You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and you shouldn’t judge a podcast by its artwork—but you know what we do all the time? We judge books by their covers and podcasts by their artwork. We do it so frequently that we actually had to come up with a cliché bit of advice about not judging things by their visuals. Books, podcasts, albums, magazines, even entire websites. We almost always base our very first decision completely on visuals: the decision to read, listen, or check the thing out further.
Sorry about that. I just got back from visiting 1996. I’ve got a Collective Soul song stuck in my head now.
We judge websites by their visuals before we start reading their content and we judge podcasts by the artwork that we are presented with in the iTunes podcast directory, the Zune marketplace, in our mobile podcast apps, and everywhere else podcasts live. Make yours good.
How to Make Yours Good
First of all, your artwork needs to be square. Why square? Because square is a good shape. You can’t argue that. Try it, I dare you. You’ll lose. Your podcast artwork needs to be square because… well, because iTunes requires it to be square, really. That’s what it comes down to in the end. iTunes is the 800 pound gorilla, and as such, gets to set standards for these kinds of things.
The current recommendation from Apple is for your artwork to be a JPG at 1400 x 1400 pixels. Let’s talk about what that means and why you shouldn’t do it that way.
This is pretty simple. JPGs are generally better for photo-based artwork or art with many gradients. PNGs are generally better for line art, non-photo graphics, and images with few gradients or colors. What we’re concerned about here is file size—not the dimensions, the amount of space it takes up on your hard drive. We’re looking for the smallest file size with the best quality. Sometimes, that’s a JPG. Sometimes, that’s a PNG. So, what does that mean for iTunes’ recommendation about using JPG?
Use whichever one makes your art look its best. iTunes accepts both. Create your art, save it as a JPG then save it again as a PNG. Your eyes won’t lie to you.
Once upon a time, the recommended dimensions for podcast artwork were 300 x 300 pixels. Then, Apple raised it to 600 x 600 pixels, and everyone freaked out and had to redo their artwork because they didn’t save it in a larger size to begin with. Okay, not everyone. But a lot of people. That wasn’t the end, because Apple raised it yet again… and naturally, a bunch of people freaked out and had to go back and redo their artwork. Let’s futureproof your artwork a bit, shall we?
Create your podcast artwork at 3000 x 3000 pixels, and then save it off at varying sizes depending on your needs.
I created a checklist of sizes that I find handy, and when creating artwork for a new show, I start large. I create the base image, then I save it at the largest size I need. I reduce the image size to the next on the list, then save it again. I reduce the image size to the next on the list, then save it again. I reduce the image size… you get the idea. Here’s my list:
- 3,000 x 3,000. Excellent for t-shirt printing and most print-on-demand items you find at places like Zazzle.com.
- 1,400 x 1,400. iTunes.
- 1,000 x 1,000. Not super handy, but a nice round number in case anyone asks for it at that size.
- 600 x 600. I’ve used this sparingly on web projects, it’s also great for Twitter and Facebook profile pictures, if you want to use show art for that purpose.
- 300 x 300. This is an important one. It gets used a lot in ad spaces on sites.
- 250 x 250. Same as the 300, this gets used in ad spaces.
The next set of sizes are somewhat less important to me for show art, but I have my QAQN logo art sized to all of these because they’re all used on one site or another for profile pictures, category images, forum avatars—all kinds of web work.
- 200 x 200
- 150 x 150
- 100 x 100
- 80 x 80
So, yes, when it’s all said and done, I have ten separate files for my show’s artwork. Better this than to have only “large” and “small” and let the various web services handle increasing or decreasing the dimensions depending on their needs. That rarely works out well.
Calling your show’s artwork “art” is actually a little bit improper. Art is subjective, can mean different things to different people, and it’s been said that all art is valid. Not so with podcast artwork. Podcast artwork is far more like an advertisement than art—if you can’t convey what your show is about, your artwork fails. It has also been said that there is no wrong way to make art. This is definitely not the case with your show’s artwork.
If your artwork does not incorporate the name of your podcast, you’ve done it wrong. Aside from that one hard and fast rule, I have a few guidelines that I suggest considering.
- Don’t crowd the image. Try to leave as much whitespace around text as possible while still keeping text large and legible.
- Speaking of text, try not to have too many words in your artwork. Remember that it needs to look good at 100 x 100 pixels, and more words means less legibility at small sizes.
- Don’t overcomplicate the image. Too many graphical elements fighting for attention is bad.
- You can add a lot of fine detail at the 3000 x 3000 pixels size that will be completely lost when the image is shrunk down.
- Unimportant words can be small, important words should be larger. Think of the covers of books with titles like “The Fate of Kings”. The words “the” and “of” are always very small next to “Fate” and “Kings”. You can use that same trick with your show’s name if necessary.
Lastly, the most important thing to be said about your show’s artwork must be this:
Your artwork should generally match the tone of your show. A podcast about My Little Pony should not have artwork inspired by H.R. Giger. Unless that’s the tone of your show, in which case, let me know because I would totally listen to a Giger-inspired pony podcast.