Guidelines to create propaganda posters:
- Use bold, simple colors
- Add frames and labels
- Be geometric
- Go big with text and messaging
Now onward, to inevitable poster design victory!
Using bold, simple colors
Just Say No to Propaganda Posters!
… Hang on, that sounded a little propaganda-y. We’re a freethinking bunch here on Team PicMonkey, so we don’t advocate manipulating the minds of the masses with the power of your design. However, we do appreciate design in general, and propaganda posters are undeniably iconic examples. So what can we learn from them?
As it turns out, propaganda posters of the twentieth century can teach us a lot. Many were created by artists as part of government-run contests, and exemplify techniques and themes from art movements such as Modernism, Art Deco, and Constructivism. However, propaganda is unique in that it’s high on emotional appeal and intended to influence attitudes towards specific policies: the quintuple-shot espresso of government outreach, if you will.
Propaganda posters are famously direct, and their color palette is no exception. Many iconic propaganda posters were designed using as few as three colors, often black, white, and a warm shade like red.
Even posters that feature more colors, like Rosie the Riveter’s realistically shaded skin and hair, tend to focus on a few bold shades that grab the eye. In Rosie’s case, they’re the three primary colors, with a peppy si-se-puede yellow lighting the background.
Pro tip: Generate your own custom color palette based on propaganda posters and use it for any project you like. Simply choose a poster with colors that strike you, then follow our tutorial to create your palette.
Adding frames and labels
Elaborately framed pieces are a hallmark of Art Nouveau, an art style popular from 1890 to 1920, which is why you’ll see intricate frames and overlays pop up in the propaganda from the WWI and Bolshevik eras.
We love these garnishes: not only are they beautifying, but they can be a great way to organize information. Spotlight your revolutionary tagline by putting it on a pedestal (or over a semi-transparent box). Fancy up your pastoral proletariat scene with decorative corners. Put a frame on it!
If it’s good enough for Uncle Sam, it’s good enough for you. Check out how the flag-colored frame supports the patriotic message of the poster.
P.S., you know who has some sweeeeet corners, frames, and other decorative flourishes? Uh, yeah, that’s little old PicMonkey. Find them in the Frames tab, as well as in the Corners, Garnishes, and Labels overlay groups.
Let’s say you’re less about curlicues, and more about those straight-shooting geometric shapes. In that case, you’ll wanna skip on ahead in the history of art from nouveau to deco—and the famous Russian art form, Constructivism.
Just as Russian Communists envisioned a totally new way of ordering society, Russian Constructivist art envisioned new ways of creating shapes, inspired by emerging technology. What this meant for propaganda posters in the 1910s and ’20s was a focus on geometry and abstract shapes.
Meanwhile, if you’ve ever admired the radiating grandeur of a rising-sun-style graphic flourish, Art Deco says you’re welcome. Chevrons, sunbursts, and zig-zags are hallmarks of the Art Deco style, and can be seen in a number of twentieth-century propaganda posters—including this Japanese number portraying modern-day samurai.
If you like an artistic element on a specific poster, whether it’s a graphic or a style of portraying people, hit the search engines to figure out what artistic school it comes from. Chances are, other work in that style will have more inspiration for you.
Going big with your text
Many propaganda posters of the twentieth century were used in the context of war: to build morale and coordinate action at home, or to persuade and undermine abroad. So they don’t pussyfoot around when it comes to message, there’s no time! Our people are out there!!! LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS, ARTHUR.
What’s the lesson here for us? Experiment with big, bold text—in terms of both typography and message.
Don’t get us wrong: we love a delicately crafted, multi-metaphored turn of phrase as much as the next word jockey. Sometimes, though, simpler is more effective. That’s how we get “When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler” and “This man is your friend, he fights for freedom.”
So don’t hold back! Get right to the point, capitalize with abandon, and tug at some heartstrings. (Or guilt-strings, as with the famous British poster that asks, “Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?”)
Of course, propaganda is all about knowing your audience. The over-the-top phrasing on many of these old posters makes us giggle today, so either adjust your message accordingly, or lean hard into the comedy.
So there you have it! A few of the styles and techniques common to propaganda posters that can influence your own designs. Now get out there and take over the world!
… But like, not literally.
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