HOW TO: Make an Album Cover

Categories Articles, Web Design

I have a passion for creative thinking. The process of discovering a new approach to solving problems of any kind is challenging and invigorating. My latest endeavor of designing the album artwork for the “TECHNICOLOR EP” was no different. Here’s a step-by-step look into my creative process.

Step 1: the idea

This is ALWAYS the most important step in the creative process. Without ideas driving what we do our endeavors are worthless and end up mindless fads that are soon forgotten. In our digital world there are applications on every platform that add the latest design trends to your photos, posters, websites, etc. with the simple click of a mouse. It’s the people with thought, concept, and originality that stand out. People with an idea.

The idea for the album cover came from a skateboard design I did as a student in college. The idea grew out of my desire to be able to record anywhere, my own traveling recording studio. This original thought seemed extremely applicable in recording my first EP especially when taking my music on the road. Without a band to back me up I had to rely on loop pedals and effects to fill in the sound and create a unique experience for the audience.

Step 2: get help

I have several friends who are not only passionate about creative things but also willing to put there time and effort into helping others. I brought on my friends Elizabeth Borders and Rachel Clary (2 phenomenal graphic designers currently attending design school at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth) to help with the layout and composition of my piece.

Step 3: gather, organize, layout

We gathered every piece of sound/music equipment I had in my house, placed them on a white sheet and began the layout process. I wanted my guitar to be the focal point so we began to build around it. After maneuvering multiple items in and around the guitar we began to lay out wires by taping down the loose ends with double sided tape.

Step 4: photograph it

I wanted the piece when complete to have a scanned appearance in order to leave room for the possibility of printing it out as a large gallery piece. Since I don’t have access to a large gallery scanner I had to fake it. I took photos from directly above all of the major components in order to give each one the right perspective. I then filled in the negative space with remaining wires. I shot the piece on a Canon 5D Mk II with a 24-70mm 2.8 lens and two 580 EX II Speedlites.

Step 5: color correction

I shoot all my photographs in RAW format in order to have maximum flexibility in the color correcting process, using Aperture for all my color correction (but you can use just easily use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom or something similar). Make sure that you always color correct before piecing the collage together so that you get the full range of the RAW imaging data.

I wanted plenty of contrast and definition in order for the image to feel surreal and to avoid difficult background touch-ups. (Aperture allows you to make simple adjustments and apply them to multiple items in your library).

Step 6: piece it together

Adobe Photoshop CS5 comes with an incredible new tool to help piece together panoramic images. It’s next to worthless when doing this type of image, though, because of the different vantage points I created with the photos. (This step was one of the more time consuming aspects of the project.) Getting everything lined up with different camera angles is always a daunting task. Instead of using the eraser on images it’s always better to use a vector mask. With the eraser once it’s gone you can’t get it back but when you use vector masks everything can be shown or hidden by using the black or white paint brush.

Step 7: fill in the gaps

Because of the different perspectives, some of the wires were not lining up. So I created new layers for those specific sections I needed to align perfectly and used the transform warp tool to line the images up.

Step 8: clean up

After everything was completely in place I went back through to clean up some of the distracting shadows and off-white spaces. (To help with this task I added an adjustment layer that brought the brightness down.) This allowed me to see even the spots that might appear white on my screen but could potentially show up as splotches on someone else’s monitor.

Step 9: one final touch

I wanted something on the screen of the iPad but nothing too distracting. Putting the name of the EP seemed the most logical thing to add since I didn’t want text anywhere else on the front cover. Keeping with the original non-digital theme I did not want to pick a font and move on, so I hand sketched some letters, scanned them in, traced them in illustrator, placed them in photoshop, added a touch of the noise filter, a white box and called it a done deal.

Step 10: take it to the masses

The album was a free online release so the only thing left to do was create a few ads with the completed artwork and voilà. I now have a unique album cover design backed by pointy of blood, sweat and tears. All created and put together by myself with a little help, not a studio executive and his uber-design team. True Indie!

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Jonathan Combs is creative thinker with a passion for design, photography, film, music and art.

  • useful tutorial though kinda difficult for me.

  • margot

    thanks for sharing!

  • Awesome. I like. Minimalist jumble, very nice. BTW – what happened to the forum? Gone?

  • Hey this is nice composition of music instruments in creating a simple yet wonderful album cover. Like the end result.

  • tex j

    love to see you do an psychedelic album cover with art in the vein of Rodney Matthews..Roger Dean…or Paul WhiteHead now that would be cool !

  • This is a really cool tutorial! Very interesting way to create one.