Optimal Size for Album Artwork

Q: I recently started cleaning up and organizing my iTunes library and am now trying to get my artwork in order. I have a bunch of obscure tracks that aren’t on iTunes, but have album covers of my own from old LPs and CDs. I’m planning to scan these in on my flatbed scanner, but I’m wondering what resolution I should use and what the tradeoffs are in terms of larger artwork versus wasted space. Is there an optimum size? I should note that I do like the large display of artwork on my Mac screen and I also have an Apple TV and an iPad and I’d want to make sure the artwork looks good everywhere. Any advice is appreciated.

– Stan

A: The first consideration is that the iTunes Store still supplies album artwork at a resolution of 600 x 600—both for tracks that you purchase from the iTunes Store as well as any artwork that you download automatically. This is obviously a resolution that Apple considers to be sufficient for most purposes.

To put that in perspective, the resolution of a Retina Display iPhone or iPod touch is 960 x 640, and since the artwork is square, it’s basically being rendered on that device at its maximum resolution. An Apple TV, even in 1080p mode, runs at a resolution of 1920 x 1080, however the artwork image displayed on the Apple TV does not fill the entire screen even in its largest view, and is therefore likely being rendered at around the same 600 x 600 resolution, give or take a few pixels. This resolution should also be sufficient for the large album views even on a standard Mac display unless you’re actually displaying the artwork full-screen.

About the only devices that would truly benefit from higher resolution artwork are the Retina Display iPad and MacBook Pro. With resolutions of 2048 x 1536 (iPad), 2560 x 1600 (13” Retina MacBook Pro), and 2880 x 1800 (15” Retina MacBook Pro), a full-screen 600 x 600 image would not be nearly taking advantage of the available screen resolution.

The tradeoff in space is that artwork is of course stored within each MP3/AAC file. While the size increase is negligible compared to the overall size of the average music track—a 600×600 image adds less than 100k—it can quickly add up and make a difference, particularly if you’re working with lower-capacity iPod and iOS devices. Further, on iPod and iOS devices, iTunes actually stores a copy of the artwork in a separate database during the process, resized into a resolution appropriate for that particular device, although the artwork embedded within the file is not removed either.