If you are interested in designing and creating movie and TV posters for a living, you’re going to need to learn about the different kinds of posters you will most likely be making.

When the average person sees a movie poster, they assume it’s “just a poster.” However, the crazy thing is that movie studios have needs for certain types of artwork that fit into their marketing plan. Here is the list of poster types you need to know:

  1. Payoff
  2. Teaser
  3. Character Series
  4. Wild Post
  5. Billboard
  6. Outdoor, i.e., Bus Shelters
  7. Specialty

These are the ones you need to know in our contemporary movie poster design era. Of course, there have been many other types of movie poster types like “quads,” but for the sake of showing what you should know, if you want to get into professional movie poster design, then the following should suffice.

Who even designs and makes movie posters? These people do.

Examples of Payoff Movie Posters


The payoff poster is the head honcho of the poster hierarchy. Like all movie poster types, the payoff is really intended to sell the movie. It’s essentially the book cover and, most important, out of all movie poster types.

These usually include the main actors and actresses, along with some imagery or indication of a plot. Some of the styles you have probably seen range from montages, main character, photography, illustrations of the cast, and even graphic solves.

In fact, we go over the many different styles and amount of time it takes to make movie posters in this article:

Back in the day, before the ’80s, payoff posters were usually done by illustrators. Sometimes an agency or studio would set up a photo shoot with the main characters in the film and give the photography to the illustrators for reference. Some of these early posters are major collector items and are sought after by art collectors and movie fans alike.

One other note on payoffs is that you will generally see typography throughout these posters, including the title, the actors’ names, the copy, and the billing.

Payoff posters are always in a vertical/portrait format and never horizontal. Movie poster designers and art directors design posters in Photoshop and, generally speaking, build them at 13.5 inches by 20 inches and 200 psi.

As soon as a studio decides on a poster they want to use as their payoff, the file will then get finished at a higher psi to retain resolution so that it can get blown up to a real-life poster size of 27 inches x 40 inches.

Examples of Teaser Posters


The teaser is exactly as it sounds; it teases you with some twist or enticing artwork to pique your interest. Think of it as a promotional ploy to get you hyped for the next superhero movie or big-budget film.

These types of posters can include humor, edginess, or something memorable. The idea is to get you wanting more.

Also, teaser posters don’t want to give away too much information, as you will generally see something less specific to the movie. We are talking logos, clever copy, an interesting design that has to do with the movie, or an actor silhouetted without giving away what’s going on.

Character Series Movie Posters

Character Series

Character posters are artwork that features the main characters. You will usually see either portrait, 3/4 crops, or even full-body poses. These posters all feature the same aesthetic so that you know it’s the same movie. A lot of the artwork is repeated, or there is a graphic element that can contain the actors.

The style all depends on the movie. You have a full spectrum to work with, going from high-saturation photography to cool and edgy graphic solves. The Movie studios like to see multiple sets of character posters in all sorts of different styles and poses so that they can choose the best options for their product.

Type usually plays a big part with character posters as you may have the character’s name and the star who plays them or even a specific copy that kind of explains the character and personality. Also, you will see either “coming soon” or the actual release date/month.

Wild Post Picture

Wild Posts

Wild posts are the wheat pastes of artwork you see in cities. You know, the artwork that gets posted on wooden construction barriers next to busy streets. It’s a guerilla way to market a film or TV show.

There are marketing companies that are specific to wild posting where you give them your designs, and they print up the artwork and give it to their street teams, which then go out and post them throughout the city.

The dimensions of Wild Posts are different than that of pay-off posters and character series. Wild Posts will often have connecting artwork where, let’s say, three pieces next together spell out something or create a horizontal piece of artwork.

At times you will also see type solves or compelling copy to get your attention. Wild Posts can usually be a little edgier and less restricted than, say, a payoff poster.


Billboards and Outdoor

Billboards are pretty self-explanatory as they are usually all over the place. Movie studios, TV studios, and Streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon all still use billboards, especially in busy markets like LA and NYC, and other major cities throughout the world.

Billboards come in different sizes, so art directors and designers build to the specific size. We can also build artwork specific to a location like times square or the side of a popular and easily seen building.

It’s also encouraged to provide artwork that works with multiple billboards in a row or plays off each other. This also leaves open big opportunities to get super creative as we can get cutouts made, create 3D elements that can be attached to the billboard, including moving parts, maybe neon lights, or anything that is really out of the box.

If you get a billboard with an amazing and crazy idea made, it can create a social media buzz or newsworthy experience, which will help get that movie or TV show in front of more eyes. Billboards can go viral!

The other outdoor marketing aspect in the movie & TV business is placing artwork in bus shelters, subway stations, and anywhere people congregate. These all come with their own set of requirements and specs, which we art directors need to design for.

Outdoor spaces also allow us to get creative similar to billboards minus the moving parts and 3D elements, as they would most likely be vandalized. What we can do is come up with intelligent ideas that spark interest.


This is a category that you will hardly work in but should know. A few times a year, movie studios will request poster designs for fun events like Comic-Con.

These projects are fun to work on as they can be more creative. A lot of times, as an art director, you can pick out an illustrator that you feel could make an amazing illustration for the piece as well.

Regarding poster sizes, they can vary. There isn’t an industry standard in the Specialty arena, but generally speaking, they are One Sheet size.

Who wants what?

Not all movies use character series, teasers, or billboards, but they will all have a payoff. A lot of times, a marketing budget has to do with what the studio/client wants. If you have a big-budget film, then chances are the client will want the payoff, the teaser, the character series, wild posts, and of course, billboards and outdoor art.

However, what about the smaller films, the independents, the documentaries, and those without huge budgets? These will usually settle with the payoff. This is cool because, as an art directors, 80% of our time is spent designing payoffs.

Making a Poster Illustration

Ready to design a poster?

After reading all this, are you interested in becoming a poster designer? If so, keep reading our website and pick up the tips and tricks for poster design. I’m a real-life art director that makes movie posters for the TV, Film, and Streaming Industries, and I now want to share my knowledge.

In fact, I’m working on making an online school specific to entertainment marketing and poster design. It will be the first of its kind taught by people that actually work in the industry, not some professor that’s never stepped foot in a movie studio agency!

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