While the whole “don’t judge a book by its cover” idiom is certainly relevant for musicians, let’s be honest: having a great album cover can’t hurt. Whether you’re new to the music scene or crafting a brilliant follow-up record, the cover is a big deal. Think of it as a spokesperson for the music your band worked so hard to create, and the mood that the music embodies with every chord. Here, we’ll take a deep dive on the best album covers: learning from past successes, exploring best practices and helping you take the next steps to creating a chart-topping album cover design.

selection of the Best album covers on 99designs

The world’s most iconic album covers (and what they teach us)

  1. “Rumours” by Fleetwood Mac
  2. “Abbey Road” by The Beatles
  3. “Nevermind” by Nirvana
  4. “The Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd
  5. “The White Album” by The Beatles
  6. “Enema of the State” by Blink 182
  7. “Thriller” by Michael Jackson
  8. “Unknown Pleasures” by Joy Division
  9. “The Velvet Underground & Nico” by The Velvet Underground
  10. “Aladdin Sane” by David Bowie
Rumours album cover
Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album cover via Criteria Studios, Record Plant Studios
Abbey Road album cover
The Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover via EMI, Olympic and Trident Studios
Nevermind album cover
Nirvana’s Nevermind album cover via Sound City Studios
The Dark Side of the Moon album cover
Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon album cover via Abbey Road Studios
The White Album cover
The Beatles’ The White Album cover via EMI Studios and Trident Studios
Enema of the State album cover
Blink 182’s Enema of the State album cover via MCA Records
Thriller album cover
Michael Jackson’s Thriller album cover via Westlake Recording Studios
Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures album cover
Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album cover via Strawberry Studios
The Velvet Underground & Nico album cover
The Velvet Underground & Nico album cover via Scepter Records
David Bowie's Aladdin Sane album cover
David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album cover via Trident Studios

Looking back at iconic album covers, what they all seem to have in common is instant recognizability. The cover doesn’t have to be game-changing (the songs will take care of that part), but it does have to be memorable. Look at Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Both covers uphold a no-frills aesthetic and feature quintessential images of the artists. They’re not controversial or particularly conversation-worthy, yet they’ve held strong as some of the most well-known album covers ever.

Actually, some of the most celebrated album covers don’t feature the band at all. And in the case of Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon”, there aren’t even any words: just the signature artwork that wound up being so iconic that it evolved into a timeless, ultra-recognizable logo for the band. Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and Blink 182’s “Enema of the State” also skip images of the band and they’ve become widely recognizable not just as album covers, but as conversation pieces. For Nirvana in particular, their music was a niche. Yet regardless of a listener’s interest in grunge, they can quickly identify the baby swimming toward the dollar bill. Sure, it’s weird, but it’s memorable—and worth talking about.

Then there are the classics, like The Beatles’ “Abbey Road,” arguably the most famous, and most imitated, album cover. While it’s not quite “The White Album,” the “Abbey Road” cover is also fairly simple. Sometimes, simple is really good. In the case of The Beatles, a minimalistic album cover allows the music to speak for itself.

Inspiration for creating the best album covers

We love the classics. Who doesn’t? And while many present-day album covers utilize similar principles as the tried-and-true favorites, there are also new concepts to consider. Think freshened-up shapes, ultra-saturated colors and contemporary themes. Consider who you are as a musician, and how that can best be expressed in a brand new way on your album cover. Here are a few routes to explore:

Geometric album covers

Think back to “The Dark Side of the Moon.” There were no people on the cover, and actually, most of it was just black. But the parts that weren’t black were geometric, and this concept is a solid approach for a modern album cover. You don’t need crowds of people and tons of text to help say who you are, and there’s something very intriguing about geometric designs. They draw the listener in.

Sunflares album cover
Sunflares album cover design by MachinaDesign
Guy Rickard album cover
Guy Rickard album cover design by Floating Baron
Simply Three album cover
Simply Three album cover design by __Ossobuko__
Mellemspil album cover
Mellemspil album cover design by ShortFuse

Bold, colorful album covers

Your album cover isn’t just an album cover. It’s a T-shirt. It’s a poster. It’s everywhere and everything, really. When successfully done, a vibrant album cover is a winner. Remember Santana’s “Supernatural”? Yep, so does everybody else. Go bold.

Never Let You Down album cover
Never Let You Down album cover design by Shwin
Supernatural album cover
Santana’s Supernatural album cover via Fantasy Studios
Foes album cover
Foes album cover design by JETARTS
Gotta Go album cover
Gotta Go album cover design by litlast
How U Been album cover
How U Been album cover design by LazebraArt

Surreal, futuristic album covers

The music industry is a place where it’s totally okay when you don’t 100% fit in. Look at the success of Tori Amos: decades later, her music still can’t be slotted into a specific genre. If your music is more than one thing, or one thing that defies categorization, then your cover should be, too. Consider a route that embodies your nontraditional style and serves as the perfect companion to your music. An artsy, nonconformist album cover shows potential listeners that you’re a bit “out there,” but in the best possible way.

One Light album cover
One Light album cover design by __Ossobuko__
So It Goes album cover
So It Goes album cover design by Shwin
Lithium album cover
Lithium album cover design by Minima Studio
Say What You Say album cover
Say What You Say album cover design by saska
From the Choirgirl Hotel album cover
Tori Amos’ From the Choirgirl Hotel album via Martian Engineering

Turn up the volume on your next album cover

You’ve caught up on the best album covers and browsed inspiration from some of our favorite modern designers. Now, it’s time to go for it and get an amazing album cover that’s worthy of platinum status. Our designers will help you make the ideal arrangement!

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