Five Quick Tricks to Spruce Up a Poster Design

The two posters below technically communicate the same thing: promoting a car wash. However, the poster on the right has been improved dramatically with a few quick changes. Even when you don’t have a lot of money to spend, you can make an attractive design for a flier or poster without too much technological or design know-how. And that attractive design can make all the difference in how successful your campaign is.

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Look, for example, at the blue poster. Because of the way the text is aligned, organized, and sized, it is hard to tell at a glance (you have to assume viewers will be driving by in a car when they see this) what is being advertised and how much it costs. Your goal in a poster like this is to grab attention first, communicate the most important details second (like cost and times), and provide supplemental information (like accepting donations) last. Keeping the poster simple and cheap, here are five quick tricks that I applied to make the blue poster go from ugly and ineffective to attractive and more successful.

Quick Trick #1: Use Contrast
Creating contrast means making different items stand out by making them bigger and bolder and by changing font size. Notice that I used two fonts instead of one on the poster (to create contrast between types of information) and that I used really large font sizes (the number ‘5’ is 317 point size, and ‘wash’ is 240!) That clear and obvious contrast makes the poster’s purpose stand out and what it will cost.

Quick Trick #2: Don’t Center-align, but Keep Alignment Cohesive
In the poster on the left, everything is center-aligned. Information is also only separated by a space between lines. In the revised poster, the title (‘Car Wash’) has its own alignment to stand out from the rest, but the information below is tied in with varied, but cohesive alignment. The top of ‘$5’ is aligned with the top of “Monday, June 8.” The left of the dollar sign is aligned with “Central” above it. All of the supplemental information is right-aligned for variety. This varied but cohesive alignment makes the document look interesting but uniform. 

Quick Trick #3: Use the Bleeds
Notice in the poster on the left how nothing runs off the edge of the page. “Bleeds” refer to color, text, or images that bleed right off the edge of the page. In the revised poster, “Car,” “Wash,” and the image of the car all run off the bleeds. 

Quick Trick #4: Consider the Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds is a design principle that suggests layouts and images are more dynamic and interesting if information is positioned in sections of thirds. The idea is that if you were to divide the poster into thirds both horizontally and vertically, you would end up with 9 sqaures and four intersections. The focal points should end up on those intersections or within major areas of the third. In the poster on the left, there aren’t really any solid focal points other than the car watermark and there isn’t any sort of page division other than center-alignment. On the revised poster, the image of the car lands in an intersection and the information is divided into thirds both vertically and horizontally (to check this, try just drawing two evenly-spaced lines horizontally and vertically and see where the information stacks up).

Quick Trick #5: Make Your Typography Count
Typography can make a huge difference when creating a poster. In the original poster, the font is fairly dull and does little to advertise a car wash. The font for the title and cost on the right (Cooper Std) has a bubbly feel, appropriate for a car wash. The font is free and standard on most computers so it may be a bit cliche, but it is stronger than using a font with little personality. The other font for the secondary information is Century Gothic. You’ll almost always want to use at least two fonts for a poster (one for the title and/or headings and one for the supplemental information). You’ll never want to use more than three (and three is pushing it, depending on how much information you have). 

Bonus Quick Trick #6: Keep Color Simple
While there is nothing inherently wrong with the blue in the poster on the left, it clashes quite a bit with the black text and colored watermark image in the background. If you have to print out a bunch of fliers and you don’t have much money to spend, realize that black and white can still look nice if done right. And while you may be looking for bright colors, realize that white often stands out in the very color-saturated environments in which we live. If you choose to use color, make sure that it doesn’t clash with other colors on the page and, generally speaking, keep color to less than four colors on a simple poster (but one like this probably only merits two colors). 

One thought on “Five Quick Tricks to Spruce Up a Poster Design

  • April 20, 2015 at 2:45 pm
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    I recently designed a poster advertising a board game club at a local school. I then ran across your site while looking for tips on how to improve it, and the various articles related to design helped a lot! If there’s a way to get in contact with you, I’d love to show you both image files to demonstrate (what I hope) is significant improvement. This is a great site, thanks!

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