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How to Create a Vinyl Record and 80s Album Cover

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Read Time: 11 min

In this tutorial, you'll learn how to make a realistic vinyl record. Then we'll create an album cover to go with it, in the style of Patrick Nagel.

Nagel's cool, seductive portraits are icons of 1980s design and illustration. He famously illustrated the cover of one of the biggest pop records of the era, Duran Duran's "Rio." Let's get started!

What You'll Learn

  • How to create a vinyl record illustration
  • How to design the grooves and tracks of your vector illustration
  • How to add a label design to your vinyl record illustration
  • How to make an album cover in Illustrator
  • How to use a photo reference for your album cover illustration
  • How to play with the background of your album cover in Adobe Illustrator

1. How to Create a Vinyl Record Illustration

Let's get started by learning how to create a record vector illustration in Adobe Illustrator.

Step 1

Draw a circle and fill it with a simple white-to-black radial gradient.

Step 2

Go to Object > Expand and choose Gradient Mesh.

Step 3

Expanding the gradient this way puts a Clipping Mask on it, which needs to be removed. Go to Object > Clipping Mask > Release. With everything still selected, ungroup.

Step 4

You may be wondering why you can't just start with the gradient-filled circle and create a Gradient Mesh from there. If you do that, you get something that looks like a sphere, and what we're going for here is a true radial mesh.

Step 5

After you've ungrouped the objects, the clipping mask path is no longer needed. The easiest way to get rid of it is to view the document in Outline mode, move the mesh object out of the way, and then select and delete the path.

Step 6

Your illustration thus far should look like the image below.

Step 7

Take the Mesh tool (U) and click on the outer path two or three times, above and below the horizontal center path.

Step 8

The mesh lines you just created will be a little curvy and will need to be straightened out. To do this, retract the handles by dragging them as close to their respective points as possible. Turn the handles so they line up with the diagonal paths.

Step 9

Repeat Step 8 for each diagonal mesh line. When you're finished, the object should look like the image below (in Outline mode).

Step 10

Now, to color the individual mesh points, select them with either the Direct Selection tool (A) or the Lasso tool (Q), and then "fill" them with tints of black. We usually don't think of a point having a fill color, but that's the way it works with Gradient Mesh. Use the percentages below as a guide. You don't have to worry about the center point as it will be covered by the label.

Step 11

When you've finished coloring the sets of points, the object should look like the image below.

Step 12

Now to make the grooves and tracks. If you like, create a new layer above the base layer. Vinyl records have a set of inner grooves, going from the label outward. Draw a perfect circle that's about one-third the diameter of the main record shape. It should be 100% black and 0.25 points thick.

Keep this circle selected and go to Effects > Distort & Transform > Transform. Set both the horizontal and vertical scale to about 103%, and make 8 copies. Now go to Object > Expand Appearance, which will expand the effect into separate paths. Now Ungroup.

Step 13

For the grooves, select the outermost circle from the previous step (make sure you ungrouped), and enter the values below. You will probably have to adjust the number of copies. You can center the circle on the base shape, and with the Transform window open and the Preview box checked, increase or decrease the number of copies using the up or down arrow keys. The grooves should extend to the edge of the base circle.

Step 14

To create the spaces between the individual tracks, expand the Transform effect from the previous step. Select a few paths and increase the width of the stroke to 2 points. With the grooves and tracks in place, your illustration should look something like the image below.

Step 15

Create a new layer for the label, and draw a circle slightly smaller than the innermost "groove." Fill it with a solid color. We can't actually make a hole in the record, because you can't create a compound path with a mesh object. But we can fake the look by drawing two small circles in the center of the label, one white and one black, and positioning them as shown.

Step 16

There is a slightly thicker part in the center of the record. To create this illusion, draw a smaller circle outside the "hole," expand the stroke, and then fill it with a gradient as shown.

Step 17

The label design can be as complicated as you like, but I'm keeping it simple for now, adding another stroke just inside the shape. The finished label is below.

Step 18

Group the label elements and center-align the group with the record. One last finishing touch, and the record is done: Draw a circle about a quarter-inch larger than the main record shape. Fill it with 100% black and send it to the back. This will serve as the "lip" of the record.

Now, let's see how to make an album cover in Illustrator. 

2. How to Design an Album Cover in Adobe Illustrator

Duran Duran's "Rio" album cover serves as retro inspiration for this design, which is illustrated by Patrick Nagel. It's a great example of iconic 80s vinyl records.

Patrick Nagel's crisp, clean style was achieved by starting with a photo reference, making a pencil sketch, and then further reducing the final painting to its essential elements. Illustrator lends itself well to this style, but you will be surprised at how hard it is to create such a simple vector illustration. Let's get started on our album cover Illustrator template!

Step 1

Start with a photographic reference. Nagel is best known for his illustrations of women, but I thought I'd mix it up a bit with a stock photo. Place a photo in your document and make its layer a Template layer.

The photo of your choice doesn't need to have the dimensions of a vinyl album cover. Since this will be a vector illustration, we can resize it later on.

Step 2

On a new layer, use the Pen Tool (P) to trace the major shapes of the face, hair, and jacket. You can also use the Pencil Tool (N) or the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B), depending on your preference. I've placed a colored square behind these shapes so I can better see the white face shape.

Step 3

Switch to Outline mode. You'll still be able to see the reference photo because it's on a template layer. Using the Pen Tool, create simple one-point strokes for some of the features of the face.

Try to use as few points as possible. If necessary, go to Object > Path > Simplify to reduce the number of points to the bare minimum.

Step 4

To mimic the look of a fine brush or graphic pen, you can change the profile of the stroke. When a stroke is selected, a drop-down menu appears in the Control Bar. Here's an example of a profile applied to a stroke.

You can change the direction of the effect in the Stroke panel.

Step 5

You can adjust the width of the strokes dynamically and with precise control using the Width Tool (Shift-W). To adjust only one side of the stroke, hold down the Option/Alt key while dragging.

Step 6

On the left are the strokes of the ear as they were drawn. On the right is how they appear after modifying the strokes. Below is the finished ear.

The more you study Nagel, you will see that he used only enough information to represent a particular element. "Reduce and restrain" should be your mantra as you work.

Step 7

Continue adding and refining the detail strokes. Draw the lips and sunglasses, and simplify those. Remember to use as few points as possible and make your paths as smooth as you can.

Step 8

Add depth with some subtle strokes and shapes. Use a lighter gray or cool blue for the shadows. Again, try to stay minimal.

Notice how even a small, simple stroke or shape can add just enough dimension to get the point across. Take away anything superfluous, and remember: simple is hard. As you can see in the outline image, there are very few strokes that make up the face, but achieving the right style and placement can be quite time-consuming.

Step 9

When you're finished with the face, add some highlights to the hair and jacket. As with the face, keep these to the bare essentials. For the zipper, I've used a simple dashed line.

Step 10

Make a copy of the base face and jacket shapes. Use the Pathfinder to merge them into one shape. Send this shape to the back and nudge it over to the left.

Change the color to a cool blue and the Blending Mode to Multiply. Set the Opacity to 50%. This will be the shadow for the figure.

Step 11

Now for the background. 80s vinyl record design was characterized by hard edges and severe angles. Think shoulder pads.

Pastels were popular early in the decade, influenced by the Art Deco revival and Miami Vice. Nagel often used areas of bold, flat color, which contrasted with the white faces of his models. Experiment with various background colors and patterns and see how each can evoke a different mood.

Step 12

Nagel's later work began incorporating elements influenced by Abstract Illusionism. These lines and geometric shapes give the pieces extra movement and dimension, especially with the addition of drop shadows, which make them pop off the page.

Below is the final album cover, with those elements added. If you want to print it, remember to resize to the right vinyl album cover dimensions.

5 Amazing Album Cover Templates From Envato Elements

If you don't feel like starting from scratch, you can always download an album cover Illustrator template from Envato Elements. You'll also find a variety of options available for Photoshop and other apps.

Take a look at the top templates for your next album cover illustration:

1. Greatest Hits Vinyl Artwork (PSD)

Greatest Hits Vinyl ArtworkGreatest Hits Vinyl ArtworkGreatest Hits Vinyl Artwork

Are you looking for an album cover illustration with 80s vinyl record vibes? Take a look at this retro artwork! It features well-organized layers, and it's fully customizable. Easily edit the images, colors, objects, and text.

2. DJ Mixtape / Music Podcast CD Cover Artwork (PSD)

DJ Mixtape Music Podcast CD Cover ArtworkDJ Mixtape Music Podcast CD Cover ArtworkDJ Mixtape Music Podcast CD Cover Artwork

If you don't have time to learn how to make an album cover in Illustrator, don't miss the Jewel artwork. It's designed with CD and digital releases in mind, so it doesn't offer the default dimensions of a vinyl album cover. However, all the graphics are resizable, so you can quickly adjust them to your vinyl album cover dimensions.

3. Album Artwork Cover (AI, EPS, PDF)

Album Artwork CoverAlbum Artwork CoverAlbum Artwork Cover

Try this multipurpose album cover in Adobe Illustrator for all kinds of music genres. This album cover Illustrator template doesn't come in the usual vinyl album cover dimensions. That's not a problem, though, since you can easily edit and resize all the elements.

4. Music Vinyl Artwork (PSD)

Music Vinyl ArtworkMusic Vinyl ArtworkMusic Vinyl Artwork

What about a cool, classic album cover illustration like this one? This download offers two different vinyl album cover dimensions. It's very easy to edit, so make sure to add your own touch.

5. DJ Music Cover Artwork Template (PSD)

DJ Music Cover Artwork Template for CD & DigitalDJ Music Cover Artwork Template for CD & DigitalDJ Music Cover Artwork Template for CD & Digital

A fun design like this will be the perfect pop or indie vinyl record illustration. If you play with the color, it can also work as a cover for 80's vinyl records. You just need to resize it in order to get the dimensions of a vinyl album cover.


We've just learned how to design a vinyl record vector illustration. We also know how to make an album cover in Illustrator. If you don't have the time or energy to start from scratch, you can always download a premium album cover Illustrator template from Envato Elements.

Nagel's work is deceptively simple and stark. But once you try to duplicate his style, you fully appreciate the mastery of communicating so much with very little. The old adage "Less is More" certainly rings true. With Illustrator, however, it's easy to delete and refine objects until you get it just right.

You're all set to make your own album cover in Adobe Illustrator! Keep learning cool skills with these useful guides:

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