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. Marianne commented

    I putted an album art in wma file, then it worked when I double clicked it on the computer. but when I played the song on my cellphone (C510), the album art won’t show. I have another song, someone just sent it to me, then when I played it, the album art showed. Please help.

    • commented

      When using Windows Media Player, album art is saved as an image in the folder with the rest of the album tracks and not actually in the track itself, so if you copy an individual track to another device such as a mobile phone, the album art probably isn’t getting copied across as well. If you copied the whole album folder across, then the album art may work.

      It is possible to embed album art into individual WMA tracks using something like the MP3TAG editor, but you’d have to do this on each track individually.

  2. commented

    Hey Richard,
    Thanks for your site. I am trying to use MP3 files in a somewhat unconventional way. My “artists” are not humans, but rather birds. “Birders”, as opposed to music fans, use a technique called “playback” to attract certain species. In certain locations-like the Amazon-sound is a much more reliable way to identify species than by sight. Thanks to you, I am able to imbed an illustrative image of the bird in 300 x 300 jpeg format in an mp3. For years the status quo was to use an I-pod, …..to be continued….

  3. Denny commented

    To all interested guys and girls,
    You can google a freeware able to find and add album art in mp3s very easily. It’s Creevity Mp3 Cover Downloader.

    • gpm commented

      I’d like to say thanks to Richard for his clear explanations.

      And thank you boguzz for the link to the tutorial.

      Another tutorial (which I made after reading the above one) to embed artwork using Mp3Tag plus AlbumArtDownloader can be found: here or here.

  4. Phil commented

    I’ve been very interested to read some of the reviews/comments regarding embedding artwork in mp3s. I have both a comment and a question.

    Firstly, as I understand it, neither WMP nor Winamp actually embed artwork, they simply create an image file in the mp3 folder and refer to it when the music is played. (This is why artwork will often not appear if you move the music file to another location). WMP creates a (hidden) file called AlbumArtLarge.jpg and Winamp creates a file called .jpg. There are advantages and disadvantages with both methods, depending on how you listen to your music.

    On the other hand, some music files do actually have artwork embedded, usually while being ripped to your computer. This way the picture will always (or almost always) appear when the music is played. I’ve got such a file on my computer right now and it is this file which brings me to my question. The mp3 has been tagged incorrectly (by my music ripper, not by me). I edited the tags so that the track would match the others in the folder… and now the embedded artwork no longer shows up! Yes, I could just rerip my CD, but I’d rather learn what’s happened and how to rectify it.

    Right-clicking the file in XP lets me see some limited ID3 information. Viewing the file information in Winamp (my player of choice) shows me both ID3 and ID3v2 tags. However, Winamp does not store image metadata in the ID3v2 tag, it uses a different method (as described above), which means that reattaching the artwork results in a new jpg file being created.

    The file was originally encoded in iTunes (before I abandoned it with an all-consuming hatred of all things Apple) and I have to assume this is where the artwork was originally embedded. I’d like to know how this was done and if it can be reproduced (without using iTunes). I’d be interested to read your suggestions.

    • gpm commented

      How did you edit the tags? Re-writing the tags could have destroyed the artwork. You could see if it is still there and easily restore it with Mp3Tag.

    • commented

      Hi Phil, It looks like you have got a pretty good understanding of what’s going on. The problem might be with your troublesome file that there are actually 20 tags that can store album art in an MP3 and unfortunately most software will only display one of them. Try using MP3Tag, or a similar tag editor to look at all of these artwork tags to see if you can track down the errant artwork.

  5. Silver commented

    I use a 40″ c650 lcd tv as a pc monitor and no matter how much i have tried, the size and quality of the art is poor. Using a usb stick in the tv, the art is good on its own but with music its poor. Any ideas.

    • commented

      Hi, I guess it all depends on what system you use to play your music and how it handles artwork. For example I think Windows media player only stores images up to a maximum resolution of 200px, which if blown up full screen is always going to look rather grainy.

      • Silver commented

        Hi Richard. Thanks for the prompt reply. I have the same tv in the living room and just play the music through that tv by stick or external hdd on tv media play. The music quality is good enough but i like good cover art and it is not good enough.

        • commented

          If the original program used to rip your music, or even bought music, embedded the artwork at a low resolution then you’re kind of stuck without using another piece of software to go in and update the artwork files to a higher resolution. Something I’ve come across before is an album artwork management tool called Bliss, it may be worth a go?

  6. Suvradeep Chatterjee commented

    Hello Sir,
    I From INDIA And I am Very Big Fan Of Yours…..

    Can you Clarify me that what is the official and Actual size in Pixels of an mp3 Album art? and if I Download Songs from I TUNES What Will be the size of the album art of that File?.

    • commented

      Hi,

      Thanks for your kind comments. Regarding your question, the ID3 tagging standard for album art in MP3s doesn’t specify a size, you can put in whatever image size you want. I think iTunes uses 200x200px images, but as I don’t use iTunes I can’t verify this; they may also have changed things as display sizes are increasing with devices like the iPad.

  7. Kerry commented

    I have an MP3 of an obscure musical group for which Windows Media Player couldn’t find any album info. I like to have the album cover showing when a song is playing, so I found a jpeg image of the cover online and copied it to my computer. Then I discovered a way to link it to my mp3 through WMP. If I right-click on the mp3 in the library tab, choose advanced tag editor, click pictures, and click add, I am able to add the picture to the mp3 file and have it display in WMP. I thought this information might help others with simple needs like mine.

  8. commented

    Awesome! I was looking for this info and here it is! Now I just need to know the easiest way to get music up to itunes without having to pay a 3rd party a fee.

  9. Bram Brouwers commented

    How can I successfully add such an image to a burned CD? The images added to ID3tag dissapear as soon as I burn the CD :(

    • commented

      Hi, If you’ve burnt a CD that can be played on standard CD players, the the audio files would be converted to WAV files that don’t support embedded artwork unfortunately. The only way would be to burn a DATA CD with MP3 files and their associated embedded artwork, which might play on more modern CD players, but wouldn’t be classed as a standard CD.

  10. Jacob DeLeon commented

    On most album arts I find the name interesting. On a song from the show “Criss Angel: Mindfreak” I found and album art called “AlbumArt_{553F5C66-56A8-46E2-9B45-57C6B89FE2EB}_Small.jpg” does this have anything to do with embedding an image to a song?

    • commented

      Hi, This filename looks like the sort that Windows Media Player generates automatically for the album artwork and sticks in the same folder as all the tracks. This is not actually embedded as such in any of the tracks.

  11. Deejay kiss commented

    Hi richard
    plz help me
    i added a picture to an mp3 in mp3tag and saved it. It shows that picture on computer but when i copied it to my cell phone that mp3 did not showed the picture so i am a bit confused wat to do. Is it because the image was above or under 200 or 300 resolution dat u said if yes then plz guide me how to change the resolution and give me the needfull guidings to put the picture to mp3 but should be visible on my cell phone after copieng. As i am a dj it is very important for me to put my image to my mixes and publish it was wondering how the other djs put their pic to their mp3s man
    kindly need your help
    thanks in advance
    take care cia…

    • commented

      Hi, Without having direct experience of your phone it’s difficult to tell. Maybe working backwards would help. If you have an MP3 that displays the artwork correctly on your phone, download that file onto your PC and analyze the artwork in MP3TAG to see what size it is, what file type (e.g. jpeg) and which artwork id it uses (there are numerous different possibilities). Then try and use these same settings when you upload new tracks to your phone to see if it works.

      Good luck.

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