A crisp, brand new record straight off the production line is a beauty to behold. Untouched by the outside world, your new record arrives spotless and ready to provide years, decades, possibly generations of joy.
Vinyl really is the best format for experiencing the album as an art form. But there’s a problem…
As soon as we begin enjoying our new record, the signs of wear start to appear. Constant use, pulling the record in and out of storage, perusing the liner notes, and eventually sliding the record back afterward can quickly take its toll.
Scuffed edges, ring wear, and scratches are all signs of outer record jacket wear we want to avoid if our investment is to stand the test of time. Nobody likes a dog-eared record.
Inner sleeves protect the vinyl record, but if we want to preserve the artwork, we also want to invest in the best outer record sleeves. For recommendations on the best inner sleeves, check out our previous article. Today, we’ll list our personal recommendations of the best outer record sleeves to help preserve your album for many years to come.
Outer Record Sleeves: Material Quality Matters
Material quality matters when it comes to record sleeves; we don’t want to store our collection in anything that might cause damage. So which type should you avoid at all costs?
Traditionally, record collectors would store their albums in thick PVC outer sleeves. PVC-based products can cause contamination and serious damage to your records. Because your records are also made from PVC (an oil-based product), the two items can merge given the wrong climate. The result is a misting effect on the record, which is audible as hiss. This terrible situation is not so affectionately referred to as “vinyl cancer” by the vinyl community.
You can avoid this irreversible damage to your records by ensuring you only use polyethylene or polypropylene sleeves.
(For more information on how to safely store your vinyl records, check out our full feature on record storage best practice).
Invest In Vinyl Outer Record Sleeves
We recommend the Invest In Vinyl inner record sleeves as a readily available alternative to the popular MoFi “rice paper” style sleeves. The same quality and attention to detail apply to their outer sleeves.
Available in packs of 100 for under $25, they’re economical but also high in quality. The material is a solid 3mil (76 microns) thick polyethylene for long-lasting protection. They will comfortably fit single, double, or gatefold LPs, and you can place the record inside with the opening facing out for easy record access (or turned 90 degrees for maximum dust protection). Clarity-wise, I’ve seen clearer outer sleeves, but for the price, the Invest In Vinyl outer sleeves are an excellent and safe way to protect a lot of records without breaking the bank. View Product Online.
Big Fudge Crystal Clear Outer Sleeves
These outer sleeve options from the vinyl accessory brand Big Fudge have a distinct, clear advantage. (Sorry, that pun just had to happen). They’re made from high-density polypropylene, which is generally less prone to crumpling than polyethylene, but also benefits from greater clarity.
Polypropylene is known for its high flexibility and strength, plus its resistance to moisture and chemical reactions. You’ll definitely feel like your collection pops out more and has a premium feel.
Their standard 12-inch jackets will fit most single, double, and gatefold records, but to maintain full visibility of a gatefold, they also make specific polypropylene gatefold sleeves. Check out the Big Fudge sleeves, here.
Vinyl Storage Solutions (VSS) Dual Pocket Outer Sleeves
Also made from crystal-clear polypropylene, these highly convenient sleeve designs from VSS are available as a premium 4mil thickness. The clever dual pocket design enables you to fully seal the record jacket while retaining full access to your vinyl record via a second pocket.
Purists may prefer to keep the record inside the security of the album cover for maximum protection. However, there’s no doubt the dual pocket design makes the record more accessible while still allowing you to turn the vinyl 90 degrees for maximum dust protection.
There are resealable tape and tuckable flap versions available, depending on your preference. (Those wishing to check out these sleeves can do so at 10% off using the code SOUNDMATTERS10 on checkout).
Spincare Resealable Outer Record Sleeves
Similar to the VSS dual sleeve designs, these crystal-clear polypropylene sleeves feature a resealable tape design. There is no secondary pocket, but the tape remains sticky. You can still access the record and reseal the tape after, but in my experience, this style of outer record sleeve is best reserved for collectible pieces you want to store for the long term. You can pick these up in three different sizes to accommodate single, double and triple LPs. Check them out online.
The Bottom Line
Without the right outer sleeves, your album covers will quickly show signs of wear. Material quality is the most important factor in choosing record sleeves, and while polyethylene is perfectly safe, there’s nothing quite like the clarity of polypropylene to really make an album cover pop.
Beyond materials, every collector has their own personal preferences when it comes to function and design. Some love a dual-pocket design, while others prefer a traditional single-pocket sleeve. Similarly, resealable tape is not for everyone, but we can all agree that vinyl is the best format for celebrating the album as an art form. Let’s protect those album covers for future generations to enjoy.