You’ve all turned out the contents of your pockets?
All emptied your piggy banks?
Managed to scrape the money together to release your album yourself? Or perhaps, even better, you’ve finally been offered a record deal? Congratulations!
But how should you supply the artwork to the printers? Do you need to use the manufacturer’s correct album or CD artwork templates, or can you just use any you find on the internet?
When 12 inches is not necessarily 12 inches
The pressing plants who manufacture records and CDs have printers who take care of the sleeves, labels or other packaging elements. Sometimes these are in-house printing facilities, and sometimes they use external specialist companies. But each manufacturer has their own technical specifications. Although a lot of people don’t realise, not all record sleeves or CD booklets etc are exactly the same size.
You may well have thought that all standard 12″ sleeves for standard 12″ records, for example, would have the same size – 12″. But this isn’t so, at least as far as their artwork is concerned. Their dimensions often differ a few millimetres between pressing plants.
These differences can be even more pronounced with the various types of gatefold cardboard wallets that CDs are commonly packaged in today. While broadly the same, at first glance, there are some differences. Some are square, and some are rectangular. The CD may fit snugly inside, or there may be an extra centimetre or so of space for it to roll around in.
Find and use the correct album or CD artwork templates if possible!
It’s usually therefore very important to ensure that album and CD artwork files are supplied in the correct artwork templates. Of course, if your artwork is really simple, for instance if all printed parts have the same background colour, with some text centred on each panel, a millimetre or two isn’t going to make much difference. No one will notice that the text is positioned 1mm off-centre!
But if panels and pages have backgrounds of different colours, have photographic backgrounds or the design features elements precisely positioned in relation to one another, it’s important to work to the correct specifications. Otherwise, backgrounds and elements may bleed over onto pages or panels they’re not supposed to, or stop short of where was intended.
(Speaking of bleed, this is an important term you’ll encounter when creating your artwork. See my post Print bleed explained.)
Your first port of call should be your record company, if a label is releasing your album. Unless this is also the label’s first release, they will already have a pressing plant (or broker – same thing, for our purposes here!) they work with.
So if for example your label has agreed with you that your album will be released on vinyl in a standard sleeve with a colour, two-sided printed insert, and on CD in a 4-panel Digipak® with a 16-page colour booklet, they will be able to obtain the correct artwork specifications and artwork templates from the pressing plant or broker.
Who will be creating your album or CD artwork?
If a graphic designer familiar with preparing artwork files for print will be designing and creating your album artwork, it’s probably worth holding fire until your label supplies you with the correct artwork templates.
Some pressing plants make their CD and album artwork templates freely available on their websites, although others only make them available to their customers.
These publicly available artwork templates have spread through the internet, as I often see the same ones used again and again in the course of the work I do inspecting and fixing people’s artwork files.
Can using another pressing plant’s artwork templates cause problems?
Using another company’s vinyl or CD artwork templates means that visual problems are pretty much pre-programmed.
For instance, bands in Europe using artwork templates provided by North American manufacturers, or vice versa. Why’s that a problem? In Europe, we measure things in millimetres, whereas the USA uses inches.
Dimensions of European printed parts are therefore specified to the nearest millimetre or .5 of a mm, whereas North American components are specified to some fraction of an inch. This means that a part of your music packaging could be 5⅜” long!
These conversions tend to result in small differences here and there.
Know your measurement systems!
I can remember one project where an American band had a vinyl record released on a European label. The person creating the album artwork had downloaded some templates from a European manufacturer, but wasn’t familiar with millimetres and so downloaded the wrong ones. The result? They laid out the entire artwork for their standard 12″ LP using a 10″ sleeve and 7″ labels! So their artwork was too small!
Every rule has an exception – when it may be OK to use another company’s templates
If you’re financing your album release yourself, and haven’t yet found a pressing plant or broker, there’s no harm in using any of these freely downloadable artwork templates to get the actual design sorted out, especially if you’re in a hurry.
However, once you have chosen a manufacturer, you’ll probably then need to adapt the artwork so it meets the actual specifications.
Using the correct album and CD artwork templates – conclusion
If possible, get the correct templates from your record label.
If you can’t get hold of the right templates, but need to get started on the artwork because time is scarce, or if you’re releasing your album yourself and are still gathering manufacturer quotes, feel free to use templates downloaded from the internet as a stopgap, until you can obtain the correct ones. Chances are, you will then need to transfer the artwork to the correct templates. This usually means some elements will need to be slightly resized or repositioned. Otherwise, the artwork may not be the right dimensions for the printers, and will be rejected.
I hope you found this post useful. Ever been caught out by the wrong templates? Let me know in the comments below!