A lot goes into creating a good poster! Take a journey through design history and learn how words and images come together to make your very own poster.
Propaganda is designed to influence viewers and promote the political agenda of a government or activist group. It often uses biased language and charged imagery to solicit an emotional response, rather than a rational one.
Posters have been used to advertise films since the very first public screenings took place. Today’s designers rely on a well-developed visual language of design techniques and tropes to communicate the mood and genre of a film.
Posters have always been used to market products and services. While modern advertisers adapted ideas from psychology to persuade and manipulate customers, designers found advertising posters to be a fertile ground for graphic experimentation.
Designers rely on visual symbols to communicate ideas to a broad audience.
Doves were first associated with peace by the early Christians, and are used in propaganda posters to oppose war and violence.
First used by labor unions, a raised fist can symbolize solidarity or resistance.
Many countries use characters to personify their national identity and inspire patriotism: Marianne in France, Britannia in England, Columbia in the United States.
A person pointing directly at the viewer has been an effective call to arms since WWI, spurring entire generations into action.
Charismatic leaders foster cults of personality to gain control, their image becoming symbolic of their movement. They are often known for a defining feature: a beret, a style of suit, an iconic helmet.
A shining sun symbolizes the promise for a bright future and the hope of a new day.
Skulls are potent reminders of human mortality and often appear in workplace and safety propaganda posters to signal imminent danger.
Westerns are characterized by outlaw gunfights, trusty steeds, and of course the rugged lawman—perfectly exemplified by John Wayne in True Grit.
Horror films bring to life our deepest fears, just as Dr. Frankenstein gave life to his famous monster, iconically portrayed by Boris Karloff.
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” The destiny of lovers is the focus of Romance films, passionately portrayed by Bogart and Bergman in Casablanca.
Often exuberant and theatrical, Musicals tell a story through song and dance. In the words of Fred Astaire, “Do it big, do it right, and do it with style.”
Action film heroes face incredible challenges, never better exemplified than by Steve McQueen’s famous motorcycle getaway in The Great Escape.
Suspense movies use tension to keep the audience on edge as they await the inevitable, ominous conclusion, just like Joan Crawford does in the classic noir film Sudden Fear.
Comedies can be dark, dry, cerebral, or slapstick, but they are always out to make audiences laugh. And what’s funnier than Groucho Marx’s prop cigar?
Humor generates captivating campaigns and feel-good associations for products but can backfire if customers get offended or distracted by the joke.
“Sex sells” is a cardinal rule of advertising. The Sex strategy often presents a heterosexual male fantasy that is laughably unrelated to the thing being sold.
Shock is used sparingly by advertisers. Designed to startle or offend, the ethics and effectiveness of this as a marketing strategy is up for debate.
Indulgence advertising invites customers to give in to their cravings and sometimes portrays yielding to temptation as a well-earned extravagance.
Novelty advertising exploits a desire for the next big thing, which pays off in a culture where customers crave self-improvement and cutting-edge technologies.
Luxury advertising markets expensive products as status symbols that will make others envy the customer’s means and good taste.
Exoticism tempts customers with colonialist fantasies of faraway places by using romanticized or racist stereotypes.
Designers rely on visual symbols to communicate ideas to a broad audience.
The most visible color to the human eye from a distance, yellow is often used to communicate urgency. It is the color of taxis and roadwork equipment and is an effective hue for safety posters.
Electricity has been observed in nature as a light, bright blue, and this shade is used in posters to suggest the power of modern technology.
While trying to produce quinine, chemist William Perkin accidentally created the first synthetic dye, the color of which became so fashionable that the 1890s have been called the Mauve Decade.
Can a single color define a generation? Some see the cultural phenomenon of Millenial Pink as a 21st-century embrace of changing gender norms, others as a savvy marketing ploy.
Red has long symbolized left-wing political rebellion and the spilled blood of the proletariat in Communist propaganda posters worldwide.
Olive Drab was the color of US military uniforms from WWII through Vietnam, despite being an ineffective camouflage. In American propaganda posters of that time, there was no more patriotic shade.
Absinthe was all the rage in 19th-century Europe. Highly alcoholic, the “green fairy” caused a public health crisis and was widely banned, but not before its jade hue inspired artists of the day.
Rich Black is achieved in the CMYK printing process by combining all four inks: cyan, yellow, magenta, and black. The resulting color is “blacker than black”—a shade that is richer and deeper than black ink alone can produce.
Rejecting realism, modernist designers embraced the graphic power of white space. Modernist White may seem empty, but its minimalism is utterly intentional.
Choose a phrase for your propaganda poster to get your message across.
Choose a title for the film your poster will promote.
Choose a slogan to sell your product.
Though often unnoticed, typography has remarkable power over how we absorb information. Moveable type design dates back to the invention of the printing press in 1439, but most text found in posters was hand-lettered into the 1960s. Typeface design became more mainstream as desktop publishing took hold, and now design professionals and amateurs alike have thousands of digital fonts at their fingertips.
Johann Bauer, Germany, 1835
Fette Fraktur embodies “Germanness.” Though long avoided after being adopted by the Nazis, this “blackletter” typeface has recently re-emerged in heavy metal and hip-hop graphics.
Robert Besley, UK, 1845
Clarendon is a slab serif typeface—where the finishing strokes are flat and blocky. Early versions were widely used in 19th-century “Wanted” signs and other broadsides that pre-date posters.
Hermann Hoffman, Germany, 1908
Berthold Block was inspired by the hand lettering of Plakatstil poster designer Lucian Bernhard. Distressed edges soften its burly forms, giving it an organic feel.
Oz Cooper, USA, 1922
Bold and cheerful, Cooper Black has been a widely popular “fat face” since its 1922 design by Oz Cooper, who quipped that it was “for far-sighted printers with near-sighted customers.”
Paul Renner, Germany, 1927
Futura is the definitive geometric sans-serif typeface. A modern icon with mass appeal, Futura’s measured lines have taken over the world and beyond—including the plaque left on the Moon by Apollo 11.
Morris Fuller Benton, USA, 1928
Designed at the height of the Roaring Twenties, Broadway is the most enduring and essential Art Deco typeface, and its dramatic geometry still conjures Jazz Age glamour.
A.M. Cassandre, France, 1937
Art Deco legend A.M. Cassandre believed Peignot’s stripped-down forms and mixed-case letters would revolutionize the printed word. Peignot did not increase literacy as he hoped, but its quirky grace is still admired.
Gerry Powell, USA, 1937
The shipping industry used stencils to create lettering on cargo for hundreds of years before this typeface was designed in 1937, and Stencil often suggests a utilitarian, military, or DIY association.
Roger Excoffon, France, 1953
Mistral brilliantly solved the long-standing problem of how to make a typeface with connected cursive script. Modeled on its designer’s own handwriting, Mistral has a lively, casual feel.
Max Meidinger, Switzerland, 1957
The most popular typeface on earth, Helvetica has become a household name. Efficient, assured, and highly legible, Helvetica was eagerly adopted by modernist designers who prized its clean simplicity.
Milton Glaser, USA, 1968
Inspired by a hand-painted sign for a Mexican tailor shop, Baby Teeth is a cornerstone of “I (Heart) NY” designer Milton Glaser’s oeuvre. Baby Teeth is itself hand-lettered, but versions like Bebit make it available for digital use.
Carol Twombly, USA, 1989
Carol Twombly adopted the classical letterforms of ancient Roman inscriptions when she designed Trajan in 1989. One of the first digital typefaces, Trajan is pervasive in film posters, and a genre-defying Hollywood standby.
Style is the way visual elements come together to create a “look,” but Style can also represent the mood of a time and place—and a rejection of what came before.
The first posters were made during the Belle Époque, and their innovative, jubilant style reflected the prosperity and optimism of the era.
Defined by languid curves and organic forms, the “floriated madness” of Art Nouveau was an international design revolution.
Elegant lines and geometric shapes define the Art Deco style, which celebrated glamourous consumerism and the efficiencies of modern life.
Photomontage, bold colors, and dynamic compositions define Constructivism, a design movement that reflected the ideals of Communism in the wake of the Russian Revolution.
An insightful realism defined the American Illustration style. The best-known illustrators were highly skilled draftsmen and trusted household names, their work gracing countless posters and magazine covers.
Spanning several eras, Modernism reflected the long transition into the machine age. Late Modernism in the 1930s and 1940s responded to monumental advances in technology and favored a streamlined, graphic style.
Developed in post-war Switzerland, the International Typographic Style took an objective approach to design, identifiable by its strict use of sans-serif typography, simple imagery, and grid system compositions.
The Psychedelic style reflected the drug and youth culture of 1960s San Fransisco, taking elements from Surrealism, Art Nouveau, and Op-Art to create a pulsating visual language.
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