Create a Retro Style, Airline Destination, Travel Poster

This post is part of a series called Poster Design.
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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating
This tutorial was originally published in February 2011 as a Tuts+ Premium tutorial. It is now available free to view. Although this tutorial does not use the latest version of Adobe Illustrator, its techniques and process are still relevant. 

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

Before We Start

Air travel was a height of luxury not attainable by everyone in the 1950s, 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 the 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. The exciting and dynamic compositions featured basic principles that drew 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, an excellent (and free) source of inspiration.

1. Research and Sketch Your Concept

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.

Playing with different compositions

Step 2

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

Sketch different points of interest

2. Prepare Your Document

Step 1

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 Opacity down to around 80% and switch the Blending Mode to Multiply.

Place your sketches on the artboard

Step 2

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

In the image below you can see the color palette I'm using, but if you prefer, you can pick your own.

Select your colors

3. Create Your Map

Step 1

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

Use the Pen Tool to draw the land mass

Step 2

Using the Line Segment Tool (\) mark out the rough areas of Australia. Set the Stroke Weight to 2 pt and tick Dashed Line, making sure that it's set to Round Cap and Round Join.

Create borders with a dashed line

Step 3

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

Add a white outline

Step 4

Next copy and paste behind a duplicate of our shoreline shape and increase the stroke weight threefold. 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 go to Effects > Photoshop Effects > Pixelate > Color Halftone. In the settings panel change the following: Max. Radius to 15 and all the Channels to 1. Click OK and you should now have a dotty black and white shape. 

Now go to Object > Expand Appearance, and 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.

Add a halftone

Step 5

Make a duplicate of our new halftone dots and color with a strong orange color. Then offset again—this creates another layer of dimension to our otherwise flat map.

Off set the halftone

4. Illustrate the Points of Interest

Step 1

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.

Creating a character

Step 2

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.

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

Add details

Step 3

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 are all drawn freehand with the Blob Brush Tool, to keep a more animated feel.

Add the airplane

Step 4

We're showing the underside of the aircraft, and it's 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.

Add dimension to the plane

Step 5

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.

Add movement

5. Add the Typography

Step 1

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 on paper first before switching to the Wacom tablet.

Add the text

Step 2

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

Offset the text

Awesome Work, You're Now Done!

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

It's 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 around, and I would recommend checking them out, as they will undoubtedly prove inspirational for future work.

Final Poster Design