How To Make an Album Cover That’s Unique (and Free)

make a unique album cover

Photo created with DALL-E

We all know, you need cover art with each release. But for indie musicians, this is often one of the more difficult parts of releasing music. We’re all about the music and we’re usually not visual artists. But in today’s world, if you want to turn music into your career, you are also often the cover art designer. So here are some tips and tools on how to make a cool album cover or single artwork easily and for free…

Is an Album Cover Really That Important?

Whether it’s an album, an EP, or a single, the artwork associated with your music is important. Granted, if the music is great, the artwork isn’t going to be a deal-breaker.

But think of your favorite albums or songs. You can immediately picture the cover art, can’t you? The artwork you pair with your song(s) could stick in people’s minds, so it’s worth putting effort into it.

Plus, the cover art is art, after all. It’s another way to express yourself in addition to your music. So why not have some fun with it? You can create imagery that’s another interpretation of the music, or you can make it a more literal expression of the music, or something in between.

Best Practices for Creating Cover Art

Because cover art is art, I hesitate to tell you how to create it. So I’m just going to offer a few best practices to follow.

  • Don’t use images you don’t have legal permission to use. You can use royalty-free stock photo websites like Unsplash and Pixabay.
  • When in doubt, keep the design simple. You don’t want to overwhelm people (unless that approach fits your style of music).
  • Listen to your song as you create. This will help you make sure the artwork matches the vibe of the music.
  • Get trusted feedback from someone with good design taste. Are you friends with a graphic designer or visual artist? Ask them for their feedback.

Music Distribution Requirements for Cover Art

Music distributors have requirements for your cover art, so it’s good to know these before you start creating the visuals. These requirements may vary slightly among the different distributors, so double-check what your distributor requires.

But generally, these are the rules…

  • Minimum dimensions of 3000 x 3000 pixels
  • Minimum resolution of 72dpi (300dpi is best)
  • PNG or JPEG file format (check with your distributor about which they prefer)
  • Cannot be blurry or pixelated
  • Text on the covert art (if any) must match the artist name and song/album title exactly
  • Do not add text that states a time frame, like the release date or “limited edition”
  • Do not add URLs, logos, social media @’s, UPC/ISRC codes, contact info, or anything referencing streaming platforms, digital distributor, or a record label
  • Do not include any reference to pricing
  • Do not use pornographic or inappropriate images

The Best Platforms for Creating Cover Art

These days, it’s not that difficult to make really cool cover art, thanks to free tools like the ones below…

Canva

Canva is a cloud-based graphic design tool. If you have zero ideas for your cover art, you can start with and edit Canva’s templates. Pretty much every element on these templates are editable, removable, and rotatable. On the other hand, if you have a clear vision for your cover art, you can upload your own files and use Canva as a graphic editor.

Adobe Express

Adobe Express Free is another cloud-based graphic designer, very similar to Canva. They also have some very good, editable templates. Plus, you can upload your own files if you’d like.

Canva and Adobe Express Free are almost identical graphic design tools – the main difference is they offer different designs. So if you’re looking for cover art inspiration, I’d suggest checking both Canva and Adobe Express.

DALL-E

DALL-E is an artificial intelligence engine that creates images based on your specific text prompt. So based on what you tell it to create, it will generate an image in the style you want it to. (I made the main image of this article with DALL-E using the prompt “musician creating unique album artwork”).

And as long as you stay within their content policy, you can use images created with DALL-E commercially, which means you can use it for your cover art and even merch.

I’ve been creating the cover art for my singles with DALL-E and getting really cool results. Check them out here and here.

The Main Thing To Remember When Creating Cover Art

Remember that the cover art for your song or album is art. So use it as an opportunity to express your visual creativity. Stay authentic to your personality and artistic expression. And just have fun with it.