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You are here: Home Help A Brief History of Posters

What is a poster? A brief history of the poster.

At the simplest level, a poster is any piece of paper hung up in order to communicate information.

At we consider that a poster is at least 11 inches by 17 inches in size. Anything smaller than this is considered to be a handbill (a mini-poster usually handed out on the street instead of being affixed to a wall), or a card, photograph, postcard or letter.


Posters have a long history. The earliest examples were probably handwritten government/church edicts or proclamations; one can only speculate how far back in history these might have existed: possibly in Greek society several hundreds of years BC (although no pre-medieval examples exist).


Later, beginning in the sixteenth century, posters were used to advertise plays, and these sometimes incorporated art work - a feature that we now consider typical of a poster. Much earlier examples may have existed.


With the invention of the printing press the poster became a new and dynamic means of communication, mixing graphics and text to advertise businesses and announce important events.


With the development of printing in color the poster took another major step forward. Many important nineteenth century artists eagerly embraced this medium (the work of Toulouse-Lautrec is probably the most famous example).


Later in the same century the development of the halftone allowed the new medium of photography to be incorporated into the poster. Halftones convert continuous tone images into a series of dots. As the technology improved, photographic posters became an important advertising and propaganda tool.


Early movie posters are some of the best examples of the use of the poster in the early twentieth century (many are now highly collectible), while both the first and second World Wars stimulated the use of graphic arts in this medium.


In the 1960s the poster was given a fresh creative boost by a new wave of artists treating political and popular music themes, and this trend continues today.


What kind of paper should a poster be printed on?
A poster can be printed on any type of paper. Today's standard commercial wall posters are usually printed on a glossy lightweight paper that ages better than older matte papers, which had a tendency to darken and become brittle over time.


Why do most posters no longer have a border around the edge?
The border on posters was actually required by the printing press, which used this area to pull the paper through the equipment (however, the border was useful for picture framers). Most current posters are printed to the very edge of the paper either because the press is technically able to do this, or because the edges have been cropped off.


What is the difference between a poster and an art print?
An 'art print' is a term loosely applied to posters which have been printed with more concern for the accurate reproduction of colors in an original work of art. An art print is usually printed on a stronger, higher quality paper meant to age better and frame better.

Some famous posters

Recruiting Poster
Martini and Rossi
Rosie The Riveter
King Kong