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In this tutorial, I will show you how to create a vintage-style poster design, complete with ornate typography and illustration. We'll look at the whole design process from start to finish, showing how to plan your piece, work up and colour the illustration, design the typography and border, and a few simple tricks to give it a bit of depth and interest. It's quite a long process, but I have included a lot of useful techniques that you'll be able to use in a wide range of projects. Let's get started!
You will need the following assets in order to complete this tutorial. Please download them before you begin. If they are not available, please find alternatives.
- Old Paper Texture
- Delicate Grungy Textures
- Seamless Background Textures
- Deconstructed Vintage Book Textures
- Watercolour Textures by Benjamin Mounsey
- Mac's Remove White Plugin
Speed Art Video
4+ Hour Video
For this tutorial, we were able to condense around 16 hours of real-time video into just over 4 hours of video. We did this just in case you were stuck on a particular step and wanted to view some video to help you get back on track. Keep in mind that this video does not include any audio or narration.
1. Get the Background Ready
Create a new document (File > New...) using the settings shown below.
On a new layer, create a nice even border around the outside of your design. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool and the Stroke command to create a rectangular box.
Open up the assets for your background image, and bring them into your document. An old paper texture works well, I used the combination of textures below to allow plenty of potential for variety, but you can use whatever texture you feel works best.
- Old Paper Texture
- Delicate Grungy Textures
- Deconstructed Vintage Book Textures
- Watercolor Textures by Benjamin Mounsey
Add some nice watercolour textures to one of the corners to create a bit of interest (we'll do a bit more of this later). The texture I used is one I created myself and you can find a selection of them here. Use the Hue/Saturation panel to tailor the colours to your taste, and use the Eraser Tool on a low opacity to blend the edges into your background.
2. Plan the Typography
Using the Brush Tool, create a border around where you think your typography will sit in the composition.
Using the hard round brush, sketch in your typography.
After your initial rough sketch, tidy up some of the edges.
On a new layer, start sketching in some of the ornate elements of the typography. We're looking for a mixture of flowing typographic elements and mechanical parts to add some interest and detail.
Use the Transform Tool to reposition or resize the letters as necessary.
3. Plan the Illustration
Once the composition of the typography is planned out, create a new layer and start sketching in the illustration. At this stage this will be very rough, we just want to get an idea of where the elements will sit within the allotted space.
The illustration for this piece is going to be of a zeppelin being attacked by a giant eagle. The first thing we want to sketch in is the zeppelin. This needs to be recognisable, and take a strong position within the composition, otherwise it is likely to be over-powered by the scale of the giant eagle.
Sketch in the eagle next. You can overlap the border with parts of the wings to help add a sense of depth and drama, as if the scene is bursting through the border.
To enhance the fantasy element of this scene, we'll add some long flowing tails to the eagle. These will give us some nice shapes and scale to play with in the composition as well.
Choosing a low viewpoint for this scene will help you to enhance the sense of scale, and give you that sense of awe, as if you are looking up at something vast and imposing.
Now you've got the basic elements in place, its time to start working up the sketch. At this stage, you'll want to pull up some reference photos to make sure your eagle looks relatively accurate. Pulling up reference is as simple as a quick Google search of "eagle wings" or whatever particular element you're drawing at the time. Personally, I won't work from a specific reference photo, I'll use a wide range. I feel if you work from one specific photo, you will be too concerned with reproducing it exactly, rather than how it fits into your image as a whole.
Initially, we had drawn the eagle without the traditional tail feathers, and just with the three long tails, but it doesn't look quite right without them so we're going to add them in now.
Keep checking your reference and adjusting the illustration.
Add a small bird in the background. This helps add to the depth and scale.
The eagle's head will be a critical focal point for the piece, so make sure you spend plenty of time on it and get it looking really great. You can see here it took me quite a few passes before I was happy with the look of it.
4. Finalise the Line Art for the Illustration
Now that we've got all the elements of the illustration down, we're going to polish up the line art so that it's nice and clean. This is really important, as the lines will be a visible element in the final piece. So to start, switch the Opacity for the rough line art down to about 40-50% on the layer panel. Now grab the Brush Tool with a hard edge, and just start working over the top. Try to keep the lines really clean and precise, with as few superfluous strokes as possible. You can even use the Pen Tool for this if your prefer the vector look, but I prefer the natural feeling from drawing the lines with my tablet.
Enhance sections of the lines that may need extra details.
Use the flow of the plumage to create a sense of volume and weight to the eagle
Expand on the tail feathers.
We want the talons to look as if they've penetrated the zeppelin, to give a sense of interaction between the elements, so try and draw them as if they have raked across the surface.
The feathers of a bird's wing are arranged in layers, from the smallest on the inside to the largest on the outside. Use reference images to mimic this accurately.
Now we need to go back to the rough layer, and redraw a few elements that aren't fitting with the current composition. So we redraw the tails to make more sense with the new tail feathers, and we also tidy up the background bird, and completely redesign the zeppelin.
Now continue working on the final lines for the zeppelin. You'll want to use the Pen Tool for the long curves especially.
Now move on to the tails. It's far easier to use the Pen Tool here, as these curves are so long and smooth it would be practically impossible to do them freehand.
Next, polish up the background bird to look similar in nature to the huge one in the foreground.
Now we're going to define the edges of the illustration. This is fairly simple, for the straight edges, just use the Line Tool and then for the curved sections, use the Pen Tool. It's very important this is done on a new layer, separate from the typography or any border elements we will add in the future.
Finally, we are going to tidy up the few remaining details back with the Brush Tool.
Create some rings across the surface of the zeppelin for a bit of variety. For this, create a curve with the Pen Tool on a new layer. Then duplicate the layer, and reposition it slightly to create a band. Finally, merge all the layers down again into the illustration lines.
Next, add some scales to the bird's legs
Then add some detail to the feathers of the bird.
And finally, add some additional detail to the zeppelin.
5. Tidy and Work Up the Typography
The next step is to start working up the detail in the typography, and now that we've had a chance to consider it more closely, to reposition or adjust any elements that might not fit together as we would like.
Now we are going to work on finalising some of the swirls, cogs and ornate elements of the typography. So first, switch the opacity of the typography layer down to around 70% (this is just temporary), and create a new layer over the top for your embellishments. Now choose the Pen Tool and start creating paths over some of the swirls we created in our rough sketch.
Once you've created your swirls, start positioning some circles. You'll be turning these into cogs and mechanical looking parts with some pretty simple processes. At this stage, you don't want any of these cogs to overlap, just because it will cause confusion in the later stages.
Now Command/Control-left click on the embellishment layer to select everything, and then select the layer mask we just created on the typography layer. Next, we want to create a Layer Mask on the typography, and set it to Reveal All. Now, create a black stroke around the outside of your selection on the newly created layer mask. This will create a border around the swirls and circles on the embellishment layer. Now return the Opacity on the typography layer back to 100%, and merge the two layers together.
Now we're going to use a simple circular brush and Eraserto shape our circles into cogs. For this, I use my mouse rather than my tablet, just because it deactivates the pressure sensitivity on the brushes without having to change the brush settings. However, you can achieve the same thing by adjusting the brush settings to remove the pressure settings on fade and size, and continue to use a graphics tablet if you prefer. It's up to you! I find the mouse more accurate for this kind of work.
So take your circular Eraser and just start erasing sections of the circles to create a cutout effect around the outside, like a cog. You can also use the simple circular brush and eraser to create concentric rings within the cogs for additional detail. If you feel like just using the Brush Tool to draw some more complex patterns you can do that too. Feel free to go crazy with detail, but bear in mind at some point you will need to create a similar level of detail in the body of the typography to keep it consistent.
Next, create a new layer and repeat the process we just used to create the cogs. Then, repeat the process of masking out the typography layer. This will leave the newly created cogs sitting on top of the typography with a border around them. Again, merge the layers down.
Again, repeat the process of creating cogs on a new layer. However, instead of setting the cogs in front of the typography layer, we want to set them behind. So the process is the same, but instead we create the mask on the layer of cogs we just created. Now hold Command/Control and select the typography, and create a black stroke around the selection on the mask.
Now we are going to create a few more swirls coming from the serifs of the typography, and also swirling from around the cogs like gusts of wind or water.
6. Create an Ornate Border
The next step is to create some ornate flowing shapes and cogs around the border of the illustration. So to start, create a new layer and sketch in the shapes around the typography.
Create another new layer and sketch in the shapes on the left side of the border. Then Duplicate the layer and use Flip Horizontal command. Line the new layer up with the right hand side and merge the layers together. Now you have a rough plan for your ornate border.
Before we get on to finalising the border, there's something we need to get finished up, and that is to complete the Of part of our header. Use the Pen Tool to create the shape of the F.
Now we're going to create a little hot air balloon for the O, to tie in with the arial theme. For this, we'll just use a few simple shapes, and a bit of editing by hand with the Brush Tool.
Just before we go back to the border, the eagle could do with looking a bit more threatening, so we bolster a bit of the detail around his eyes, and get rid of the pupils to give him more of a monstrous appearance.
Now on to finalising our border. Create a new layer, and with the pen tool, start creating strokes around the edges, to fit with your rough plan for the border. Play with different width and length of strokes.
Next we want to create some more cogs for our border, using exactly the same processes as we used before, just circular brushes and erasers to create cutaway shapes and concentric rings, with some simple editing with a paintbrush for variety.
So we're getting into the swing of things now, and we are going to repeat this process for the left hand side of the border. Create strokes and cogs in exactly the same way as above to match your border, then duplicate it and flip it to match the right side. However this time, don't merge the layers together. We'll likely be coming back to this border in a little while, so it's easier if we keep the left side separate so we can duplicate it again.
The next step is to fill that gap we left at the bottom of the border. I always think that when you create a piece of art, it's great to give people some little details so it takes a bit of time to absorb everything. Nothing too extraordinary here, but we're going to create a small hourglass motif, and an especially detailed cog. You'll want to do this on a new layer.
Create a new layer for the hourglass, as we will want to be able to create a separate mask around it.
You may have noticed by now there is a slight disparity in detail between the typography and the cogs/swirls around it. So now we're going to go back and even that up. This whole process is about building up the detail in layers, so everything fits together and every element gets enough attention to fit with the overall theme.
Now we're going to make a few final edits and corrections to the border before we get into the colouring of the illustration.
7. Colour the Illustration
We're approaching the end of this process, and now we're into the final stages. So let's get started on the colours for our illustration. The first thing we want to do is choose a nice blue colour, and fill the whole illustration with it. So create a new layer and set it within a new group called Colours. The groups and layer order are fairly important for this part as we will be using masks on various layers.
Next we're going to fill the background of our illustration with black. So the first thing to do is create a new layer called Black and position it above the blue layer.
You're going to need to create selections around your illustration, so at this point you need to merge the outline of your border down into your illustration layer. All the typography and ornate elements should still remain separate.
Finally, we want to create a slight blue outline around our illustration. We'll want another mask over the black layer. To keep the two masks separate, I just create a new group out of the Black layer, and create a Layer Mask over it.
Next, we're going to create some highlights. So to start with, we're going to Duplicate our Blue layer, use the Hue/Saturation panel to lighten it, and set the new layer below the darker blue. Then we will add a Layer Mask to the darker layer, and start masking through it to reveal the highlights.
Now we're going to add some bright white highlights. This is pretty straightforward, just create a mask over the whole Colours group, and you will be able to mask right through to the background layer to create your highlights.
The next step is to create some deep shadows. Create a new layer and set it between your blue, and black layers. Then we're just going to choose a dark blue and paint onto it with the Brush Tool.
The colours are nearly there, just a few more details to work on.
8. Final Details, Textures and Adjustments
For this final stage, we're going to add a few details to the borders, and then use a few texture effects and adjustments to tie everything together. To start with, let's get the borders tidied up and squared away.
Once you're done with adding additional detail, duplicate and flip the layer, and replace the right hand side so you have a perfectly symmetrical border.
Now we're going to repeat the exact same process around the typography. Just add extra detail to the existing swirls and cogs.
Now we're at the final stage, just a couple of things left to do. First we're going to switch the Layer Mode of the whole group called Colours to Multiply. This will reveal the textures beneath, and also create a bit more variance in the colours.
Next we're going to use a texture layer mask to create a worn effect over all the typography. So first, make sure all your typography, borders, and ornate elements are in one group, and create a Layer Mask over the whole group set to Reveal All.
Now you need to pick a monochrome texture with pure black and white contrast. This is easy to do, just pick a texture you like, use the Desaturate command, and then use the Levels panel to make it pure black and white. I used the texture below.
Copy and paste your texture into your main document, and then use the Macs Remove White custom filter to remove all the white from the texture. Then make a selection from the resulting black areas, and delete that from theLayer Mask over the typography group. You will now have a nice, worn textured look to your typography.
We want to add a few more watercolour textures to the background to help tie it in with the colours of the illustration. So grab some watercolour textures, paste them into the document, remove the white background with Macs Remove White again, and then use the Hue/Saturation panel to fit them into the colour scheme.
Finally, a bit of a noisy texture to add a bit of grit and grain to the whole illustration. Paste your texture over the top of everything, set to Multiply and then adjust the Layer Opacity to suit.
And there you have it, your completed poster design! In this tutorial, you've learned how to use some very simple tools and techniques to create some striking design effects, and we've walked through the design process step-by-step so you can learn how to plan and execute this sort of work. Hopefully, you should have learned plenty of skills you can apply to other designs and illustrations. Thanks for reading!