Magazine cover design (2024)

Brilliant magazine cover designs are the result of first learning what ideas work, and then adding a twist. But a design that works on a newspaper supplement, customer magazine or subscription magazine cover, might not work on the newsstand – where hundreds of magazines compete for attention. So, get to grips with the basic jargon and rules, and follow through to the other pages for inspiration, ideas and tips.

Ingredients Use on front cover Masthead (title, logotype, logoor nameplate) The name of the magazine displayed in a specific typeface. This is the visual branding of the title and is often done in a specially designed typeface to be easily recognised and unique. The title or logotype – often these days called a masthead – is usually used on the contents page inside as well as the front cover, and as a logo for advertising and branding purposes. Titles for leading magazines are often designed by specialised typographers such as Dave Farey and Richard Dawson (Good Food, Maxim and Design Week) and Matthew Carter (Private Eye).

Note that the Cosmo title above overlays the cover image. Some magazines will put the image on top of the title, as with the 1916 Bystander. Rarely these days, the title lettering will be split or the whole title moved to allow space for an image.

Dateline Month and year of publication, often with the price. Note that a monthly magazine usually hits the news-stands the month before the cover date Main image In the case of this front cover there is a single image of the American model Shana Zadrick. The image is used in a classic way, the face is big enough to stand out on the news-stand, with the model making full eye-contact Model credit This says: 'Shana: So hot.' It is unusual for such a credit to appear on a magazine front cover, but it is done sometimes on fashion magazines. The photographer and model credit is usually on the contents page Cover lines From the 1950s, greater competition on the newsstands resulted in more cover lines. Today, some magazines print special covers for subscribers' copies that use few cover lines. Cosmopolitan magazine uses a lot of cover lines, which are distributed around the main image without detracting from it too much. A mistake often made with cover lines is that they run over an image that has a lot of colour changes, rendering the words difficult to read. This is a problem here with the red text on the hair on the left and the smaller yellow text against Shana's skin Main cover line This is very large – taking up almost a quarter of the magazine cover – and comes in three layers, each with a different colour. It promotes the use of naked male centrefolds, a feature of Cosmopolitan in the UK since its first issue. Note the main cover line is placed against the model's shoulder so it shows up clearly Left third Magazine cover design (1)

The left third of the cover is vital for sales in shops where the magazine is not shown full-frontage – as on these crammed shelves at a Zurich airport newsagent. The title must stand out among dozens of competitors. The start of the masthead is important here, as are short cover lines that are easy to read

Magazine cover design (2)

The top fifth of the cover – usually dominated by the masthead – may be the key part in supermarkets or bookshops, where magazines are displayed differently

Bar code Standard bar code used by retailers, displayed on UK magazines since 1988. Includes publication date and price. Postal-only subscriber covers can omit this Selling line Short, sharp description of the title's main marketing point (for Cosmopolitan: 'The world's No 1 magazine for young women') or perhaps setting out its editorial philosophy, such as FHM's 'funny, sexy, useful' Covers evolve over time They may be tweaked to exploit new printing techniques; switch from full face to a body shot; use illustration rather than photography; move the target readership age up or down; or simply to freshen things up. Take a look at four Girl covers for example; or three covers from Record Mirror. Compare the cover in the diagram at the top with Cosmo's first UK issue in 1972. What's changed and why? Pay attention to detail – does the cover image go in front of or behind the masthead? Why do you think Company's 2001 masthead is so similar to Cosmopolitan's? Special covers Many magazines try to stand out more when they launch, have an anniversary, want to promote a particular article, or have an advertiser who wants a split or gatefold cover. Tactics that have been used include metallic, fluorescent or other special inks, holograms, lenticular covers (which appear to move), embossing, scratch panels, and even diamond-like crystals. Some issues have come in plastic bags or cardboard boxes. And then there are cover gifts (which have the disadvantage of obscuring the cover) Notable covers The Magforum blog has a section on notable covers More cover ideas
  • women's magazines – see how the glossies do it
  • men's magazines – compare and contrast 150 covers
  • weekly magazines – approaches from the 20th century
  • teen magazines for inspiration
  • explore music magazines
  • 4 pages of magazine covers to surf through
Legal issues There have been many legal cases brought by publishers accusing each other of copying designs. A frequent charge is that one title is trying to 'pass itself off' as another. Among the battles have been:
  • The Financial Times tried to prevent London's Evening Standard printing its business pages on pink paper. It failed, with the judge saying readers were unlikely to confuse the broadsheet FT with the tabloid Standard.
  • Celeb weekly Hello! warning OK! not to copy its look.
  • Red and Real clashed over their title designs, with the latter giving way and redesigning its masthead. Compare Red and Real here.
However, many titles do imitate another's design or name and some sectors, such as the celebrity weeklies and home magazines end up with a similar look. Among the main design strategies are:
  • title and cover text laid on top of a bleed image (as with Cosmo above);
  • a cut-out image on a white or coloured background – see In Style, Queen and Four Four Two for examples;
  • the main cover image in a box below the title with a white border around all the sides. See Educational Computing (1987) and Car (2006);
  • the title on a white background above an image that bleeds off the bottom and sides, such as Topic in 1962 and Interiors;
  • historically, some consumer magazines carried cover adverts, such as 1935 Bystander. The practice has carried on for some trade magazines, and is now coming back in the 'freemium' sector such as wraparound covers on Shortlist and Stylist.
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The secrets of magazine cover design by Tony Quinn

Please contact me – tony [at] if you need advice. Thanks!

Part 2: Magazine cover design – the right mix

Part 3: Cover design – finishing touches

Other relevant pages:
  • Magazine front covers: special effects
  • Town covers 1955-1968: classic swinging sixties men's lifestyle
  • selection of magazine covers, About Town to Zest
  • London Life magazinecovers from the 1920s-1950s

As an expert in magazine cover design, I can provide information related to the concepts mentioned in this article. Here are the key points:

Masthead (title, logotype, or nameplate)

  • The masthead is the name of the magazine displayed in a specific typeface.
  • It serves as the visual branding of the title and is often designed in a unique typeface to be easily recognized.
  • The masthead is usually used on the front cover, contents page, and as a logo for advertising and branding purposes.
  • Leading magazines often have their titles designed by specialized typographers.
  • Some magazines overlay the cover image with the title, while others place the image on top of the title or make adjustments to accommodate both.
  • Examples of typographers known for designing magazine titles include Dave Farey, Richard Dawson, and Matthew Carter.


  • The dateline indicates the month and year of publication, often with the price.
  • It is important to note that a monthly magazine usually hits the newsstands the month before the cover date.

Main image

  • The main image on a magazine cover is typically a prominent visual element that grabs attention.
  • It is important for the image to be visually appealing and stand out on the newsstand.
  • In the example provided, the main image features the American model Shana Zadrick, with her face taking up a significant portion of the cover.
  • Eye contact with the model is often used to create a connection with the audience.

Model credit

  • Model credits on magazine covers are not common but can be seen in fashion magazines.
  • The credit usually includes the name of the model and a short description or tagline.

Cover lines

  • Cover lines are the text elements on the cover that provide information about the content inside the magazine.
  • With increased competition on newsstands, magazines started using more cover lines from the 1950s.
  • Some magazines print special covers for subscribers with fewer cover lines.
  • It is important to distribute cover lines around the main image without detracting from it too much.
  • Care should be taken to ensure that cover lines are readable and not obscured by the image's colors or textures.

Main cover line

  • The main cover line is a large text element that often takes up a significant portion of the magazine cover.
  • It is designed to promote a specific feature or aspect of the magazine.
  • In the example provided, the main cover line promotes the use of naked male centrefolds, which is a feature of Cosmopolitan in the UK.

Left third

  • The left third of the cover is vital for sales in shops where the magazine is not shown full-frontage.
  • The title and short cover lines in the left third should stand out among competitors.
  • This area is particularly important in crowded newsstands or shelves.

Bar code

  • The bar code is a standard feature on UK magazines since 1988.
  • It includes the publication date and price and is used by retailers for scanning and inventory purposes.
  • Postal-only subscriber covers may omit the bar code.

Selling line

  • The selling line is a short, sharp description of the magazine's main marketing point or editorial philosophy.
  • It is designed to attract the target audience and convey the magazine's value proposition.

Covers evolve over time

  • Magazine covers often undergo changes over time to adapt to new trends, printing techniques, or target readership.
  • Changes can include switching from full face to a body shot, using illustration instead of photography, or adjusting the target readership age.
  • Comparing covers from different time periods can reveal the evolution of design choices and strategies.

Special covers

  • Some magazines create special covers for specific occasions, such as launches, anniversaries, or to promote particular articles.
  • Special covers may incorporate special effects like metallic or fluorescent inks, holograms, lenticular covers, embossing, or scratch panels.
  • Cover gifts, such as freebies or inserts, are sometimes used but can obscure the main cover.

Legal issues

  • Legal cases related to magazine cover design have occurred, with publishers accusing each other of copying designs.
  • Some cases involve accusations of one title trying to pass itself off as another.
  • Design strategies, such as placing title and cover text on top of a bleed image or using specific layouts, can be imitated by other magazines.

These are the main concepts related to magazine cover design mentioned in this article. Let me know if you have any specific questions or if there's anything else I can assist you with!

Magazine cover design (2024)


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