CD & DVD artwork design – tips and tricks

04 June 2015

Designing album artwork (or anything, for that matter) is a subjective process. There’s no magic formula for creating the ‘perfect’ CD or DVD package, but there are some ways you can ensure the design and printing aspects of the production process run smoothly (not only for us in the production team, but for you and your client/band as well!)

Below are some tips and tricks that will help you achieve the best result for your CD or DVD presentation.


  • Hold a briefing. If you are designing for someone else, this is the ideal way to start. Get together as early as possible to discuss the project so that all parties are clear on requirements from the outset. It’s so important to understand what your client wants to achieve, what inspires them, what style of design they like, any dislikes and any mandatory requirements before you even so much as lift your mouse. Even if you are designing for yourself it’s worth sitting down and jotting down notes to the above effect to help guide your design.
  • Adhere to printer's specs and templates. This is a big one. Too often we receive artwork from designers that has not been set up correctly to spec. This has massive repercussions for all involved – artwork often has to be reworked, timelines are affected and budgets blown. We charge by the half hour for artwork amends, so this should be incentive enough to follow our templates! You can download them here and we are always on hand to help if you strike any issues.
  • Pre-plan. Once you’ve had some time to think about the project, it’s a great idea to show your client some visual references before you get too far down the track of designing the artwork. Visual references could be clippings, photos, items – even people that you think will inspire the design you are planning. This gives your client a good indication of your intended design ‘flavour’, and they can provide feedback accordingly. Sketching (also known as ‘scamping’) is also a good way of showing your client how you’ll approach the design of their album book if you’re a competent drawer.
  • Do your research. Has your artist or client done any albums before? Looking at their previous work will give you a big steer on how you should approach their artwork, or what to do differently this time round. If at all possible, grab the opportunity to listen/view the disc content earlier rather than later, as it may inspire your album design – seems obvious, but many people forget to listen to the band they’re actually designing for.


  • Be clear on what components you need to design. It's easy to forget exactly what components of the CD package you need to design. Our diagram below is an indicative guide, but will give you a fair idea of what you need to factor in (depending on your packaging). Our specs will have all the set up detail on this you need.
  • Become familiar with design programmes. We can’t go into the intricacies of using publishing programmes such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop here. But if you are new to these, there are many helpful web tutorials that will be of help. YouTube is also a great tool. Remember, we cannot accept designs in Microsoft Word or Microsoft Publisher.
  • Select appropriate photos and imagery. These need to be high quality – no lower than 300dpi resolution (in fact, your whole project should be set up at this resolution). A 72dpi image off the internet is going to look terrible when printed. If in doubt, we can assist you with the scanning process.
  • Another thing to remember here is copyright. Where did your photos come from? If they weren’t taken by you, you’ll most probably need to seek permission from the copyright holder (i.e. the photographer). Same goes for imagery. If you didn’t draw it, it isn’t yours to use. Stock imagery websites are helpful in this regard. We recommend for affordable images which you can purchase and download for use. Just make sure you purchase the image at the correct resolution and read the fine print as there are some terms and conditions pertaining to usage (as the designer, it’s up to you to make sure you adhere to these).
  • Consider how you'll display the album title and artist name on the cover. It’s important to determine whether the artist’s name and album title needs to be clearly read on the cover. If so, consider for a minute how your product will be displayed in a store. No one will see the name of the artist/album if it’s towards the bottom of the cover artwork when it’s sitting on a shop shelf. If you’re not going for the mysterious, subversive design approach, then we’d suggest positioning this text towards the top of the cover.
  • Be creative. We offer many alternatives to plastic jewel and super jewel cases (the standard sorts of cases you see in shops). And if you’re feeling adventurous and confident enough you can consider special inks and printing techniques on the face of your disc – but talk to us before you embark on a complicated design so we can confirm that it is achievable.
  • Be practical. Keep in mind your limitations. If budget is tight and timelines are short, then utilising scented inks and complicated packaging isn’t realistic. Customised cases require hand packaging, which requires time and additional budget. A complicated package will also require additional pre-production work and possible creation of a die line, which is costly and not suitable for fast-turnaround or short-run projects. If in doubt, keep it simple or talk to us before you start your design.
  • Don't forget your barcode. Barcodes are required if you are distributing through a record label who will supply to major retailers - they will supply you with a catalogue number and barcode number. Once we receive the barcode information from you we can then create the barcode itself and insert this into your artwork.
  • Be aware of legal requirements. By law, all discs have to have copyright details no smaller than 6pt in size. A good idea is to check the back of a CD cover and look at its copyright details for an idea of what’s required. However, we can provide further information regarding this once we receive your artwork for set up.


  • Carefully check and approve everything. Inadequate proofing always causes headaches so it’s important that all components of the album artwork are checked prior to supplying to us. Special attention should be paid to track listings, as these often change throughout the production process. If you’re designing for yourself, get somebody to be your second set of eyes. Obviously we’ll raise any errors with you if we spot them but ultimately we cannot be responsible for any mistakes in the artwork as it is supplied to us.
  • Prepare your files correctly. Before outputting, double check that your artwork is set up in CMYK (not RGB) at 300dpi and meets all the requirements as per our template document.
  • Proofing. Proofing is something we strongly recommend. It’s the best way to check colour, reproduction quality and other details before printing. A high resolution Sherpa proof can be supplied at request when placing the initial order with sales. Once this is signed off and returned to us, we’ll proceed to print. It’s important that all parties with an interest in the project thoroughly check the proof as it’s their last chance to catch any errors before printing.

If there is anything more you'd like to know about artwork and printing, feel free to contact us.