Print is anything but dead. Explore contemporary covers from ten cutting-edge magazines and unlock inspiration for your upcoming cover designs.
Despite the perception that the print industry is in decline, the magazine sector is actually experiencing a period of stability and, for some titles, exceptional growth.
Newsstands and agents are offering a wider variety of publications than ever before. The competition is fierce but the rewards substantial for magazines that can stand head and shoulders above the rest. A compelling cover design is a reader’s first point of contact with a magazine, and these ten recent covers represent the cream of the crop.
From beautifully illustrated typography to ground-breaking art direction, be inspired by these ten outstanding examples of magazine cover design.
1. Vogue España
- Camila Falquez – Photographer
- Sara Fernandez Castro – Fashion Editor/Stylist
- Africa Penalver – Model
The cover design for the January 2019 issue of Vogue España sees model Africa Penalver dressed in theatrical couture by Delpozo. Set against a flat crimson background and a simple black version of the iconic Vogue masthead, the cover design is immediately reminiscent of classic Fifties era fashion covers.
With a crisp palette, regal photography and minimal serif typography, this cover is a lesson in elegant simplicity.
Design tip: Creating contrast through color choice is a simple way to give your cover a more graphic, striking look. Team a dark background with a pale focal point, or vice versa, to instantly draw the eye towards the subject.
2. CNET Magazine
- Design: David Milan
- Model: Yara Shahidi
Lettering artist David Milan takes a playful approach to this cover design for tech title CNET. On the project’s Behance page you can also see more details about the process David used to create the designs, including draft versions of the cover that didn’t make the final cut. The poses and gestures of actor Yara Shahidi are enhanced with the hand-painted slogans and article teasers, making for a creative cover that blends photographic and illustrative elements.
Design tip: Typographic lettering and doodle styles are an emerging trend in magazine design. To recreate this eclectic style on your own cover designs, choose a strong, simple photo to set on the cover alongside the masthead. Then, embellish the design by hand with a calligraphy pen or digitally using a drawing tablet.
- Design: Vasava Studio, Barcelona, Spain
Inspired by the issue’s theme of change, the creatives at Vasava Studio decided to make the image of a snake shedding its skin the focal point to the cover of cultural title Yorokobu magazine. The curves of the snake’s body cleverly spells out the name of the magazine, while the incredible level of detail makes the cover appear more 3D than its print format would suggest.
On the project’s Behance page, you can see more images of the cover’s evolution, from sketched concept to stunning monochrome renders of the reptile.
Design tip: 3D detailing on a magazine cover can really make a design pop and give the impression that the subject is reaching out to the viewer. Experiment with shadowing and highlighting on illustrations, or layer type behind images to give a multi-dimensional feel to your artwork.
4. Transworld Surf
- Design: wedge & lever
Although Transworld Surf magazine is no longer in circulation, we must take a moment to appreciate the beautiful redesign creative agency wedge & lever gave to the publication. Anchored by a supremely stylish sans-serif masthead, the revised layout included a generous margin and a focus on emotive photography, retro-flecked color palettes, and playfully placed type. The result is a sophisticated, stylish cover design with a strong brand feel.
Design tip: Magazine covers with margins tend to have a more premium feel and quieter presence than their margin-free counterparts. This style works particularly well for alternative lifestyle and fashion titles.
5. The Weekender
- Illustration: Kati Szilagyi
- Art Direction: Plateau Studio
Ten years ago illustrated covers fell out of fashion completely, but now the conceptual power of drawing and lettering is being fully realized by savvy art directors.
For the thirtieth issue of The Weekender, Berlin-based illustrator Kati Szilagyi conjures the atmosphere of a hectic day in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. A midcentury-inspired color palette and multi-layered, abstract sketch style gives vintage-tinged dynamism to the cover. It makes a perfect match for the 1950s-style serif masthead.
Design tip: Magazine covers can be treated like works of art in themselves, and some of the most artistic covers have been archived and lovingly reproduced on poster artwork and postcards. A truly compelling cover is a creative one, so don’t be afraid to break with convention and explore different styles and mediums when creating your cover design.
6. Condé Nast Traveler Spain
A great example for demonstrating how photography can be used in quirky and unexpected ways, this cover for Condé Nast Traveler Spain mimics the frivolity of 1920s travel illustrations. Scattered swimmers evoke the joy of Mediterranean holidays, while the Deco-inspired typography is curved throughout to give a sense of playfulness.
Design tip: Aerial photos make a fantastic alternative to portrait images for lifestyle, food and travel magazines. Try an above-table shot of dishes or ingredients for a food magazine, or an aerial landscape shot for a travel or adventure title.
7. Guardian Weekend (UK)
2019 has been another year of Trump-themed magazine covers, but the Guardian Weekend takes the design top-spot with its take on the president and the rise of “deepfake” news. Making a commentary on the rise of heavily doctored videos, the art director Maggie Murphy uses a warped image of Trump in a newspaper collage style, lending a disturbing and dystopian edge to the cover design.
Design tip: Photo editing and retouching can improve the aesthetics or, in the case of this cover, enhance or convey the whole concept. Get familiar with the warping and distort tools and filters in Photoshop to make a good photo great.
8. The Atlantic (US)
- Creative Director: @petermendelsund
- Senior Art Director: Oliver Munday
The Atlantic has a record of outstanding cover designs, but this cover, which takes the subject of unreported rape cases, is an especially effective design. By blurring the portrait of the female subject behind a frosted glass effect and applying a “closed case” style length of red tape haphazardly across her mouth, the designers achieve an impactful and hauntingly unforgettable design. An incredible example of a complete concept realized for a cover design using sophisticated photo editing.
Design tip: The overall concept or narrative of a cover is just as important to consider as the execution of the design. Most magazine titles will employ both an art director and designer for creating a cover, with the art director usually conceiving the concept, and the designer developing it in visual form. In your own cover designs, look to invest as much time in creating an effective concept as creating the final design.
9. The Washington Post Magazine
- Artwork: Charles Williams
For their climate change-themed issue, The Washington Post Magazine tapped designer Charles Williams of creative studio Made Up. Specializing in digitally-illustrated typography with an immersive feel, Williams brings his signature style to the cover design. Blending psychedelia styling and natural imagery, the cover is both beautiful and unnerving.
Design tip: Typography and image don’t have to be mutually exclusive on your cover. As this cover design demonstrates, integrating the article or magazine title into the visual artwork can be extremely effective. Look to vector software like Adobe Illustrator to help pull together bespoke type designs for your cover layouts.
10. Fortune (US)
- Artwork: The Voorhes
- Art direction: Peter Herbert
For Fortune magazine’s 2019 “Fortune 500” issue, the immersive supermarket-set concept was created by talented husband-and-wife duo Adam and Robin Voorhes.
The innovative photographic pairing combine built stage sets with digital editing techniques to create eye-popping images that are fun, playful, and larger than life. For this cover design, Adam and Robin literally stacked shelves and created acrylic numbers that were further edited in their Austin-based studio.
Design tip: Creating the perfect cover image can require a lot of forethought and hard work. Prepare to get the best shots you can by selecting the right studio space, equipment, costumes, and makeup, and enlist a friend for help on the day of the shoot.
Alternatively, skip the tricky part and use an image from the handy Shutterstock library.
Discover more tips and inspiration for magazine design below:
- The Story Behind the Year’s Best “New York Times Magazine” Covers
- How to Use Master Pages in InDesign to Create Magazines Instantly
- How to Illustrate for Magazines and Why You Should Draw Every Day
- How to Create a Stylish Magazine Cover in Adobe InDesign
- 7 Perfect Typesetting Fonts for Books and Magazines