3 Gig Poster Design Trends & Styles

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Editor’s Note: The following piece on gig poster design trends is excerpted from Show Posters: The Art and Practice of Making Gig Posters by Pat Jones and Ben Nunery, the latest title from HOW Books.

Trends come and go, and pigeonholing someone’s art into a “design style” can be incredibly tricky. Style is subjective and nuanced—often walking the line between one thing or another. One has to take into account where an illustrator or designer draws inspiration and what medium he or she chooses to work in, and all of that can be difficult or nearly impossible to classify.

Still, in order to study different poster designs and designers, it is helpful to group them in some sort of meaningful way to help frame the discussion. The design styles discussed here should be just that: a way of grouping things in order to study them but with the understanding that artists and designers draws from many different sources of inspiration and may shift and combine mediums in their efforts to convey a visual message.

Oxidized Degradation

This style puts an emphasis on the process used to create the print itself by bringing elements of the art techniques to the forefront. Multiple layers may be used or portions of the work may look washed-out, overprinted, or misregistered. The overall effect may look like a mistake or printing error at first blush, but ultimately this style puts an emphasis on texture, layering, and the printing process used to create the piece.

Key Style Characteristics

  1. Almost looks misprinted or miscut, like items were thrown together on the page

  2. Combines multiple illustration and design styles, sometimes even within one piece

  3. Sometimes made to look like a test print, meaning it’s mis-registered and has a high number of layers

  4. Heavy use of texture

  5. Often shows the process of screenprinting in the work—this calls attention to the handmade quality of the poster and lends authenticity


Show Posters HOW Books1

CLIENT: MastodonDESIGNER: Bobby DixonDESIGN FIRM: Kollective FusionWEBSITE: etsy.com/shop/kollectivefusion

Show Posters HOW Books2

CLIENT: Blitzen TrapperDESIGNER: Ben NuneryDESIGN FIRM: Powerhouse FactoriesWEBSITE: powerhousefactories.com

Show Posters HOW Books3

CLIENT: Father John MistyDESIGNER: Nate DuvalWEBSITE: nateduval.com

Halftone Realism

This style utilizes halftones to recreate photographs in a way that looks very realistic—so much so that at first the piece may be mistaken for digital recolor of a photograph. Landscapes and settings are used to convey message with type integrated into the piece. The ultimate effect is reminiscent of movie posters or book covers.

Key Style Characteristics

  1. Halftones are used to re-create a photograph for a print that is very realistic and high quality

  2. Use of high contrast adds to photographic quality and realism

  3. Photography processes and color breakdown/separations are used to show realism

  4. While not overly colorful or bright, a lot of colors are printed to add depth and detail

  5. Landscapes and setting of a scene are often used to convey the message and focal point

  6. Type is often integrated into the landscape and/or piece

  7. Compositions are reminiscent of movie posters or book covers

Show Posters HOW Books1

CLIENT: WarpaintDESIGNER: John Matthew OverwineDESIGN FIRM: Powerhouse FactoriesWEBSITE: powerhousefactories.com

Show Posters HOW Books2

CLIENT: Deer TickDESIGNER: Daniel MacAdamDESIGN FIRM: CrosshairWEBSITE: crosshairchicago.com

Show Posters HOW Books3

CLIENT: Deltron 3030DESIGNER: Tim EngelDESIGN FIRM: Powerhouse FactoriesWEBSITE: powerhousefactories.com

Illustrated Ornamentation

At times reminiscent of the classic realist painters, this highly illustrated style incorporates strong imagery that borders on realism. Out-of-this-world, larger-than-life subjects are often portrayed very realistically through painstaking detail and fine ornamentation.

Key Style Characteristics

  1. This style tends to showcase very strong illustration skills in this category

  2. Subjects are portrayed in a realistic manner

  3. Utilizes complex scale and composition; uses foreshortening and realistic forms

  4. Ornamental use of color and type

  5. Fine detail and ornamentation in this style indicates heavy time and effort spent creating these pieces

  6. Subject matter tends to be out of this world/larger than life (while portrayed in a highly realistic manner)

Show Posters HOW Books4

CLIENT: Arcade FireDESIGNER: Mike DavisDESIGN FIRM: Burlesque of North AmericaWEBSITE: burlesquedesign.com

Show Posters HOW Books

CLIENT: BaronessDESIGNER: Mike DavisDESIGN FIRM: Burlesque of North AmericaWEBSITE: burlesquedesign.com

Show Posters HOW Books5

CLIENT: My Morning JacketDESIGNER: Clinton RenoWEBSITE: clintonreno.com

Show Posters HOW Books6

CLIENT: The Flaming LipsDESIGNER: Clinton RenoWEBSITE: clintonreno.com

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Read more in Show Posters: The Art and Practice of Making Gig Posters:

Powerhouse Factories takes you beyond album covers to teach you all about the art that drives today’s biggest shows and festivals. Show Posters offers a visual timeline of the big players in the music industry, from The Black Keys and Passion Pit to Phantogram and Real Estate, as well as the posters that launched their shows—and the designers’ careers.

Show Posters features step-by-step instructions to guide you through screen printing, hand lettering, and yes, even Xeroxing your way to recreating iconic, kickass posters. The high-energy rock-and-roll artists of Powerhouse Factories will coach you on how to hook up with bands, managers, and promoters, and create an original, limited poster for one of their shows. Purchase it here.