Design-it-Yourself Cover Artwork

As we are no longer buying CDs, buying fewer and fewer downloads, and rapidly replacing our primary method for consuming music through streaming. 

As creators, we now have to consider the ins-and-outs of streaming and producing material for a digital realm…

Preparing your artwork for digital music stores and streaming services

Following part one of this series of music related topics for hands-on artists, producers and musicians of all levels in the music business. Previously, we explored the process involved with producing original artwork for physical cd packaging, as well as the duplication of CDs.

In part two, we will dance along the typical process of preparing your audio tracks for digital stores and streaming services, starting with the importance of the meta data required when submitting your music for streaming and downloads.

UPC-ISRC-Cover-Art-Streaming-Cardboard-Box-1.
Meta data helps track the activity of the ‘package’ (Album, EP) and its ‘contents’ (tracks, video...)

Hey! I thought this was about cover artwork?

Okay, but first, I’m sure you are familiar with downloading music or audiobooks. If you are, then you will have surely noticed that your audio tracks always carry their own unique cover artwork and track details no matter which digital device you are using. 

This is all possible due to the meta data, which includes details of you cover art, for each individual audio track. To have your artwork approved by the download and streaming services you’ll need to comply with a few ‘rules’ first.

Software Folder dot Design

Why is Meta Data & UPC important?

How meta data helps track the activity of the ‘package’ (Album, EP) and its ‘contents’ (tracks, video...)

In music, your meta data is the hardcoded information attached to each of your tracks and products, so that they can be readily identified and tracked.

Meta data include details such as artist and album names, the year of release, the genre of music and the cover artwork. Most importantly, and crucial for getting paid for your work, is your unique ISRC (International Standard Recoding Code) and your UPC (Universal Product Code). 

Both are 12-digit code components of you meta data, one is used for tracking the sales related activity of your tracks. And the other, for tracking the product activity. 

For example, your Album may have 9-tracks, and so therefore you will need 9 ISRC codes (for the 9 tracks) and one UPC (for the Album).

What are the rules for submitting cover artwork to the streaming services?

Whilst currently there may not be an absolute standard for providing cover artwork for your music. The following are useful considerations to observe for  ensuring your artwork approved.

From both user experience and measuring purposes your individual tracks must be easily identified. The text for your cover art must also match, the meta data you provide for each track.

In some cases this practice is acceptable. However, currently adding record label details to your cover art is generally not allowed when using the major platforms.

Generally, there are many grey areas when producing commercial material, plus trends and opinions change over time. So, ask on matters you are not sure of.

This may even include the use of social media icons as well as images and graphics.

The common size for cover art is a square 3000 x 3000 pixels (1:1).
Avoid resizing smaller images, as the quality is very likely to deteriorate.

 cover art notes:

  • File formats include PNG, JPG, or GIF
  • Dimensions in pixels can be a minimum of 1600 x 1600 pixels. Although the recommended size is: 3000 x 3000 pixels.

  • Provide files at the preferred 300 dpi

Do NOT use promotional terms such as Buy Now!, Latest Release, etc.

To steer clear of any issues design your cover with as minimal text detail as necessary, namely just your track or album title and the artist name. Use images for which you have permission and do not include any information that may be deemed promotional such as Buy Now, Just Released, contact us, social media icons etc.

Using online software to create your cover art

Using Canva on a Mac: What I did...

1. In Canva, search CD Cover templates, upload your own images and create your design… 

2. Download your completed design as a PDF. 

png file at 350dpi

3. Open the PDF in Preview for MacOS, and export as a PNG file at 350 dpi.

4. Open the PNG file. The dimensions will measure 5269 x 5269 pixels or a range higher than 3000 x 3000 pixels.

5. Resize the file to 3000 x 3000 pixels or any other size request you may have, and export as a JPG file.

5296-cover-art
click to englarge
4.5/5

Hidden amongst the internet noise I happened to find, at least for myself, the lesser known Graphic Springs “design-it-yourself” tools. Now, here is a simple online app offering, that provides you with not only Album cover templates, but almost every other format you’d care to dream of. From posters, brochures, slideshows and letterheads, you’ll find a template for what you want (see the full list below).

On a mission to help ‘level-out’ the business playing field and allow small businesses and non-profits to make some headway that would usually be burdened by costs, GraphicSprings offers a huge number of free templates as well as a “logo maker” (hmmmm, now that raises an eyebrow).

 

Unlike the following 2 other design-it-yourself solutions covered by this post, Graphic Springs will allow you a lot of its capability and features for free, plus the interface shows a leaning towards catering for CD Artwork creation. Which is why it has been ranked with 4.5 stars.

 

3.5/5

Canva is the most popular online app for design-it-yourself templates and catering for CD cover artwork. Simply enter CD cover in the search box and what you’ll find, is a gallery of different design ideas. Whilst the default size for these templates are only 1400 x 1400 pixels. When you download with an upgraded Pro account you can adjust the size to meet the recommended 3000 x 3000 pixels. Also, you’ll have the option of saving your file in the suggested PDF format, which is the typical format for providing artwork for printing.

Once you have the PDF file you may resize it and convert is to any of the following formats; JPG, PNG, GIF, and even EPS, however it’s very unlikely that you will need an EPS file for your CD cover. 

Whilst I say most of the above based on some theory. Generally, I found that I was able to achieve acceptable quality after enlarging my cover art from the 1080 square format used for the Instagram template, to the preferred and recommended 3000 x 3000 pixel size.

3.5/5

The Easil Toolkit is a another useful design-it-yourself tool that gives you access to 1000s of professionally pre-designed templates which you can customise using the Easil drag and drop editing tools.

However, today we’re all about cover artwork for music and unfortunately, after a brief chat-message with an Easil team member. Currently, you’ll have to create your own template for CD Covers, by starting with a blank Instagram template. 

Starting with a blank Instagram template 

Using the free version of Easil will only allow you to export JPG files, plus you may also need to upload your own text as a PNG graphic file with a transparent background to be placed as a layer above your image.

This may not be a problem if you have some knowledge in producing your own graphics. Simply produce separate components for your artwork. For example, 1 file for the image or photo, and 1 PNG file, with a transparent background, for the text.  (See the example below)

 
fist-bump-layered-png-text
fist-bump-Create-from-blank-900

Is it safe to resize my cover art?

Although, using the 1080 x 1080 instagram template may not quite meet our recommended 3000 x 3000 pixels, you can still use it as a basis for your design. And providing your image is of high quality, you can resize it later without loss of any noticeable quality. 

After all, judging by my own tests above, there are hardly any noticeable quality or sizing discrepancies, although I did have an issue with the text not being a white as I wanted. (if you look at the Fist Bump text, you’ll notice that it’s a little off white/grey).

Creating stories and general content

Overall, what I think you’ll like most about Easil, and especially if you are into generally creating online content with a team, is how useful is at helping maintain consistency throughout the material you share with your audience. Although, you can say the same is true for Canva. Nonetheless,  Easil allows you to conveniently save your fonts, colours, logos and brand images in your own Brand Kit

This can really help with maintaining a consistent feel or visual identity across your different cover art whilst remote working… [Read more…]

Cover design artwork term reference:  CD Cover, Cover Artwork, Cover Art, Album Cover…

Before submitting your work

Okay, so you have your artwork ready, now it’s time to learn about the different services available for submitting your work. Whilst you may decide to go the journey alone, there are services that will also take care of most of the load for you. Watch this space for updates or Subscribe below: