Newspaper masthead design: How to design a newspaper masthead

Newspaper Masthead Design

Newspaper masthead design has long been an important consideration for specialists working in print publications. To capture the attention of potential readers and deliver useful information, companies need to ensure they’re making the most of their masthead.  

Learning how to design a newspaper masthead is one of the first things a graphic designer in the journalistic landscape will learn. A newspaper’s masthead is one of the key elements of an attractive newspaper structure. 

Combined with the correct font choices, layout, and imagery, an effective masthead can differentiate a newspaper from its competitors. 

The chances are you’re already familiar with some famous newspaper mastheads worldwide, even if you don’t read papers regularly. The New York Times, for instance, uses a script-style serif font to instantly convey an image of sophistication, professionalism, and heritage. 

Alternatively, the bold font and color choices of “The Sun” newspaper in the UK are designed to grab the audience’s attention and generate interest instantly. 

Today, we will look at some of the elements of newspaper masthead design and provide some useful examples to inspire you when you create your own.

Newspaper Masthead Design

What is a newspaper masthead? An introduction

Before we look at the various elements of newspaper masthead design, it’s worth outlining what a “masthead” actually is. Essentially, the masthead is an informational component in a Newspaper, usually printed on the front of the publication or the inside cover.

The masthead can include the newspaper’s name and the date when the piece was published. It also features valuable information about who is involved with the publication and where the newspaper was created. 

The masthead isn’t necessarily just the “nameplate” of the publication, though the terms are commonly used interchangeably. 

While the exact components of a newspaper masthead can vary, the solution usually includes some of the following elements:

The logo

The publication logo or nameplate of the newspaper is commonly present on the masthead. If the masthead is included inside the newspaper, the logo may be smaller than it would usually be on the front of the piece. 

Names

The masthead highlights the people responsible for producing a newspaper, including editors, publishers, designers, contributors, and other staff members. Certain publications will provide much detail in these sections, covering every individual. 

Other mastheads are more likely to include just a handful of names. 

Contact details

A masthead will often feature contact information for the publication, such as a physical address, phone number, and sometimes a website address. 

Date

The date and volume number of the publication are usually present. This will usually form part of the newspaper’s nameplate too. 

Subscription information

Details on how to get other copies in the newspaper, get off the mailing list, or join the mailing list. 

Legal notices

Local governments and jurisdictions require copyright information and legal notices for certain publications. 

The newspaper masthead may also include information on how to submit material for the newsletter if outside contributions are accepted and details on how to display ads. There may also be insights into information like the fonts and software used to create the newspaper.

Newspaper Masthead Design

What makes a good newspaper masthead?

A newspaper masthead can come in many different forms, depending on the publication. Although it’s common to see a masthead and nameplate of a newspaper combined into the front page of a solution, this isn’t always the case. 

Typically, the purpose of a newspaper masthead is simultaneously to attract readers and educate them about the details of a publication.

As such, the focus of any masthead is usually clarity, legibility, and aesthetic appeal. As an essential component of a newspaper company’s brand, the masthead needs to highlight the unique nature of the publication while providing all of the relevant data readers might need to know. 

Some of the key components of a good masthead may include:

Nameplates

The nameplate for your newspaper will play an important role in the appearance of your masthead. This is essentially the “logo” of the newspaper and can include everything from stylized fonts to images, depending on the personality you want to convey. 

White space

Similar to a business presentation or professional document, a masthead must convey information clearly and legibly. This requires using carefully positioned white space and plenty of spacing between different pieces of text. 

It’s important to ensure the various pieces of information don’t simply blend. 

Alignment

In all parts of newspaper design, excellent alignment is crucial. The different segments of information need to be positioned to ensure readers can see which pieces of data are connected at a glance. The alignment should also make reading the information easier.

Minimalism

Many newspapers are careful about how much information they include in a masthead, mainly if they’re simultaneously using the tool as a nameplate. Too much information can easily overwhelm viewers when they first start reading a paper. 

Font choices

A newspaper’s font or typography choices are crucial to ensuring good legibility and visibility. Font picks can also be an excellent way to convey the unique personality of a publication. The fonts used by tabloids, broadsheets, and different kinds of publications are often quite varied. 

Color

While not all newspaper mastheads will leverage color, some take advantage of different shades to help capture the audience’s attention. This is often the case when mastheads are also utilized as nameplates or logos for the front of a publication.

Newspaper Masthead Design

How to design a newspaper masthead

The name “masthead” comes from a nautical term referring to a point on the top of a ship. However, despite this, newspaper mastheads don’t always appear at the top of a newspaper cover or even on the first page.

In some cases, mastheads are presented on the bottom of a page, or along the left or right-hand side of a layout, depending on the publication type.

As mentioned above, when learning newspaper masthead design, it’s often easy for beginners to confuse the masthead with the nameplate. In some cases, a newspaper nameplate, or the stylized title of the publication, and the masthead can be combined – but this isn’t always true.

Here are some tips on how to design a newspaper masthead.

Step 1: Create a newspaper nameplate

Nameplates and mastheads are often commonly mistaken for one another in the print publication world. However, they do have some overlap in places. For instance, most traditional mastheads in newspapers will still contain a version of the nameplate, just in a smaller size.

If you’re creating a new newspaper from scratch, you must prioritize the nameplate design.

Ask yourself whether you will use a simple wordmark, like The Guardian or the New York Times, or want to include an image. Keep in mind that certain complex typography choices and images can appear distorted at a smaller scale.

Step 2: Define your layout

Next, you’ll need to determine what the layout of the overall newspaper page is going to be. Choosing where to place a masthead and how it should be positioned on the page is an important part of making the content look visually appealing.

If there’s a lot of data to include in the masthead, it may be a good idea to position it away from the front page or cover.

Think about how you want to present the information you have to your audience and whether you want it to be more eye-catching or bolder than the “body text” of the newspaper. Generally, newspaper designers make mastheads relatively subtle so that customers can skim over them.

Step 3: Identify your space

Next, you’ll need to consider how much physical space you can devote to the masthead. Many modern newspaper designers will use digital templates and graphs to help position content in the correct place, with the right level of alignment.

When arranging the design, pay attention to how many pixels of space is available for your masthead.

Knowing exactly how much space you have to work with should help determine the font size and the amount of information you can include. Consider omitting certain details if your space is limited.

Step 4: Select the essential information

With a clear view of how much space you have to use in mind, you can begin deciding what to include in your masthead. A logo or a smaller version of the nameplate of a newspaper is often a common choice.

You may also need to ask yourself which names you will include in a masthead. For example, if you have limited space, you may include the name of the head publishers, designers, and writers rather than everyone on your team.

If you’ve included other details within the nameplate of a newspaper, such as a date, the address of the publication, and the issue number, then you can omit this from the masthead. Consider reducing your font size where possible to allow for more space.

Step 5: Create a digital template

Now you can create the digital version of the design you will be working with. This will allow you to experiment with things like kerning and spacing in your font choices, colors, and typography.

Various tools are available online to assist with newspaper masthead design, such as Adobe InDesign and LucidPress.

Creating an initial “mockup” will also help you and your team to determine how legible the overall asset is and whether anything needs to be changed before the final publication.

Step 6: Refine and optimize

Using guidance and feedback from other members of your team, refine the appearance of your masthead so it has the best possible impact on your newspaper’s aesthetic. Consider comparing your design to the creations of other popular publications for inspiration.

When you feel the design is perfect, print it on the same-sized paper used for your newspaper. This will allow you to determine how legible the content actually is. If the font size is too small or the content looks too cramped on the page, you may need to make additional changes.

Newspaper Masthead Design

Newspaper masthead fonts

A few elements are involved in effective masthead design, from alignment to balance and white space. Indeed, designers will need to be familiar with all of the basic principles of design to ensure the image they create looks as compelling as possible. 

However, few things are more crucial to making a masthead attractive and legible than the font choice. 

The first thing you’ll need to decide when choosing a font or typeface is what kind of design you will use for the newspaper nameplate. If the publication logo is included within the masthead, it should contrast with the other typeface choices. 

For instance, the New York Times font used for the publication’s nameplate is a lovely serif font with significant embellishment. However, the company uses a much clearer, simpler typeface for the body content of the paper. 

After selecting your nameplate typography, you can look into the font you will use for your masthead information.

Here are some points to consider:

Font customization

It’s essential to adjust the kerning, tracking, and spacing of your fonts for your masthead. This will allow you to minimize or extend the whitespace between individual letters to save space or boost legibility. 

Legibility

Speaking of legibility, the font you choose must be easily read in virtually any size. Depending on the size of your newspaper or publication, you’ll likely have limited space for your chosen font.

This means it’s best to choose something that shows up well when condensed to a smaller point value. 

Simplicity

While the nameplate of your newspaper can be as complex and decorative as you like, the information included in the masthead should be relatively straightforward. Decorative fonts and serif fonts can be harder to read at smaller point sizes.

Bold and italics

When drawing attention to certain pieces of information, you may use different forms of italics and bolding. For example, the names of your publishers may be written in italics while the volume number is in bold. 

Color

As mentioned above, color can sometimes appear in newspaper masthead design, but it’s usually focused mainly on reproducing the logo or nameplate. Black and white is the most common choice for informative text, offering the best contrast level.

Newspaper Masthead Design

Newspaper masthead inspiration

Finding inspiration for newspaper masthead design can be complex, as many of the designs showcased on the web today focus on the nameplate of the publication rather than the masthead. This is common because mastheads and nameplates are often considered the same. 

When searching for newspaper masthead inspiration, you can look at some publications published in your area. 

Select a newspaper like the Washington Post, and look for the part of the publication which showcases information about the company, the publishers, and other valuable details.

It’s also a good idea to look at the digital landscape for inspiration. 

Mastheads are also quite commonly used (to a smaller degree) in blogs and article posts. At the top of an article page, you might see the name of the publisher, the date when the article was created, and other valuable details, such as copyright information. 

Here are some other useful resources for newspaper masthead design:

Pinterest

Pinterest has plenty of groups and pages dedicated to showcasing newspapers, magazines, and other publications. You can find some examples of front covers here

Behance

Design communities and websites are good places to learn from other graphic artists experimenting with mastheads. Check out this page on Behance

99 Designs

Another helpful community environment for newspaper creators, 99 Designs has some handy insights into logo images, photos, and mastheads here

When searching for masthead inspiration, remember that your masthead should be simple, bold, and engaging. It should be informative and easily legible but also capable of referencing your newspaper brand’s unique personality and identity.

Newspaper masthead examples

Sometimes, the best way to get started with newspaper masthead design is to look at existing solutions on the market.

Here are a few examples you can use to figure out how to design a newspaper masthead from scratch.

Newspaper Masthead Design

The New York Times

Often found on the first page of the New York Times, this masthead keeps things simple and to the point. We can see a smaller version of the company’s nameplate at the top of the page, followed by some useful information.

The data includes when the publication was founded and the names of the editorial team and other crucial staff members.

The New York Times doesn’t always include a full list of everyone involved in each publication in its broadsheet. In certain circumstances, there may even be references to the digital version of the publication, where readers can learn more.

Newspaper Masthead Design

USA Today

An insight into the fact mastheads on newspapers can come at a different point than the top of the page comes from USA Today. In some cases, this publication will print its masthead details on the side of the first page, with a basic list of information.

At the top of the section, we see the smaller nameplate version, followed by a list of key staff members. There are also contact details for the paper and some legal trademark information.

The bright blue coloring on the miniature logo helps draw attention to this small segment of the paper while maintaining consistent branding.

Newspaper Masthead Design

The Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Tribune famously created a digital-ready version of its masthead for the online community. This included @mentions of the Twitter names of major publication team members, as well as some additional information about the founding date of the newspaper. 

As with other examples of newspaper mastheads, this version still includes the miniature version of the nameplate, written in a decorative script-style font. 

The script font choice is a common pick among newspapers attempting to convey a sophisticated and timeless image for the brand, as we see with the New York Times.

Understanding newspaper masthead design

Newspaper masthead design can be difficult to understand for beginners because of the confusion around the terms “masthead” and “nameplate.”

While some publications might choose to use this term interchangeably, most high-level newspapers still take the traditional approach to masthead creation. This means combining a miniature version of the nameplate with additional information about the publication.

The good news for designers is masthead design can be relatively simple. Once you’ve chosen a specific nameplate for your business, the rest of the process simply involves ensuring everything fits into place with the right visual balance, white space, and alignment.

Good luck learning how to design a newspaper masthead.

Fabrik: A branding agency for our times.

Stephen Peate
Creative director
Stephen Peate
Creative director
As Fabrik’s creative director, Stephen oversees complex branding programmes. He advises our clients on their tone of voice, creates logos and visual identities and crafts names for companies, products and services. Writing for Brand Fabrik Stephen reflects his love for logo design and visual identity.

  • Sign up for updates

    Sign up for your regular dose of Brand Fabrik and be the first to receive insights and inspiration.

  • Sign up for updates

    Sign up for your regular dose of Brand Fabrik and be the first to receive insights and inspiration.

Explore