Are you interested in making movie posters? Want to know how long it takes to make an Independent Movie Poster? Perhaps you’re curious how long those superhero movie posters take to complete. You know those crazy montages with 15 characters making heroic poses—posters like Avengers, Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, Pacific Rim, and Power Rangers.

It takes, on average, 3-4 hours to design one movie poster. However, there are many caveats to this answer as it depends on the type of movie poster that is being designed. A “graphic” poster will generally take a lot less time than a “montage” poster.

My name is Andy Storey, and I’m an art director in the world of movie poster design, also known as key art. In this post, I’ll drop some knowledge on how movie posters are made nowadays.

The cool thing is that I have worked on all types of movie posters, and hopefully, I can give you a basic understanding of the amount of work and time it takes.

Pre-Production, Photoshoot, Execution, and Post Production

Generally speaking, most big-budget studios like to explore poster options with sketch ideas first. Then when a few different ideas are decided upon, the agency creating the poster usually sets up a photo shoot with a photographer and the actors and actresses (depending on the shooting schedule) that need to be featured in the idea/poster.

After the photoshoot, photography is sent to the studio and agency doing the work. Multiple agencies will sometimes receive the photography as numerous agencies are hired for just one movie or TV show.

For simplicity purposes, I will not count this part of the movie poster-making process in our time frames. I want you to be aware of everything that goes on.

What’s an agency

When I say agency, I mean the entertainment marketing agency that has a team of designers, illustrators, art directors, creative directors, and copywriters.

You know, the creatives that make the posters from start to finish. There are many other positions within an agency that are not creatives, which will be another post.

If you decide to want a career in the movie poster business, you will probably start at an agency. I go into way more detail on agencies in Who Makes Movie Posters? (How to contact and find them).

Types of posters

The film and TV industry has many types of posters, genres, and needs. The companies that need the poster artwork each have different tastes, wants, and ideas of what will sell their product (movie).

But to break this article down, I’m going to touch on the more generally understood types of movie posters:

  1. Montage
  2. Graphic
  3. Photographic Image
  4. Type Solve

These are four generic creative styles of posters. There are types of posters that pertain to the marketing side. For example, you have payoffs, character series, outdoor billboards, and bus stops. This is a whole other topic that is discussed in another post.

If you think about all the time and money going into filmmaking, the last thing you want is a badly produced poster as the front of your expensive piece of entertainment. That’s why posters cost so much and why we spend so much time designing them.

Montage Poster Examples
Montage movie poster examples.

Hollywood Style Montage Movie Posters

The montage poster is probably one of the most used and recognizable styles of movie posters. These posters can take the longest to create because there are many components. Let’s say the most epic superhero movie is about to come out, and the studio wants all the main characters featured.

Assuming the agency has all the needed photography, the art director or designer must go through the thousands of images and make selects. If it’s a low-budget film, sometimes you work with screenshots from the film’s footage.

“Selects” are the best poses with the best light and what you will use in your poster. Depending on the number of photos, this could take up to an hour or more.

Mask out the images and create the poster composition. Masking images is when you drop photos into Photoshop and remove the background. This can take up to 10-25 minutes per image, depending on several things like background, hair, and lighting.

If you work for a large agency, they have a team dedicated to masking out images for their art directors. This saves a lot of tedious time.

Now you have your images ready to go and can start placing them in your design. You will also need to use stock photography for artistic components like light features, stars, sky, lasers, and other special effects. We usually pull stock images from either two companies:

Going through the stock and finding your special effects could take an additional 1/2 hour. Most art directors have a folder of ready-to-use effects, and this helps save time.

Treatment time! Now that your images are placed in, and special effects are rocking, you can play with the treatment. Treatment means the style and coloring that affect the overall tone of the poster. We are talking about coloring, color correction, hue and saturation, blur, sharpness, and textures. This process could take another 30 minutes to an hour.

Of course, it always depends.

What about the title logo?

Generally speaking, if you are working on a big-budget film, a title logo, otherwise known as title treatment, will be given to the art director. When this happens, you are saving about another 30-60 minutes. But then again, sometimes you can spend a few hours just on title logo treatments.

Montage rough time estimate

As you can see, a montage has many moving parts, so this will be a rough estimate. So, generally speaking, you are looking at 3-6 hours to make one montage design.

Of course, I’ve seen art directors take shorter and longer on montages. Also, your skill level comes into play, and usually, the more experienced designers can knock them out a lot quicker.

Graphic Solve Movie Posters

Graphic Movie Posters

Graphic posters are generally cool, more artistic, and thought-provoking. There are millions of different styles and ways to make a graphic poster. For instance, you can take photography and tweak it in Photoshop and have a graphic solve. Other times you illustrate the idea with shapes and colors.

Movie studios generally like to see a variety of poster types to choose from when they want a poster to sell their movie or TV show, and many times, graphic posters are perfect.

When it comes to graphic posters, the idea and execution are the most important. When it comes to creating intriguing or clever designs, it’s usually best to read the actual script.

(We usually get the scripts, and sometimes we only get the synopsis.)

Sometimes stepping away from the computer screen and really thinking about the concept is the best thing to do. I’ve taken many hours out of my day to come up with a clever idea.

You will also find that sometimes a studio doesn’t have photography of their actors and actresses or anything from the movie or TV show. That’s when the art director’s natural creativity comes into play. When this happens, we usually have to resort to stock photography, and depending on what you are trying to accomplish, this could take 30-60 minutes.

Put it all together! You have your idea, and you have your graphic components. Now all you need too is make it look good with some style and treatment. After this, you will need to lay out the typography and title.

Chances are you will also need to design a title, and once again, this could take 30 minutes or longer.

Graphic poster rough time estimate

The graphic poster is a fun poster to work on and can be done relatively quickly if need be. However, sometimes your design and vision will take some extra work, or you may want to provide some color alternatives. The rough time estimate for a graphic poster will be anywhere from 1 to 4 hours.

Photographic Photo Real Posters

Feature Film Photographic Image Movie Posters

The photographic image poster is usually the easiest of the poster types to execute. It’s essentially when you have a bunch of unit photography (photos from the set during filming) or photography from a photoshoot known as special shoot assets.

The time-consuming part of making this poster is going through all the photography. You will usually have thousands of images to go through and need to find the most compelling and thought-provoking image to use.

It is defiantly worth it to spend your time looking for the best shot of your key actor or actress.

Chances are, you will need to mask out the image and add other components like background and possible items that were used in the movie or TV show. Plus, you will need to retouch the actors’ and actresses’ skin and hair.

Other things considered for this type of poster are the crop, the execution, treatment, and the typography layout. Don’t forget you will be spending about 30 minutes to over an hour on title logo treatment.

Photographic image rough time estimate

Outstanding art directors can knock out these types of posters in under 2 hours, but the average will be from 2-4 hours per poster. It all depends on the quality of the photography and the assets given to you.

If you are interested in Sitcom posters, you will want to check out How to Make A Sitcom Poster in 9 Easy Steps.

Poster Type Solve

Type Solve Movie Posters

The “type solve” poster is a very type-heavy design featuring the title and typography. Sometimes you can have some awesome and creative type filling the whole poster design. Other times, you will have a giant title logo and fill it with actors, flowers, animals, and anything creative that has to do with the movie or TV show you are trying to sell.

On type solves the focus has to be on the typography. That means you must dive deep into the typography pool and pick some fantastic type. Chances are you will also need to customize it; the best place to do that is in Illustrator. You could, in theory, spend hours making a superb type layout.

Also, if you are filling in the typography, you will need to set aside time to mask the backgrounds of those images so that you only have the actors or items you want to show. This could take hours too.

Here are 15 examples of Type Solve Movie Posters.

Type solve time estimate

These types of posters are enjoyable to make, but they do require extra time for laying out your type and masking the images you want to use within. They look simple, but the execution is time-consuming.

Generally speaking, you are looking at 2-5 hours on type-solve style posters. You will also most likely want to make color alternatives to present to your creative director.

Poster Agency Life

Movie Poster Expectations

Every agency within the poster design industry has different expectations. Some agencies want their art directors to crank out three posters daily while others focus on ideas and execution. Generally speaking, a sound art director should be making 2-3 posters per day.

Art directors usually work 10-hour days on average, so when you do the math, you can make one poster every 3 hours or so.

It’s an exciting industry as you always have crazy deadlines, and as an art director, you want to increase your skill set and be able to work quickly. The better you get, the more often you will see your artwork in theaters and on billboards.

Chances are you now want to make your own movie posters, and if that’s the case, check out The 9 Rules of Poster Making (and 5 Things You Need to Succeed)

Suppose this sounds like a career you want to pursue. In that case, you may consider taking our classes specific to poster design and taught by real art directors in the business, not some professors who never stepped foot in a design agency.

Here’s the thing, our movie poster design course is in production, but what I recommend is signing up for our newsletter now, and when it becomes available, we will send out an email to notify you!