Today I finished my first album cover. It was for isi’s new single, broken clocks (sza cover). I highly recommend you go listen to it; she shows a new, promising talent that very few artists her age hold. I consider her the new Tash Sultana, but hey—I’ll leave that to your judgement 😉
I had planned to do a collaboration with her for some time now, and was given full artistic reign on the project. It was a fantastic feeling, and I’m glad the results turned out so well. However, being the first album cover I have ever designed (and painted), it involved a bit of research on my end.
The best website I found on the subject was actually this one (though I used a few others, too). They told me what no-one else did—that the standard CD cover size is 4.724″ x 4.724″, but only once they have been trimmed down from the bleed area. Bleed included, they are 4.974″ x 4.974″.
So what is bleed area? Firstly, “bleed” is a term that comes from the print industry—and in printing, you don’t actually print to the edge of a page. It’s bad if the printer prints onto itself, so there’s always a margin involved, thereby keeping a piece of paper between its ink, and itself.
Why can’t the printer just print to the edge of the page exactly? Because, at least in this day and age, printers aren’t exact. The page might be just a little bit off to the side, and suddenly the printer has printed onto itself. Because of this, pages are printed within margins, and trimmed down to size.
And, of course, if the page did print slightly angled, you might have a tiny bit of white margin showing, and that wouldn’t be fun for anyone. So, you have a bleed area; that is, a buffer zone between the content and the margin, of about 1/8”. This way, you can trim off the margin, and the bleed, and be left with an image that prints to the edge of the page. This way, even if the page is on an angle, there are no white bits.
To compensate for this trim, I painted the image with the bleed area as a dark margin (above right). This way nothing would be lost if the area is trimmed away, and the image stays its desired size. The places beneath that margin are more sketchy than the rest, as you can see (left), but it doesn’t matter if it’s only a few trim leavings. For digital displays, the bleed area is just cropped out and used only for print.
Now, onto the design itself. Though I had read that faces in album art commonly lead to the CD being further inspected, the face in this one was a happy accident. However, the text as painting was a deliberate choice.
In the digital world, there is little need to put album titles on the cover itself, since we can read what it’s called next to it. But in print, there still very much is.
To compensate for this, I incorporated the text into the artwork itself. Seen as a thumbnail, you hardly notice it; and you don’t need to read it clearly to know what it says because, more often than not, the title’s right next to it (which you can read clearly). And in print, the image is going to be a lot bigger, and suddenly—in its true form of 4.724”—the text becomes clearly readable, and unique; so it works well in both mediums.
I painted the whole thing while listening to the music track; incorporating both elements of the song, and the artist herself, into the design. All-in-all, I loved working on the cover. It was a fantastic creative experience, and one I look forward to repeating in times to come 🙂
The Dreaming Sentinel