Best Practices for Creating Podcast Cover Art

Learn How to Design and Create Unique Artwork for Your Podcast

Creating Podcast Cover Art

Having the right podcast cover art can be a great tool to catch the attention of potential listeners. You have probably heard that the human attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish. According to a study by Microsoft, the average human attention span is about 8 seconds. Which is down from 12 seconds in the year 2000. Supposedly, goldfish have an attention span of 9 seconds. Whatever the attention span of your potential listener, having great cover art is essential.

If you spend time browsing the top podcasts in iTunes, you will see that most of the top podcast cover art has a few things in common. Most are simple, with as few words as possible, and they do a great job of portraying the essence of the podcast that they are representing. As you look over the different podcast covers, it is pretty obvious that there is a lot of competition for the attention of potential listeners. You have 8 seconds, so make it count.

Browsing iTunes can give you many examples of what does and doesn’t work when it comes to cover art. You will want to portray your brand and the tone of your show in an eye catching graphic that is legible and looks good in a thumbnail image. You want your podcast artwork to communicate to your audience in a way that resonates with them. The use of color, type, images, and the layout all convey a message.

Because the image needs to look good in a thumbnail size, you want clear color that contrasts well with the background.

Things like white backgrounds can looked washout on another white background, so it usually makes sense to have a colored background or at least a colored border around your white background. Words need to be legible in a thumbnail size, so keep the type to a minimum.

You will probably want to have the name of your podcast on your album art, but it is not mandatory.

The Raspberry Pi podcast by Adafruit has a simple background image with a raspberry on it. Yet, it’s fairly obvious this cover is for a podcast that has something to do with the Raspberry Pi. Another podcast cover that stands out is Start Cooking with Kathy Maister. This is a simple green background with a fried egg in the corner. The only words on the cover are start cooking and video. It’s simple, yet it there is no question what this show is about.

Requirements and Guidelines for Podcast Cover Art

  • Meets iTunes Guidelines

  • 3000 pixels

  • 72 dpi

  • In .jpg or .png format

  • Compress your image files

  • Hosted on a publicly addressable server

  • Looks good even as a thumbnail

  • Readable text and colors

  • Appeals to your target audience

  • Captures the essence of your show

  • Pleasing design concepts

Principles of Good Design

Whether you hire someone to create your cover art or work on it yourself, understanding a few simple design principles can take your artwork to the next level. Backgrounds matter. If your cover is displayed on a site with a white background, such as iTunes, a light colored background may look washed out. Have a background color that makes your cover stand out.

Although, there is a natural grey border that goes around iTunes covers, so even though light covers may looked washed out it is possible for some to stand out.

Especially, if the colors inside the white background are bold colors like black or red. Here are four examples of light colored covers that actually look good.

You also want your cover design to reflect the mood of your podcast and your genre.Take the time to consider who your target audience is and try to appeal to their tastes. You can also incorporate good principles of design. Design principles consist of six areas.

  • Balance - This provides stability and structure to your design. A large shape close to the center can be balanced by a small shape close to the edge.

  • Proximity - Creates relationships between elements. It provides a focal point. Elements don’t have to be side by side, but they should be visually connected in some way.

  • Alignment - This creates order. It gives visual elements a connection to each other.

  • Repetition - This strengthens a good design by tying elements together.

  • Contrast - This is the juxtaposition of opposing elements. It can be used to highlight design elements. Examples are direction, light or dark, or colors that are opposites on the color wheel.

  • Space - This is the distance around and between elements. Positive and negative space are factors to consider.

Following these principles you can choose a background image or color, then choose an appropriate text for the name of your show. You can also add one or more images or your logo or something else that specifically identifies your show.

Color Rules and The Color Wheel

If your podcast already has a well designed logo or website, you can easily base your color on that. If it is a new show, you have a more challenging job. Getting too wild or not wild enough with color can have a big impact. Choosing good a color scheme is only second to choosing good typography for most designers. Fortunately, there are some color rules that can help you choose colors that look good together.

  • Analogous - Three main colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel

  • Monochromatic - Using various shades of one main color

  • Triad - Three main colors that are spaced evenly around the color wheel

  • Complementary - Two main colors that sit opposite each other on the color wheel

  • Compound - Sometimes called split-complementary. It uses a base color and two analogous colors adjacent to the complementary color

    If this sounds overly complicated, it doesn’t have to be. Just check out this color wheel by Adobe and start playing with the options. The purpose of the color wheel is to help find pleasing colors that complement each other. It’s also fun to use. Another great tool for exploring the world of color is Colourlovers. This site offers tools for color schemes, background patterns, ready made color palettes, a community, and much more.

    Psychology of Color

    Marketing and branding experts love to talk about the psychology of color. Orange buttons get more clicks. Blue websites are more trustworthy, but there isn’t really hard and fast evidence if the psychology of color is accurate or not. A lot of it depends on perceived expectations and personal experiences. That is why split-testing is so useful. This can provide concrete evidence about what really works. Still just for kicks, here are the anecdotal meanings of certain colors.

    • Yellow - Optimism

    • Orange - Friendly

    • Red - Excitement

    • Purple - Creative

    • Blue - Trust

    • Green - Peaceful

    • Gray - Balance or Calm

    Typography

    A quick glance at iTunes, and you can see that most of the fonts used are legible sans-serif fonts with different weights or boldness. There are no hard and fast rules for your font choice, other than it needs to be legible in a thumbnail image. Although, you may want to avoid using comic sans.

    A couple of designer tricks to make your text look professional is not to stretch it. It will always look distorted. If you need your text to be larger, just increase the font size to a larger point, pixel, or em.

    Another thing to look out for is the spacing. Leading is how the text is spaced vertically if there are multiple lines. With album art, leading probably won’t be an issue, but the space between the letters could be.

    The space between the letters is called kerning. This can be adjusted for each individual letter if it looks like there is too much space between two letters or some letters are too close together. Similar to adjusting the letter spacing, if you resize an image be sure to check the box that constrains the aspect ratio. If you ever see a web image that is distorted, it is because this step was skipped. Weird spacing between letters in a line of text and stretched or distorted images are two things that can make your image look unprofessional. Tracking adjusts the space between letters throughout the entire word. You probably won’t need to adjust the tracking, but it is also an option.

    Layout

    You want a clean uncluttered layout where all of the elements of the image are in harmony. There are a lot of sophisticated layout options, but the main goal is to have a focal point and then have the other elements in balance or harmony in some way. You can use something like the golden ratio to create a focal point off to the side. Your main element doesn’t have to be right in the middle.

    So let’s put it all together. Find a photo editing software that supports layers. Photoshop is the image editing software of choice for most designers, but it comes at a price and has a learning curve. If you are new to design, using something like Canva could make things easier. Canva is free to use, but there are also fees for some elements that might make your work look better, but you could make a perfectly usable cover with the free version of Canva.

    Photo Editor

    • Photoshop - What the pros use

    • Canva - Free and paid options - Easy to use

    • Gimp - Free open source software

    • PicMonkey - Simple and free option

    • PIXLR - Web or mobile based

    Steps to Creating Podcast Cover Art

    • Open a new 3000 x 3000 pixel document

    • Fill it with your background color or background image

    • You can find stunning free images at UnSplash

    • If you are using an image as the background, you can always add a filter to make text and other elements on your background standout. Changing an image to black and white and then having white or black text or logos usually looks good. You can also add blur to your background image, so that it doesn’t detract from your other elements.

    • Create a new layer and add your text

    • If you have other design elements, like additional images or logos create another layer and add those elements

    • Refer back to the principles of design and check for focal points, balance, and the overall appeal of your work

    • Sometimes it takes several tries before you get it just right

    • Save your work as a .jpg or .png file and make sure the resolution is 72 dpi

    • You now have new cover artwork for your podcast

    If you don’t want to be bothered with creating the actual art yourself, it still helps to understand what you want and the good principles of design. If you are going the cheap route and using something like Fiverr it is to your advantage to specify exactly what you want.

    Whatever you decide, remember first impressions matter. Your cover is often the first impression you will make on a potential listener browsing iTunes. You want to grab people’s attention and convey the tone of your show. Ultimately getting them to give your show a listen and become a part of your adoring listener base.