InDesign tutorial: How to design a magazine cover with Pantone colours and spot varnishes

Johann Chan takes you through his creative process and shows how to design a magazine cover, add Pantone colours and spot UV varnishes.

After designing over 100 magazine covers for a variety of creative and big brand publications, graphic designer Johann Chan has learned that the best way to make printed publication stand out is to use special finishes artfully – adding much to the overall effect of a cover, from luxury to vibrancy to pure beauty.

Here he takes you through his creative process and shows how to design a magazine cover, add Pantone colours and spot UV varnishes.

Time to complete

2 hours

Software needed

InDesign CS5 or later


Open InDesign. Set your document size to A4 (210 x 250mm) and uncheck Facing pages to ensure you’re designing on a singular page, rather than a spread.

Type 10mm into one of the Margins boxes and click on the ‘link’ button, so all margins are equidistant.


We'll start designing the cover with the masthead. Choose a typeface for your magazine’s masthead. The magazine I’m creating here – Ignite – is a lifestyle title, so I’ve chosen a simple, elegant font.

An easily legible masthead is a great boon for the future, as it’s flexible. Across future issues, we can use it against many different types of background and place different elements over parts of it.

Now, create your masthead.

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Pick an image for your cover – one with a single central focal point usually works best.

When working with layered artworks, I find it best to save each layer as a separate file. You can work with layered artworks within InDesign, but I find it easiest to use separate files for fitting coverlines and tweaking positions later. 


Place the images into your InDesign document (File > Place or Cmd/Ctrl + D). Label the layers with an intuitive labelling system, the coverlines are at the top and the background is tucked away at the bottom.

Here I’ve place the model overlapping the masthead for a more dynamic effect.


The most visible – and arguably important – part of a magazine cover is the top left. This is because magazines are generally stacked either vertically (called waterfalling) or horizontally (curtain racking). Whether your magazine is on the newsstand or on stands at exhibitions, if you want to maximise your chance of catching a potential reader’s attention, this is the area to concentrate on.

This is the most conventional area to put your main coverline – which is what I’ve done.

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Legibility is key for the cover, and space can sometimes be treated like real estate. Some commercial magazines like to pack as many cover lines as possible.

For a maximum amount of legibility, I'd recommend using mixed case type at heavier weights with bold bright colours. For a more elegant solution, use lighter weights – though be careful about how easily your type can be read by someone in a hurry.


In the right hand column, type your secondary cover lines, I've used the highest played songs in my iTunes here as coverlines just incase you're running out of Spotify ideas.


Try a cover headline with a number at the bottom left. A number can be a nice element to draw readers eyes, plus it also gives the cover more typographic diversity.

I've tweaked a few things and added a few more design elements to give that cover more of a finished feel. Now that our cover is complete, it's time introduce some special finishes.

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For the main coverline, give this colour an extra punch by printing it in a bright Pantone pink.

Aside from making sure your printer can print these with a phone call or email, you need to specify which area should be printed in this extra vibrant colour.

To do this, select the Text tool, highlight the text, go to your Swatches panel, and select New Colour Swatch. In the Colour Mode menu, select Pantone solid coated, and pick Pantone 2045 C.


You can see Pantone 2045C is a spot colour as this is indicated by a circle in a square icon next to the colour name. The other colours are referred to as process colours CMYK (Cyan, magenta, yellow, and black).


To double check your coverline is now in Pantone, open you separations preview window. Go to Window>Output>Separations Preview, and click on the visibility icons of each plate to check which object has which colour assigned. If all your steps have been correct, if only the Pantone plate is visible, the only graphic visible will be the coverline.

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Now create a spot varnish plate for your model and masthead. A spot varnish is a nice way to give your cover some extra depth and a subtle tactile finish. To create a spot varnish plate which lets your printer know which areas you'd like varnished. Create a new page by clicking on the flyout menu on your Pages panel and selecting Insert Page.


Select the items you want to be spot varnished. Copy from the first page, and then paste in place on the second page, using Edit > Paste in Place then colour these in 100 percent black. And now you have a separate page with objects coloured in black which you want varnished.


Your end result should be two pdfs. One cover pdf including the pantone colour, and another pdf for the spot varnish plate.

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