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Design

How to Design a Vintage Travel Poster in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In honor of St. Patrick’s day, this tutorial will walk you through the steps of creating an Ireland travel poster in a vintage style. We’ll be using a simple, geometric style typical of posters from what’s known as the “Golden Age of Travel”—roughly the early- to mid-1900s—like the ones below:

vintage travel poster examples

By starting in Illustrator and then switching over to Photoshop, we’ll have the benefit of Illustrator’s easy-to-use drawing tools for crisp illustrations, but also take advantage of Photoshop’s brushes and blending modes to finish it off with authentic-looking ink and paper textures.

For more inspiration, go check out some vintage fonts and texture brushes for Photoshop on Envato Market.

1. Gather Your Resources

There are a couple of things to consider when designing an engaging travel poster: 

  1. a recognizable location, landmark, or cultural reference
  2. authentically vintage-looking fonts

Step 1 

So, first, you’ll want to select a reference photo or gather some inspiration for whatever location you’ve chosen to feature on your poster. If you’d like to copy the composition you see here, you can find the photo at the link below. For my Ireland poster, I’ve chosen an image of the Cliffs of Moher, one of the country’s top-visited tourist sites.

Step 2

Next, you might want to download the other resources we’ll be using ahead of time so you don’t have to interrupt your progress with the tutorial later.

2. Set Up in Illustrator

Open up an A3 document, a common poster size that’s roughly 11 x 17 inches. I’m using RGB as my color mode so the project will display well onscreen, but if you end up wanting to print it, don’t forget to convert to CMYK first.

opening Illustrator document

3. Create a Background With Gradients

Step 1

Open a new layer in the Layers panel and name it “Background”. Use the Rectangle Tool to draw a rectangle that covers a little less than half of the artboard.

Step 2

Next, we’ll apply a gradient to the background shape. It will be easier to adjust your gradients if you have the colors you want to use already in your Swatches panel. I’m using three shades of blue: #4E789C and #A0BEDC for the first gradient, and #63A0AA for the second one. 

With the shape you just drew selected, go to Windows > Gradient and select Linear under Type, and change the angle to 90.

Step 3

The small squares at the bottom of the color spectrum are called gradient sliders. Double-click the one on the right and select the dark grayish-blue shade (#4E789C) from your swatches. Double-click on the left slider and change the color to white. 

Now add a third slider near the middle by hovering with your mouse near the bottom edge of the color spectrum until your cursor changes to white with a small plus sign (+) next to it. Click to add a slider and change its color to the lightest blue color (#A0BEDC).

creating first background gradient

You can adjust the position of the colors by dragging the sliders at the bottom. You can also adjust how the colors blend into each other (gradually or with sharp divisions) by dragging the two diamond-shaped sliders at the top. The settings I’ve used are pictured above. 

Step 4 

Repeat steps 2 and 3 to create another gradient to fill the lower empty part of the artboard. This one is a two-color gradient, with the medium blue (#63A0AA) mentioned earlier along with white, at the settings you see below.

creating second background gradient

Step 5

Next, we’ll place a hillside in the background. First, add two shades of green to your swatches: a darker one (#2A7B00) and a lighter one (#529108). 

Now use the Pen Tool to draw a crooked line that slopes down from left to right across the bottom of the poster, and make the color the darker green. Draw a smaller, similar shape to layer on top and apply a gradient using both greens (light on the left, dark on the right), as you see below:

creating third background gradient

4. Draw the Cliffs 

Step 1 

Lock the Background layer and create a new layer, naming it “Cliffs”.

Now it’s time to take a look at your photo. It helps to place it off to the side of your artboard for easy reference. Use the photo to get a basic idea of the shape and scale of the cliffs.

Step 2

Use the Pen Tool to rough out the shapes of each cliff. It doesn’t have to be exact, but you do want the sense of the cliffs receding in size off into the distance. You can even trace over the photo to get the general placement right if you like.

drawing cliff shapes with pen tool

Make sure to not make them too large, so you have room for the text at the top. As a group, the edge of the cliffs should stop short of the right edge of the artboard, and the top of the tallest one should end about two-thirds of the way up the artboard from the bottom. 

If you need to adjust the size, select all the pieces at once to preserve their size and position relative to each other.

Step 3

We want the cliffs to be lighter in color as they get smaller so they look as if they’re fading into the distance. An easy way to get lighter or darker versions (also known as tints and shades) of a base color it to use Illustrator’s Color Guide tool.

So first make the largest cliff a dark grayish-brown color, #474549. This is our base color. Now open up the Color Guide (Window > Color Guide) and select Shades from the drop-down menu. 

Step 4

You’ll see our base color in the middle of the first row with a little arrow pointing at it. To the right of that are lighter versions, or tints, of that color. Apply those to the remaining three cliffs.

using Illustrators color guide

I also added gradients to the middle two cliffs for a little extra depth, making the right edges one shade darker; you can do the same if you like. 

Step 5

To add some grassy patches to the cliffs, take a look at the reference photo for placement ideas, and then use the Pen Tool to place some simple, angular shapes.

adding grass to cliffs

The greens are the same we used for the hillside—the darker green for the first cliff, and the lighter green for the second one.

Step 6

Our last step to finish off the cliffs is to add some water foaming up at the bottom, so select the Pen Tool again. This time, instead of just clicking in anchor points for straight lines and angles, click and hold while dragging your cursor to create a smooth, curved line that loops in and out along the bottom edges of the cliffs.

outlining with pen tool

Step 7

Remove the outline on the shape if you have one (by changing the Stroke color to None), and then apply a gradient. From the Gradient Fill drop-down menu, select Fade to White. This will make one side of the gradient white and the other clear, letting whatever color is underneath show through. You can see the other settings below:

applying fade to white gradient

5. Create a Tourist Figure 

In the style of illustration we’re using, drawing people really isn't that complicated. It’s simply a series of geometric and curved shapes (like the ones we’ve been drawing already) stacked strategically together. You may want to work on this part off in the empty space beside your artboard so you have some room to put all the pieces together and so the background doesn’t get in your way.

If you’d like to just go for it and create your own figure, feel free (and then skip down to the “Arrange the Typography” section). But if you’d like to copy this one, read on for the step-by-step process. First, lock the “Cliffs” layer and create a new one called “Tourist”.

Step 1

The main body is basically just two tapered rectangles (drawn with the Pen Tool): one with straight edges and the other with curved sides. The width of the shapes should be the same where they meet. The colors are as follows: #C1272D for the red; #314463 for the blue.

drawing person with pen tool

Step 2 

For the arms, start out by drawing a shallow, sideways V with the Pen Tool—this is the inside angle of the left arm. Continuing from one of the endpoints, still using the Pen Tool, draw a straight line extending out and two curved lines to form the outer edge of the arm; close the shape with another straight line.

(Here’s a quick Pen Tool tip: When transitioning between a curved and a straight line, you’ll want to click on the anchor point before continuing to convert it from a smooth point to a corner point, so you’ll have a completely straight line and clean angle.)

drawing arms with pen tool

If needed, resize the completed shape so it’s the same height as the torso. We’ll reuse it for the right arm, so copy and paste the shape to duplicate it, and then rotate it 180 degrees by selecting Object > Transform > Rotate and typing in 180. With the shape still selected, click on the top middle handle on its frame and drag it down a bit so the arm is not as tall as the first.

Step 3 

Next up, the hands and legs. For the hands, draw right on top of the arms with the Pen Tool so the proportions turn out right and you don’t have to resize. Similar to the arms, we have a combination of straight and curved lines: straight lines for the top of the hands and fingers, and a curve for the underside of the hand where the palm is.

For the legs, draw two narrow, tapered rectangles and add some simple shoes or boots on top. Select both the legs and boots and send everything to the back (Object > Arrange > Send to Back) so they’re behind the skirt.

drawing hands and legs with pen tool

Step 4

Lastly, the scarf, hair, and hat (we’ll be placing them in that order on top of the torso).

For the scarf, all you need is a rectangle with curved sides and two leaf-like shapes, in the same darker green color we used before. Draw these with the Pen Tool without worrying too much about creating perfect shapes; most of the scarf will be covered up by the hair.

drawing scarf with pen tool

Step 5 

For the hair, start off with the Ellipse Tool to draw an oval. Then return to the Pen Tool to draw a sort of a curved triangle with a tail for the ends of the hair. 

After you arrange the two shapes together, you can unite them into one by selecting Window > Pathfinder > Unite; even out any lumpy spots with the Smooth Tool (access it with a click-hold of the Pencil Tool).

drawing hair with ellipse and pen tools

The color of brown I’m using for both the hair and boots is #603813.

Step 6 

We'll put together the hat in two stages, covered in steps 6 and 7. For some visual supplements to these steps, scroll down to the image at the end of step 7.

  • Use the Ellipse Tool to draw an oval for the brim, and rotate it so it’s tilted slightly, about 45 degrees.
  • Select the Add Anchor Point Tool (accessed with a click-hold on the Pen Tool) and click to add an anchor point on the oval about halfway between the left and bottom points. Change over to the Direct Selection Tool and drag that new point slightly inwards. 
  • Still using the Direct Selection Tool, grab the leftmost anchor point and drag it up and left so that side of the oval is longer and straighter.

When you click on an anchor point with the Direct Selection Tool, some handles will appear. You can click and drag those handles to manipulate the outlines of your shape.

  • Experiment with adjusting the handles of the anchor points on the left side until you have a flatter oval with a slight indent.

Step 7 

Now we’ll work on the crown of the hat. 

  • Start off with a small rectangle tilted at a similar angle to your oval.
  • Use the Add Anchor Point Tool to place an anchor point on the top side of the rectangle near the middle. Then drag it down and left with the Direct Selection Tool. Also drag the two bottom points outwards, more so for the one on the right.
  • Click on the upper left anchor point with the Direct Selection Tool, and in the Anchor Point toolbar that appears across the top of your screen, select the Convert selected anchor points to smooth button. This will give that corner a rounded edge, and you can adjust the handles if needed.

Use the Pen Tool to finish off the hat with a red band. The blue color is the same we used earlier for the skirt.

drawing hat with pen tool

Step 8

Now your tourist figure is complete! Adjust the size of each element as needed to fit with the previous parts of the illustration. When you’re satisfied with the result, switch back to the regular Selection Tool, drag an invisible box around the whole illustration to select all the parts, and hit Command/Control-G to group them together. 

Place the figure in the bottom left corner of the composition and size to fit if necessary.

completed vector drawing

6. Arrange the Typography

Step 1

If you haven’t already, download and install the fonts we’ll be using (Poller One and Marck Script) along with the four-leaf clover vector graphic. Create a new layer named “Text”.

Step 2 

Type out “IRELAND” using the Poller One font at about 130 pt. Change the color to white.

With the word selected, go to Effect > Warp > Rise and set the Bend to 56%. Position it more or less in the center of the sky area above the cliffs.

warping text

Step 3

Use the Ellipse Tool to create a small white circle that covers the hole in the R. We’ll be replacing it with the four-leaf clover graphic for a little extra St. Patrick’s Day festiveness.

Place the graphic (File > Place > locate where you have the file saved), change the color to green (the green we’ll be using from here on out is the darker shade), and reduce the size so it fits within the curve of the R.

placing four-leaf clover

Step 4

Now let’s add a shadow. Copy “IRELAND” and Paste in Back, changing the color to green. Now go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. On the sliders under Move, drag them both to the left the smallest increment you can, which is -0.0139 in. Then type 12 in the box labeled copies (if you want a bigger shadow, just type in a bigger number). You’ll end up with a nice cast shadow like this:

applying text shadow

Step 5

Next up, we’ll add the rest of our text. Using the Marck Script font, type out “Visit” at 110 pt and change the color to white. 

Place the word in the empty space above “IRELAND” (so the V just about lines up with the clover) and rotate it to a similar angle. Then go to Object > Transform > Shear and type 20 in the Shear Angle box.

shearing text

Step 6

Our last bit of text—“The Cliffs of Moher”—is a mix of the two typefaces. You can see the arrangement below. 

All the capital letters (excluding the C and M in script) are set in Poller One, 35 pt. The parts following the C and M are rotated and then sheared 20 degrees—the same technique we just used for “Visit.” 

The C and M are set in Marck Script at 132 pt. The M has also been rotated and then sheared 20 degrees to fit better with the tilt of the text. The word “of” is 54 pt, with no additional effects. The color is the same blue we used for the first gradient, #4E789C.

completed typography

And that wraps up the placement of our typography. Here’s what we have so far: the completed vector portion of our illustration. Next, we’ll switch over to Photoshop. (But don’t close your Illustrator document yet, because we’ll need it one more time here shortly.)

completed vector illustration with typography

7. Set Up in Photoshop

Step 1

Now it’s time to add some texture to our illustration. Open a new Photoshop document with the same specifications as your Illustrator document:

opening Photoshop document

Step 2

Download the paper texture if you haven’t already. Place it in your document and size it to fill the whole canvas.

Step 3

Create a new layer in Photoshop. Now go to Illustrator and copy all the contents of your artboard (now we’re done with Illustrator).

Paste into your new Photoshop layer. When a dialog box pops up asking what you want to paste it as, select Smart Object. That way, if you notice anything in your vector illustration that you want to change, all you have to do is double-click on the smart object and it will automatically open in Illustrator. You make any changes you want, save it in Illustrator, and the changes magically appear right in Photoshop. Pretty neat! 

Step 4 

With your smart object selected, go to Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options and select Hard Light from the Blend Mode drop-down menu. All the other settings can stay the same. This makes it look as if our vector illustration was actually printed on real paper.

placing paper texture

The brown paper will give the illustration a certain tone. If you’d like to tweak that tone, maybe making it more yellowish or greenish, try experimenting with the options you’ll find under Image > Adjustments > Variations. 

8. Add Texture

Our method for adding texture to the actual illustration is a simple one involving just two tools: the Quick Selection Tool and the Brush Tool, using one of Photoshop’s default brushes.

Step 1

Create a new layer. Choose the Quick Selection Tool, making sure to select the Sample All Layers checkbox at the top of the screen. This will allow us to select specific areas that we want our brushed textures to stay within. 

Now let’s start with the grassy hillside. Use the Quick Selection Tool, clicking and dragging your cursor across the hillside. The tool should make your selection automatically conform to the exact shape of the hillside, indicated by a wiggly dashed line:

using quick selection tool

Step 2

Now choose the Eyedropper Tool and click within the lighter green area of the hillside to select that color. Pick the Sea Sponge 2 brush, or any other textured brush you like (you can find this one in the Brushes panel in the Faux Finishes Brushes category). 

Make the diameter of the brush fairly large, between 400 and 500 pixels, and add some highlights along the top of the hillside. Apply the brush one click at a time rather than with strokes—the grainy texture will show up better this way. And don’t worry about “coloring outside the lines”—textures will only be applied within the bounds of the area we selected with the Quick Selection Tool.

using texture brush

Remember, you can always erase anything you don’t like.

Step 3

Repeat the same process for the cliffs. Try adding texture in two tones: one lighter than the base color of a cliff and one darker. You can also lower the opacity of your brush for a more faded effect or to help blend in the edges of your textures.

adding texture to cliffs

If you want to remove part of your selection (say you selected the whole first cliff but want to subtract the grassy patches), just hit the Subtract from selection button (the third one in the toolbar at the top of your screen) before resuming using the Quick Selection Tool. If you want more precise selecting ability, reduce the size of your brush.

Step 4

For the sea foam, start off with white and concentrate your texture brushing close to the bottom edges of the cliffs. 

Then use the Eyedropper Tool and pick blues from the water area of your illustration, working inwards with the brush toward the white textures you just applied to soften the hard outer lines of that white gradient a bit.

applying texture to water

Step 5

Last but not least, add a little shading to your tourist, and then admire your finished creation! 

shading tourist figure
final project display

You’ve Arrived at Your Destination! 

Congratulations on making it all the way through. I hope you've learned some tips and techniques for pairing the unique tools and abilities found in both Illustrator and Photoshop to complete a single project. Hopefully you’ve got in some good practice using the Pen Tool and anchor points in one, and applying texture with blending modes and brushes in the other.

As always, feel free to share how your project turned out or ask questions in the comments section. Happy designing!

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