The cover art is by lead singer Peter Nicholls. Most of the characters in the image are original, but the central character is based on Rae Dawn Chong wearing clay face (and body) paint as Ika in the film Quest for Fire (1981). However, according to Nicholls, many of the band's fans misinterpreted this as a self-portrait, since he wore extensive stage makeup at the time.
In what is thought to be the earliest photograph ever taken of the band Radiohead, a poster of The Wake is clearly shown on the wall behind Thom Yorke. The photograph was taken at Abingdon School.