What’s your favorite magazine?
You already have an image in mind, don’t you? Probably one of the magazines covers from your favorite publisher.
For me, that would be the Afghan girl on the cover of National Geographic magazine. Or one of the iconic Vogue covers that featured Beyonce. I bet you already know precisely the images that I’m talking about. That’s how impactful a great magazine cover design can be. Amazing, right?
In this article, I’m going to show you how to design a magazine cover that stands out among all the others and remains in the back of your reader’s mind. At least until the next issue.
Together we’ll discover the anatomy of a magazine cover design and talk about aesthetics, typography, placement, and readers’ psychological profile—basically, all the steps you need to consider to achieve a successful magazine cover design that will fly off the shelves in minutes.
Get prepared, and let’s get started.
What are the elements of a magazine cover design?
The first thing people see when they’re looking at your magazine is the cover. If it speaks to them, hands down, they’ll buy it. However, a great cover design will not only help you sell it easier, but it will also make readers curious and invite them to explore the entire magazine. Yes, that’s how vital a magazine cover is.
But how do you know if a cover design is good enough? Rest assured, you can quickly figure this out by looking at the giants of magazine cover designs and take some inspiration.
And yes, you also need to follow some practices and use certain elements when designing a magazine cover, but there are many different approaches. No matter what, it’s important to have all the cover design elements work together like a dream. So before we get into more details about how to design a magazine cover, you firstly need to know the fundamental elements.
Below, there’s a cover from the pioneer of magazine covers – Vogue. We’ll use it as terminology to see what elements a magazine cover design should contain.
Here are the essential elements of a magazine cover design:
- Issue and dateline
- Main image
- Lead article
- Supporting cover lines
- Bar code
Let’s take them one by one and get into more details.
Of course, we have to start with the most important one. The masthead represents the name of the publication and is the most crucial aspect of your magazine cover design. Professionally designed magazine covers make the mast head stand out besides the other elements. Therefore, it’s good practice to set it right in the center and make it as big as possible. It will also help people to recognize your magazine among all the others.
So follow what magazine designers do and use a big and bold font for the masthead. Also, don’t forget that the masthead’s color has a crucial role in making it pop even more. Therefore, it’s helpful to adapt the title’s color to match the image and theme you’ll use on the front cover.
Issue and dateline
This section contains the date, month, year, and issue number of the publication. Some magazines, like Vogue, only specify the month and year as they only publish one issue for each month. And usually, some magazines also add the price in this section.
The main image of the magazine cover is usually a representative illustration of the content within the magazine. It should best reflect what the issue is all about. Big magazines typically portray a well-known celebrity or a visually appealing image that easily triggers an emotion.
One thing you should have in mind when designing your magazine cover is to use professional images. When you invest in high-quality photos and have a cover image that stands out among the others, you improve the chances of selling more. Also, keep in mind that the image you use will draw the readers in and make them curious to know everything your magazine contains. So invest in photography because it’s one of the most important aspects of a magazine.
Choosing the right image is one of the most essential aspects of designing your magazine cover. So make sure it will best reflect the content within the magazine.
The lead article reflects the central issue of a magazine. Maybe an interview with an artist, an expert on a subject, and the list can go on. It’s recommended to use a different font for the lead article to let the readers know the issue’s theme and main story.
Supporting cover lines
The supporting cover lines are topics that can revolve around the same theme or simply be completely different subjects. When it comes to placing them on the magazine’s cover, the key is balance. Try to make them clear, short, and concise. Also, go for a more subtle font and choose a smaller size to avoid distracting the reader from the main attractions.
Most of the time, the bar code area is made by the printing house you collaborate with, but it’s helpful to plan and have it in mind when designing the cover. Try to leave a little space for the bar code in some part of the corner area. Maybe you also noticed that they add the price above the bar code in some magazines, but it’s not a mandatory option. You can decide what works best for your cover and even change the place in other issues.
And now, without further ado, let’s dive into the most exciting part!
How to design a magazine cover
A stunning magazine cover design will help you sell it – exclamation point. To be honest, I think this is every publisher’s dream – to see people love their magazine’s visuals and content so much that they choose to buy it. And therefore, to keep supporting them, especially today when you can find content about literally anything, for free.
But if you want to know the rules that will make people buy your magazine, then keep on reading!
Here are 10 golden rules of magazine cover design:
- Place the magazine name in the most obvious place
- Use the same cover template for all magazine issues
- Work with grids and layouts
- Decide on a focus point and build everything else around it
- Play with font styles
- Emphasize powerful words
- Infuse your magazine cover design with a healthy dose of color & contrast
- Place a portrait on the cover
- Avoid busy backgrounds
- Dare to be bold. Go for illustrations
Let’s start with the first one!
1. Place the magazine name in the most obvious place
We already talked about how important the title/name/masthead is. That’s why the first thing you should start with is placing the magazine name in the most visible place. Truth be told, most magazines cover giants, put it right in the middle of the magazine. It’s easier this way for people to notice the magazine among the others.
Therefore, the overall layout of the magazine cover should be organized around your magazine’s name. One rule that all professional designers follow is to make the magazine’s name the most prominent feature of the cover. So make it big, bold, and as visible as possible.
And speaking of visible titles, take a look at the image below. Do you see how the flower crown hides quite a few letters from the title, but you can still figure out that it’s a Vogue cover? Starting from the image, font styles, colors, and layout design – everything screams – “Vogue.”
However, Vogue became such a big brand because of the recognizable elements they share on all their platforms – website, social media accounts, printed magazines, etc. Yes, it takes some time and learning to build a brand, but it’s so worth it as people will instantly recognize your magazine’s personality reflected on all your communication channels.
This is a great idea, especially when you have a celebrity on your cover magazine like Beyonce, for instance.
But don’t forget to give your masthead a color that best represents your brand. Or, you can always switch according to the image you’re going to use on the cover. This mainly depends on the topic of your magazine as changing colors is really useful for fashion magazines. However, it may not be a good idea for an environmental, documentary-style magazine as most of the time, these types of magazines are the epitome of consistency.
But when you want to learn how to design a magazine cover with a title that will remain in people’s minds, it’s always a good idea to get inspiration from others. So, take a look at the placement, font styles, and colors in the examples below.
2. Use the same cover template for all magazine issues
The next thing you should have in mind when designing your cover magazine is to choose a template that you’ll also use in the following issues of your magazine. If you wonder why let me tell you this: Consistency is key! And keeping the same cover template for your following magazine issues helps your readers get used to your specific magazine layout and easily recognize it.
And most big brands do this! They mainly change the image cover, keep the name in the same place, and only adapt the colors to match the image. It’s like a proven good practice that works wonders.
Still, consistency doesn’t mean every issue of your magazine should look exactly the same. That would be boring! In fact, each issue should look different from the previous one to ensure readers know you released a new issue. For the same purpose, you should add the date and the price on the cover.
If you’re not quite sure how to create a cover magazine template, you can always take inspiration from Flipsnack. We have a vast collection of magazine templates that make the whole design process smoother. Also, our online Design Studio tool is super intuitive, so if you don’t necessarily consider yourself a skillful designer, great, you just found the perfect solution! I’ll tell you more about how to design a magazine cover in Flipsnack in the following paragraphs of this article.
And for a brief history time, take a look at how Vogue covers evolved over the years. Still, do you notice the brand consistency? It’s one of the critical elements that kept the magazine super recognizable. So try to be as consistent as possible. It’s challenging to think about the future when you’re just getting started. But try to envision how your publication will look in a year from now and even 2 years from now. And only afterward come up with a template that will pass the test of time.
3. Work with grids and layouts
Because now you know how much a template can help you make the magazine cover design, you also have to keep in mind using those grids and layouts! It will allow you to organize and align your design elements to make your magazine cover look neat and professional.
Grids and layouts are helpful, especially when you plan to print the magazine. Professional designers and print studios use them to know exactly where the safe margins are and where the printed pages of the magazine should be cut.
But no worries. Flipnack’s templates already follow a specific grid style. Our designers already did the legwork for you, so you don’t necessarily have to think of this step separately. The only things you have to do are choose your favorite template, change the texts and images, and basically, that’s it. From this point, you just download your magazine as a PDF and hand it over to a print studio.
Below you can see how our designers placed each element using grids for having some safe margins.
Those red guidelines help the magazine cover design be impactful and obtain that professional look. So try to balance your magazine cover design elements and keep in mind to leave some safe margins for the printing process.
Anyways, it’s essential to start the magazine’s design with a focus point.
4. Decide on a focus point and build everything else around it
Whenever you want to design a magazine cover, you have to begin with the purpose in mind. So, depending on the subject – fashion, nature, cooking, business, etc. pick one and build everything else around it.
For instance, fashion magazines usually feature models as the cover’s focus point, but you can use an object or a headline. Anyways, if you’re reading this article, you probably already figured out what subject you are going for.
Still, one crucial thing is to make sure that your subject is best reflected in your cover design. As I previously mentioned, your magazine cover design should best reveal the content within the magazine and hook the reader into making them so curious they choose to buy it.
Do you want to talk about fashion? Or do you have a significant lead article with an interview with a celebrity you want to feature? Choose the focus point and try to build the entire cover design starting from there. If the portrait of the celebrity is your key element, then let the image stand out and only mention brief details about the other articles you feature. Figure out when not to use that much text and when it’s okay to give more information to your audience.
5. Play with font styles
As you already know, font styles play a significant role in how a magazine cover looks – they can either instantly attract attention or not get anything at all. So, yes, that’s how much relevance they have.
And even though most magazine covers feature the headlines of the most important stories on the cover, using suitable font pairings can make a big difference in how the audience will perceive them.
Accentuate the stories and articles you want to catch the most attention and make the others more subtle.
For instance, take inspiration from the Kate Moss Vogue cover. Of course, the portrait of the well-known model is the main attraction, but the combination of colors – pink, yellow, and white – beautifully complements the photography. Also, notice that some fonts are bold, while others are not, and some have serif fonts, and others are kept simple and clean. Combining font styles can help you balance out the magazine cover design.
Learn from the professionals and use fonts in bolds, italics, different sizes, and colors. Likewise, you should pay attention to what words you are using and how these can impact the reader’s attention.
6. Emphasize powerful words
I told you in the beginning that the primary purpose of the magazine cover design is to sell the stories inside. So what better way to do that if not through emphasizing powerful words? The short teasers reflected through sub-headings are the elements that can trigger the reader’s curiosity.
So don’t neglect the value of using specific words that usually appear in headlines. After a short glance at some headlines, I noticed that the most used words that quickly catch attention are: “Now,” “Free,” “Gifts,” and “Exclusive.” I encourage you to emphasize them because they prove to do the work.
You’ll see this practice used in a lot of fashion magazines. And even graphic design experts emphasize these words by adding a 3D effect or playing with backgrounds to make them pop more. Using powerful words increases your chances of having a perfect magazine cover that will easily sell itself.
And remember that people buy first emotionally. So use words that people will feel connected with and instantly draw them to buy your magazine. Colors also play a huge role in this process.
7. Infuse your magazine cover design with a healthy dose of color & contrast
When it comes to selecting colors, never choose randomly. Yes, you first have to decide the image you’re going to use, and starting from that point, infuse the overall cover design with pops of colors to make it stand out.
Take a look at this Marie Claire cover design. It has an orange-toned text contrasting the multiple shades of blue in the photography and background. And with the help of Amy Adams’ copper hair, the contrast works even better. You can also think about coordinating colors for a chic look (copy a color from the photo and use it on different elements from your cover page).
It doesn’t matter that much which color you choose to be the dominant color. However, green is the least used color on cover pages, while red is the most used. So try to use contrast colors to highlight certain elements like the title, model, or headline.
However, pick the colors on purpose as they will affect the overall feeling of your magazine cover. And either if you go for contrast colors between the image and texts or choose to use complementary colors, mix and match until you’re satisfied with the final result.
Below is another example of how much impact a healthy dose of color has. The two Wired covers differ, from the brand’s name color to the images and texts. So get as creative as you can within the limitations of your brand. If your creative direction allows you to change the colors of your logo to match the overall design cover, then go for it!
8. Place a portrait on the cover
Placing a portrait of a celebrity or well-known artist, it’s a practice most magazines do. If you wonder why, well, the answer is quite simple. It sells easier as people are curious to find out the latest news about their favorite celebrities.
However, when you have a person’s portrait on the cover of your magazine – be it a celebrity or not, eye contact is a MUST as the audience can make a deeper connection with the subject.
You might say that it’s easy to do this when your brand is known worldwide but quite challenging when you’re just at the very beginning. And you couldn’t be more right. But it’s always useful to follow the best practices most brands do and who knows, maybe your magazine will be famous one day too. At least that’s the plan, right? So hit for the stars, my friend!
If your magazine is about fashion, hire models. Or interview people with authority in a specific field. You don’t need Beyonce to have success; you need great content. Remember that without a good story, your magazine is effed.
9. Avoid busy backgrounds
Busy backgrounds can dilute the message you’re trying to tell your readers. So keep the magazine cover elements pretty organized to achieve a professional look. It’s also recommended that the model on the cover is on a transparent or solid color background, as it will be easier to make the headlines stand out a bit more.
For example, if your magazine cover design has quite a few supporting lines, 3D texts, then avoid making the background also agglomerated. It’s important to keep a balance between how much text and busy backgrounds you have in your cover design.
The more patterned or mixed-color a background is, the more stuff it will look. And this might confuse readers, and you risk not selling your magazine because of it. So don’t neglect the overall look of the magazine cover design.
Here’s an iconic Harper’s Bazaar cover with the well-known actress – Saraj Jessica Parker. You can notice the image is quite blurred through the margins, but designers still kept the overall cover pretty minimalistic to let the image get all the attention. So follow their example when you have an image that you want to be the central point of your magazine cover and avoid having busy backgrounds.
10. Dare to be bold. Go for illustrations
Generally speaking, photos perform better than illustrations for the cover page. However, for a fun look, you can mix the two or add some drawings to photographs.
Let’s analyze the most creative magazine covers in the food market and see what design tips we can learn.
For instance, this Washingtonian magazine cover will for sure be bought in second by all sweet tooths out there. It has a mix of delicious good photography and fun font choice that compliments the food perfectly. Instead of looking for common ways and fonts to write the headline: 100 very best restaurants, they had fun creatively surrounding the central star – the apple pie with a scoop of ice cream on top – with the hand-written font style.
Another great example is the Crumbs’ magazine covers. Gorgeous, inspirational, and practical, its cover designs are highly recognizable. Starting from the logo to the choice of text color and photography, Crumbs magazine is unlike anything else on the market.
No matter the industry you choose for your magazine, play around, get creative and dare to be different and bold. Use illustrations to best complement the other elements on your cover.