You already know that your podcast needs top-level cover art to look great in all the podcast apps and directories. You can also further enhance the experience for your audience, create promotional assets, and reinforce your branding by making unique artwork for each episode. But you need to compensate for how each app might display the episode image (especially Apple Podcasts).
Please share this episode with anyone struggling to make their episode artwork appear!
Quick tips for episode artwork
There are a bunch of different images you could make for your podcast and individual episodes (I've previously talked about 7). Here are a few quick guidelines for episode images.
- Follow the same specs as podcast cover art: 1,400- to 3,000-pixel square, RGB color, JPEG or PNG, and smaller than 512 KB (preferably closer to 200 KB).
- Keep your branding as consistent as possible: fonts, colors, layout, icons, mood, and such.
- Include your logo or podcast name, but it doesn't have to be as prominent.
- Focus the artwork on the episode's title and simple imagery that supports that title and the episode's content.
- Ensure the most important parts can be understood if you shrink the artwork to a 1-inch (2.5-cm) square, but most episode artwork will display almost as wide as your smartphone's screen.
- Remember that this artwork will show most prominently in the “now playing” interface of the app, possibly the lock screen, and possibly an attached device (like a smartwatch, TV, or in-car display).
Now that you have episode artwork, there are three places you should put it to make it show up in podcast apps.
1. ID3 tags
Audio files can have metadata embedded in the files through the “ID3 tags.” This includes the title, author, chapters, other text, and images.
(Aside: I couldn't find that “ID3” actually stands for anything!)
Overcast and several other podcast apps use the image inside your ID3 tags. Some automations (such as Zapier, Repurpose.io, webpage-embedded players, and platform importers) also use the image in the ID3 tags.
Any ID3 editor should let you add at least one image (and I recommend adding only one to your ID3 tags). Here are the ID3 editors I recommend:
- ID3 Editor from PA Software ($15, Windows and macOS)—This was the best $15 I've spent in podcasting!
- iTunes (free; Windows, OS X, and macOS up to 10.14) / Apple Music (macOS 10.15 and later)
- Mp3Tag (free for Windows, $19.99 for macOS)
- Your podcast-hosting provider's built-in tagging tools
This should be the first and most important place for your episode artwork. Even if you don't make unique images for each episode, make sure your episodes always include your main podcast cover art in the ID3 tags.
2. RSS feed
There are two RSS tags that can hold your episode-level artwork: the
<itunes:image> tag from Apple's “iTunes namespace,” and the
<podcast:images> tag from the Podcasting 2.0 “podcast namespace.”
You'll see these (especially the legacy tag from the “iTunes namespace”) at the top level for your whole podcast (called “channel-level”), and they can also be used for individual episodes (called “item-level”). These link out to the cover art hosted somewhere.
Like with all things Podcasting 2.0, the
<podcast:images> tag lets you do more! You can already specify different images for different sizes. For example, an image with only an icon at 150 pixels wide, an image with the title and icon at 600 pixels wide, and an image with more at 1,200 pixels wide. There might be other features in the future, too!
Interjection: Apple Podcasts still won't display episode artwork
Ironically, Apple Podcasts doesn't actually display episode images from RSS feeds using Apple's own namespace tag! Their documentation even still encourages using it for an “episode-specific image you would like listeners to see”!
Episode tag: <itunes:image>
Parent tag: <item>
The episode artwork.
You should use this tag when you have a high quality, episode-specific image you would like listeners to see.
Specify your episode artwork using the href attribute in the tag. RSS Feed Sample.
Depending on their device, listeners see your episode artwork in varying sizes. Therefore, make sure your design is effective at both its original size and at thumbnail size. You should include a title, brand, or source name as part of your episode artwork. To avoid technical issues when you update your episode artwork, be sure to:
- Change the artwork file name and URL at the same time
- Verify the web server hosting your artwork allows HTTP head requests
Artwork must be a minimum size of 1400 x 1400 pixels and a maximum size of 3000 x 3000 pixels, in JPEG or PNG format, 72 dpi, with appropriate file extensions (.jpg, .png), and in the RGB colorspace. These requirements are different from the standard RSS image tag specifications.
Make sure the file type in the URL matches the actual file type of the image file.“A Podcaster’s Guide to RSS,” retrieved December 19, 2022. Emphasis added.
For some years now, the only places your episode artwork showed in Apple podcasts were in episode search results, on the Apple Podcasts webpage preview, and when playing an episode from the catalog—not from the library! But apparently, sometime in 2022 (maybe with the release of iOS 16 or one of its updates), Apple ended even these behaviors. We used to wonder which behavior was the “bug”: not displaying episode artwork to followers, or displaying it at all. Now, it seems that displaying it at all was the bug. So now, it seems the only place Apple displays the episode artwork is on the Apple Podcasts episode webpage preview, like this one.
Until Apple Podcasts fixes this—if they ever do—there's one trick I figured out to still get episode artwork to show in Apple Podcasts.
And I'm not referring to the trick of changing your show-level artwork every time you publish a new episode (like No Agenda does)! This might seem to work, but only for the latest episode. It leaves old episodes to show the same image in Apple Podcasts and any app that ignores episode-level images.
3. Chapters (episode artwork workaround for Apple Podcasts)
While Apple Podcasts does not currently support its own
<itunes:image> tag for episode artwork, it does support chapters and chapter images! In fact, I used it for this very section of the podcast to demonstrate a different image in a chapter.
Chapters are a way of dividing your content in podcast apps. This allows your audience to quickly see your content outline; skip to or away from sections; and see a title, optional image, and an optional hyperlink for each chapter. (I've proposed for Podcasting 2.0 to expand chapters to support rich content, like image galleries and basic-formatted text.)
Like episode artwork, chapters are a way of enhancing the experience for your audience. And you can use chapters as a trick to force the Apple Podcasts app to display episode artwork!
You can use a different image for each chapter, and Apple Podcasts and other apps will switch to that image while that chapter plays. When a chapter is playing without an image, podcast apps will switch back to the main podcast cover art.
If you have only a single episode image, there are three ways you could force this to display using chapters, but each has some drawbacks.
- Make only a single chapter and make it include the episode artwork. This can work, but the presence of any chapters (even only one) will trigger the chapter interface in podcast apps. That becomes wasted space and potentially confusing to see only a single chapter. It's like giving you notes to a speech and the whole outline is merely the word “Speech.”
- Put the episode artwork in every chapter. Since a chapter without an image will revert to the podcast cover art, you could insert the same image into every chapter and your audience would never see it change. But this is cumbersome to do. It also unnecessarily bloats the MP3 because each chapter's image takes up more space, even if it's the same image on multiple chapters.
- Put the episode artwork in only the first chapter(s). A hybrid of the previous methods, this will cause the episode artwork to display when your audience first starts playing the episode and for as long as that first chapter continues. If your first chapter is really short, then you could put the image in the next chapter, but not all the chapters. This won't take as much space as repeating the image across all chapters, but it also means Apple Podcasts will revert to the show-level podcast cover art after moving past the chapter with the image.
While this tip focuses on Apple Podcasts, I suspect it would also work for any other app that supports chapters but not episode artwork.
Is episode artwork worth making?
(I seem to be asking “Is it worth it?” questions a lot lately!)
You need to keep in mind it's possible a podcast app or directory still won't display your episode artwork even if you implement all three of these methods.
Besides that, some of your audience might never even see your beautiful episode artwork because their device screen is off or covered during the whole time they listen to your episode.
So is it really worth the effort to make individual artwork for each episode?
I think it is! First, because it enhances the experience for your audience. And second, because you can use the episode artwork (along with several other layouts of the same design) to make your podcast look better when you embed it and promote it! For example, I take the exact same square artwork I put in my episode and I post it on my Instagram (@theDanielJLewis) to promote my new episode.
Please check out my previous episode for resources on how to create your episode images: “7 Kinds of Podcast Images for Marketing and Branding.”