Top 10 Tips: Album Packaging Creation

(This is the first in hopefully many wonder cross-post contributions from Me and the Machine Records. – mdave)

by Josh Preston

You just spent who knows how long writing, recording, mixing, mastering (and whatever else to your music) and you’re ready to share it with the world! But before you do, think about this: If you were given the choice between a handwritten CD-R paper cover or a glossy full-color CD case, which would you prefer? Not that we think everything has to be shiny (though shiny things TOTALLY entertain us), but there is something to be said about packaging your music in a visually attractive way. Make it look as great as it sounds!

We know. Just because you’re an artist, that doesn’t mean you’re an "Artist". Below is MATM’s Top 10 Tips for Album Art Creation and hopefully they’ll make the whole process a little easier.

  1. When thinking about your album cover, consider what you want the cover to say about your music. Is there a mood you want to convey? Is there a pivotal moment that you would like to foreshadow on the cover? Your artwork is going to be the first thing most people are exposed to so be sure it says what you want it to say!
  2. Before you get too far in the creation of the album art, make sure you know how it needs to be formatted! If you are using a manufacturer like Discmakers or Oasis, they have templates available online to download so you can make sure the artwork is properly formatted for their print process. This is HUGELY important! Especially if you are paying someone to create the art… You don’t want to have to pay them twice to reformat everything.
  3. Speaking of templates, when you’re ready to download them, you’ll probably find a few different file types. Maybe Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and some others. Here are a couple of the differences in these design programs so you’ll have some insight into the process. Adobe Photoshop has a great set of tools for manipulating photos. But Adobe Photoshop is pixel based, so if you are working with shapes and text, the larger you go, the more visible the pixels are and that can make the quality look a little less than stellar. Adobe Illustrator is not pixel based, but vector based. This means that you will not see the pixelation on the text and shapes when resizing them. Make sure you or whoever you choose to design the album art is familiar with both programs!
  4. The other thing you may notice when you are selecting a template is the never-ending styles of product choices you have! Jewel Cases, Sleeves, Eco-Walets, 4-panel, 6-panel, and on and on. This is really a personal preference and cost decision, but the one piece of advice we have is to always choose something with a spine! If you are sending your CD to press or radio, they will stick it on a shelf (if you’re lucky…haha). When they stick it on a shelf, if your case does not have a spine, it will disappear in the midst of everything else to never be heard from again! Remember too, if you are manufacturing vinyl, you will need a separate template for that format.
  5. Pay attention to whether you need to use the CMYK or RGB formatting. CMYK is a four color print process (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) and RGB is a three color process (Red, Green and Blue). Most print is done in CMYK so it’s probably a good idea to start there but double-check the formatting specs before you lay everything out.
  6. Keep the resolution high! If you are using Adobe Photoshop, make sure you are operating in at least 300 dpi (dots per inch) in order to keep your graphic quality solid.
  7. When designing the artwork, you will likely see red and green lines on your artwork template. These are the bleed and trim lines. Make sure your artwork fills that whole space out and overlaps the bleed and trim lines. This will ensure that if the printing is cut just slightly off in any direction that you will see art and not blank white space. The margin of error is small, usually an 1/8th of an inch, so it will not be noticeable even in the worst case scenario.
  8. Sweet! Your artwork is done… or is it? Did you include a space for the barcode? Most manufacturers will provide you with a barcode for a small fee (like $20 most times). Including a bar code is hugely important if you plan on selling your cds anywhere other than your live shows. If you plan on making your record available at your local record store, make sure you include a spot for the barcode on the back cover of your album! A good general rule is to leave .75" x 1.25" (and inserting a white block as a space holder might help).
  9. Save, save, save your work. We say this because we care. There is nothing worse than creating a graphic masterpiece only to have the power go out or a full-on computer crash and *POOF* there goes all the work you did. Trust us: Save your work often.
  10. Now that the artwork is done, take a look at it in another way. Can you use any part of the artwork as a graphic component for merchandise and/or does it tie-in with your website? Consistent imagery in a sea of over-saturation will go a long way to help your music stay on the minds of your new fans.

We hope that these tips have been helpful! After all, our mission is only to make the world a little more beautiful, one album cover/website/t-shirt/sticker/etc. at a time! Also, don’t forget to check out some of our designs at Me and the Machine Creative!

Original for "MATM’s Top 10 Tips for Album Art Creation" post is located at Me and the Machine Records Blog

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About mdave

David has been using computers to create his visions since the early days of the Apple II. When the world wide web hit he dove in head first learning HTML and building his first websites. After spending a few years at a software services firm in Milwaukee he moved to Nashville and shortly after the Music Industry grabbed hold. He joined the Country Music Association as webmaster designing, building and managing the CMA Awards, CMA Music Festival and corporate websites for the 8 years. He started their social media reach-out and when he left the CMA could reach over 50,000 fans directly. David currently freelances by day, codes by night along with producing/hosting the Nashville Tech Feed a technology podcast. David was named by Billboard Magazine as one of the top 140 people in the Music Industry to follow on Twitter. , Facebook and Twitter