What makes a good poster?

What makes a good poster? featured image

Posters are like the jack-of-all-trades for the design world. There are so many ways to leverage posters. You can use them to advertise an upcoming event. You can use them to hype up a film project or a new store opening. Or, you can use them to add visual interest to your home or office. The poster possibilities are endless!

But not all posters are created equal! Just like any other design project, there are posters that stand out more than others, and really sell their intended message. But what makes a good poster? What are the elements you need to create a visually impactful poster design? And how can you come up with a poster design that feels both well-designed and true to who you are (either as a designer or a brand)? These are all the questions we will answer in the article below.

Why are posters effective?

posters outdoors image from Unsplash, What makes a good poster

Photo by Yonghyun Lee on Unsplash

So, first things first: Why are posters such an effective design asset?

First reason posters are so effective? Posters are large enough to make an impact and grab people’s attention—but they’re small enough that you can put them just about anywhere. It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears; posters are not too big, not too small, but just the right size to get the most design bang for your buck.

Posters are also insanely versatile. You can design a poster using any variety of styles, layouts, color palettes and other design elements. Any design that offers that kind of freedom and flexibility—while still making a serious impact—is an invaluable asset to have in your design arsenal.

Poster ideas

Clearly, posters are a must-try for your next design project. But what are some ideas for posters? What kinds of things can you build poster designs around?

Posters for event advertising

NYC marathon poster, What makes a good poster

Image via Running Past

One of the most effective uses for posters is as an advertising medium. So if you have an event on the horizon, designing and printing posters is a great way to get the word out, build buzz, and drive people to your event.

Need to get the word out about your next event? Get started with Canva’s poster templates, like the Purple International Children’s Book Day School Poster or the Music Poster template.

Posters for a music festival

Blink 182 poster, what makes a good poster

Image via Blink-182

Music junkies have been wallpapering their rooms with posters of their favorite musicians, albums, and concerts for decades—and for good reason! Posters are an effective (and cool!) way to hype up and advertise a music project.

If you’ve got a new music project to promote, you need a killer poster. Make beautiful music with Canva’s music poster templates, like the Guitar Themed Music Poster or the Orange Music Vinyl Music Event Poster.

Posters for film

Jaws movie poster, what makes a good poster

Image via Brigandi

Posters are one of the film industry’s most impactful marketing tools—and, in many cases, the poster design becomes just as famous as the film itself (think The Shining, Jurassic Park, or Jaws).

The perfect movie poster can sell tickets just as effectively as the perfect trailer. Design your perfect poster with Canva’s film poster templates, like the Rocket Kid Movie Poster or the Extreme Sport Adventure Movie Poster.

Posters for a festival

Coachella 1999 poster, what makes a good poster

Image via Desert Sun

Posters have played a huge part in the grassroots marketing efforts of some of the biggest festivals in the world—and if you want your festival to be the next Coachella, Woodstock, or Burning Man, you should plan to do the same.

The best festivals are the ones overflowing with festival-goers. Draw people to your festival with Canva’s poster templates, like the Pink Woman Photo Festival Poster or the Rock Music Concert Poster.

Design posters

MOMA movie poster, what makes a good poster

Image via MoMA

In a perfect world, we could all have the original Starry Night canvas hanging in our living rooms. But because that’s impossible, poster prints are a great alternative. Posters of a different design (like a famous painting or photograph) are a great way to capture the essence of the original design—without spending an arm and a leg for the original (if that’s even possible!).

A lot of poster prints are of famous works of art. Hosting an art event of your own? Get people there with Canva’s poster templates, like the Art Exhibition Poster or the Art Show School Poster.

Decorative posters

Sun and Moon poster, what makes a good poster

Image via Society6

Posters are a great advertising and marketing tool—but they also make for great decor. Decorative posters can add visual interest to a home, office, or business—and for a fraction of the cost of other art forms, like painting or sculpture.

Like the illustrated look of this decor poster? Capture the same look and feel with Canva’s poster templates, like the Illustrated Music Poster or the Colorful Illustrated Egg Hunting for Church Poster.

Functional posters

Early New York City Subway System Map Wall Poster, what makes a good poster

Image via Ebay

Posters aren’t just all fun and games. They can also serve a more functional purpose (for example, subway maps).

Posters can be both well-designed and functional. Find the perfect mix of function and design with Canva’s poster templates, like the Fruits Information Campaign Poster or the Lightbulb Save Energy Campaign Poster.

How do you make an eye-catching poster?

parked bicycles and a movie poster, what makes a good poster

Photo by Jeremy Downes on Unsplash

Alright, so now that you know why posters are so effective (and what kinds of ideas work well for posters), let’s talk about how to actually design an eye-catching poster.

Choose your size

First things first. Before you start designing your poster, you need to choose your size. Setting your size parameters ahead of time will ensure your final design has the correct proportions for printing.

Most printers have standard poster sizes (like 18 x 24” or 24 x 36”), so make sure to settle on a size before you start designing.

Choose your layout

Common Poster Layout, what makes a good poster

Image via MakeSigns

Once you know your poster size, it’s time to choose your layout.

How do you layout a poster, you ask? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are a few design principles you want to keep in mind when laying out the different design elements of your poster:

Visual Hierarchy

When people look at your poster, their eyes are naturally drawn to the largest, most prominent elements, and if you understand that, you can lay out your poster in a way that brings attention to the most important elements and details.

Visual hierarchy is the practice of laying out your design in a way that calls attention to the most important elements, and as a rule of thumb, the larger and more prominent the element, the more attention it’s going to get.

Music festival posters are a great example. The names of the headlining bands are typically in a larger font to grab people’s attention—and then as the list of bands go on (and get less popular and well-known), the font gets smaller.

The point is, there are certain elements of your poster design that are going to be more important than others, and you want to use visual hierarchy to emphasize that importance.

Creating a sense of visual hierarchy with different font sizes, like in the Back To School Poster, calls attention to important details—and make sure your key messaging gets delivered.

Balance/Proportion

Balance and proportion are also important elements to keep in mind when designing your poster. Each element of your poster design should be distributed so that it looks in proportion and balanced when compared to the other elements in your design.

So, for example, if you have a huge graphic that acts as a focal point of the poster, you want to balance out the proportions with smaller, more subdued typographic elements. If you have a huge heading on the top of your poster, you’ll want to add some other design element on the bottom of your poster to add a sense of balance to the overall design.

A good sense of balance and proportion keeps things from being too visually overwhelming for your audience—and will make your poster layout more impactful.

Each element of your poster design should be balanced and in proportion with the other elements, like in the Career Expo School Poster, which balances large graphics and a strong header with more streamlined typography.

Space

You might be tempted to fit as many design elements into your poster as humanly possible, but if you want your poster to make an impact, you need to fight that temptation.

Making good use of white space will keep your design from looking too cluttered, which can make all the other elements stand out, making the overall design more effective.

The use of white space in the Young & Older Poster just make the other design elements, like the bold graphics and bright color palette, pop even more.

Alignment

There are plenty of ways to layout your poster, but if you want the final design to be aesthetically pleasing, you need to make sure it has a sense of alignment.

Alignment is the way each of your design elements “line up” in your design. It’s a way to organize all the elements of your poster design and make them easy for your audience to notice and process.

Alignment doesn’t have to be symmetrical (in fact, a purposefully mixed alignment can lend a fun, edgy feel to poster design) it just has to be thoughtful and consistent. Otherwise, your final poster design will look like you just threw design elements haphazardly on the page and hoped for the best (not exactly the most professional look).

Making sure each element of your poster is in alignment, like in the Megaphone Student Council Poster, is key in creating a visually appealing design.

Choose your color palette

Logo Color Associations and Industries, what makes a good poster

Once you’ve laid out all your design elements, it’s time to move on to one of the most powerful elements of your poster design: Color.

People have extremely strong associations with color, and you can use those associations to your advantage. This principle is called color psychology, and when you understand how to use it, you can directly impact how people view your poster, and what they do as a result.

For example, are you designing a poster for a new financial services company and want to communicate to potential customers that you’re a business they can trust? Incorporate blue into your poster design, which people tend to associate with trustworthiness and reliability. Are you designing a poster to promote a new children’s movie? Try bright colors like orange or yellow, which people associate with optimism.

The point is, color is a powerful thing. So, when choosing your color palette, make sure you use colors that work to your advantage.

A neutral color palette (like the White Grunge with Floral Music Festival Poster), bold color palette (like the Blue & Orange Triangle Splash Gym Poster), or a neutral palette with a bold pop of color (like the Vintage Yard Sale Poster) can all be extremely effective in posters—it all depends on who you’re targeting and what look, feel, and result you’re going for with your design.

Poster fonts

Poster fonts, what make a good poster

Image via FFonts

Narrowing down what font category you want for your poster design is one thing, but actually choosing a specific font is another. If you don’t want to rely on the Arials and Times New Romans of the world, where, exactly, can you find innovative fonts for your poster design?

Good news, there are plenty of free resources out there to deliver a serious dose of font inspiration for your poster design, like 1001 Fonts and FontSquirrel. Just browse by category, find the font that fits the look and feel of your poster design, download, and you’re ready to roll.

Choose your graphic elements

Lightning poster, what make a good poster

Image via Magpie Studio

The last thing you’ll want to lock in for your poster design is any additional graphic elements. Things like custom illustrations, photographs, or interesting background images can pack a visual punch—and make your final poster design more visually impactful for your audience.

Like the boldness of a graphic poster? Capture the look with graphic-centric templates like the President Campaign Poster or the Rainbow Hippie Peace Sign Anti War Poster.

Poster inspiration

We’ve covered the basics of what makes a good poster—and how to design one from the ground up. But if you’re still in need of a little poster design inspiration, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of great poster designs to deliver some poster inspiration for your design process:

Event poster inspiration

Kerb Journal Launch Poster, what makes a good poster

Poster by Luis Callejas

Why it works: This attention-grabbing event poster (for a magazine launch party) makes an impact by letting the imagery take center stage (and, let’s be real—when your graphic is a human with a fox head, do you have any other choice) with plenty of whitespace and interesting typographic elements.

Music poster inspiration

Backstreet Boys DNA World Tour poster, what makes a good poster

Image from official site of Backstreet Boys

Why it works: Backstreet’s Back (Alright!) with this killer poster to promote their new album and accompanying tour. The mix of photography and more artistic elements (like the red and black stripes) make for an eye-catching visual—while the use of visual hierarchy calls attention to the poster’s important details (like the date and location of the concert and when and where to buy tickets).

Film poster inspiration

Moonlight Movie Poster, what makes a good poster

Image via Cartelesmix

Why it works: Clean, eye-catching typography? Check. Powerful imagery? Check. Interesting and unexpected use of color? Check. Academy Award “Best Picture” Winner Moonlight also gets our vote for “Best Film Poster.”

Festival poster inspiration

Bonnaroo Music Arts and Festival poster, what makes a good poster

Image via Bonnaroo

Why it works: Bonnaroo has many bands in their lineup, but the way the poster design is laid out allows every band to have its own space without feeling cluttered or overwhelming—and the visual hierarchy calls attention to the bigger bands, which is sure to draw potential festival-goers in.

Decor poster inspiration

Vintage home decor poster, what makes a good poster

Image via Home Depot

Why it works: This vintage-inspired poster uses bold colors, contrast, and typography to add visual interest, and the end result would add interest to any home or office decor.

Functional poster inspiration

National Geographic Map

Image via National Geographic Maps

Why it works: This map poster from National Geographic is not only functional (with every country clearly labeled), but the neutral color palette and vintage details make it visually pleasing as well. Functional and easy on the eyes? It’s a win-win!

What makes a good poster? You!

We’ve covered everything you need to know about what makes a good poster and how to design a poster that’s going to make a real impact on your audience. The only thing that’s missing? Your design skills! So what are you waiting for? Get out there and design your poster!

Your secret weapon for stunning design