Ready to kick it old school and drop the technology and Photoshop for your next movie, fan art, or concert poster? Chances are you will have an even more artistic and “vibey” piece of artwork to promote your film or band. You could always make one for fun or to have an additional piece of art for your portfolio.

The crazy thing is that movie and band posters always used to be done by hand. Artists would break out the gauche or acrylic paint or even oil paint to get their commercial art piece ready for the streets and theaters.

Ready to get your hands dirty?

dirty hands

Present Day Poster Makers

I’m an art director and create poster designs for major studios and streaming services like Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. It’s pretty much unheard of creating a poster in today’s time without the use of Photoshop.

That doesn’t mean we don’t get all creative and use actual painted illustrations. In fact, we hire freelance illustrators all the time to give us beautiful illustrations. Sometimes the illustrations are digital while others are legit painted. It just depends on the direction.

When we get the real-life painted illustrations, we scan them and drop them into Photoshop and tweak them. I should mention we usually add the typography too in Photoshop.

This applies to concert posters as well. It’s pretty rare for a piece of work not to touch Photoshop before heading out to the printer.

This is what I would do to make a non-Photoshop poster

Get scrappy

I would first get some scrap. Scrap is an industry term for pieces of art that you can use to inspire you. It’s very similar to a mood board. So step one go and find some artwork and illustrations that inspire you.

Scrap Example 1
I found these images and pieces of scrap from Designsphttp://www.designspiration.comiration.

I like to get inspired by these websites:

You will also need some scrap for the typography you want to incorporate in your poster. So get a set of scrap to pull inspiration from!

Color scheme

This goes hand in hand with your scrap collection. Try to pick a few sets of colors that represent your film or band. If you are new to the idea of “color theory,” then check out this link. It will explain how color relates to mood.

Also check out Adobe Color. Here you can create color schemes if you have an Adobe Creative Account.

When you have decided on an appropriate color scheme, it will be easy for when you are mixing paint and executing your design.

Color Wheel Samples


What is your film or band all about? Come up with an idea or concept that is unique and clever but easy for your audience to understand. It can’t be too abstract; it has to make sense. Smart design and illustration make a poster more memorable.

Here you can sketch out ideas and throw in rough typography of the title and copy. This way, your composition will make sense, and you won’t have any issues when you are creating your masterpiece.

Photo Shoot

Photoshoot and reference

What’s your idea? Does it include the cast? What about the band members? Or is it a landscape with animals and buildings? Perhaps it is a straight-up design.

If you don’t have a photographic memory and are not a drawing genius, then I would suggest you get some references to draw from. I’ve illustrated a lot of pieces of art, and I use reference a lot. It’s just easier and faster, and if I don’t use it, my art comes out all wacky.

You can get the actors together and pose them according to your ideas. Just use a smartphone and have the images printed up or draw and paint directly from the screen.

Pick your medium

What are you going to draw, create, or paint on? Sometimes markers are fun or even ink for type. What type of paint are you thinking about?

Acrylic, gauche, and oil paint are fun, but each one has a different requirement to paint on. Go to the local art store and look for a surface you think will be good for your medium. I’ve painted on canvas, wood, cardboard, watercolor paper, and bristol board.

One great technique is to add a layer or two of gesso to whatever you are painting on. This is especially crucial when painting with oil paint as oil paint will bleed into plain paper…unless that’s an effect you are looking for. However, it’s not archival and will eventually deteriorate.

Sketch and under painting

Now that you have your reference ready to go, you can start sketching in your design. Take your time and make it good. Remember, you are going to be painting this, so fixing any mistakes now is a lot easier than later on.

Don’t forget to add your copy and title. Typography is just as important as the image, so don’t skip over this step. Once again, take your time and get your letters lined up and spaced properly.

Pick your paint: gauche, acrylic or oil. Each one has its own set of pros and cons.

Photo real/realism

This advice is specific to painting photo real. That’s where an underpainting is very useful.

When you are happy with the sketch, you can now begin the underpainting. An underpainting is simply a painting that is two-toned with the correct values. Most illustrators use burnt umber and ultramarine blue for their underpaintings.


Now it’s time to pre-mix your colors. Go back to the color scheme you wanted to work with and use it to reference how you want to express the colors in your illustration and design. With a solid underpainting, you can now paint over it and render your art.


The challenge with painting your poster is that you have to really nail it. With Photoshop, you can essentially hit command Z anytime you have a mistake. Painting is a lot less forgiving.

Happy mistakes

Speaking of mistakes, sometimes they are a blessing. Maybe you have a loose style of painting with drippy effects. That’s cool as you can go with it. Your piece doesn’t have to be a Caravaggio, as you can add some edginess and style.

Finish and prep for printing

Time to let it dry. As soon as it is done drying, you can do either of two things: scan it or photograph it. If you have a high-quality scanner, I would suggest using that as it is more professional and doesn’t require lighting.

If you go the photography route, you will need a decent camera, tripod, and lighting. This way works too, but it’s just more difficult, and you are more prone to have glare and lighting nuances in your final image.

Send to the printer

If you don’t have a high-quality Epson SureColor P9570 44″ Wide Format Printer, then you will need to drop off your images at the local printer. They will be able to get you a proof, and if you are satisfied with the proof, you can get your posters printed up. Easy peasy.

Agency Black and White

The real poster world

As fun as it is to make your own fully painted poster, the chances of this happening in today’s world are slim to none. As an art director, I’m required to make numerous poster designs per day, and the only way to keep up is with Photoshop.

80-90% of my day is working in Photoshop.

If you are interested in becoming a professional poster designer, I suggest you sign up for our newsletter. The reason being is because we are working on an online school that is specific to making posters and all things poster design. We won’t teach unnecessary skills.

If you are on the newsletter list, you will be notified as soon as a class is ready. You could go to art school, but in my opinion, you will not get the beneficial insider information should you decide to pursue a career in entertainment marketing, aka movie and TV poster design.

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