Cover Art Salon Judging Criteria


The newsletter/magazine cover is a rather uncomplicated printed communication. It doesn't seem to offer much challenge to the editor or designer. But therein lies the problem. It is such a basic form of printed communication that it can be put together too easily. As a result, too many covers lose effectiveness because they look inept and amateurish. Application of basic typographical and design principles can change an unattractive, ineffective cover into one that is an asset to its organization.

Consistency of style is important. A consistent style means that each issue will look basically the same as all the others. But, this does not mean that a cover needs to be boring and monotonous. There are several graphic design elements which can affect the overall appeal of each cover, and these items are what the judges are looking for.

1. First of these is the overall IMPACT of the cover. Is it a new and exciting way of presenting information via a picture or printed graphic device? Is it a spectacular color photograph? Is it a breaking news story? Is it just a pleasing way that the three major elements of any cover (artwork, headline/logo/flag, and white space) are combined?

2. Next comes the overall APPEARANCE of the cover. Is it clean or smeared? Is the photograph in focus? Does the artwork's lines reproduce well? What does the photograph look like in finished form? Photographs just do not reproduce well at all in publications printed by mimeograph or duplicator (Xerox).

3. Now, look at the OPTICAL BALANCE of the cover's elements. Does the subject look towards the center of the layout or off the page? If there are any leading lines in the picture or artwork (pathways, people pointing, any action shown, or anything which would cause your viewer to look in front of the action--and possibly off the page?), do these lines lead the viewer back INTO the center of the page? Is there just ONE STORY being told by the cover? Is the excess of white space located to the outside of the layout's other elements?

4. Is the cover in a VERTICAL format? Judges prefer vertical covers on vertical publications.

5. Is your cover photo a full-page photo? Is it bled off the sides of the cover? These kinds of photos appeal to judges. Likewise, full-page artwork also appeals to judges.


6. Judges are impressed by covers printed in color--or black-and-white artwork printed on paper stock (use light-colored paper to maximize contrast between color and artwork).


7. The cover should be attractive and neat. Its design should be uncomplicated and consistent.


8. If the newsletter/magazine's LOGO (nameplate) is placed into artwork or a photograph, is it placed in a lighter area so that the type does not disappear into the artwork/photo? Is it easily seen?


9. If there is an additional HEADLINE or other type matter on the cover, is it placed in an area where it does not disappear into the background colors/photo/artwork? Is the type large enough to be easily seen? Judges hate small, difficult-to-read type.

10. Logos and headlines on the cover should be written HORIZONTALLY. Vertical headlines or logos are difficult to read and hurt your publication's chances of winning.


If your organization has a small publication budget and cannot afford to have the publication computer-typeset, desktop published, or printed by laser color printing presses, it does not mean that you will never have a chance for a medal. A publication duplicated on a Xerox machine stands an excellent chance of winning if designed properly using a good-quality, easily understood graphic element, and clean logo and type styles. It is ultimately the overall DESIGN and QUALITY that determines whether a cover is a prize-winner or not.

As a final note, remember that your covers will NOT BE ACCEPTED for judging if they --

(1) are not related to caving or caves; 

(2) promote unsafe caving practices; 

(3) depict practices flagrantly violating cave conservation ethics; 

(4) depict practices flagrantly detrimental to landowner relations, and 

(5) are offensive or pornographic.

Recent Winners