Embedding Album Art in MP3 Files

Embedding Cover art in MP3s

Album art can be embedded into MP3 files fairly easily using ID3 tags. However, before you start filling up all of your MP3 files with works of art, there are a few things that you should stop to consider first.

While MP3 files were not originally intended to store additional metadata within them, the release of the ID3 tag protocol in 1996 suddenly made this a possibility. However, it wasn’t until version 2 of the protocol became available that MP3 files could actually contain embedded album art.

So, before you start cutting and pasting huge graphics and adding them into your collection of MP3 tracks, what do you need to consider to avert potential disaster?

ID3 Tags and MP3 Files

A standard MP3 file only contains audio data, with no additional information about the artist or type of audio contained within it. To include such extra information in an MP3 track, tag data is usually added to the beginning or end of the audio file in ID3 format.

ID3 tags allow you to store additional information within your MP3 files such as the track title, artist name and even album art. If you’re not familiar with ID3 tags, you may find my previous article on What are ID3 tags in MP3 files? helpful.

Image Types

While the ID3v2 tag standard allows any type of image to be embedded in an MP3 file, it does advise that either PNG or JPEG formats should be used when interoperability with playback devices is required. Practically speaking JPEG images have been adopted as the de facto standard in this respect.

The ID3 standard is very flexible with regards to the type and number of images that can be embedded in a MP3 single file. The full list of different images that can be embedded are:

  • $00 – Other
  • $01 – 32×32 pixels ‘file icon’ (PNG only)
  • $02 – Other file icon
  • $03 – Cover (front)
  • $04 – Cover (back)
  • $05 – Leaflet page
  • $06 – Media (e.g. label side of CD)
  • $07 – Lead artist/lead performer/soloist
  • $08 – Artist/performer
  • $09 – Conductor
  • $0A – Band/Orchestra
  • $0B – Composer
  • $0C – Lyricist/text writer
  • $0D – Recording Location
  • $0E – During recording
  • $0F – During performance
  • $10 – Movie/video screen capture
  • $11 – A bright coloured fish
  • $12 – Illustration
  • $13 – Band/artist logotype
  • $14 – Publisher/Studio logotype

Quite an exhaustive list, and while a single MP3 file could embed all of the above images, in practice only one image is ever usually embedded.

File Sizes

Unfortunately, any additional information that you add to an MP3 file will increase its file size and this is of particular importance when adding images due to their potential size, even with compressed images such as JPEGs.

However, this does need to be taken in context. For example, adding an 80kB JPEG image to a single 8MB podcast won’t have a significant effect; it’s only a 1% increase in file size.

If on the other hand you add an 80kB album image to every single track in your MP3 collection, let’s say of 1,000 songs, then you’ll need any additional 80MB of storage, which could otherwise hold a further 20 songs or so (another 2 albums).

Current Media Player Support

How to add Cover artwork to an MP3 Windows Media Player embeds album artwork as 200 x 200 pixel images, although will display larger images if they are embedded in the playing file as a larger size. iTunes currently displays album art as 200 x 200 pixel images. The picture to the right is sized at 200 x 200 pixels by way of example and is 35kB in file size.

The resolution of the iPod nano and iPod classic screens is 320 x 240 pixels. The iPod touch screen is 480 x 320 pixels, more than sufficient to display images of 200 x 200 pixels.

The Current Standard

Mona Lisa 300 x 300 pixels cover art added to an mp3 The majority of podcasts that include images embedded within them adopt an image size of 300 x 300 pixels.

The picture to the right is sized at 300 x 300 pixels and is 62kB in file size by way of example.

JPEG images of these dimensions will vary in file size (dependant on the compression ratio used and image complexity) from around 10kB to 80kB or so. A 300 x 300 pixel image is actually over twice the size of a 200 x 200 image, and will consequently lead to approximately double file sizes.

Adding Your Own Pictures

So if you’re producing your own podcast and want to enhance it with your own logo, or just want to embellish some of the tracks that you already have in your MP3 collection with album art, what’s the best way forward?

It’s probably best to standardise on JPEG images to ensure that your artwork can be seen on the majority of possible playback devices.

Image sizes are probably best set at 300 x 300 pixels to display in reasonable quality on most playback systems. However, if you’re concerned about the space taken up by these images, 200 x 200 pixel images may be the better option for you, reducing the image file size to about half that of a 300 x 300 pixel image. The BBC (a useful technical yardstick I’ve always found) embed 300 x 300 images in their podcasts.

If your current software doesn’t allow you to embed or add images to your MP3 files directly, then standalone tag editing software should offer you this functionality. Some useful examples of such are:

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Comments

  1. Philip commented

    Hi

    Im trying to embed the album art in the mp3 tag file using VB code but cant find the instructions to do it. Could anyone help me in this respect?

  2. David commented

    Richard-
    Thanks for a very informative thread.
    My question is this: “If you embed album art in a single mp3, will that be sufficient to display the cover for the entire album, or would I need to embed that art in each track on an album? Would it need to be the first track on the album? Last?
    With +\- 9000 mp3 files, it would save so much time and disc space if I could simply embed once per album.
    Thanks!

    • commented

      Hi, a very good question, but unfortunately the answer isn’t simple as it really depends how your MP3 player has implemented the ID3 specification.

      My post on Alternative ID3 Tags for Adding Artwork to MP3 Files should explain things for you however.

      I would certainly counsel against putting artwork in every track as this would, as you say, take up a huge amount of unnecessary space.

  3. Karsten commented

    I hate MP3.

    A few years ago, I added cover art to ALL my mp3 files using iTunes. Now after I installed Win7 with WMP, I no longer use iTunes. Unfortunetely, WMP cannot read the cover art from all mp3 files – only som of them.

    If I add album art to an album in WMP, it refuses to add the cover to all files in the album. Nomatter how I do it. Likewise, Windows Explorer can read the album art for the album, but not all files in the album.

    What is wrong with people making software for playing mp3 files? I mean, this is not getting a rocket to the moon or something. How hard can it be?

    So, all I have to do is once AGAIN to add the abum art to each file using 3. part software? This is not only lame – it is plain stupid.

    • commented

      I do indeed sympathise with your plight having experienced how different media players handle track artwork first hand!

      • Karsten commented

        Hi Richard

        I followed your guide and installed the Mp3Tag software. It works outstanding! I can change everything (even remove hidden iTunes tags) and add Album Art to EVERY file. Great!

        Now I only need to edit another 638 albums – or delete 90% of them which I never hear anyway :)

        Thanks for your guide.

  4. Mike commented

    I’ve put art on my Mp3′s through I tunes. The art has also shown on another itunes on another PC. The art has also shown up on Windows Media Player on various other computers. Does this suggest that the art IS embedded in the MP3′s from Itunes (rather than put in a seperate folder?). I realise that you haven’t used itunes but I would have thought that this is the case given that the art is shown on various computers.

    Opinion?

    • commented

      Like you say, I’m not familiar with iTunes, but it does seem to suggest that the artwork has been embedded in the files, although it’s always possible that the artwork could be saved in the album folder with the tracks associated to the particular album.

      You could always use a free tool like mp3tag, which will show you all the additional data actually embedded in the tracks themselves. That way you’ll be certain and be able to see what’s actually happening for yourself.

  5. commented

    My favorite place to search for high quality album artwork is AlbumArtExchange.com. IMO, the selection of images there is miles above the other sites.

  6. Eddy commented

    Hi Richard I have a little problem I recently ran into, Ive been tagging and putting artwork to all my mp3′s using Music Brainz Picard first for the info and then mediamonkey for the artwork and I was doing fine until I realized that most on the info and artwork doesn’t show on the explorer windows, winamp shows it fine, itunes and zune player also, i dont know what im doing wrong, any help would be kindly appreciated !! P.D.: I really don’t care about the WMP showing it since I don’t use it but I would really like it to be displayed on the explorer windows ! by the way i’m on windows 7 x64

  7. Adam commented

    @Eddy

    For the art to show in windows explorer you will need to place a “folder.jpg” in the folder. Then when you look at the folders in thumbnail view it will replace the standard yellow folder with whatever the folder.jpg file is.

    • Eddy commented

      thanx Adam, but I discovered what the problem was, music braiz picard was messing up my files cause it wasn’t copying the info over to id3tag v.2 and it wasn’t cleaning the old tag until i clicked on that option, now its fine and media monkey is perfect for finding the artwork, until now i have half on my mp3s perfectly tagged and with the correct artwork and everything shows perfectly on the explorer windows, i really recommend this method to everyone !! P.D.: the wmp can read the metadata and the artwork just fine with this method, theres no need for a folder.jpg file cause all the artwork is embedded into the mp3 with mediamonkey !!! its perfect !!! al my media players read all the info, itunes, winamp, zune player, wmp and my iPhone !!! if anyone wants any info mail me at hudtwalcker@hotmail.com I will answer all your questions !!

  8. Melodian commented

    I’m having the exact opposite problem: I’m trying to REMOVE artwork from mp3 files, for reasons too complex to discuss here. Problem is, the picture (900×900 jpeg) does NOT seem to be in the tag. I’ve stripped out all id3 tags with numerous tag editors and the picture is still there, embedded somehow into the file itself. The only way I can get rid of it is to decode the mp3 to a wav file, then re-encode it back to mp3 again. Not only is this a pain, but I’m sure the double conversion degrades the quality as well. Anyone have any ideas as to how these pictures are embedded, and how to get rid of them? I’m using Windows; is it possible they were added with some specific Mac software? Thanks for any info.

    • commented

      You are indeed correct that decoding and re-encoding an MP3 track will degrade the quality and is best avoided if at all possible.

      If you want to send me one of your tracks that is exhibiting the problem, I’d be happy to have a look at it for you as you’ve certainly sparked my curiosity.

    • Sumit commented

      Try using Winamp player. I use it to delete artwork that is embedded into the song. It deletes the artwork but you cannot paste artwork again via Winamp.

  9. Adam commented

    @Melodian, I would not re-encode.

    What software have you tried? I can’t give Tag&Rename enough props, have you tried this? This deals with adding art and showing already added art.

  10. Alan commented

    But how do I change album art that has alredy been embedded in a track previously that is incorrect. I tried dragging the new artwork over the old within iTunes but it just flashes back to the old incorrect one and wont let me change…………. infuriating!!!!

    • commented

      Try another tag editor like Mp3Tag. I’ve changed artwork in the past using this tool. Maybe iTunes is trying to be too clever and is overriding what you’re trying to do?

  11. commented

    Hi, thank you for the replies. I’ve tried ID3-TagIT (my tag editor of first choice), mptagger, winamp, foobar2k, id3kill, media monkey, and a couple of others whose names escape me at the moment. I do have tag&rename, although I haven’t used it in a while but will dig it out and see what it can do.

    I’ve also checked to be sure there’s not an external album art jpg somewhere that these are referring back to. My best guess at the moment after digging into this some more is that the problem files seem to use the id3v2.4 format, and perhaps tag editors that expect to see a v2.3 tag are unable to remove the picture, even when they say the tag has been completely removed. I’m going to explore this angle in more depth.

    Richard, I appreciate your offer to take a look at one of the tracks, and I’ll be glad to send you a copy of the next one I encounter. (I’ve deleted the originals of the last batch I “fixed” by converting … and I agree, this is a solution to be avoided if at all possible.) I’m certain that I’ll run into others shortly, though.

    Thanks again for your help.

    • commented

      Mp3Tag is my preferred tag editor and it reckons to support ID3v1, ID3v2.3, ID3v2.4, iTunes MP4, WMA, Vorbis Comments and APE Tag, so if you think it could be an ID3v2.4 issue, perhaps this would help?

  12. commented

    Mystery solved … I think.

    When I first opened the files with Id3TagIT, it showed that a v1 and a v2.3 tag were present. I removed both of them (it reported no tags of any kind at this point), and closed the program. However, the pictures were still present in the mp3, as shown by ACDSee (which displays any image in any file). Looking at these files with various tag editors, there were no apparent tags present at all in the files … yet still the embedded pictures.

    It wasn’t until I accidentally opened the problem files a second time in Id3TagIT that it reported a v2.4 tag was present! I removed this 2.4 tag and presto! the images were gone. I’m not sure if there were both versions present originally (is that even possible?) and the v2.3 masked the v2.4, or what. Also not sure why any of the other tag editors failed to spot the 2.4 tag. But no matter, I’m good now. Just thought I’d mention it in case anyone else ever has the same problem. If you don’t succeed the first time, try again. :-)

    • commented

      An excellent bit of detective work and I’m pleased to hear that you’ve finally solved your problem. Thanks for posting your solution, hopefully this will help others who find themselves in a similar pickle.

  13. kiki commented

    Hi,

    I have an fusion n-power, and I want to know how to add album art onto it, I don’t quite understand the instructions, but can you walk me through?

    Thanks:)

    • commented

      Hi, I’m afraid I don’t have any experience of the Fusion n-power, but would suggest you need to add album art to the files on your main computer before transferring to your media player using one of any number of popular tag editors.

  14. luke commented

    Thanks for taking the time to help people with their problems. I’m having sort of the opposite problem. How do I get windows media player to stop with the album art? It is useless and starts to take up a lot of space. I delete them from where I have my songs stored, but as soon as I open up win. med. player they all come back, 4 for each album picture; there’s 3 called album art, 2 just say albumart and 1 says albumartsmall, and then there’s 1 that says folder with the other 3 in it. I originally pasted some pictures to the album art spot, but now, well, there’s a lot of songs and all the extra album art things just take-up too much space. How can I permanently delete them so they won’t just come back? The properties folder gives me their location, but deleting them from there doesn’t do anything. This is driving me nuts and if anyone has any idea, it would be helpful

    • commented

      Hi Luke, Unless you are really struggling with storage on your system, I’m not sure it’s worth the effort (if indeed it’s at all possible) as the storage requirement for the artwork is fractional compared to the music itself.

      Windows Media Player stores artwork per album, which is much more efficient than storing the same artwork for every track. I’m not sure if you can stop this behaviour in Media Player, I suspect that it’s deeply embedded within the inner workings of the software.

  15. Ted commented

    I have old mp3 files that doesn’t support id3, is there anyway I could convert them so it can support id3 and I can add all this artworks?

    • commented

      From my understanding all MP3 files should be able to accept ID3 tags. Try downloading one of the free ID3 tag editors and have a go with one of your old MP3 files, it should work. I’d be interested to hear how you get on.

  16. Lorenzo commented

    Hi Richard, sorry for the question and for my bad English..
    have you some ideas how to extract cover images from an ID3 taf to show it in a HTML (or php or…) page in web?
    I’m tryin to find someone who tell me if it is possible or not: the only solutio, until now, I’ve found, are to put images from Amazon or Doscogs.. There’s no way to take it from the mo3 (better if from a playlist “.pls” or something like this..)

    Thank you very much.

      • Lorenzo commented

        Hi nzj!

        Sorry for the delay: if you can readmy answer to Richard, you’ll be able to understand that I was away for a while and I haven’t find solutions before the one suggested me by Richard: I’ll try it and I’ll post my resutsa as soon as possible^^

        Have a nice day.

        L.

    • commented

      Hi Lorenzo, Sorry for the delay in responding, but I’ve been away for a few weeks.

      I believe it is possible to extract the album artwork from an MP3 ID3 tag. PHP has some classes that you could use for this if your web server has them installed as part of its PHP installation:
      http://www.php.net/manual/en/refs.utilspec.audio.php.

      I’ve never tried this myself, so I’d be interested to hear if you have any success with this.

      • Lorenzo commented

        Hi Richard!

        I had the same “problem” of you ^^

        Sorry for the delay. Ok, thank you very much, I’ll try to use that clases and I will post my results as son as possible :)

  17. chef archie commented

    which is the best size of album art to use for my nokia 5530 and nokia 5230, is it 500 x 500 or 300 x 300 for it to embed. or you have a suggested size. thank you…

    • Carlos commented

      For phones I think 300×300 is a good size, but I use bigger sizes because I use the same mp3 files in my PC and in my phone, in my PC I prefer big album arts.

      BUT, I realized that album art (embedded directly into the mp3) bigger than 600×600 pixels don’t show up in Nokia phones music players, so now I use a maximun 600×600 in all files and it shows up perfectly in my PC/Winamp and in my phone music player. My phone is a Nokia 5320, but I think this is the same for all the Nokia phones with Symbian OS/S60 system, which is the system of my phone. I hope this help you.

      I use Mp3Tag for tag editing and album art embedding and never had a problem, I strongly recommend this powerful tag editor, works perfect and you never have surprices.

      (PS: sorry for my english)

      • commented

        Very interesting what you say about the maximum resolution for album artwork on Nokia phones. I wonder how many others have experienced this issue?

        Your English is excellent by the way; much better than I am at ANY foreign language.

  18. nadir commented

    hi there,

    i decide sort my mp3 collection, but i have little problem with album covering. I have used mp3Taggers, but they just linking my mp3 with jpeg file. When jpeg deleted, covers deleting automaticly as well. But i have one mp3 file which no idea where from came, but it has cover without any linked jpeg. I couldn’t reach why it’s like that. please gimmi advice.

    Thanks.

    • commented

      Hi, I use MP3TAG all the time and it actually embeds the artwork into the MP3 file, not just a referenced link like you seem to be experiencing. It’s free to download, so why not give it a try? You should also be able to edit or delete the image that is embedded in your one file.

  19. Martin commented

    This is an excellent thread, but I’m still not clear! Some of my album art appears quite large in WMP, but most is a tiny postage stamp in the middle of the screen. I’d love to fill most of the available screen space if I could.
    I’m battling with the same problem in other areas too: onmy mobile phone, some contact .jpgs show full screen when a call is in progress, but others are tiny. A large one and a small one each show about 1150*1652 pixel size and 72dpi, yet the displayed image varies enormously. I think if I could crack this for WMP, then I could resolve all……

    • commented

      Not really sure what to suggest. You could try copying a 300×300 jpeg onto your clipboard, then go into WMP, right click the existing small album art and paste the new artwork from the clipboard to see if that manages to overwrite the smaller artwork for you.

  20. Waldo commented

    Hi! Is there a way to embed an album cover to wave files, like e.g. MP3TAG does for mp3 files?

    • commented

      Hi,

      Unfortunately not. WAV files don’t really support metadata as such, although some flavours of WAV such as the Broadcast Wave Format (BWF) do support some limited metadata, but aimed more at the broadcasting industry and not consumer oriented stuff such as album art.

  21. Martin commented

    I tried pasting a definite 300*300 into wmp and got the same image. On “now playing” the album art takes up about one sixth of the available horizontal space, and one third of the available vertical space. Is that what I should expect? I’d like to have a [almost] full screen album cover on display.

    • commented

      The percentages are dependent on your screen size I guess. From my tests I think WMP will only display a maximum album image of 300x300px. A 300px square image may look tiny on full screen on a big monitor.

    • commented

      You certainly can if you want, but remember bigger images take up more storage space. Also, what is the maximum size of image that your playback device supports, as there’s definitely no point in going larger than that.

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