1. Design & Illustration
  2. Illustration

Create a Vintage, 50’s Style Auto Advertisement


This tutorial takes a brief look at the quintessential aspects of 1950's automotive advertising, the aesthetics of the cars and the portrayal of their owners. Then taking what we've learned to create an image that embodies the spirit of the bold 50's auto ads.

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.


The 1950's have always greatly inspired my work, from its children's book illustrations, to cartoons, and advertising, all have a very pleasing aesthetic. Its something about the use of line and shape that, for me, create such beautiful works.

The 50's were a time of 'boom' in the states, a time of innovation and aspirations. Technology was providing a lifestyle of the future, and all of which needed selling to the public. Advertising of the time shows the bold statements about the ideal family, and what that family needed, in order to keep up with the Jones'. Other than the home, nothing was more central than the car, and automotive ads were a melting pot of creative ideas. It was all about lifestyle, about going somewhere, getting there fast, or in comfort, or in style. Ads would infer that the right car would get you to the right parties, get you the girl, or get you

The design of 50's cars has always sparked my imagination, you can see the designs clearly inspired by aircraft and even spacecraft. They were styled with fins and jet engine intakes and adorned with flashy typography stating names like "Starliner," "Fireflight" and "Road Master." Bold statements streaked across their adverts with straplines like "Rocketing in to 1955!. To create excitement information on their various innovations were strewn over every free inch of space in the ad.

Its easy to see the wealth of what can be learned from these adverts, and the cars they depict. Now we'll take our observations and create a new artwork composition, lifting the spirit of the 50's and its aesthetic principles to imbue a new 'mock' advert.

Research: I highly recommend looking at Taschen's 'Cars of the 50's', by Jim Heimann. Also the Vintage ad browser is an excellent (Free) source of inspiration.

Step 1

I started by sketching some cars, interesting angles and details from a load of photographic reference I collected at a Vintage Car show I went to earlier in the year. Reference is important, whether you gather it first hand or just look it up on Google, its good to observe your subject and take in as much visual information as possible. You'll
achieve much better results this way.

Step 2

I sketched out some basic compositions remembering the principles of the vintage
ads. Flowing lines, hard angles and informative poster layout and presentation.

Step 2b

I wanted to include a lifestyle portrayal in my composition as well, so I sketch some people.

Step 3

Once I'd hit on some good sketches and decided on a composition, I scanned in
my images to get them ready for Illustrator.

Now make a guide layer: place the scanned sketches into Illustrator, moving them to sit right on the canvas. Then take their transparency down to 80%
and switch the blend mode to Multiply.

Step 4

Now make a new layer below our guide layer, this will be our backdrop. Take the Rectangle tool (M) and draw a shape to cover the canvas. This should have the lighter blue color as fill, no stroke. In fact, there's NO use of 'stroke' or 'outline' in this image, so when I refer to colors you'll know I mean 'fills'.

You'll find the Pantone Swatches in the master file, on the Pantone Reference Layer, but of course, you can pick your own color palette.

Step 5

Now that we have something above (our guides) and below (our background color) we can get on with creating the artwork's various elements, starting with the cars. Using the Blob Brush Tool (Shift + B) draw the rough outline of the bottom car in black, you could use the Pen tool (P), but I like the more natural look and feel of the blob brush.

Step 5b

The unique thing about the blob brush tool is that it draws solid shapes instead of strokes. So once you've gone around the car making sure there are no gaps in your line work, select the inner edge of your car shape with the Direct Selection Tool (A), and delete twice to make a solid black filled car.

Tip: To draw totally straight line with the blob brush tool, hold down Shift while drawing your line.

Step 6

Switch to the Pen tool and block in the purple windows.

Step 6b

To create the 'Shine' on the windows, use the Knife tool (sadly no shortcut for that, but you may find it hiding under the 'Rubber' tool), copy and paste in front (Command + C > Command + F) a duplicate of the back window and then change the pantone percentage to zero - white. Cut through the Window duplicate and make 3 ever narrowing stripes. Delete the
unwanted white areas, and there you have it!

Step 7

For the detail line work on the car, use the Blob Brush Tool again to draw in the detail.

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 8

To create the 'dotty' texture on the side of the car, start by replicating the steps in 6b, this time duplicating the black car shape. With the duplicate selected, use the Knife tool to slice a nice curvy flowing section of the body work, and then delete the unwanted excess.

Step 8b

Now change the color of the shape to a gray with the following properties: C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=30.
Then go to Effects > Pixelate > color Halftone, and change the settings to the following:
Max. Radius: 20 and all the 'Channels' should be set to 1. Click OK and you should now
have a dotty black and white shape.

Step 8c

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 - now you can change the fill to a 50% black color.

Step 9

Create a quick and intentionally 'Naive' shadow under the car with the Blob Brush
tool again. Use a quick oval scribble in a 100% blue color. If needed skew it with the Free
Transform Tool (E) to ground it under the car.

Step 10

For the landscape behind the car use the 100% blue and the Pen tool to block out the sky. Then draw the simple fern tree freehand using the Blob brush tool again making the sweeping tapered branches. Lastly the sun/moon starts as a circle made with the
Ellipse tool. Then with your circle selected repeat steps 8b and 8c to create the halftone dot
effect and color it in the 50% blue of the backdrop.

Step 11

Now simply 'rinse repeat' everything we've done for the bottom half the image, in
the top section, creating the cars side view and matching landscape. Some elements can just be duplicated.

Step 12

Once you've finished with the top half of the artwork, create a new layer above the cars, this will be for our characters. Using the sketches on our guide layer, start with the guy at the bottom, using the Pen tool to block out his shape in black, white and 50%
pink for his skin.

Step 12b

Pick out the detail line work using the brush tool again, just as we did with the car. Then move on to the woman up top, repeating the same steps.

Step 13

Lastly we need to create our centre piece and typography. On a new layer above our people, draw a rectangle across the middle of the page in any color using the
Rectangle Tool (M). Now place in the mono print texture: go to File > Place.

Tip: You can learn more about using textures, monoprint in particular, in my previous tut: Core Art Skills: Part 5, Traditional Media Techniques.

Step 13b

Recolor the texture white, just as you would recolor any shape. Now, making sure the texture is behind the rectangle (arrange using Command + [ for send backward) select both together and use Command + 7 to create a Clipping Mask. Now just duplicate the texture a couple times inside the mask, to fill out the space.

Step 14

I created all the type freehand, with, yes the Blob Brush tool! I find it handy to practice the loopy, joined up type in my sketchbook first before switching to my Wacom tablet. Don't worry if you make any little mistakes in your type - because you've used the Blob Brush you'll be able to finely tune it as you would any shape, using the Direct Selection tool (A) and/or the Pen tool (P).


There's a wealth of inspiration in vintage advertising, and its definitely worth consideration when working on current projects. You'll find a lot of humor - sometimes due to age, but these works are never outdated, the quality of the rendering alone is worth a look.

Applying the same aesthetic principles needn't mean a dated artwork either, how you use color and technique will bring it all nicely up to date. And it's not limited to cars either, the 50's saw innovations in all areas of living designed and advertised with a keen eye. Everything from toasters to Jet Planes had a sense of bold future facing style to them. So looking back you're sure to find something original to influence your future projects.

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