How to Make a Vintage-Inspired Movie Poster in Photoshop



Tutorial Resources

Step 1: Document Setup

We will be using Photoshop for this tutorial, so go ahead and fire it up. Go to File > New (Cmd/Ctrl + N) to create a new document. Set the new document to an 11×17" canvas. I have this set up in RGB color mode, but if I were thinking of using this for print, I would save out to CYMK color mode for color printing.

Document Setup

Step 2: Creating the Silhouette

Since we are creating a silhouette of a woman, do an image search (try Wikimedia Commons) for a full image of your desired subject. Find a photo that has the subject angled that way you want. Perhaps you have someone — like a friend, spouse, or significant other — who is willing to pose for you!

Place the photo on your canvas and resize it as needed (use Edit > Free Transform). Don’t be afraid to scale it up and lose resolution because we’re only using the shape of the subject as a reference image for tracing out the silhouette.

Time to start drawing! Choose the Pen Tool (P) and set it to Shape layers in the Options Bar.

Creating the Silhouette

Select a Foreground Color (I used a dark gray, #040506) for the fills of your Pen Tool’s shapes. I am going to begin with a full-color piece with separate shape layers for major portions of the subject (such as her dress, hair, etc.). Drawing modularly keeps my options open if I decide to do something different later on. It also makes the piece easier to tweak because it’s separated into smaller parts.

Creating the Silhouette

I like to drag my mouse and hold down the left button of the mouse to create my curves. You can also use the Convert Point Tool (click-and-hold on the Pen Tool’s icon in the Tools Panel to the Covert Point Tool) to select the anchor points you want to make curvy. The Convert Point Tool is handy for correcting your work and making detailed adjustments to anchor points.

This is what I ended up with using the Pen Tool to create each shape layer.

Creating the Silhouette

Step 3: Convert the Silhouette into a Smart Object

I like to convert my layer groups into smart objects when they are finalized so I can resize them easily and still keep the integrity of the original layers within them. I would like to underscore the importance of a non-destructive workflow so that you can always undo what you have done and prevent yourself from redoing the hours of work you have spent on your artwork.

In this case, I converted the layer group containing the shape layers of the silhouette into a smart object by right-clicking on it in the Layers Panel and choosing Convert to Smart Object in the contextual menu that appears.

Convert the Silhouette into a Smart Object

Step 4: Resize the Silhouette

Now that our silhouette is a smart object, we don’t have to worry about destroying the quality of our original shape layers. Select the smart object layer by clicking on it in the Layers Panel, then press Cmd/Ctrl + T (or go to Edit > Free Transform) and resize the image as desired.

Resize the Silhouette

Step 5: Create a Texture for the Silhouette

Download and unzip the Elemental Grunge Texture Pack. Open up image 5.jpg from the pack in Photoshop; we are going to use this image to add some texture to our composition. Alternatively, check out Design Instruct’s Freebies section for other texture packs (such as this one and this one).

First, we need to adjust the brightness and contrast of the texture image; let’s do that by going to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast.

Create a Texture for the Silhouette

Pick black as your Foreground Color, switch to the Brush Tool (B), set it to a rough brush tip, and use it to paint on sections of the texture. This will give us some additional textures.

Create a Texture for the Silhouette

Go to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast and adjust the settings to remove the original background color. You may have to repeat this adjustment several times until you get a rich, black contrast.

Create a Texture for the Silhouette

Step 6: Apply the Texture to the Silhouette

Place the texture image into our main document. Resize the texture image using Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl + T) so that it covers the figure.

Apply the Texture to the Silhouette

Next, load a selection around the body shape by first clicking on the smart object in the Layers Panel to make it the active layer, and then going to Select > Load Selection (or hold down Cmd/Ctrl and left-click on the smart object’s thumbnail).

Apply the Texture to the Silhouette

Click on the texture layer in the Layers Panel to make it the active layer. Copy (Cmd/Ctrl + C) and paste (Cmd/Ctrl + V) from the texture layer, which will result in a new layer above it with just the shape of the body of our subject. You can toggle off the visibility of the texture layer temporarily to see the result.

Apply the Texture to the Silhouette

Step 7: Creating a Background Texture Effect

Duplicate your texture layer from the previous step. On the duplicate layer, go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation (Cmd/Ctrl + U). Bring up the Lightness to +36 so the texture is more gray.

Next, go to Image > Adjustments > Selective Color. Sample a white color in your canvas. Move the Cyan, Magenta and Yellow option sliders to -20 and move the Black to +96. This will result in sort of a two-tone gray. I find it easier to manipulate hues over gray colors later on as my composition progresses.

Tip: If you have Adobe Photoshop CS3 or above, just go to the bottom of your Layers Panel and click on Create new fill layer or adjustment layer and add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and Selective Color adjustment layer. This will give you more control over your options, and has the added advantage of you being able to easily remove and tweak the adjustment layers later on.

Creating a Background Texture Effect

To add the blue color to the background, first go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation. In the dialog window, check the Colorize option, then set the Hue to about 182 and the Saturation to 76. Adjust the gray texture layer’s Opacity to 80%.

Creating a Background Texture Effect

Step 8: Add a Radial Glow to the Background

Pick a gray color for your Foreground Color, switch to the Gradient Tool (G) and, in the Options Bar, pick the Radial Gradient option, check the Reverse option, and choose the Foreground to Transparent gradient preset (which will mean gray to transparent, in this instance) for the gradient. Start in the center of the canvas and drag out your gradient to make the radial glow in a new layer, then set the layer’s Blend Mode to Color Burn and the Opacity to 80%.

Add a Radial Glow to the Background

Step 9: Creating Jewelry

Let’s make some jewelry. First, set your Foreground Color to white.

For the necklace: Choose the Rounded Rectangle Tool, and in the Options Bar, make sure it’s set to Shape layer and that its Radius is at 10px. Draw a small rounded rectangle by her neck. Duplicate, move, and transform the duplicate shape layers to make the necklace.

For the crown: Use the Ellipse Tool to draw small vertical ellipses that represent the points sticking up on a crown.

For the stars that make it appear as though her jewelry is sparkling: Use the Pen Tool (P) to make the left half of the star, duplicate it, and go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal. Merge the two layers to form a complete star. Duplicate the star layer as many times as you need, resize the duplicates, and move them in appropriate places.

Creating Jewelry

Step 10: Create a Vertical Line Pattern Layer

As a final step, to add another dimension to our piece, we will create a pattern layer. To start, we’ll need to create a custom Photoshop pattern. First, create a new Photoshop document (Cmd/Ctrl + N) that has a 5x10px canvas.

Create a Vertical Line Pattern Layer

In the new document, make a 1px black line in the center. Go to Edit > Define Pattern, name your pattern something you’ll remember, and press OK to save the pattern.

Create a Vertical Line Pattern Layer

Now switch back to our main document and then go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Pattern. In the Pattern Fill dialog window, select your pattern from the Pattern picker dropdown menu, and just click OK to apply our vertical line pattern.

Create a Vertical Line Pattern Layer

Change the pattern fill layer’s Bend Mode to Screen, and then use Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl + T) to scale up or down as desired.

Tutorial Summary

We are done! We actually have two options for our final product, and we can achieve different looks just by toggling the visibility of certain layers. Here are the two results I came up with.

Tutorial Summary

Texture Layers Off (Minimalist Look)

Texture Layers Off (Minimalist Look)

Texture Layers On (Textured Look)

Texture Layers On (Textured Look)

Download Source Files

  • The result and the instruction in Photoshop, have convinced me. When I have time I will try it themselves and future use. Good work, chic design. Thank you.

  • The result is fabulous and you are obviously very talented. However it would have been interesting to have more details about how you actually created the illustration, because it looks very different to the original photo
    Maybe in another tutorial?


  • Hey Paul,

    I used the photo as a base to start with and built out the illustration from there. It was easier for me to exaggerate the silhouette once I had the simple form done. Probably the most difficult part for me was the profile of her face since the original was forward facing. Another tutorial for building a character would be interesting thanks for the feedback

  • This is an amazing tutorial. As a photographer, I can definitely put something like this to good use. Thanks!

  • Great tut, thanks..!

  • Great instructions on the tutorial. Great final outcome – thanks for sharing Ciara!

  • Thank you for all the kind words, I am so glad you liked it.

  • @Paul Thanks for pointing it out ..

    @Ciara Both results are adorable. Looking forward to your next tut…

  • Hey Ciara … Your final poster is beautiful … The tutorial is easy to follow as well .. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Wow, I’ve been contemplating a lot about doing some vintage themed projects, this definitely made me more excited. Ciara, you rule! this is such a cool and detailed tutorial. Well written too!

  • Alex

    Hi. Thanks for the tutorial it’s cool. I have a question, sorry if it’s silly but I don’t understand step 5, specifically this part

    “Pick black as your Foreground Color, switch to the Brush Tool (B), set it to a rough brush tip, and use it to paint on sections of the texture. This will give us some additional textures.”

    Which paint brush do you use? And I don’t understand what you mean by paint on sections of the texture.

    Thanks for the help.

  • Hi Alex,

    Thanks for the question, if you see step 2 on the second image you will see the reference to “black foreground color” I must have missed typed the next part, I used the Paint Bucket Tool (G) for the next part not a brush alternative you can find some really great brushes that get this effect here though

  • Nicole

    Hi, thanks for sharing this tutorial….
    It’s a great poster… 🙂
    but, can you specify which brushes did you use for step 5? 🙂
    thanks a lot…

  • Hi Nicole,
    I answered a similar question to Alex just above. I in fact used the Paint Brush tool (G) not an actual brush to get the texture but you can find brushes here that will get the same effect.
    Thanks for the comment

  • Coley

    I was wondering what fonts did you use for this poster? I like it so much and I’m currently doing it right now. 🙂

  • Kie

    Great work Ciara, do you ever use Illustrator for your work or is it all done exclusively in PS?

  • Mike

    Thanks! I followed the tutorial and it turned out REALLY well. I like the way that you made the vintage style look. It was easier then what most people suggest!