How to Design CD Cover Album Art

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Graphic design encompasses a number of different areas: movie posters, magazine layout, editorial photography and CD album art. Designing the cover of a CD is an exciting process that allows you to combine design and illustrative skills with inspiration from the musical artist. When designing cover art for an album, it is important to adhere to the artist’s musical style for the most successful piece. Sketching out the design first, then finishing it using a design program, will make the art look professional and clean. A CD cover has two panels: the front and the inlay card, which is the back of the CD. Designing this type of piece can be a laborious process but is rewarding by following some key tips.

How to Design CD Cover Album Art
(Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media)

Things You'll Need

  • Sketchpad
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Scanner
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Drawing tablet (optional)
  • Adobe InDesign or Illustrator
Step 1

Measure out six squares on a sheet of sketchpad paper. These squares represent the front of the CD cover.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 2

Measure out six 2-inch-by-1.5-inch rectangles onto a separate sheet of sketchpad paper. Use two pages if necessary. These rectangles represent the inlay card of the CD, which needs extra length to fold over the spine of the CD cover.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 3

Sketch ideas for designs. If needed, make more squares and rectangles to continue sketching. This process is known as creating “thumbnails,” or small, quick sketches of the final design. Do not make these sketches refined or finished; they are only visual brainstorms.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 4

Choose which design idea you feel the most confident with. Discuss the design with the client.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 5

Measure out a 4.974-inch-by-4.974-inch square and a 6.156-inch-by-4.896-inch rectangle onto the sketch paper. These are the exact measurements of a CD cover and a CD inlay card with a 1/8-inch bleed. The measurements can be exact or rounded up to five inches by five inches and six inches by five inches.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 6

Use the square and rectangle as a guideline to create a composite of your design. A composite is a more refined black-and-white sketch. Include more details and ideas about where to position text. Keep all text and other important information at least an eighth of an inch from the top, bottom and sides to avoid it getting cut off.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 1

Scan the refined cover composite into Adobe Photoshop.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 2

Create a new document that is 4.974 inches by 4.974 inches at 300 pixels per inch, with a transparent background.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 3

Go back to the composite and hit Ctrl-A to select all. Then hit Ctrl-C to copy the image to the clipboard.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 4

Go to the new document and hit Ctrl-V to paste the sketch into the blank document. Position the sketch until it fills out the new document. If needed, create guides around the image by click-dragging guidelines from the rulers. Make the guides 1/8 inch from the top, bottom and sides to represent the bleed. This will keep a white border from appearing when the CD is printed.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 5

Create a new layer over the sketch.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 6

Draw over the sketch using the Paint tool, further refining the image. Use different brushes by changing them in the Brush palette at the top of the screen. Create any outlines first; to add color, add another layer underneath the outlines and fill in like a coloring book. Use a drawing tablet for more illustrative design. Refer to the link in the Resources section for other effects that can be created in Photoshop.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 7

Repeat Steps 1 through 6 for the inlay card. The dimensions will be 6.156 inches by 4.896 inches, including the eighth-inch bleed. In addition to the eighth-inch bleed guidelines, add two more guidelines on each side that are a quarter-inch from the ends of the document. These will be the folding lines for the spines. Consistently save the document as a PSD file to avoid losing work.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 1

Save the finished documents. Then go to File > Save As and save the files as JPEGs. Do this by choosing a name for each file, then clicking on “.jpg, .jpeg” from the dropdown box under File Type.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 2

Open a new document in Adobe InDesign or Illustrator that is 4.974 inches by 4.974 inches. Using a vector program such as InDesign or Illustrator to create text is important for a professional design; creating text in Photoshop will create pixel text, which can look fuzzy when printed.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 3

Go to File > Place and choose the JPEG image for the CD cover front panel. The image will appear in the new document. Position the image until it is lined up with the edges of the document.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 4

Create eighth-inch bleed marks all around the document using the same click-drag technique from the document rulers as in Photoshop. This area should be text-free to avoid it being cut off.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 5

Add text to the image, including the album and artist name. Choose a type font and color that suits the design or illustration; for example, for a more traditional design, use a serif typeface. For a more modern design, use a sans serif typeface.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 6

Repeat Steps 1 through 5 for the inlay card, with the dimensions 6.156 inches by 4.896 inches. In addition to the eight-inch bleed marks, add quarter-inch guidelines from the edges of the document to represent fold marks. When adding text, make sure to include the album title and artist name along the outside spine. Regularly save the document while working.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 7

Go to File > Print and select PDF from the dropdown box that indicates the printer type. This will not print the document, but save it as a PDF file. A PDF setting dialogue box will appear.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media
Step 8

Choose High Quality Print from the resolution or print quality dropdown box. Click Print. Repeat Steps 7 and 8 for the inlay card document. PDFs are universal documents accepted by standard printers.

Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media

Tips & Warnings

  • Listen to the album before creating a design. Sketch the thumbnails while listening to the music; this will help you brainstorm.
  • Finished vector designs can also be created in Adobe Illustrator.
  • Save documents religiously while working. If the program crashes or a power outage occurs, you may lose your work.

References

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