50 design techniques that made these magazine covers awesome [epic case studies]

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There are two important goals when designing a magazine cover; the first is to attract the potential buyer’s attention and the second is to express the content or theme of the magazine. Design a cover that achieves both of these goals and it will significantly increase the chances of the ultimate goal—a consumer purchase. Put simply, a strong magazine cover comes down to specific design techniques.

How will your magazine cover attract the potential buyer’s attention? By being striking. Study the competition and do something different. Create a cover design that attracts attention for being unusual, extreme or prominent; a cover that stands out like a sore thumb on a crowded magazine rack. And as these striking magazine covers demonstrate, create a design concept that is closely tied to the theme of the magazine issue.

So, let’s get on with the show—or the showdown. In the great magazine cover battle, here are 50 striking magazines that have delivered winning blows.

01. Give the issue title pride of place

Inspiring magazine covers
Little White Lies, Jan/Feb 2011

Our first design technique? Little White Lies. The issue title takes pride of place on this cover, even more so than the masthead. An illustration of Natalie Portman’s face is overlayed with black-foiled type that boldly declares ‘The Black Swan Issue.’

02. Flip the layout

Inspiring magazine covers
Blend, May 2011

This issue of Blend is striking for the way the minimal layout flips the typical magazine cover. It centres the background and issue title and sidelines the image.

03. Use one-point perspective

Inspiring magazine covers
New York Times Magazine, 29 December 2013

This New York Times Magazine cover features James Gandolfini’s beat-up Cadillac convertible to represent the theme ‘The Lives They Lived (And The Things They Loved).’ The angle, placement and size of the car and the subtitle create a one-point perspective that vanishes into the distance.

04. Create a laser cut cover

Inspiring magazine covers
Columbus Monthly, November 2013

Columbus Monthly used a laser cut street map for the ‘Made in Columbus’ issue, appropriately designed and made by a local Columbus company. Overlaying grey the laser cut on a pink background adds dimension with shadows and contrast.

05. Showcase a sequence

Inspiring magazine covers
Audobon, May/June 2014

Audubon’s cover uses a grid to show the elegant flight sequence of the Roseate Spoonbill, photographed by John Huba. It showcases the color, flight, and movement with minimalist typography aligned to reinforce the grid.

06. Merge the image and the background

Inspiring magazine covers
Naif

Image and background become one on this cover of Naif as much of the girl’s shiny black hair is indistinguishable from the black background. A white flower and pink cheek add pops of colour.

07. Create impact with imagery

Inspiring magazine covers
Stylist, June 2015

Martin Schoeller photographed Orange Is the New Black actress Uzo Aduba for the June 2015 cover of Stylist. The close up of Aduba’s face – with eyes squeezed shut and grin gap-toothed and joyful – is magnetic and jubilant.

08. Experiment with transparent shapes

Inspiring magazine covers
No Cigar, August 2012

This No Cigar cover has simple transparent shapes over a photograph of a pensive-looking model. The transparencies add blocks of color without disrupting the reflective mood of the cover.

09. Play with face paint

Inspiring magazine covers
Vogue

Jessica Fecteau created this Vogue cover with bold lines and angles that traverse the model’s face and hand. Although she executed it digitally, the red and turquoise strips look like face paint with colors that match the masthead.

10. Create illusions with paper

Inspiring magazine covers
Washington Post Magazine, 23 December 2012

For the cover of Washington Post Magazine Ariane Spanier created an illusion of sliced and spiraled paper in order to reveal bold letters that express the theme of the magazine. ‘Lives Remembered’ tells the life stories of people who passed away in 2012.

11. Nothing wrong with pretty and sweet

Inspiring magazine covers
L’ode

A pretty and sweet aesthetic often goes against the grain in the world of magazine covers where being bold is eye-catching. But at this cover for L’ode by design student Julie Ferrieux shows, an elegant display of flora that appears to float across the page can also be striking.

12. Create a sense of texture with embroidery

Inspiring magazine covers
Desktop, No. 299

Design studio Maricor/Maricar hand-stitched this analogue image onto paper for Desktop’s ‘Neue Folk’ issue. The embroidery gives the cover a sense of texture and three-dimensionality and speaks to the theme of the magazine by translating folk art into digital art.

13. Avoid eye contact

Inspiring magazine covers
Lovely, Spring 2014

While the models on most magazines look directly at the viewer, the model on this cover of Lovely is giving a sideways glance that—along with the fashion styling—adds quirkiness and eccentricity.

14. Fake a light source

14. Print New Visual Artists
Print New Visual Artists, 2015

Shane Griffin designed the cover of Print’s New Visual Artists issue 2015. He used a gradient on the background to give the appearance of a light source hitting the top right-hand corner adding a sense of dimension to the cover.

15. Experiment with psychedelic colours

15. Volt No. 19
Volt, No. 19

Illustrator Matt Corbin played with bright psychedelic colors and globule-like forms to create the image of a strong woman posed against a shiny black background.

16. Use a cheeky photo

Inspiring magazine covers
Surf

It’s hard not to be attracted to this cover of Surf featuring a young boy poking his tongue out at the camera. It is, in the words of Wedge & Lever, “sophistication that does not take itself too seriously.”

17. Centre the masthead

Inspiring magazine covers
Pilot, Issue 3

This cover of Pilot, designed by Jase Mildren, gives the masthead pride of place in the center of the cover. It also works like a bulls-eye as the encircling O is the same as the smaller O in ‘Pilot’ and the model looks straight through it.

18. Tear it up

Inspiring magazine covers
Wad

This cover of Wad uses the illusion of a model’s face torn in two to reveal another image of her face, perhaps trapped, perhaps empowered. Three eyes peer out at the potential consumer.

19. Use simple lines and forms

Inspiring magazine covers
LiceUlice, Issue 24

LiceUlice translates to “Street Face” and is a Belgrade street paper sold by members of marginalized groups. Fittingly, the cover has the profile of a face and a clenched fist signaling the strength the magazine gives to those often-unseen faces on the street. Very simple lines, forms and colors create a bold image and strong statement.

20. Make a statement with the barcode

Inspiring magazine covers
La Luna de Metrópoli

There are few magazine covers where the barcode is such an integral part of the design. On this cover of La Luna de Metrópoli, the barcode is infused in an illustration of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center.

21. Add a transparent overlay

Inspiring magazine covers
Dwell

Sidney Lim has used a transparent overlay with a brushstroke masthead for his cover of Dwell. The white logo is like a cloud that casts a shadow across the sky as the transparency moves.

22. Layout a series of simple illustrations

Inspiring magazine covers
Odd

Simple illustrations, a minimal color palette, and a white background combine in this striking cover for Odd. Miriam Garcia has created a series of swimmers that effortlessly float across the page.

23. Use gold foil to reflect light

Inspiring magazine covers
Slanted 25

This cover of Slanted has been smothered in gold—or at least gold foil—and stamped with a repeated pattern that glimmers with the light. The gold and the shine amps up the glamour factor and is fitting for the ‘Paris’ theme.

24. Contrast a blurred image with crisp lines

24. Raygun
Ray Gun

Graphic designer David Carson is renowned for his explorative approach to typography and layout. On this cover of Ray Gun he overlays a blurred, almost steamy, image of Beck with strong black typography made all the bolder with the holes of each letter filled in.

25. Get ready for an extreme close-up

25. Fricote Issue 3
Fricote, Issue 3

This cover of Fricote features an extreme close up of a red-lipped mouth holding an ice-clad raspberry in its teeth. The glossy lips and the shiny ice cube boost the high-end factor of this cover.

26. Experiment with type

Inspiring magazine covers
Rumor

An elongated O in the masthead of this Rumor cover stretches from the top to the bottom of the page looping all the way back up again. It connects the masthead with the image and provides a line for the details of the magazine to be aligned.

27. Disorient with surrealism

Inspiring magazine covers
Magrocardona

Surrealism prompts the viewer to question “what the…?!”  as this cover for Magrocardona demonstrates. The image is of a model split in two; her head and torso faces away from her her legs and feet walking in the other direction.

28. Be artistic with traditional tools

Inspiring magazine covers
Adbusters

Go back to your traditional box of art tools and play with other mediums – paint, crayon, pastel, pencil – and create an artistic composition like the cover of Adbusters.

29. Follow a formula

Inspiring magazine covers
Gist

Gist’s covers, designed by Mexican agency Anagrama, all follow a formula: a portrait of a model is framed with a shiny foil border. This cover adheres to that blueprint and uses a bright red frame over a luxe black and white image.

30. Use an extra wide frame

Inspiring magazine covers
Spleen

This cover of Spleen uses an extra wide frame – or a small picture, depending on which way you want to look at it – to draw attention to the central image. The title, issue number and theme of the magazine are placed sparingly along the edges.

31. Muster nostalgia with sepia tones

31. Feld
Feld

You’ll find a lot of interesting design techniques on this Feld cover including blocky typography, transparencies and a quirky image. All are rendered in sepia tones giving the cover a nostalgic feel while still being distinctly modern and contemporary.

32. Morph the image

Inspiring magazine covers
Exhibition

The model’s face appears to morph and drip down the page on this cover of Exhibition. However, look closer and you’ll see it is actually a silk scarf draped over the models’ face and torso, and fittingly so for the ‘Silk Issue.’

33. Use a frame to highlight

Inspiring magazine covers
Hen Magazine

A disjointed and broken white line frames the model’s mouth on the cover of Hen Magazine and it serves to highlight and draw attention to her cheeky sneer.

34. Add depth with a geometric transparency

Inspiring magazine covers
Myp

Myp is an online magazine and design project that showcases the work of young creatives and artists. A geometric pattern with varying levels of transparency is laid over the image of a wind-blown model and adds varying depths to the image.

35. Experiment with depth of field

Inspiring magazine covers
Pedal

The cover of Pedal uses a shallow depth of field for this photo of a man wading further and further into the (not shallow) water in order to muster a feeling of wistfulness and adventure.

36. Capture dynamic movement

Inspiring magazine covers
U/C

U/C – or Under/Current – freezes the movement of a dancer been thrown or caught by a group of other dancers. The movement is captured in the dynamic tension of the dancers’ outstretched limbs.

37. Explore negative space

Inspiring magazine covers
Used

This Used cover explores negative space by slicing the masthead from the solid black box in the center of the page. Glimpses of the model’s face are seen through the negative space and it is particularly striking as the model’s eyes are framed by the black box and her angular haircut.

38. Foster anonymity

Inspiring magazine covers
BEople, Issue 1

Belgium magazine BEople also uses a solid masthead in the middle of the page. However, it is placed over the model’s face to foster a sense of anonymity and to disrupt the connection between model and viewer.

39. Create an illusion with a decorative pattern

Inspiring magazine covers
Thursday

At first glance this Thursday cover appears to have a decorative gold pattern overlaid on the image. But look closer and you’ll see the main image is gold and sepia and it is indeed a white pattern and negative space. The overall look is illusionistic, romantic and sentimental for an issue themed around love.

40. Maximize blank space

Inspiring magazine covers
Human Being Journal, April 2013

This cover of Human Being Journal features vast amounts of blank space framed with a peach-coloured border. It proves the mantra ‘less is more’ and is as striking as any complex cover imagery.

41. Consider a different angle

Inspiring magazine covers
Soccer

Soccer features a photo of a boy balancing a ball on his head. Shot from below, the photo enhances the presence of the boy and creates a vanishing point towards the top of the page.

42. Add warmth with a color transparency

Inspiring magazine covers
Esquire

This cover of Esquire turns up the heat and sizzles with summer. A photo of a couple kissing on the beach is drenched in a warm yellow transparency while the masthead is on fire, so to speak, in bright red.

43. Create atmosphere with silhouettes

Inspiring magazine covers
Dallas Observer

This cover of Dallas Observer is moody and atmospheric with the silhouette of a man wearing a Native American headdress and shadows cast across his face.

44. Set an image within a shape

Inspiring magazine covers
Brownbook No. 40

Brownbook consistently sets an image – whether it is a photograph or illustration – within a hexagon on a white page. This issue of Brownbook places the model strategically so that her head and toes reach the top and bottom corners of the hexagon.

45. Move everything to the middle

Inspiring magazine covers
Collect

Collect also uses a consistent design formula for its cover layouts. Masthead, magazine details and image are aligned in the middle of the magazine with the solid background spreading out around it.

46. Add a pop of color

46. L'Incense
L’Insensé

Pops of bright red are at the top, middle, and bottom of this L’Insensé cover. The red balances and ties the masthead, model and issue theme together and interestingly works to draw the viewer’s gaze to the model’s eyes.

47. Create a mood with your color palette

Inspiring magazine covers
Influencia

Designers Violaine & Jérémy use a soft and subtle colour palette that is fitting of the relaxing mood associated with having a cup of tea, reinforced by the steam wafting up the page.

48. Create layers with torn paper

Inspiring magazine covers
Clash

Three faces are layered and combined in this Clash cover that uses the illusion of torn strips of paper to reveal different parts of each face.

49. Find patterns for striking visual effect

Inspiring magazine covers
Makeshift

Makeshift’s cover features a photograph that is taken at such an angle that repetition has created a pattern with striking visual effect.

50. Use hand-drawn techniques

Inspiring magazine covers
Yorokubu

Vicente Garciía Morillo used only pencil and lipstick to create this cover of Yorokubu. He overlaid a pencil illustration of lips with letters drawn in lipstick and repeated the pattern four times, each with a different letter.

Your turn

So how do you create a striking magazine cover? Here are three factors to consider:

  1. Create a design that stands out amongst the competition.
  2. Come up with a concept that expresses the theme of the magazine.
  3. Think outside the box when it comes to design techniques and tools.

Once you’ve done that, get ready to enter the great magazine showdown. May the most striking cover win a well-earned place in the annals of beautifully designed magazine covers.