Abstract The use of covariates in block designs is necessary when the covariates cannot be controlled like the blocking factor in the experiment. In this paper, we consider the situation where there is some flexibility for selection in the values of the covariates. The choice of values of the covariates for a given block design attaining minimum variance for estimation of each of the parameters has attracted attention in recent times. Optimum covariate designs in simple set-ups such as completely randomised design (CRD), randomised block design (RBD) and some series of balanced incomplete block design (BIBD) have already been considered. In this paper, optimum covariate designs have been considered for the more complex set-ups of different partially balanced incomplete block (PBIB) designs, which are popular among practitioners. The optimum covariate designs depend much on the methods of construction of the basic PBIB designs. Different combinatorial arrangements and tools such as orthogonal arrays, Hadamard matrices and different kinds of products of matrices viz. Khatri–Rao product, Kronecker product have been conveniently used to construct optimum covariate designs with as many covariates as possible.