Ultimate guide to poster design

How to design a poster: the ultimate guide

Estimated reading time: 18 minutes

Posters have been the go-to choice for advertising everything from concerts to restaurants to community events since pretty much forever. But not all posters are created equal. An ah-mazing poster design can turn your business or event into a crowd magnet, while a lackluster poster design can have you launching to crickets.

But what, exactly, makes for a great poster design? How can you make sure your poster has an impact and gets the results you’re looking for—instead of falling flat as the paper it’s printed on?

theatre poster for a fun play

A fun theatre poster designed by Pdot via 99designs by Vista.

Well, we’re about to tell you! By the end of this ultimate guide to poster design, you’ll have all the design know-how you need to create amazing posters—the kind of posters that drive results (and drive people to your business or event). Ready to get started? Let’s go!

Before you start designing

If you want to design an incredible poster, you need to set yourself up for success. The key to designing an amazing poster starts before the design process. When you take the necessary pre-design steps and get all your ducks in a row, it’ll make actually designing the poster easier, faster, and way more effective.

Define your brand personality

exciting poster for a surf school

An action-packed poster for a surf school by kiQ via 99designs by Vista.

No matter what kind of poster you’re creating, it needs to feel true to your brand. But nothing you design will feel like you, if you don’t actually know who you are.

Clearly defining your brand personality is a non-negotiable. If you’re having an identity crisis as a brand, all of your designs—including your posters—are going to feel all over the place, unclear, and confusing for your audience.

Define your ideal customer

Shining Stars of Europe poster

Is your design a shining star? Poster design by galschjdot for Shining Stars of Europe via 99designs by Vista.

Before you get started designing your poster, it’s important you know just who you’re designing for. If you don’t know who your target audience is, you’re not going to be able to create a design that feels authentic and impactful to them.

Before you start designing, define your ideal customer. Ask yourself:

  • Who is my target audience?
  • How does my business/event speak to them?
  • What kind of design are they most likely to respond to?
  • What brand voice will speak best to them? (For example, should you be funny and tongue-in-cheek or more serious and corporate?)
  • What design elements are going to grab their attention best?

When you have a clear definition of your ideal customer and who you’re creating the poster for, it will help you make the right design decisions—the kind of decisions that will lead to the best poster for your target audience.

Define your message

Airstream Rental VA poster

Poster design by mrsdesign_indonesia for Airstream Rental VA via 99designs by Vista.

Whether you’re advertising a new store opening, a community fundraiser, or a Battle of the Bands (that’s still a thing, right?), getting clear on your message needs to be on the top of your priority list. Because without a strong message, your poster is going to fall flat—no matter how awesome it’s designed.

For example, let’s say you were throwing a fundraiser and were designing a poster to try to get people to come and volunteer. You’d want to use compassionate, encouraging language that appeals to people’s sense of philanthropy and imagery that represents coming together as a team. Using edgy or dark copy and images would feel totally off—and definitely wouldn’t get people into the spirit of volunteering. You’d also want to make sure your message is clear and concise. So, copy that reads “Volunteers needed on March 2, 2018 for a fundraiser supporting victims of XYZ” is always going to be more effective than vague, blurry “we’re having an event” copy.

Getting clear on your message before you start the design process will help you choose design elements that complement and strengthen your messaging, which will make your overall design more impactful.

Define your metrics for success

colorful poster for musical

Poster design by roberto615 via 99designs by Vista.

If you want to design a successful poster, you need to define how you’re going to measure success.

Having metrics in place to determine the success of your poster should be a no-brainer, but it’s a step a lot of businesses skip. But without solid metrics, you have no way of determining if your poster design was a slam dunk (meaning you should keep that design for future posters) or a total failure (meaning you need to get back to the drawing board and come up with a more impactful poster design).

Before you get started with your poster design, decide what metrics you’re going to use to measure success. What are you hoping to get out of your poster? And how are you going to measure that?

Are you looking to drive ticket sales to a concert? Then you could add a QR code or a custom URL to track sales that come directly from your poster. Are you trying to drive people into a restaurant? Add copy that tells people to mention the poster before their meal to get a 10% discount. Are you trying to get volunteers for a community event? On the signup form, ask them where they heard of the volunteer opportunity so you can see how many signups came from your poster campaign.

When you have firm metrics in place, it will tell you what’s working and what’s not, which will help you continually optimize your poster design – and get killer results in the process.

Define your budget

poster for a hip hop club

A unique poster for a club that plays female-friendly hip hop every Friday. Design by Shwin via 99designs by Vista.

We can’t talk about poster design without talking about budget.

Defining your budget ahead of time is super important. Your budget determines how many posters you can print, what printer you should use, the best ink and paper options… it’s information you’ve got to know before you get started.

Look at your overall budget and divide it by how many posters you need printed. This will give you your budget-per-print. So, for example, let’s say you had a budget of $500 and you needed 500 posters printed. That gives you a budget of $1 per print.

Knowing this number ahead of time will save you a ton of time and energy when you’re exploring your print options. It will help you choose the best printer and print options for your budget—and will keep you from wasting time exploring options that are out of your price range.

Designing your poster

Alright, now that we’ve got all the prep-for-success pre-design stuff covered, let’s talk about actually designing your poster.

Don’t forget your brand design standards

Halloween poster for Whale Juice & Blends

Even if you’re designing a seasonal poster, you need to keep your brand design standards in mind. Poster design by tomdesign.org for Whale Juice & Blends via 99designs by Vista.

Now that it’s time to start designing, don’t forget your brand design standards. While you might be tempted to try something new and out there for your poster, your design should still be in line with your overall branding.

Choose design elements (like colors and font) that feel in line with your brand personality and what you’re advertising in your poster (so, for example, if you’re a finance company advertising free financial evaluations, splashing neon colors all over your poster is not the look you should be going for from a branding standpoint).

Just starting out and haven’t figured out your brand design standards? Make sure to give our post on how to create a brand style guide a read to help you iron out the details.

Design with your audience in mind

Elevate Poster

This fun and funky poster design is perfect for its audience of musical theater nerds. Poster design by tale026 for Elevate via 99designs by Vista.

You probably have a really firm idea of what you’d like your poster design to look like. But at the end of the day, it’s not what you want that’s important—it’s what your audience wants. And if you want your poster to drive serious results, you need to keep your audience front of mind when you’re making design decisions.

It’s important that the way you lay out your poster design makes sense for your audience. As you’re designing your poster, ask “what would my customers want?” Would they be more into an image-heavy design or do they need more information laid out in text? Are they into big and flashy or more subtle and subdued? Are there specific colors or effects that will get them excited? Where can you put your most important info (like event details) so they’re sure to see it.

poster for a wine tasting event

A sophisticated poster design for a wine tasting event by beauhaus via 99designs by Vista.

It’s also important to consider where your audience will be seeing the poster. Are you going to put this poster on the side of a bus? Then you’ll want your font to be big and bold so they can catch important information even as a bus whizzes by. Is the poster going to be pinned to bulletin boards in coffee shops? Then you want to make sure to use bright colors and design elements so it stands out from all the other posters cluttering the space.

The more your poster design makes sense a) for your audience, and b) for how your audience is going to interact with it, the more successful it will be.

Gather your copy and images

Poster for a workshop on wedding cinematography

Poster design for a workshop teaching the basics of wedding cinematography. Design by semnitz via 99designs by Vista.

Next up, time to get all your copy and images together. Knowing what you’re working with will help you figure out which poster layout makes sense—and how to best arrange those elements to create the most impactful poster.

For example, if you know you have a lot of information and text you need to pack into your poster, you wouldn’t want to choose a super large font size; it would make the poster seem overcrowded. On the flip side, if there’s not a lot of text going on in the poster, you’d want to make sure to have plenty of imagery and graphics in order to make the poster visually interesting—and to help the minimal text pop.

In terms of copy, there are a few things you need to have on every poster. First is a killer headline—you need something that’s going to grab your audience’s attention and compel them to keep reading. Next, you need to make sure you include relevant business information, like the name of your business or event, contact information, and any necessary information to get them to fulfill your call-to-action (like where to purchase tickets or a specific website URL to visit).

Keep in mind that your copy and images should work together. Each should complement the other to create an impactful poster design to draw your audience in. Make sure your copy and images—and the way you lay them out—feel cohesive and add to the overall effect of the poster design.

It’s all about style

When it comes to poster design (and design in general), there’s nothing more important than style. But how do you make sure the right style comes across in your poster design?

KISS (Keep it simple, silly!)

Martian film poster

Poster design by ultrastjarna for GraphicStock via 99designs by Vista.

There’s nothing worse than an all-over-the-place poster design. If your poster looks like every design element under the sun threw up all over it (Text! Images! 3D effects! Glitter! Shine!), you’re audience is going to be overwhelmed—and your message is going to get lost in the shuffle.

If you want your poster design to be impactful, keep it simple, silly! Clean, simple, and easy-to-process poster designs are always better than posters that look like they’re trying to compete in a “how much can I fit on one piece of paper?” contest.

Dare to be different

poster for a techno music event

This cool music poster by Ossobüko Designs is perfect for a tech house event – and it grabs attention by standing out from the crowd via 99designs by Vista.

People love originality. And if you want your poster to make an impact, you need to be original.

People don’t want to see more of the same old thing. If you want to grab their attention, you need to dare to be different! Try something new. Think outside of the box.

The more original your poster design, the more it will stand out to your target audience.


posters for juice company in three colors

A vibrant poster design that uses a different color for each flavour. Design by Hass Hijazi via 99designs by Vista.

Color is a powerful thing. Color will set the mood for your poster, grab your audience’s attention, and can even subtly drive them to take a specific action.

Obviously, you want to incorporate your brand colors. But you also want to think about how you can be strategic with your color choices. Is your poster advertising a kids event? Use primary colors, which have a vibrant, child-like feel. Are you trying to drive people to a poetry reading or a classical concert? Use deep and calming colors to set the right tone. Are you trying to drive people to a sales event? Incorporate the color red which, according to color psychology, can amp people up, get them excited, and drive them to make a purchase.

The more thoughtful and strategic you are with your color choices, the more those colors will drive your desired results.


Pushing Dead

Poster design by semnitz for Pushing Dead via 99designs by Vista.

You also want to give lots of thought to your typography. The fonts you choose—and how you lay out your text—can really impact the style of your poster.

Going for a modern, young feel? Try a cool, clean sans serif font. More serious? Stick to a classic serif font. Trying to convey elegance? Try a script font.

How you lay out your text is just as important as the fonts you choose, so make sure you create a visual hierarchy with your text to bring attention to your most important points (like your headline).

Make sure all eyes are on your CTA

eye-catching poster design for a 3D company

A unique poster design for 3D company threal created by arc44 via 99designs by Vista.

The last thing you need to consider when designing your poster is also potentially the most important—making sure all eyes are on your call-to-action.

The whole point of designing a poster is to get people to do something, whether that’s visit your store, go to your event, or do business with your company. And if you want them to do something, you need to, you know, tell them.

Your CTA needs to be the main focal point of your poster. If your CTA is hiding in a teeny-tiny corner of your poster, no one’s going to see it—and, as a result, no one is going to do what you want them to do. If you want people to take action, you need your CTA to be front, center, and impossible to miss.

Evaluating and printing

Well folks, you’ve now got all the info you need to design an all-sorts-of-awesome poster. But before you can hold your finished poster in your hands, you need to evaluate your design and get it printed.

Evaluate your design

vintage motocycle poster

Vintage poster design for a motocycle show. Design by adihb via 99designs by Vista.

It’s time to examine your final poster design and see if you need to make any changes before your poster is ready to be printed.

Ask yourself:

  • Is this design attention-grabbing?
  • Does my messaging come across loud and clear?
  • Can you clearly understand my CTA—and does this design inspire me to want to follow it and take action?
  • Does the overall look and feel of this poster feel on-brand?

If you can, share your poster design with your other team members and get their input. If you all agree that the answer to these questions is a loud, resounding “YES,” guess what? You’re ready to print. If you’re on the fence, go back to the drawing board and fix any issues before you move forward with your final print.

northpoint poster

Take responsibility for your printing. Poster design by Titlii for northpoint via 99designs by Vista.

Once your design is locked in, it’s time to lock in a printer and bring your design to life.

Choose your printer

Not all printers are created equal. A top-notch printer will deliver incredibly printed posters, while a less-than-stellar printer will deliver posters that you could’ve printed better at your home office.

When you’re looking for a printer, go and meet them in person. Ask to see samples of posters they’ve printed in the past. Seeing something in person will give you a better idea of the quality of work than viewing samples online—plus, it gives you the opportunity to ask questions about their process.

And you should definitely, 100% ask questions. Questions are the key to sussing out which printer is going to be the best fit for you and your print job. Ask questions like:

  • What kind of printers are you currently using? How about ink?
  • Can you create custom colors for my poster or am I locked in to your existing color palettes?
  • What experience do you have in printing posters? How often do you work on posters?
  • What happens if I’m not satisfied with my print job? Do you offer a refund or a reprint?
  • Do you have references that can speak to your experience designing posters?

The best printers will:

  • Have a ton of experience printing posters;
  • Use high quality printers, ink, and printing technology to turn out the best print jobs; and
  • Have designers on-staff to help with any design issues and make sure your posters come out looking like a million bucks.

Beer Festival poster

Poster design by tale026 via 99designs by Vista.

Poster printing basics (AKA pick your print materials)

Next up, you need to figure out which print materials are going to work best for your poster and your budget.

Things you’ll have to choose include:

  • What kind of paper to use (card stock, cardboard, paper, etc.)
  • What paper weight
  • The finish for your poster (matte, semi-gloss, glossy, etc)
  • Poster size

Talk to your printer about what options would be best for your budget and the overall look you’re going for with your poster.

Time to roll things up… you know, like a poster

You now have everything you need to create, design, and print a killer, A+ poster. So get out there and start designing!

Ready to print?

Check out all your poster priting options and bring your design to life today

Author: Deanna deBara