Although most mainstream publishers have suffered a worrying decline in single-copy sales and subscriptions, plenty of titles are still competing for our attention on the newsstands, supermarket shelves and digital storefronts. Magazines need a compelling front cover if they are going to appeal to the audience, especially impulse buyers who might pick up a copy while queuing at the till.
First impressions count so the cover should establish the brand’s identity and values. The carefully arranged headlines, coverlines and images should also provide a preview of the magazine’s content.
We are going to use Photoshop to create this magazine cover to target an audience interested in the latest fashion trends. This tutorial will help you improve your technical proficiency in the software and develop your understanding of the key design terms.
Open Photoshop and let’s get started.
Step One – The Canvas
Create a new document from the Home Screen by choosing File > New from the main menu bar or by pressing Ctrl+N on your keyboard. Most students click the blue Create new button.
Any of these options will open the New Document dialog box where you can add the dimensions to match the size of your magazine (usually around 8.5 x 11 inches) or simply select the A4 pre-set. We called our file “magazine cover assignment”.
Double-check the resolution is 300 Pixels/Inch because low-resolution images and text might look pixelated when printed. You want your elements to be sharp and clear.
Step Two – The Main Image
If you are following this tutorial because you are designing a front cover of a magazine for your media studies coursework, make sure you use your own original ideas for your submission to the exam board. We are going to use an image taken by the Australian photographer and filmmaker, Dollar Gill. You should be able to download the file by clicking this link to Unsplash.
Once you know which image you are going to use for your background, click File > Open from the main menu or press Ctrl+O.
In File Explorer, navigate to the folder where your image is stored and double-click the file. We had the file saved in our Pictures folder.
You should now have two document windows open in Photoshop.
The quickest method for moving an image between documents is to drag and drop the layer. Select the Move Tool by using the shortcut “v” on your keyboard, click on the image and drag it up to the tab of the other document. Wait until you see Photoshop switch windows and then drop your image into the blank A4 canvas.
You can also use the Duplicate Layer function. Right click on the layer in the Layers Panel and select Duplicate Layer to open Photoshop’s Duplicate Layer dialog box. In the Destination section, choose “front cover assignment”. This option is useful when you have lots of tabs open.
After we inserted the image, we pressed Ctrl+T to start the transform function – you should see the transform border appear around the layer. Scale the layer down to 75% of the original size. Commit the transform by clicking the tick icon at the top of the screen or by pressing Enter.
We then used the Move Tool to reposition the layer and achieve the following look:
Step Three – The Title
The title is probably the most important element of the magazine’s branding because the font choice and overall style encode information about the tone and values of the publication. Take your time and stick to our instructions to create this fantastic looking title:
First, select the Horizontal Type Tool on the Toolbar or by pressing “t” on your keyboard. We used the Options bar at the top of the screen to select the Arial Black font and change the size to 130pt.
We opened the Color Picker dialog box and changed the hexadecimal value to #21458f so the colour of the title coordinates effectively with the main image. Just copy these numbers into the field at the bottom of the box.
Press and hold the left mouse button while you drag the cursor to create a large text layer. Type “Limited” and confirm the changes by clicking the tick icon at the top of the screen.
If the Character panel is not available, click Window > Character in the main menu. With the all the text highlighted, we changed the tracking to -50.
We now want to add “Edition”. Zoom into the title by holding the control key and pressing “+” so we can focus firmly on that area.
Select the Rectangle Tool from the toolbar. Hold the left mouse button down while you drag the cursor to create the rectangle. In terms of dimensions, you want to aim for around 3cm x 1cm.
The Properties panel should open automatically. We opted for a hexadecimal value of #4d4d4d for the fill colour and removed the default stroke. This grey connects with the colour of the model’s suit.
Create a new Text layer. Change the size of font to 18pt and select white – #ffffff. We also had to change the tracking from the previous -50 setting to zero in the Character tab.
Type in the word “EDITION”. We went for capital letters again to signify confidence.
Make sure this new text layer is above the rectangle layer in the Layers panel, so the letters are not hidden by the grey background on the canvas.
Finally, we want the model’s head to be positioned in front of the text. This bit can be tricky and there are plenty of different ways to achieve the effect.
You could select the “LIMITED” layer, then click the “Add Layer Mask” icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Layer masking is an effective way to hide parts of image without actually erasing them.
Use the Pencil tool to delete the parts of the letters which should be behind the model’s head.
Mistakes are inevitable but you can undo them in the History panel.
However, we are going to take advantage of the Remove background action to achieve a more precise and professional finish. Duplicate the main image and move the copy above “LIMITED”. Then simply use the AI tool to remove the background.
Notice how the main part of the title disappeared when we dragged the copy of the main image above the “LIMITED” text layer, but the “EDITION” section remained visible. Remember, you need you need to pay close attention to the order of the layers in the Layers panel. If you are not sure how the position of the layers impacts the final look of your document, try changing the layer order.
When you are taking a photograph for your own print production, do not have your model posing in front of a brick wall or dense green foliage because it will make removing the background incredibly difficult, especially if you have to do it manually with the Magic Wand and Eraser tools.
Step Four – Finishing the Masthead
In publishing, the title is referred to as the masthead in the UK and nameplate in North America. We are going to include the issue number and a link to the website in our masthead.
Press the shortcut “T” on your keyboard and create a new text layer. We went for Arial Regular, size 16pt and kept the font colour #21458f. Type in “Issue 34”. Just check that the tracking is set to zero.
Create another text layer with the same values and type “www.limitededition.com”.
Your document should look something like this:
We need to consider organising the layers into folders before we start adding the headline and coverlines. If your layers are in the same order as the screenshot above, left click “LIMITED” and then hold down shift and left click “EDITION”. With the appropriate layers selected, click the “Create a new group” icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.
You can rename the folder by double-clicking “Group 1”. Right click on the group and select a colour from the bottom of the list of options. We went for red. You should also rename the main image layer.
Step Five – The Headline
The headline should be one of the most prominent elements on the front cover of the magazine, so designers often use large font sizes with a bold weight and a colour which contrasts with the background. Create a new text layer. Select Arial black, change the size to 48pt and type in the hexadecimal value #ffffff in the Color Picker dialog box.
Since we are placing the headline on the right side of the cover, you should right align the text. You should see the alignment options beside the Color Picker.
Type “Smart Style” into the text layer, press enter and then add “Sharp Minds”. This will separate the headline into two decks.
In the Character panel, change the lead to 42pt. This height is smaller than the font size of 48pt so the two lines of text should be closer together.
Create another text layer for the subheading. Change the font to Arial Regular and the size to 36pt. This will signal a clear hierarchy to the reader. Type “strutting your stuff”. Press enter. Then add “in the boardroom”.
Your text should be right aligned with a ragged left edge.
We also added a drop shadow to help the words stand out. Double-click your left mouse button on the layer in the panel to open the Layer Style dialog box. Tick the Drop Shadow option at the bottom and go with the default settings.
Step Seven – The Coverlines
Coverlines are the short lines of text or captions which offer a preview of the magazine’s content. If you are creating a product for your media studies coursework, you will probably need five to meet the minimum requirements.
You should have enough experience now of manipulating text layers to replicate our cover.
Coverlines should contribute to the overall visual appeal of the magazine cover. We kept the look consistent by sticking with variations of the Arial typeface. The colour palette is also limited to white, blue, and dark grey.
The “Couture Confidential” coverline is slightly different with the script typeface signifying a personal perspective on the fashion show. Notice how it has a left alignment and a ragged right edge.
Positioning the model between the masthead and the headline is a convention of the publishing industry because the designers want to trick our eyes into believing the magazine cover is three dimensional. You should try to achieve this sense of depth in your own products.
Always create a blank canvas when you are designing a front cover. Too many students make the mistake of opening their background image in Photoshop and using that document to create the front cover of the magazine. This could cost you marks because its dimensions and resolution may not fit with the standards in the industry.