Find an illustrator.
Kill that illustrator.
Dice dead illustrator into small pieces.
Get a cement mixer full of mud.
Mix chunks of dead illustrator into mud.
Pour mud mix into molds or hand form into bricks.
Bake in kiln or let sun-dry.
Build a hut with now-dry bricks. Pro Tip: use mortar so it doesn’t fall apart!
Put a roof on it!
Put a door on it.
Design yourself a cool show poster
Alright fine. Here’s an actual walkthrough.
Step 1: Get Illustrator (yes, the software program, yes, the legal way)
If you already have Adobe Illustrator, skip ahead to Step 2.
I’m going to show you how to get all of the Adobe apps using their Creative Cloud subscription. Why this way? It’s the most economical option, and it gets you all of their applications. I’m not sure if they’ve moved totally away from the full-on selling of each application as a separate piece of software, but this is the way to go regardless. Just Photoshop used to cost like $800 (don’t quote me on that, but it was a lot). Now you can get every available app plus a bunch of beta stuff for a monthly fee. There are different tiers of membership depending on what you need. I work in design, so I pay for the whole shebang. It’s not that much more than the cheapy plan that only gives you one app. Anyway, I digress. Here’s what to do.
Go to Adobe.com. Click on the button marked “Individuals.”
Once you click the Individuals button you’ll be redirected to the Creative Cloud Page. Click the ‘Choose a Plan’ button.
There are a few tiers here. If you’re a student GET THE STUDENT plan. It’s less than half the price it normally would be. To do that, click on the tab that says ‘Students and Teachers’ and
So yeah, you gotta spend money. Sorry. You can probably get all of this illegally, but I think it’s well worth the money for what you get. Once you pick a plan
So mine has that nice red “issue with payment details” message, not because there’s an actual issue, but because they weren’t able to verify my student status. I’ve been paying the regular rate for quite a while, so I’m not sure why they’re still showing me this. I also have an Adobe Stock membership. You won’t see that if you got a Creative Cloud plan. It’ll just be the righthand module. In any case, click “Download Apps” under the Common tasks menu.
You’ll be taken to a page from which you can download literally every application they have available. Seriously, this shit scrolls for like, a long time. On your screen you will not see the word Open across from the app icons. It should instead say Download. Go ahead and download Illustrator from here and follow the install prompts.
It should default to your Applications folder if you’re running Mac. If you’re running PC, you’re a monster and I have no further help to give you (cue the PC apologists in 5, 4, 3, 2…). Kidding, of course. You should still be able to follow along if you’re running Windows, but there will be some differences in the keyboard shortcuts we use later on, and possibly some other stuff that I don’t know about. Just make a note that the rest of this is based on how the program runs on my Mac.
From inside the Applications folder, click on the Adobe Illustrator folder, and then click on the Adobe Illustrator Icon.
So far so good? Hopefully. Software tutorials invariably miss steps. I’ve never been through one without there being some huge gap the instructor just assumes you know. It’s like a thing. I’ll do my best to be overly thorough, but I’m sure I’ll still miss something. Shoot me an email (email@example.com) if you have any questions.
At this point, the program will be opening. The next two screens are what you’ll see while Illustrator is firing up.
Step 2: Create a new document
Yay! It’s working, probably. Or maybe not because nothing ever goes smoothly when you’re learning how to computer. Let’s pretend (or not) that everything is on track so far. You can do those built-in tutorials on the welcome screen on your own time. For this, just click that little “Create new…” button and you’ll wind up here:
Copy my settings from the picture above. A show poster is 11 inches by 17 inches. Usually, they’re oriented vertically, so that’s how this one will be. Technically, you can do any size you want, but when you go to print them you will wind up paying extra because a standard paper size will need to be cut down to meet your specs. If you go with 11×17 (also called Tabloid) you will be able to print on paper all print shops keep in stock.
The other important setting on here is what’s called Bleed. Bleed is a setting necessary for anything you’re going to print. Typically, there is a white margin around the edge of a design printed on 11×17. If you want all or part of your design to print all the way to the edge of the paper you’ll need to make sure your design goes all the way to the bleed marks. There was a point in time I knew why this was necessary, but I don’t remember anymore. Set your bleed uniformly to 0.125 inches. If I recall correctly, that’s the industry standard margin for bleed. Just take my word on it…or Google. Anyway, when you have all that entered click Create and your blank document should look like this:
Step 3: Find some inspiration
Alright. That’s all set for now. When I wing it on designs they take wayyyyyy longer, so for the sake of this not turning into more of a novel than it’s already going to be, we need to find some shit to steal. I like Bauhaus era graphic design, so let’s hit the Googs and find something we like.
Let’s grab one of the simpler ones.
Right click on your chosen image and select “Copy Image.”
Now paste (Mac: Command+v PC: ctrl+v) that image into your blank Illustrator document.
Step 4: Read this next paragraph
Let’s cover a couple things before we start creating our own version of this design. First, don’t take my advice on anything as legitimate legal advice. I am not a lawyer. I know some basics of copyright law, but I am ignorant of any nuance on the subject. I believe, since this is educational, and free, that my using this image to demonstrate some Illustrator techniques falls under fair use. I am NOT sure if that would extend to printing this out and using it to promote a commercial event. Again, hit the Googs, or talk to an attorney. Or don’t. #punkrk4lyf.
Step 5: Get to know the workspace
The Paste Board and Artboard(s)
Let’s cover a couple other things too. So, if you look in, well, just about any of the pictures in this article below this, or the one immediately above this section, you’ll see what’s called the Illustrator Workspace. The grey background is called the pasteboard. The white page is called the artboard. You can have multiple artboards in a single document, but you only get one pasteboard per doc. Typically, when you export artwork, it will ONLY export that which is within the bounds of the artboard, and in this case, the bleed lines (that’s what that thin red line surrounding the artboard is).
On the far left side, you have your tools menu. There are more tools available along the top, and those change dynamically depending on what tool you have selected in the left-side menu. Most of the tools have multiple options which you can see by clicking and holding on them.
On the far right
Step 6: Making shapes and stuff
Back in your document, drag the image off or your artboard and drop it somewhere on the pasteboard where it will be out of the way, but close enough for easy reference.
Using the Shape Tool
Next, click on the Rectangle shape tool in the left tools menu.
It looks like the blue part of the flyer (flier? Flyer?) we grabbed is a little longer than the length of the page. If you wanted to math it out you could bust a quick Pythagorean Theorem and get it exact, but things are easy to adjust in Illustrator, so just eyeball it. With the Rectangle Shape tool selected, move your cursor to the top corner of the artboard. Click and drag and you’ll see a rectangle start to form. Release your mouse button when it’s drawn a rectangle and it’s the size you want it to be.
Changing Colors (Eyedropper Method)
Rotating Shapes and Moving Them Around
Bauhaus graphic designers really liked 45 degree angles for some reason. You may notice that our rectangle is straight up and down. To rotate it, click the black arrow in the left menu (it’s called the select tool) and hover your cursor just outside of one of those white squares on the corners of your rectangle. You will notice that the cursor changes depending on where you have it positioned. For the rotation, we want it to look like a curved line segment with arrows on either end of it. When you see the cursor change to that, you’re in the right spot. Click and drag and you’ll see the shape spin about its center point. While you’re dragging, hold the shift key down. This constrains the rotation to only stop at intervals of 45 degrees. To get the angle the blue part of the poster has you’ll need to hold shift and drag your cursor so that the rectangle rotates counterclockwise. With Shift held down, it will automatically stop at -45 degrees. Once it’s there, you can let go of your mouse button.
Scoot the rectangle to roughly where you want it to be. Moving objects just requires clicking on them (using the select tool) and dragging them to where you need them. You can use the arrow keys for minor adjustments.
Once your blue rectangle is where you want it, create a thinner black rectangle and rotate it 45 degrees clockwise. You got this. I believe in you.
Also…make another little black rectangle like so:
Got it? Sweet. Now move your various rectangle around until they’re where you want them. Rotate the little boxy one 45 degrees counter clockwise and skootch it into the little corner formed be the skinny black rectangle crossing over the blue bar.
Zoom way the hell in and make sure the inside corner is flush. Then hit the left arrow key 6 times to create that small white margin in the reference photo. Our objects have all been rotated 45 degrees, so hitting the left arrow will create margins along both the right and bottom of the box. Once you have your margin, click and drag the left edge of the box until it is flush with the left edge of the skinny black rectangle. Like this:
Next, we are going to make the red shape. It looks like it’s based on a box as well, and it looks like it has the same height as the black one. In order to save ourselves the trouble of eyeballing the size of a new rectangle, we’re just going to duplicate the black one and move it to the other side of the blue bar. There are a bunch of ways to do that. You can do the old CMD C CMD V copy-paste if you want, but for this, there’s a better way. Just highlight the rectangle with the select tool then hover the mouse somewhere over the shape. Hold down the ALT key. You’ll see your cursor turn into a black and a white arrow stacked on top of one another. Click and drag while holding ALT, and Illustrator will make a copy of the shape for you. We just so happen to need this copy to move in a straight line…at 45 degrees…up and to the right of the blue bar. To do this, also hold SHIFT as you start to drag your copied shape up and right. Holding SHIFT will force the new shape to move in an exact one-to-one ratio along both your X and Y axes (i.e. 45 degrees). Generally holding SHIFT while doing anything in Illustrator will constrain some parameter of the action. Drag an object straight right or straight left and hold shift. It will not allow whatever you’re moving to make any vertical adjustments. Same thing when you’re moving vertically. Hold shift and there won’t be any side to side movement. Anyway, you should have something like this now (yes I already re-sized it before I took the screenshot. Sorry):
Get your eyedropper tool again and click on the red part of the reference image to turn the new box red.
The Pen Tool
Now let’s make the spikes on the left. Some happy little spikes. we’re gonna do some drawing. Don’t freak out. Select the Pen Tool on the left menu. It’s in the leftmost column, 3 down from the top. It looks like the business end of an old-timey fountain pen. The Pen Tool lets us draw custom shapes point by point. First (with the Pen Tool selected), click on the top left corner of the larger black rectangle. Then move your cursor straight up for an inch or so and click again. You’ll notice when you move the cursor there is a blue line extending from its position back to the last place you clicked (see next image). This will continue until you ‘close the path’ (which means creating a shape that ends at the same point at which you began), OR you drag the cursor back over to the tools menu and deselect the pen tool by clicking on any other tool.
Keep approximating the shape from the reference image by clicking to create points (they’re called anchors, I’m going to start calling them anchors) wherever there is a corner. In the images below, everywhere I’ve clicked is indicated by a small blue square. The shape I’m making is filling in red because that was the most recent color I had selected. Not a big deal. We’ll just change it when the shape is complete.
There you go. Finish the shape by clicking back on the first anchor point to close your path. Then eyedropper that som’bitch black. Then make two skinny vertical rectangles for the little smokestack-lookin’ red thing on the right.
Using the Alignment Tools
Yes, they’re still black. You can fix it now if it bothers you, or you can do it after we get them where we want them. Obviously my rectangles are the wrong size, and they aren’t properly aligned. Let’s fix the alignment first.
Click on one of the rectangles with the select tool. Hold SHIFT and click on the other one. They should now both be selected. If it worked, you’ll see blue lines going all the way around both shapes (see below). To align them so the top one is perfectly centered on the x-axis of the lower one, we’re going to use Illustrator’s built-in alignment tools.
When multiple objects are selected on your artboard, the align tools should automatically appear in the top toolbar. This is what they look like.
On their left is a little icon that looks like a page or a grey rectangle or something. Click on it. There will be a dropdown menu that has the options “Align to Selection”, “Align to Key Object”, and “Align to Artboard.” These change what your object or objects will be relatively aligned to. These will fuck you up if you’re not careful. You can wind up with every object on your page clustered in the center if you try to align to the wrong thing (not a big deal, CTRL+z exists for a reason). For this, choose “Align to Selection.” Then click the second alignment option from the left. If you hover over it, a little dialog box will appear telling you that it will align the horizontal centers of the selected objects. I mean…it doesn’t say that. It just says “Horizontal Align Center” but…that’s what it does. Click it and your rectangles will be centered on each other, horizontally. See below.
Next, keep both rectangles selected and zoom way the hell
Turn it red. Then, with both still selected, and with the select tool chosen on the left, click and drag on the top of the rectangles to resize them. Dragging down will make them shorter and vice versa. This step is really only necessary if you made horrible rectangles like I did, and they need to be resized.
I’m REALLY wondering why I didn’t just do a video at this point. Yikes.
Looking at mine, the blue bar is way too long. If yours is like that, go ahead and resize it so that it fits the page and bleed margins without leaving a bunch extra. There is a reason for this coming up.
Grouping Objects and Aligning Groups
The aforementioned reason is that we’re going to center the whole thing to the artboard. It wouldn’t work if the blue bar shot way the hell off one side. To do that, select everything on the artboard by dragging the select tool to draw a box around all of it. You can also do this by hitting CMD+a and the doing a SHIFT+click on
Now select the entire group in the layers panel (layers panel is the icon on the right that looks like two diamonds stacked on top of each other) by clicking on the circle to the right of the group name (which, by default, is <Group>).
When a single group is selected, the alignment tools don’t display by default IF the last alignment mode you had selected was Align to Selection (which ours was). You’ll need to look for this icon in the top toolbar.
Click it and change it to Align to Artboard.
Once you’ve changed alignment modes, click the Horizontal Align Center icon. This will move the whole group to the center of the page.
Step 7: Making Type and Stuff
Using the Type Tool
Now we need to add some type. Click on the Type tool in the left menu.
Click somewhere on the paste board and type “Oct 1.” Or whatever. I’m going to replace the copy (in case you haven’t heard the word copy used in this context, it means all the text) on the original image with info about the Seattle stop on our upcoming tour. You can put whatever you want. Just a heads up, this poster was probably for an industrial conference or something in the 20s, and it was designed for a smaller sheet that what we’re working with. So…it ain’t gonna look that great. I picked it because it’s simple, BUT has enough quirks require learning a bunch of Illustrator techniques to create. So, if you get the hang of this at some point and want to start deviating from what I’m doing, knock yourself out. You should go through the rest, because there are some other tricks in here that will come in handy, but I’m just letting you know that you have my permission (I know you totally care, right?) to start taking creative liberties with the instructions (on how to plagiarize 1920s European industrial conference flyers). Anyway, I’m typing “Oct 1.”
Using the Character Panel
Pressing onward. The font in the above image is whatever my computer defaults to. Myriad Pro I think. It looks exactly nothing like the typography from the reference image, so we’ll need to change to stay true to our intent to completely rip off the original design. This will require the Character Panel. To open it, click the icon on the right that looks like a capital A with a line next to it.
OR…if for some reason, that icon isn’t showing, you can get to it by clicking on the Window dropdown at the very top of the screen. From there, scroll to where it says
This (below, since I’m being inconsistent with the order of what text is talking about what image) is the Character Panel. The top menu is your typeface. The one right below it lets you select variations within a particular font-family (for instance, Helvetica has Light, Light Italic, Regular, Italic, Bold, and Bold Italic). In the two-column part can manually set the size, the leading (vertical space between lines of text), the kerning (space between two individual letterforms), the tracking (consistent space between all characters in a selection of type), the vertical distortion, horizontal distortion, baseline shift (the distance a character or characters are from the lowest common point in a line of text), and the rotation of each letter. The other options along the bottom are TT (all caps), Tt (small caps), superscript, subscript, underline, and strikethrough.
We’re just messing with the font for now. I chose Lato Light. It’s similar enough for our purposes. I’m fairly certain it’s a free Google font if you don’t have it.
The image below shows what pops up when you click the arrow to the right of the font name. The fonts you see will depend on what you have installed on your computer. You can find a ton of free fonts on dafont.com, fonts.google.com, or Adobe Typekit. Download what you want and then just Google how to install fonts. Most of the time I don’t even have to restart Illustrator. New fonts just appear in the menu once they’re installed.
Keeping with the look of the reference image, the text needs to be in all caps, so with the text selected, click the TT icon in the character panel.
Aligning Text to an Object, and Potential Issues when Aligning Text to an Object
Life is going to be a lot easier if we rotate the design so that the blue bar is horizontal while we get out text lined up. Grab the group you made a few steps back and rotate it counterclockwise 45 degrees.
Next, make another text element to replace where it says “MAI BIS OKTOBER” in the reference image. I used my band name. Just choose something that can take up two or three lines of text.
Take a look below and see roughly where I placed the text elements I just created. Now we’re going to get them “pixel perfect.” Select both the red square and the smaller bit of text (The Oxford Coma in the example). Then go to the alignment tools. Change the alignment mode to “Align to Key Object.” When you do this, a thick blue line should appear on either the lines of text or the red square. Whichever object has this is the “Key Object.” For this, we want it to be the red square so that the text moves relative to the square and not the other way around. In other words, the Key Object is the one you DON’T want to move. If the wrong object is highlighted, just click on the other one once, and it will become the Key Object. Once you have the right Key Object, click the Align Left E
Next, I want to make sure the text is all vertically centered in the blue, so we’re going to go through the same steps we just used to align the text to the red box. This time we need to select both text elements and the blue rectangle. You’ll have to change alignment mode back to Key Object because for some reason it switches back to one of the other modes after each time it’s used. Once you’ve done that, make sure the blue rectangle is the Key Object and click Vertical Align Center in the top toolbar.
Wait a second…that doesn’t look centered at all. WTF? AMIRITE? Remember the title of this little section said there’d be some issues? This is a common one. What’s happening here is that the entire text bounding box is being aligned, rather than just the letters themselves. That’s because each typeface requires a certain amount of vertical and horizontal space on the edges of your letterforms to account for the appearance the typeface designer was going for. The problem is, we want the letters themselves to be centered, not the addition padding allocated for the typeface.
Here’s how I handle it. Select your type object and click on the type menu at the top of the window. Choose Create Outlines. This will convert your selected letters from a functioning typeface into vector shapes. The advantage is that you can get the alignment we were going for. The disadvantage is that you won’t be able to edit the type anymore. If you outline it and spot a fuck-up, you’ll have to recreate the text layer and do it over. In this case, we need the aforementioned advantage, so create the outlines.
Your outlined text should look something like this.
Repeat the alignment steps until you’re satisfied and then move on.
I decided I don’t like where that 1 is. This is an example of something that would have been easier to fix when this was still a type object, but alas, that ship has sailed. I just want to move the 1 over, so I need to select it by itself. You may notice that when you just click on it, it selects all the letters in OCT 1. When you outline type, it creates a group of all the characters in the selection. You can select individual objects in a group by Command+clicking on the object you want, or you can select it in the layers panel. Command+clicking on this one will be a pain in the ass because it’s so narrow, so let’s use the layer panel. Click on
You should see the group highlighted, but if you don’t, go to the very bottom of the panel and click the magnifying glass icon. It will take you to the selection.
Once you’ve found the right group, click the arrow to its left in the layer panel. This will show you all the objects in that group. Click on the circle to the right of the one you want, which in this case is…1. Now you can move it around with the arrow keys or your cursor.
Throw the year on there. Again, this would have been easier if the OCT1 part was still a type layer because then we could have used the character panel to make sure they were the same size. Now we’ll have to wing it a bit.
So go ahead and outline the year. Then vertical center align it to OCT1.
Drag it over and see if it’s the same size. Re-size using SHIFT+drag until the height matches.
Shift+drag it back over to its previous spot. Realign if necessary. I want to space out the numbers a little bit here, so I’m going to do that by selecting the ones I want to move. Once the first number is where I want it, I deselect it, and move the remaining ones.
Select everything and rotate it 90 degrees.
Create the type that’s going to go in the thin black bar.
Resize it accordingly, and change the color to white.
Align the text to the rectangle. Outline it if necessary.
Select everything and rotate it back to so we have the 45 degree angle we want.
Resize it so it fits on the artboard. I also had to elongate the blue rectangle so it went all the way off the edge.
Now we need our final text elements. In the reference image, I think the word PRESSA is supposed to be the main focus. I’m not sure. We have to put the other bands on the bill down there.
Create a new text element and type in whatever you need to go there. In my case, there are three other bands playing, so I typed their names.
And turned them red.
But…I don’t like that font for this. I want something closer to the original poster. I looked for a font where the R had about 2/3 of its vertical height above the stem, and the closest thing I found in my library was called Champagne & Limousines.
When I’m comparing fonts, I usually duplicate the type layer and put it somewhere else in the document so I can see the two (or 20) fonts next to one another.
No, wait. I lied. Hasteristico looks better.
Once you find the one you’re going to use, you can delete the comparison layer and reposition the one you want. I want the new text to take up as much horizontal space as PRESSA does on the original image, but I like the size of the font as is. I don’t want to stretch the letters themselves, because that’s tacky. No. It’s never OK. Stop looking for reasons to do it. Unless you’re the crawl at the beginning of Star Wars, stop it. What we’re going to do is increase the space between each letter using the Tracking setting in the Character Panel. Tracking is the one with the icon that looks like VA with a double-sided arrow under it. Pump that up to 310.
Ok. We can be done there. I didn’t stop there, but you’ve basically got a finished product at this point. I realized that the red text in the bottom left really is the main focus, and since we’re headlining, I didn’t make much sense to have our name be the least prominent text on the poster.
I wound up importing our weird little alien chicken guy logo and replacing our name with it in the blue bar. I added our name to the top of the list at the bottom, and created that little circular thing from the original image using a small copy of our logo and drawing a circle around it.
Side note: if you ever have an object and you want to switch the color of its fill with the color of its stroke (stroke basically just means outline), click on the little right-angle arrow right next to the two color squares in the tools menu.
Step 8: Masking
Ok, so to finish this up, we’re going to make what’s called a clipping mask. It’s going to chop off everything outside of a certain shape, which is this case will just be a rectangle the size of the artboard. Like I said at the beginning of this, when you export something for print, it will typically only export what is ON the artboard, but there are some settings that can jack that up. This mask is just a fail-safe. It’s also useful for a bunch of different situations, so it won’t hurt to show you how it’s done.
Click the shape tool, then click on the top left corner of the artboard. When you do a single click with the shape tool selected it will open a dialog box that allows you to manually input the dimensions of your shape.
We’re creating a mask the size of the artboard, so enter 11in for width and 17in for height.
You should get something like this. Make sure it is aligned so it’s flush with the edges of the artboard. While you’re at it, go ahead and turn off the reference image layer by clicking on the eyeball icon to its left in the layer panel.
Once you’ve got it aligned, hit Command+a.
Then hit Command+7. That will turn the top-most shape in your selection into a mask for all the objects below. You can also do this by selecting the Object menu and choosing Clipping Mask > Create Clipping Mask. The result should look like this.
Step 9: Exporting for Web and Print
Alright. So now that we’ve got our…very okay-ish poster finished, we need to get it into some format that print shops can use. Since no show promo checklist would be complete without a slew of Social Media shares, we should probably make a digital version as well. Let’s do the digital one first because it’s easier.
Click File > Export > Export for Screens.
This will pop open a dialog box that lets you choose what file type you want to export as, and what level of scaling you want to apply. You can also name your export from this window and choose its export location on your computer. For
I have gotten JPEGs printed before, and if they were saved at full-size, maximum quality, then they usually turn out alright considering what they’re going to be used for. I could go into image formats, but this post has already been WAY longer than it was originally intended. Suffice it to say, there are many who would argue that printing a JPEG is blasphemy. If you are one of those and you want the highest quality print possible, you’ll need to use the Package function to export this for printing. Select File > Package and the Copy Links and Copy Fonts boxes are checked. Then just choose your export location and Illustrator will spit out an entire folder with everything a printer will need to faithfully reproduce your image with no loss of quality.
That’s it folks! Let me know if there’s anything specific you want me to cover in future articles. And if you found this useful, share it around!