just what is a picture sleeve?

Estimated reading time is 5 minutes.

WHAT IS A “PICTURE SLEEVE”? I know—this is a dumb question to the thousands of collectors who know the answer. But based on ads, articles, and comments on the internet, thousands of other collectors and sellers do not know the answer. Or they don’t know the correct answer. Here are a few simple explanations.

First, according to Merriam-Webster, a sleeve is—among other things—“an open-ended flat or tubular packaging or cover.” The editors then refer the reader to the entry for a jacket, where definition 3c(2) is “a paper or cardboard envelope for a phonograph record.” The first and second definitions for envelope are “a flat usually paper container (as for a letter)” and something that envelops; a wrapper.”

A picture sleeve is usually a paper or cardboard envelope for a seven-inch  phonograph record.

In terms of construction, a sleeve is usually a piece of paper 7¼ inches wide by 14½ inches long. (All figures are approximate but close to industry standards.) That rectangular piece of paper is then folded in half, making a 7¼ x 7¼ inch square, and the edges of two sides are glued together.

The construction of this square creates an envelope with three closed sides and one open side. In most cases, the open side is the top. The record is slipped into the open end so that it is protected from most types of damage. The record in the sleeve is then ready to be sold to the public.

There are four basic types of sleeves for seven-inch records. Below find very simple, very easy-to-understand descriptions of those four.


Front side of picture sleeve for the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" / "Why."

Back side of picture sleeve for the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" / "Why."
This is the US picture sleeve for the Byrds’ 1966 hit Eight Miles High / Why (Columbia 4-43578). While the same photo was used on each side of the sleeve, only one song title appeared on each side. Like most US picture sleeves, the open side was at the top.

Picture sleeve

A picture sleeve (see Byrds example above) has a picture—usually a photo but artwork has been used many times—on at least one side, usually the front cover. The picture along with any text on the sleeve is customized for a specific record. That is, a picture sleeve is a unique paper item paired with a unique vinyl item.

For example, the sleeve at the top of this page is for the Byrds’ 1966 single, Eight Miles High / Why? This sleeve was only used—can really only be used—to house, protect, and eventually help sell one particular record: Columbia 4-43578, the aforementioned Byrds single.

A typical picture sleeve in the US has images on the front and back of the sleeve with the artist’s name along with the titles of both of the songs on the record. In some countries, the back side featured ads for other records from the same record company or the back was blank.


Picture sleeve: Front side of the title sleeve for the Beatles' promotional single "Ask Me Why" / Anna."

Picture sleeve: Blank back side of the title sleeve for the Beatles' promotional single "Ask Me Why" / Anna."
This is the title sleeve for the promotional single Ask Me Why / Anna (Vee Jay DJ No. 8). The sleeve with the record was shipped to radio stations in 1964 to promote the Beatles’ sole EP album on Vee Jay.

Title sleeve

A title sleeve (see Beatles example above) is a customized sleeve without any image but with the title of the featured song on the record on at least one side of the sleeve. A typical title sleeve in the US has oné or both titles on both the front and back of the sleeve along with the artist’s name.


Picture sleeve: generic company sleeve for DeLuxe Records used in the 1950s.

Companysleeve Tower empty 800
These are company sleeves for DeLuxe (used in the ’50s) and Tower (used in the ’60s). Record companies could have batches of millions of such sleeves manufactured at once, thus reducing the unit cost. These sleeves would be used on hundreds of different titles over a period of years.

Company sleeve

In record collecting, a company sleeve is usually a paper sleeve with the name of the record company and additional information (slogan, business address, etc.) printed on both sides (see DeLuxe and Tower examples above). Some company sleeves have advertisements for other records from the record company.

The sleeve is not associated with any specific record, so it does not include the name of a specific artist, song title, or catalog number. Most company sleeves have a circular, die-cut window to allow both of the record’s labels to be seen.

Consequently, these sleeves could be used with any seven-inch record released on the company imprint.


Picture sleeve: plain white sleeve used by everyone since the 1950s.

Picture sleeve: plain brown sleeve used by everyone since the 1950s.
Plain white paper sleeves were the kind most commonly used by US record companies although millions of plain brown paper sleeves were also put in circulation. The open top could be cut a variety of ways, from straight-cut like the two above, or with a small notch on one side to make it easier to slip the record out of the sleeve.

Plain sleeve

A plain sleeve (see white and black examples above) is usually a paper sleeve without anything printed on it—it is blank on both sides. Most such sleeves have a die-cut hole or window in the center to allow the record’s labels to be seen on both sides.

The most common plain sleeve is white with various shades of brown and green also common.


Picture sleeve: front side of Japanese picture insert for David Bowie's "Space Oddity."

Picture sleeve: back side of Japanese picture insert for David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
This is the picture/lyric insert for the Japanese release of David Bowie’s Space Oddity / Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (Philips SFL-1244-M) from 1970. These were apparently only issued with promotional records and are rather rare and valuable today.

Picture insert

In the record industry, an insert is usually flat piece of paper approximately 6 x 6⅞-inches long. These inserts could have a picture, artwork, song lyrics, and, in the case of promotional records, liner notes or a brief biography of the artist. In Japan, inserts replaced picture sleeves as the norm for the country’s entire record industry in the early ’70s.


AnitaKunz Byrds portrait frame 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: As the photo of the picture sleeve for the Byrds’ Eight Miles High / Why already appears in this article, I am using this space to present this fantastic portrait of the 1965 Byrds by Anita Kunz.



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