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Create a Vintage, 50s Style Auto Advertisement

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating
This tutorial was originally published in December 2010 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 brief look at the quintessential aspects of 1950s automotive advertising, the aesthetics of the cars and the portrayal of their owners. Then we'll take what we've learned to create an image that embodies the spirit of the bold 50s 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.

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

The 50s were a time of 'boom' in the States, a time of innovation and aspirations. Technology was providing a lifestyle of the future, all of which needed selling to the public. Advertising of the time shows bold statements about the ideal family, and what that family needed, in order to keep up with the Joneses. 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 noticed.

The design of 50s cars has always sparked my imagination; you can see that the designs are 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 into 1955!" To create excitement, information on their various innovations was strewn over every free inch of space in the ad.

It's 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 50s and its aesthetic principles to imbue a new 'mock' advert.

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

1. How to Do Your Initial Research

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

Do Your Initial Research

2. How to Sketch Out the Ad

Step 1

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

Sketch Out the Ad

Step 2

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

Sketch Out the Ad

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.

Sketch Out the Ad

3. How to Create the Vector Details

Step 1

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 (source file no longer available), on the Pantone Reference Layer, but of course, you can pick your own Color palette.

Create the Vector Details

Step 2

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.

Create the Vector Details

Step 3

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 a totally straight line with the Blob Brush Tool, hold down Shift while drawing your line.

Create the Vector Details

Step 4

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

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 three ever narrower stripes. Delete the unwanted white areas, and there you have it!

Create the Vector Details

Step 5

For the detailed 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, and switch on Pressure Sensitivity to get the tapered lines.

Create the Vector Details

Step 6

To create the 'dotty' texture on the side of the car, start by replicating the steps from before, 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.

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.

Create the Vector Details

Step 7

Now go to Object > Expand Appearance, and 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.

Create the Vector Details

Step 8

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.

Create the Vector Details

Step 9

For the landscape behind the car, use 100% blue and the Pen Tool to block out the sky. Then draw the simple fern tree freehand, using the Blob Brush Tool again to make the sweeping, tapered branches. Lastly, the sun/moon starts as a circle made with the Ellipse Tool. Then, with your circle selected, repeat the steps from before to create the halftone dot effect and Color it in the 50% Blue of the backdrop.

Create the Vector Details

Step 10

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

Create the Vector Details

Step 11

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.

Create the Vector Details

Step 12

Pick out the detailed 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.

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 the mono print texture: go to File > Place.

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

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

Create the Vector Details

Step 13

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 Tool, you'll be able to fine-tune it as you would any shape, using the Direct Selection Tool (A) and/or the Pen Tool (P).

Create the Vector Details


There's a wealth of inspiration in vintage advertising, and it's 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, and 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 50s 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. So looking back, you're sure to find something original to influence your future projects.

Vector Vintage Auto Ad Adobe Illustrator Tutorial

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