Album Covers Without Sound

My assignment was to make an album cover without sound. This is what I made:

An album cover with faux neon signage reading "Lafayette Street / Empty Mind with an Open One" over a black background

I made it from this image. You can download the final PSD and the base image together as a single zip file. The PSD and the exported album cover image are free for you to use under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 3.0 License.

Although it’s definitely possible to make a better looking neon effect, that wasn’t the point of this project for me. I wanted a quick way to do neon that gets the point across but still lets me quickly change the text content later. Layer styles have a huge advantage of leaving text in an editable state after they’re applied. I’d like to make a tutorial for the neon effect at some point, but right now I simply don’t have time. Since I’ve already introduced the basics of layer styles in a previous post, you can examine and copy the layer styles I used from the photoshop file (zipped). Sadly, until adobe lets you input the effect parameters in measurements other than pixels, you’ll have to fiddle with the settings to make the effect look good on fonts that aren’t the same size as the ones I used.

Creative process info after the break.

Where Did This Stuff Come From? What was the creative process?

I had some rules I was supposed to follow for this assignment. Although I got Lafeyette Street as the artist name from the Random Page button on wikipedia, I  didn’t quite follow the other rules exactly. Quotationspage gave me “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one” by Malcom Forbes as the source for my album name. I chose the six word phrase “Empty Mind with an Open One” as my album name because it sounded cooler. However, I couldn’t find a way to filter the images of the past 7 days down to only the ones licensed under creative commons as the tumblr’s instructions suggest. Therefore I went to the creative commons “most recent” page of Flickr and found the image linked above in the third space. This was going to be a challenge.

an early rough draft of the album cover

This early version of the album cover has a lot of things wrong with the layout.

I started by trying to put some text along the path. I tried using text warp, but that didn’t really work like I wanted it do. I googled for some inspiration and found a good tutorial on how to place text along a path, so I had to try it out. I first placed the album name on the innermost circle. This didn’t really work as there was no way short of tweaking the layer style of each individual letter to get the engraving lighting to look right. I also realized that I couldn’t fit both the album name and the artist name onto the wooden circles. However, I really liked the idea of the engraved text effect because it seemed to fit with the wood in the photo.

I put brightness/contrast adjustment layer on top of the photo to reduce the contrast a bit and darken it so a neon effect would look good. Then I briefly put the album name on the top (see right)  before I realized it would be a bad idea. The leading lines in the wooden tube help point the viewer’s eye towards some ugly looking trees in the middle. That is not okay. I couldn’t cover them with text because the the text would become unreadable. I solved the issue by further scrapping the engraving, further darkening the image and putting the neon in the middle.

I had to play around with layer styles and layer modes a while to get something that looks good. I went through a few iterations of neon before I finally had something that looked good while still allowing the text and sign outline to be edited quickly.

A Quick Tip: The Font is Important!

This image of a neon sign shows how the apparent colors of neon tubes change from bright  and unsaturated in the center to a darker more saturated shade at the edges

The color of the neon tubes is brightest at the center of the tube. It grows darker and darker more saturated towards the edges. Your text needs to be thick enough to portray this.

It’s actually not just important, but absolutely crucial to have an effect that looks good. You need to have a font that’s thick enough so that you can see some some color contrast between the edges of the font and the center. At the same time, you don’t want to make it look too thick or it’ll just look like it’s internally lit plastic panelling. I also recommend something that has rounded ends. I used Arial Rounded MT Bold set to faux italic and faux bold. I’d recommend looking up some reference signs to help you get an idea of the effect you’d like to achieve.

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