If you’re a fan of Grease, you simply can’t forget the iconic dance scene, where Sandy and Danny attend a televised dance-off at their high school.
In this tutorial we’re going to recreate the magic of the film and create a fun poster with vintage appeal. You’ll learn how to recreate the retro look using typography, texture and color, and how to edit a full-color photo to give it that 1950s poster look.
For this tutorial, which is suitable for beginner-to-intermediate levels, you’ll need access to Adobe InDesign, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator.
Ready to rock-n-roll? Swell! Let’s get started...
1. Draft the Poster Layout in InDesign
We’ll be using three Adobe programs to create our dance-off poster—InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator.
We’ll lay out the poster itself in InDesign, using the Layers panel to organize the design, and use the other programs to edit some graphic elements for use on the poster.
Open up Adobe InDesign and go to File > New > Document.
Set the Intent to Print. Keep the Number of Pages at 1 and deselect Facing Pages.
Under Width, type in 18 in, and for the Height type in 24 in. Don’t worry if this converts to millimeters—this is just dependent on your InDesign preferences.
18 x 24 inches is a standard US poster size.
Moving down the New Document window, set the Margins on all sides to 20 mm and add a Bleed of 5 mm around the page too.
Click OK to create your new poster document.
It’s time to get layered up! Expand the Layers panel (Window > Layers) and double-click on the default Layer 1 name to open the Layer Options window.
Rename the layer Background and click OK.
Go to the panel’s drop-down menu and choose New Layer. Create five more layers in the following order and with the following names: Color, Graphics, Photo, Stars, Typography.
Lock all layers except the Background layer, and click on the layer’s name to activate it.
Select the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and drag across the whole page, to create a frame that extends up to the edge of the bleed on all sides of the page.
Go to File > Place and select a papery background like this vintage paper image from PhotoDune. Click Open.
Arrange the image in the frame so that none of the paper edges are visible.
Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and drag across the page to create a rectangle at the same size as the image frame below it.
Expand the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches), and choose New Color Swatch from the panel’s drop-down menu. Set the CMYK values to C=7 M=13 Y=29 K=0, and rename the swatch as Beige.
Set the Fill Color of the rectangle to Beige.
With the rectangle selected, go to Object > Effects > Transparency and reduce the Opacity to 65%.
Return to the Layers panel and Lock the Background layer. Unlock the next layer up, Color. Zoom into the top section of the page and take the Pen Tool (P).
Click in the top left corner, close to the margin, then click straight down and click again across onto the other side of the page.
Click around until you have created a rough, narrow rectangle. Don’t worry about making it perfectly straight—a bit of imperfection will add to the vintage look of the poster.
From the Swatches panel, create a new CMYK swatch, with the values C=83 M=73 Y=64 K=93, and rename the swatch as Vintage Black.
Set the Fill of your new rectangle shape to Vintage Black.
Repeat the same process for a new shape at the bottom of the page. Make this rectangle a little chunkier, and set the Fill again to Vintage Black.
Return to the Swatches panel and create a new CMYK swatch. Set the values to C=17 M=98 Y=100 K=8, and rename the swatch as Vintage Red.
Take the Pen Tool (P) again, and fill the center of the page with a new square shape. Allow a little gap between the edges of the top and bottom black shapes, and don’t expand the dimensions of the new shape past the margin edges.
Set the Fill of the new shape to Vintage Red.
Go to Object > Effects > Transparency and reduce the Opacity of the shape to 80%. Click OK.
Take the Line Tool (\) and drag from the bottom of the top black shape to the top of the bottom black shape. Don’t worry about making it perfectly vertical—a little bit of variation will look more authentically retro.
Set the Stroke Color to Beige and the Stroke Weight (from the Stroke panel [Window > Stroke]) to 2 pt. Position the line on the left side of the page, as shown.
Copy and Paste the line over and over to create a series of parallel lines across the red section of the page.
Select all the lines and Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac) > Group.
Then select the grouped lines and the red shape behind them, and Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac) > Arrange > Send to Back.
Return to the Layers panel and lock the Color layer. Unlock the next layer up, Graphics.
Take the Pen Tool (P) and click onto the red part of the page repeatedly, creating a rough spiked circle, as shown. Continue to click round until you can link the paths up into a whole shape.
Select the shape and go to File > Place. Choose a paper texture image, with a paler hue than the one you chose earlier. Try out this paper photo from PhotoDune.
Click Open. Fill the whole shape with the paper image.
Select the shape and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste in Place. Directly select the paper image inside the pasted frame and delete it.
Set the Fill of the pasted shape to Beige.
From Object > Effects > Transparency, set the Mode to Multiply and Opacity to 55%.
Select both of the spiked shapes, and Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac) > Group.
2. Give a Photo a Vintage Vibe
Now that you have your poster layout ready in InDesign, we can take a look at preparing some of the graphics that will help to bring the poster to life.
Our first task will be to take a full-color photo and edit it in Photoshop to give an authentic vintage look.
Download this photo of rock ‘n’ roll dancers from PhotoDune.
Let’s open up this photo in Adobe Photoshop.
First up, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels and increase the amount of black in the image by sliding the Black arrow to 8.
Then duplicate the background layer to create a copy of the original image.
With the duplicated background layer selected, go to Filter > Other > High Pass. Apply a Radius of 14 and set the layer’s Blending Mode to Overlay.
Then, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Brightness/Contrast, and reduce the contrast to about -20.
Create a New Adjustment Layer from the bottom of the Layers panel and select Curves. Using the Channel dropdown menu, play about with the curves of each color channel (creating a rough S-bend shape for each) to create more contrast within the image.
Create a new layer above the Levels Adjustment Layer and fill it with an RGB magenta (R=255 G=0 B=255).
Change the Blending Mode of this layer to Screen and reduce the Opacity to about 5%.
Create a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer, and reduce the Saturation to -20.
Duplicate the background layer again and go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise.
Deselect Monochromatic at the bottom of the Add Noise window, and select Uniform for the Distribution. Set the Amount to 2.45%.
Select the duplicated background layer which has the noise filter applied to it; then go to Filter > Lens Correction.
Under the Custom tab, reduce the amount to -100 and increase the Midpoint to +40.
To give your photo a final, truly vintage look, apply a Black & White Adjustment Layer, and move this layer to the top of the pile of layers.
Tick the Tint checkbox, and double-click on the color swatch next to the tint to adjust the shade. Choose a very pale yellow tint, like R=253 G=253 B=224. Click OK.
To use the photo on our poster layout, we’ll also need to remove the background of the photo. Save the edited photo and export it to a JPEG format.
Open this JPEG image in a new window in Photoshop. Duplicate the background layer to keep a copy of the original image. You can turn off the visibility of the original background layer.
Next, take the Lasso Tool (L) and click around the top half of the image. Don’t worry about tracing the edge of the dancers perfectly, because we can tidy it up in a moment.
Continue across the top half of the image, and then unite the lasso so that the whole top half of the background is selected.
Click on the Refine Edge button in the control panel at the top of the workspace. In the Refine Edge window, check the box next to Smart Radius and increase the Radius to about 20 px.
Increase Smooth to 4, Feather to 0.3 and adjust the Shift Edge slider until you are happy with the accuracy of the line.
Click OK, and then delete the background that’s selected.
Repeat the process detailed in the previous step for the remainder of the photo’s background, using the Lasso Tool (L) to trace the edge, refining the edge and deleting the selection.
Save the photo as a new Photoshop file, and name it ‘Edited Photo Without Background.psd’.
3. Create Authentic Retro Graphics
The difference between genuine vintage poster designs and modern attempts at vintage styles are usually found in the minute details. Lines that are too perfectly straight, blemish-free photos and a lack of texture in the design usually betray a vintage wannabe and can make it look too modern.
I’m going to show you a trick for making your photos look even more retro in style, by creating a pale shadow of the image set behind the photo. This imitates the process of pasting images directly onto posters in hand-drawn drafts, which gives vintage posters that hand-done, imperfect style that looks so good.
For this part of the tutorial you’ll need to use Adobe Illustrator. Open it up and create a New Document.
File > Place the PSD file of the ‘Edited Photo Without Background.psd’.
Expand the Layers panel (Window > Layers) and create a new layer. Fill with a bright, contrasting color and set this layer behind the photo. Lock both this layer and the photo layer.
Create a second new layer, above the colored layer and behind the photo layer, sandwiched between the two. This is the layer we’ll work on.
Take the Pen Tool (P) and set the Stroke and Fill Color to a white swatch. Click around the edges of the dancers, tracing the image very casually and unevenly. Make sure the tracing is done slightly outside of the edge of the photo, so it’s visible.
Continue to trace the Pen Tool around the whole edge of the image, until you have a complete white border, as shown.
Take the Smooth Tool (under the Pencil Tool’s drop-down menu) and drag over any jagged or overly sharp edges of the white border. The Smooth Tool will even these out nicely.
From the Brush Definition drop-down menu at the top of the workspace, choose the Brush Libraries Menu button and select Artistic > Artistic_Paintbrush.
From the selection of brushes that opens choose Dry Brush 9 and apply this to the Stroke of the white shape you’ve just created. Set the Stroke Width to 1 pt.
Select the white shape and Edit > Copy. You can now Edit > Paste the shape directly into your InDesign document, into the Graphics layer.
Resize the pasted graphic, using Shift to maintain the proportions, and center it on the page, on top of the spikey circle, as shown.
Lock the Graphics layer and unlock the next layer up, Photo. Take the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and drag to create an image frame on the center of the page. File > Place and choose your ‘Edited Photo Without Background.psd’. Resize until it matches the size of the white shape (with the white border still visible around the edges).
4. Use 1950s Type Styles
Typography is going to give your poster the biggest nod to the 1950s era. First up, download and install the following free fonts:
Return to your InDesign document, and lock the Photo layer. Unlock the layer at the top of the pile, Typography.
Create a text frame using the Type Tool (T) and type in ‘ROCK’. Set the Font to KiloGram, Size 230 pt, and Color to Vintage Black.
Rotate the frame slightly so that the text sits on a jaunty angle, as shown below. Position to the top-right of the photo.
Return to the Swatches panel and create a new CMYK swatch with the values C=23 M=0 Y=12 K=0. Rename it Baby Blue.
Select the ‘ROCK’ text frame and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste. Adjust the Font Color of the pasted text frame to Baby Blue.
With the pasted frame selected, go to Type > Create Outlines, to convert the text into an adjustable vector shape.
Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac) > Arrange > Send to Back.
Set the blue text behind the black text and stretch the blue text a little, to make it match the size less perfectly.
Repeat the same steps, first typing ‘ROLL’ set in Vintage Black text, and then creating a vector version in Baby Blue behind. Position below the photo, as shown.
Create a new text frame and type ‘ ‘N’ ’ into the frame, setting the type in Risque, 250 pt, and a [Paper] Font Color. Rotate the frame to match the angle of the other text frames, and position to the bottom-left corner of the photo.
Add two other rotated text frames to the top-left corner of the red background, typing ‘our’ into one, and ‘ “swell” ’ into the other.
Set the Font to Grand Hotel, 130 pt and Font Color to Beige, Tint 70%.
Add two text frames to the black rectangle at the top of the page.
Rotate one on the left side, and type in ‘Don’t miss out!’, in Grand Hotel, Size 65 pt, and Font Color Beige, Tint 70%.
Type ‘Come Along To’ in the right-hand text frame, set in KiloGram, 99 pt, All Caps and Font Color Beige, Tint 70%.
Move down to the bottom of the page and create a new, small text frame, positioning it on the far-left side of the black rectangle.
Type in ‘D’ and set the Font to Cartwheel, Size 160 pt, Vintage Red with a Tint of 85%.
Copy and Paste the text frame repeatedly, adjusting the letter in the frame as you go, and shifting the frames up and down a little to make the text appear more jaunty, until you have the full phrase ‘DANCE-OFF!’.
Set the exclamation mark at a smaller size and in Beige, Tint 70%.
As a final step in editing the poster’s typography, set a couple of extra details about the event (e.g. ‘Live Televised Event!’ and ‘Saturday 8th June 1957’) in separate text frames, and in the fonts Risque and Grand Hotel.
To give your poster that final special touch, unlock the Stars layer in the Layers panel.
Take the Pen Tool (P) and, on the pasteboard next to the page, draw a rough star shape like the one pictured. Set the Fill to Beige, Tint 50%.
Copy and Paste the star shape repeatedly, and scatter over the emptier areas of the red background on the poster, varying the size, rotation and angle to give a bit of variation.
Your Finished Poster!
Great work! Your vintage-inspired poster is finished, and it’s looking fantastic—very retro!
Why not try mixing up the background color of the poster to create different effects? It will look great in a retro yellow, for example (try C=3 M=19 Y=78 K=0).
All that’s left for you to do now is export the poster for print.
Go to File > Export and save the poster as a Press Quality, Adobe PDF (Print) file. Be sure to include the Bleed on exporting if you’re going to send your poster to be professionally printed.
You’ve picked up some handy skills for recreating vintage-style posters in this tutorial. You now know how to:
- Build up papery textures and vintage-inspired colors in InDesign to recreate an aged look in your designs
- Edit full-color, modern photos to make them appear more vintage in style
- Create vector graphics in Illustrator that help to enhance vintage-style photos on poster layouts
- Work with retro-appropriate typefaces and give your typography an authentic 1950s look
Great work. Feel free to share your poster results in the Comments below!