Create a Retro Style, Airline Destination, Travel Poster


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This post is part of a series called Poster Design.
Create a Variety of 3D Lettering Effects for Poster Design
25 Creative and Challenging Vector Poster Design Tutorials

This tutorial takes a look at the design and style of 1950's air travel tourism poster design. We'll take a look at the typographic qualities and composition of late 50's posters, then utilize modern digital rendering techniques to create an illustrated Australia tourism ad campaign.

You can find the source files in the directory labeled 'source' that came in the files that you downloaded. You may wish to look through them briefly before we begin.


Air travel was a height of luxury not attainable by everyone in the 1950's, but the grandeur and allure created by ad campaigns of the time, captured the imagination of a generation. Airlines capitalized on portraying the experience of flight in many different ways, be it flights of fancy; an intergalactic scene of passengers flying in space age style, or the sheer luxury of ads portraying comfort and decadence of passengers waited on hand-and-foot.

Never short of a beautiful stewardess, the use of character illustration featured heavily, as the face of the airline was an integral part of most campaigns, a vision of perfection waiting on the happy passengers.

Bold, beautiful text adorned the ads with a quippy strap-line or two, typography being a strong identity for any brand, favoring script with ease and fluidity having impact but being soft and charismatic. Some exciting and dynamic compositions featuring basic principles that draw the eye around the picture and to the information.

We can apply the principles learned from the rich heritage of travel posters, on new projects, and so to that end, I'm going to show you how to create a new Travel Poster. This one is for Australia, a country with no shortage of redeeming features and its sun and sand culture will greatly influence our color palette.

Research: Check out the vintage ad browser it's an excellent (and free) source of inspiration.

Step 1

First I did a little research on Australia, and began sketching some ideas, using basic compositions all the time while keeping the principles of the vintage ads in mind.

Step 2

The composition includes many POI (points-of-interest) spot illustrations on the map, consulting various tourism websites I gather some key points to sketch.

Step 3

Once I had all my sketches together, I scanned in my images ready for Illustrator.

The next step is to make a guide layer: place the scanned sketches into Illustrator, arrange to suit and fit comfortably on the canvas, drop the transparency down to around 80% and switch the blend mode to Multiply.

Step 4

Next make a new layer for the backdrop below our guide layer. Using the Rectangle Tool (M) and the turquoise color as fill (no stroke), draw a shape to cover the canvas. Now we have our ocean backdrop.

You'll find all the Pantone Swatches as color reference in the master file, on the Pantone Reference Layer, but if you prefer, you can pick your own color palette.

Step 5

Next we need to create the map. I took a simplified look at this. It's not as if this is a precise map, just rough out the recognizable shape of the landmass with the Pen Tool (P). Use the warm yellow color for this.

Step 6

Using the Line Tool (\) mark out the rough areas of Australia. Set the line weight to 2pt and tick Dashed Line, make sure that its set to Round Cap and Round Join.

Step 6b

Copy the map and paste behind (Command + C > Command + B), change the fill color to white and add a 4pt white stroke as well. Make sure the 'Align Stroke to Outside' is selected. Now we should have a white border around the map, like a shoreline.

Step 7

Next copy and paste behind a duplicate of our shoreline shape and increase the stroke weight three fold. Expand the shape (Object > Expand > Expand Appearance).

Now we're going to turn the shape into halftone dots. This process takes place several times over the course of the tutorial, but I will explain it only once, and you can refer back as needed.

To create the halftone dots, first change the selection to a gray color of the following properties: C=0 M=0 Y=0 K=30. Then got to Effects > Photoshop Effects > Pixelate > color Halftone. In the settings panel change the following: Max. Radius to 15 and all the Channels should be set to 1. Click OK and you should now have a dotty black and white shape. Now go to Object > Expand Appearance, then Live Trace the shape with a setting such as Simple Trace or Detailed Illustration that will Ignore White. Now Expand the shape and you should have a neatly cut out dotty print texture.

Color it White and offset it slightly from the landmass.

Step 8

Make a duplicate of our new halftone dots and color with a strong Orange color, and offset again, this creates another layer of dimensionality to our otherwise flat map.

Step 9

Create a new layer above the Map, this layer will contain the POI elements. With the Guide layer turned on above, trace through the sketches using the Pen Tool to block in the basic shapes.

Step 9b

Add detail line work with the Blob Brush Tool (Shift + B). You can ground some of the POI elements with a shadow using the same Halftone dot effect as in Step 7b.

Tip: Double-click the Blob Brush Tool icon on the toolbar to bring up the settings panel, switch on the Pressure sensitivity to get the tapered lines.

Step 10

On a new layer above the POI artwork, we need to add the foreground elements. Starting with the Airplane, block in the basic shape in white with the Pen tool, using the sketch as a guide. Features like the propellors and windows etc, are all drawn freehand
with Blob Brush tool, to keep a more animated feel.

Step 11

We're showing the underside of the aircraft, and its important that it reads well. So copy and paste in front (Command + C > Command + F) the shape of the main body, and use the Knife Tool to slice away a contour of shade from the underside. Delete the excess and color with the light orange. Apply the same principle and color the wings orange too.

Step 12

The addition of a cloud layer will add further dimensionality to the piece. You can make them with simple Pen Tool shapes around the plane, staggered to create space. Make a few of the background ones in the pink color to create more depth. Just as a nice touch, I added some jet streams to the plane - this adds movement to the piece.

Step 13

Next comes the typography, I drew the type freehand, with the Blob Brush Tool and used the Direct Selection Tool (A) and the Pen Tool to refine the overall look. It's handy to practice loopy, joined up type in your sketchbook/on paper first before switching to the Wacom tablet.

Step 14

To add definition to the text select all and Copy and Paste behind (Command + C > Command + B), offset to the left and above slightly, then change the duplicates color to white. This is a simple way to make the text pop.


The illustrated Travel Poster has fallen out of favor somewhat since its heady days in the 50's, which is a shame, personally I like the heightened reality depiction of an illustrated destination.

Its also a lovely platform to exploit typography, dynamic eye catching text is a must on any poster, and with a travel poster it needs to woo the viewer in an almost romantic style. There are some beautiful examples of Travel Posters out, and I would recommend
checking them out, they will undoubtedly prove inspirational for future work.