not be advisable, as it could potentially infringe upon copyright laws or misrepresent the content of your music. It is important to ensure that the image you choose aligns with the message, theme, or aesthetic of your album. Additionally, using original artwork or collaborating with a professional designer can help create a unique and visually appealing album cover that accurately represents your music and enhances its overall appeal.

What program do you use to make album covers?

There are several popular graphic design software options that musicians and designers commonly use to create album covers, such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Canva, and GIMP. These programs offer a wide range of features and tools for designing and editing images, allowing artists to create custom album covers that align with their artistic vision.

Should album covers be JPG or PNG?

Album covers can be either JPG or PNG, depending on the specific needs and preferences of the artist. JPG is commonly used for photographic or detailed designs due to its good balance of image quality and file size. PNG is often chosen for designs with transparency or when preserving image quality without compression artifacts is important. Consider the specific characteristics of your album cover design and the desired balance between image quality and file size to determine the most suitable format.

What is not allowed on an album cover?

There are several things that are generally not allowed on an album cover. This includes content that infringes upon copyright or intellectual property rights of others, explicit or offensive imagery that violates cultural, social, or legal standards, misleading or false information, and any content that promotes hate speech, discrimination, or illegal activities. Additionally, certain jurisdictions may have specific regulations or restrictions on album cover content, such as explicit or explicit sexual imagery or graphic violence. It's important to adhere to legal and ethical guidelines and consult with professionals or legal experts if needed to ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

Want to learn more about how to create amazing artwork and prepare for your next single or album release?

Join Xposure Music and gain access to some of the best music industry professionals in the U.S. Top experts from Sony, Columbia, Def Jam, or Universal have already joined our platform, and they’re ready to give invaluable, on-point feedback on your work, which can help you land that dream record deal or publishing deal you’ve been working towards. Sign up now and reap the rewards.

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Gregory Walfish
Co-founder of Xposure Music, Gregory Walfish stands at the intersection of music, tech, and culture. With a software engineering background, he's passionate about artist development and technology.

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