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10 Tips for Designing High-Impact Magazines

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Read Time: 17 mins
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From designing striking, creative magazine covers to putting together contents pages that pack a punch, we share ten fantastic magazine design tips for breathing life into your next print design. 

Designing a magazine is no simple task. But whether you’re creating a fashion bible, fitness mag, or foodie flick-through, you’ll find something here to help get your ideas going, as well as helpful technical tips for making your magazine layouts look uber-professional.

And if you prefer to watch a video to learn more about the basics of magazine design, we've got it covered. Don't miss this new video by Laura Keung on the Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel:

Looking for a stylish, ready-made magazine design template? Browse the broad range of cool magazine ideas and templates available over on Envato Elements.

And remember to check out our recommended creative magazine templates:

1. Don’t Be Shy With Your Cover Designs

One of the basics of magazine design is the cover. The most aesthetically pleasing magazines always have great covers. There’s no point spending time perfecting the inside pages of your magazine if casual browsers don’t pick up the issue to take a look. An attention-grabbing magazine cover design is vital for selling your magazine to readers and inviting them to delve deeper into the publication.

That being said, your magazine cover design doesn’t need to be brash. A rainbow spectrum of color and an over-packed layout can look dated and cheap, but balanced, strong headers and sub-headings paired with simple graphic callouts draw attention to cool magazine covers in a subtler way. 

Try sticking to the A B C rule, which is used by the designers of the most creative magazine covers. 

Stick to one A-heading (the magazine title), one strong (B) sub-heading (pulling out one article to be the main focus), and a larger selection of smaller (C) sub-headings. Almost every magazine cover uses this rule to promote balance in the layout. 

Pair these headings with a strong, simple photograph and areas of white space (where you place no busy text or images), and you have a layout that’s both pleasant to look at and graphically very bold.

Stick with black-and-white photography for a strong look that still looks balanced and stylish. 

Look to slab and display typefaces set in uppercase characters in shades of brilliant white, as in this stylish InDesign magazine template called Arigat, to make text pop against a full-color photo.

Arigat Magazine Cover DesignArigat Magazine Cover DesignArigat Magazine Cover Design
You can find many InDesign magazine templates that have bold covers like Arigat.

Allowing photos to ‘interact’ with typography is also a great way of making cool magazine covers appear more 3D and giving the impression that the photo is jumping out at you. Cut the subject of the photo away from the background, and layer them so that parts of the subject are brought in front of text and others behind. Check out this tutorial on how to create a magazine cover in Adobe InDesign and Photoshop that uses this effect:

2. A Single Pop of Color Shouts the Loudest!

This is one of the easiest magazine tips. Some of the most effective magazine designs use color very sparingly, proving that a simple pop of bold color can be more striking than a palette of rainbow brights. 

Teaming a single strong color with black-and-white photography and monochrome text looks fantastic for men’s magazines and technology titles. Bright typography, banners, and dividers lend a sporty, masculine edge to layouts. It’s simple to achieve and is a great way of bringing the whole design of the magazine together (see Tip 9, below, about promoting a style theme in your designs). 

Try an acid yellow or hot orange for an optimistic color pop that looks great on extreme sports titles and travel magazines. Or why not cool it down with a sky blue and golden accent, like on this stylish sports magazine?

Sportwave Magazine Cover DesignSportwave Magazine Cover DesignSportwave Magazine Cover Design

A bold red also looks really punchy and adds a modern touch to old-fashioned black-and-white photography when you design a magazine. The Samurai Magazine template shows just how well this magazine cover idea works.

Samurai Magazine Cover IdeasSamurai Magazine Cover IdeasSamurai Magazine Cover Ideas
Samurai is one of the many good magazine design examples found on Envato Elements.

The key with this look is to pick one strong color and use it sparingly. Don’t apply your color to everything—a touch here and there will go a long way.

3. Spend Time Perfecting Your Contents Page

When you're learning how to design a magazine spread, pay attention to this. Once the reader opens up the magazine, the contents page will be their first port of call. The contents page should be functional and allow the reader to find sections and articles easily, but it’s also the perfect place to exercise a bit of stylistic creativity. 

If your magazine spread has a large amount of content, don’t restrict your contents to one page—branch out into a full two-page spread. This will give you plenty of room to introduce a large ‘Contents’ header (try out a slab serif for high-impact typography) and lots of enticing images. 

All great table of contents magazine spreads will be structured on some sort of grid layout, but it certainly doesn’t need to be restrictive or dull. Take a look at the irregular photo-grid used on this sports magazine’s contents spread—the mish-mash of large and small images looks exciting, not chaotic, and pulled-out taglines add context to each graphic. Large, stylish page numbers set in blue, yellow, and black are instantly clear and make browsing the contents of the magazine a breeze.

Sport Magazine Table of ContentsSport Magazine Table of ContentsSport Magazine Table of Contents

Or why not base your contents spread on a simpler column grid, as in this design-forward magazine template?

Design Forward Magazine Table of ContetnsDesign Forward Magazine Table of ContetnsDesign Forward Magazine Table of Contetns
Take a look at more good magazine design examples like this one.

Restrict the number of articles you highlight in each row or column of your grid, to give more breathing space to each item and help maximize white space in your layout.

When designing your magazine, focus your energy on making your contents page as well-structured and well-styled as possible. As it's the reference spread for the rest of the publication, you want to make a good impression! You can lift typography styles and colors from the contents spread and use these as a basis for developing a consistent look across the whole magazine. 

Remember that contents pages for magazines are very different to contents pages for books or reports. Magazine contents should be full of enticing images and exciting typography to get the reader in the mood for delving into the rest of the magazine’s content.

4. Illustrated Graphics Make Magazines Unique

Browse any shelf of magazines and look for cool magazine ideas, and you’ll notice that most cool magazine covers use photos as their image medium of choice. However, an illustrative cover can look unique and stylish and is a great choice for tech, arts, and design titles. On-trend flat graphics are easy to create and can make your magazine look particularly design-forward. 

Get friendly with Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW, or Inkscape to create vector graphics that you can drop into your InDesign magazine templates with ease. 

Vectors are a great way to express more abstract or fantastical concepts, and as a result are the perfect choice for magazines that don’t fall into the usual fashion or lifestyle niches. Take a look at the cover for this design magazine—the abstract graphic catches the eye, and it will be sure to stand out in a sea of photographic covers. 

Unspectub Vector Magazine Cover IdeasUnspectub Vector Magazine Cover IdeasUnspectub Vector Magazine Cover Ideas

Illustrations, whether vectorized or hand-drawn, also add a lovely unique quality to special issues or collector’s editions.

Using illustrations rather than photos also helps you to promote consistency across your magazine design, helping you to develop a brand look for your publication. This makes it a great choice for magazines that need a strong branded style, such as self-promotional magazines for companies like airlines and retailers.

5. Give a Digital Look to Print Layouts With Infographics

Titles like National Geographic and Esquire are big fans of using infographics to illustrate articles in a more exciting, tech-forward way. Many magazines are moving away from traditional text-heavy article layouts and taking inspiration from websites and eBooks to create print layouts that appear more interactive and engaging. 

Take a look at this cool infographic spread from a sports magazine template

Sports Infographic Magazine Spread DesignSports Infographic Magazine Spread DesignSports Infographic Magazine Spread Design
Find cool magazine ideas on Envato Elements.

The article is divided up into points, with each number assigned a hexagon icon and a corresponding image. Spreading the article across the spine of the spread makes the whole design look more immersive and poster-like. 

Even if you’re formatting a text-heavy article, try experimenting with adding callouts and quotes set in infographic-style shapes and borders. Introduce arrows and dividers to direct the flow of the article and hold the reader’s attention for longer. Use maps and pie charts to demonstrate statistics and geographical locations. Infographics work particularly well for sports, commentary, and finance magazines. 

Infographics don’t need to be tricky to recreate—this tutorial shows you how to create simple infographics, including maps and charts, from scratch, directly in Adobe InDesign:

6. Go Minimal for Fashion Magazines

If you’re designing a magazine for fashion or lifestyle content, your challenge will lie in making the design look as on-trend and aspirational as possible. A minimal design is a great blank canvas for fashion photos and retail showcases, and it taps into the trend for ultra-simple, stylish print design. It's the best design for magazines about these topics.

Here are the basics of magazine design: make photos the focus of your layouts, allowing them to take up at least two-thirds of each page. Pair them with a bare white or pastel backdrop and rich black typography, as in this stylish fashion magazine template.

Madelynn Minimal Magazine Cover IdeaMadelynn Minimal Magazine Cover IdeaMadelynn Minimal Magazine Cover Idea
Choose Madelynn or another minimal InDesign magazine template for a restrained look.

Avoid fuss at all costs, to avoid the designs looking cheap, and shy away from making any typography too ‘shouty’. 

Madelynn Minimal Magazine SpreadMadelynn Minimal Magazine SpreadMadelynn Minimal Magazine Spread

Experiment with placing images in slightly off-center positions to give the layouts a subtly arty look. 

Madelynn Minimal Magazine Spread DesignMadelynn Minimal Magazine Spread DesignMadelynn Minimal Magazine Spread Design

Look for photos that share a particular color theme or style, and team them together on the page, as in the layout example below. This will help your layouts to feel stylish, beautiful, and calming to look at. 

Madelynn Minimal Magazine SpreadMadelynn Minimal Magazine SpreadMadelynn Minimal Magazine Spread

7. Serifs Look Aspirational; Sans Serifs Look Cool

Great magazine design takes typography into account. Typography plays a huge part in positioning your magazine in the market and giving it a particular identity and mood. Typeface styles can have particular associations with famous magazines—think of Vogue and think of Didot; think of National Geographic and think of Stone Sans

We’ve been conditioned over time to associate particular type styles with specific magazine genres, and you can use this to your advantage when designing your own magazines. 

So say, for example, you’re designing a fashion magazine. If you want to make it look more expensive, luxurious, and aspirational, you can turn to an elegant serif like Didot or Bodoni for Vogue-inspired charm.

Kindle Magazine Template CoverKindle Magazine Template CoverKindle Magazine Template Cover

If you want to make your magazine look cooler and more youthful and trendy, you can take a clean, hip sans serif for a whirl, like Noir Pro.

For sports and tech titles, try out a solid, high-impact sans serif like Frank, or why not try a vintage-inspired typeface like New Yorker Type if you’re designing a commentary title (a fitting tribute to the typeface used by The New Yorker).

Photos and color may change with each issue, but typography will remain a constant, so take the time to consider the sort of personality you want your magazine to have, and do your research to find the right typeface that will communicate this. 

Hed Mag Magazine Cover and LayoutHed Mag Magazine Cover and LayoutHed Mag Magazine Cover and Layout
The Hed Mag magazine template uses its font to strike a bold tone.

8. Make Beautiful Photos the Main Focus

If you’re lucky enough to have some stunning photography to feature in your magazine, make sure to highlight it as the main focus of your layouts. Most people buy magazines for the photos, with the text content playing a secondary supporting role. Keep this in mind when learning how to design a magazine.

Fashion, travel, and nature magazines, like this travel magazine template, will often design layouts around a single beautiful photo.

Travele Travel InDesign Magazine TemplateTravele Travel InDesign Magazine TemplateTravele Travel InDesign Magazine Template
The Travele magazine template uses a cover that brings audiences into the content.

Here are more magazine tips: Don’t be afraid to blow images up to huge size—some of the best designs for magazines do this. Dedicating a whole page or spread to a single photo can look fantastic.

Stylish Style Magazine Cover Close-upStylish Style Magazine Cover Close-upStylish Style Magazine Cover Close-up
The close-up shot on this magazine template focuses on the cover model and whatever product is featured.

You don’t need to be restricted to square or rectangular borders either; try setting photos in circular or unusually shaped frames, or use Photoshop to cut away the background from images to make them more flexible to place on stylish layouts. 

You should also think about how you’re going to print your magazine and how the print finish will affect the quality of the photos. Most magazines are printed on gloss-coated paper. Gloss-coated paper won’t absorb the ink as much as matte-coated paper during printing, allowing the color to sit on top of the paper and look more vibrant and bright. If your magazine’s going to be full of photos, consider printing the magazine on gloss-coated. This is generally a little pricier than matte, but you can get low-weight gloss papers that are better value and will still give your photo layouts a lovely finish.

Make sure your magazine is ready for print by checking out this helpful prepping for print guide:

9. Design a Magazine With a Style Theme and Stick to It!

A well-designed magazine will have elements of consistency which are shared across the whole design, from cover to cover. This thematic design is the hallmark of a professional and carefully considered magazine. 

Be inspired by this strongly themed magazine template, which introduces a few key elements on the cover which are carried forward across the inside pages.

Sociale Cool Magazine CoverSociale Cool Magazine CoverSociale Cool Magazine Cover
Good magazine design examples with a theme.

A pastel color scheme is rendered with soft tones. There is a theme of rectangular shapes and blocks, combined with a consistent typographic style.

Sociale Magazine Spread DesignSociale Magazine Spread DesignSociale Magazine Spread Design
Here's a great magazine spread inspiration.
Sociale Themed MagazineSociale Themed MagazineSociale Themed Magazine
Sociale Themed Table of ContentsSociale Themed Table of ContentsSociale Themed Table of Contents

Use this checklist to make sure some or all of these elements are consistent across your magazine design:

  • Color palette (choose one to three CMYK colors and use these consistently)
  • Typography (use consistent typefaces, type weights, and sizes)
  • Shape and graphics (use the same shapes or image borders and graphic elements across the magazine)
  • Background color 
  • Page numbering style and running headers (place these on Master pages to promote consistency)

10. Think in Spreads, not Pages

It’s sometimes easy to forget while you're designing that your magazine will be printed and bound into a series of two-page spreads. The reader won't absorb the individual pages, but whole spreads. You'll notice how the most aesthetically pleasing magazines use them in practice. And that's why magazine spread design is important.

When going into how to design a magazine spread, you can make the experience of reading your magazine more immersive by keeping this mantra in mind while you design: “Think in spreads, not pages.”

Auntum Magazine Template SpreadsAuntum Magazine Template SpreadsAuntum Magazine Template Spreads
The Auntum Magazine template is a great magazine spread inspiration.

If you’re creating your magazine artwork in Adobe InDesign, this is less of an issue as creating magazine spread design is built into the software. Set the document to Facing Pages (File > Document Setup), which will transform the layout into ‘reader’s spreads’ (laid out in the same way as the reader would actually read the magazine). 

In terms of the magazine spread design, you shouldn’t be afraid of taking content across the central spine of the magazine spread. Most magazines are perfect bound, which means that the pages are glued to the spine. Unlike with some forms of binding, this means that content sitting towards the inside edge of the page (the edge closest to the spine) is less likely to be sucked into the binding. It’s not wise to place small-scale content like image captions or article text very close to the inside edge, but there’s no problem with placing larger content like headers and images across the inside edges of the spread. 

This simple magazine template uses this technique to create beautiful spreads that extend titles and photos across both pages.

Auntum Magazine Template SpreadsAuntum Magazine Template SpreadsAuntum Magazine Template Spreads
Find more magazine spread inspiration here.
Auntum Magazine Template SpreadsAuntum Magazine Template SpreadsAuntum Magazine Template Spreads

Envato Elements: Design Without Limits

Design Without LimitsDesign Without LimitsDesign Without Limits

Putting together aesthetically pleasing magazines is a huge undertaking. Creative magazine covers and spreads all use many assets to bring an idea to life. You can take magazine templates to these inventive new heights with Envato Elements.

Envato Elements has a great offer for creatives and designers of all experience levels:

For the price of a monthly subscription, you can access unlimited downloads from the Envato Elements digital asset library. That means unlimited InDesign magazine templates, fonts, icons, stock images, illustrations, and much, much more.

Envato Elements Digital Asset LibraryEnvato Elements Digital Asset LibraryEnvato Elements Digital Asset Library
There are a lot of creative, digital assets to explore in the Envato Elements library.

That means you can get the best quality assets to tie together your magazine spread without paying extra. Get as creative as you want with your magazine design and other creative projects with Envato Elements.

More Magazine Design Help From Envato Tuts+

The Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel has tutorials covering lettering, WordPress, video production, and everything in between. If you're new to InDesign or creating content with magazine templates, Envato Tuts+ on YouTube has you covered. 

Our channel can help you with magazine spread design, magazine cover ideas, and other tech questions you might have.

The Envato Tuts+ website also features magazine design tutorials. Learn how to recreate the best cool magazine covers like Time, put together an attractive spread design for different types of content, and more.

Recap: Best 10 Magazine Tips 

In this article, we’ve looked at ten helpful tips for creating magazines that pack a punch! 

Sports Magazine InfographicSports Magazine InfographicSports Magazine Infographic

When you’re trying to get the best design for magazines, be sure to look to these top tips for making your magazine as awesome as it can be:

  1. Don’t be shy with your cover designs—get inspired by magazine cover ideas that use bold, punchy typography and photos to grab attention and sell the magazine to a casual browser.
  2. Use a single pop of color—this is a stylish, subtle way of drawing attention and looks great for sports and tech magazines.
  3. Spend time perfecting your contents page—as the gateway to the rest of your magazine, make sure to give the contents your full attention.
  4. Make your title unique with custom illustrations—whether vector or hand-drawn, illustrated graphics can stand out in a sea of photographic magazines.
  5. Bring digital style to print with infographics—a simple, effective way aesthetically pleasing magazines handle breaking up text-heavy articles.
  6. Choose minimal layout styles for fashion and lifestyle titles—simple styles help trendy subject matter shine through great magazine spread design.
  7. Choose typography appropriately—the right typeface can give particular personality to your magazine.
  8. Make photos the main focus—beautiful photography should take up at least two-thirds of your magazine; be sure to print it on gloss-coated paper to make the most of stunning pictures.
  9. Create a style theme and stick to it—apply consistent elements, such as color, shape and typography, throughout your whole magazine, to make it look super-professional.
  10. Think in spreads, not pages—design your magazine in two-page doses and allow content to spread across the spine, to create an immersive design.

Good luck with designing a magazine... and have fun! If you’re looking for a template to build on and customise to make it your own, check out the great magazine design templates over on Envato Elements.

Editorial Note: This post has been updated with contributions from Maria Villanueva. Maria is the Associate Editor of the Tuts+ Design channel.

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