Here are my Top Ten CD Cover Design Tips in order of design process. This article is written for an intermediate Photoshop/Illustrator user and upwards, focusing on the technical side of things, so here goes…
1. First and foremost, make sure you’re using the right CD tray card and booklet templates — and that the dimensions are precise, as this will save many headaches.
2. As with most graphic design work, set your files up in RGB for the initial design stages — and utilize the most appropriate colour profile for the job.
3. Make critical decisions about the actual CD Sleeve design print; if the client requires 2 spot colours, think about the Pantone Colours you’re going to use and how well the CMYK [final] imagery on the other files will match these colours (if a match is required). Also, if the CD design file colours are totally vector based from the start, use CMYK in this instance.
4. When working on your design, always remember to view it at 100%-size at regular intervals throughout the design process. This way, you will gain a good understanding of how the CD sleev will look when printed. Remember, album artwork is now commonly viewed on-screen in programs such as iTunes – and on iPod’s, etc — so it’s important to consider what it will look like when scaled down on-screen. For example, does the printed work contain special ‘out-of-gamut’ spot colours, foil block or 3D elements? If so, consider developing a scree-safe alternate version for online and mobile use.
5. I recommend that all text used is in vector-format so that is prints as clearly as possible — if this is desired. Also, try and use fonts that can be embedded into a PDF – additionally, it’s worth converting all your type to outlines in the closing stages of your design work so you don’t have any worries about sending a copy of your chosen font to the printers, where mistakes can be made.
6. This tip is a Big one – make sure that once your, for example, PhotoShop and Illustrator files are compiled, that you utilize the Overprint Preview in Illustrator, Quark, etc. This is especially important on the CD Sleeve Print design. The last thing you want is to have a light colour overprinting a darker one, as this can totally ruin a design if not intended! See Image below:
7. If there’s one place on the CD design where text placement-accuracy is paramount — it’s on the tray card spines. On a standard jewel CD case template there’s barely a 1cm width to place a CD Title, Band Name, Record Company Logo and any other information that is required. My main advise here is not to utilize the full width of the spine, because depending on your printer, the text placement can easily get shunted left or right due to the inaccuracy of the printers’ guillotines. Remember, there should be a 3mm bleed on all your artwork (except CD Print), so strike a sensible balance of legibility of text and design-prudence.
8. When your design work is complete, it’s a good idea to zoom right out of your work in Illustrator, Freehand, etc. If you design like me, you may have random image snippets and text laying around the document bounds – so zooming out will reveal these. Also, while viewing far out, do an ‘Outline Preview’ to reveal any stray points and white/invisible vectors which may be littering the workspace. You may be surprised as to what you’ll find if you’ve been experimenting with a design for a while! See below:
9. Print out a hard-copy of your work on a good colour laser or ink-jet printer. Make sure that ’scale to fit page’ is not selected when you print, making sure you do it at 100% scale. Utilize your printer drivers’ advanced colour settings and use colour profiles for the best possible colour-match.
Get out a metal ruler & scalpel or guillotine, cut out the booklet pages and tray card (making sure you trim the 3mm bleed) and physically insert the prints into the jewel case to make sure they fit and look as desired. Check the spine text/components and make sure your design looks as intended through the ‘clear’ jewel case – making sure your chosen colours don’t look washed out.
10. Finally, once all is good, save or export your work to PDF. When you save the files, be sure to include your chosen CMYK color profiles and take a look at the PDF summary before saving. A common summary warning is that some artwork hasn’t been flattened or that the document raster effects are set at 72 dpi, which is below print-standard (typically 300 dpi). It’s a good idea to save the PDF in the most current version, but spare a thought if you’re sending your files abroad to a ‘less-advanced’ or developing country, as they may be using outdated PDF readers.
To summarize, the key to producing a CD album or music CD design is accuracy of setup, a creative and appropriate artwork & design and the utilization of PDF technology. I hope this helps you – tell me what you think! Any questions or comments are welcome…