This article was originally published in InDesign Magazine #64 (August 2014). Subscribe now!
Many a graphic designer’s introduction to the profession has been through the design of music flyers: advertising gigs for your own band or for your friends’ was a way to keep down costs, but more importantly to convey the band’s aesthetic beyond the music. Long before the term “branding” was thrown around, the look of the poster conveyed the style of the band.
For this article, I have recreated/mashed up four different posters, each reflecting a different design style and musical genre and raising unique issues. I know this is InDesign Magazine, but in this age of the Creative Cloud, for many of us, it’s becoming all just one big toolbox. Of course, there are certain tasks for which InDesign is not well suited. For that reason, I’m using Illustrator (with some help from Photoshop) to create effects that aren’t easily achievable in InDesign. But don’t worry, even if you’re not a seasoned pro in these apps, you’ll be able to follow along and produce these kinds of results in your own work. Now, sit back, put on some of your favorite tunes, and let’s see if we can pick up some good vibrations.
The Jimi Hendrix Poster
My first example is the poster for a Jimi Hendrix concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall (Figure 1). I began with a Google Image search, both to survey the variety of band flyers and posters and to find appropriate images to repurpose.
Figure 1: The original Hendrix poster and my “remixed” version.
Not surprisingly, some images are far too low-resolution to use in print (and involve potential copyright infringements), so I need to change them significantly, both from a technical and a legal standpoint.
Choosing a color palette
While I like using Kuler to create color palettes, in this instance I used a more expedient approach. I wanted the colors of the poster to be suggested by the cover for Axis: Bold as Love (the second Jimi Hendrix Experience studio album, released in 1967). I copied and pasted a low-res image of album cover art into Illustrator. Then I used the Image Trace panel (Window > Image Trace) in Color mode, to reduce the number of colors to nine (Figure 2). I expanded the result and made a Color Group of the selected artwork, checking the box to make the colors global for ease of editing thereafter.
Figure 2: Creating a color palette from an Image Trace result in Illustrator.
Creating the background
Buried among Photoshop’s custom shapes is a registration target—perfect for a psychedelic background (Figure 3). If you don’t see this shape, choose All from the widget at the top right of the Shape panel dropdown. I drew this—size doesn’t matter since it’s vector artwork—then copied and pasted it as an editable compound path into Illustrator, where I scaled it to cover the whole artboard.
Figure 3: The “psychedelic” background begins with a Photoshop custom shape.
Next, I converted it to a Live Paint object, allowing me to color the individual segments. I used orange and magenta—colors of similar value that intentionally vibrate. I then applied a Stylize > Twist effect to make it even more groovy (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Scaled to cover the whole artboard, and stylized with a Twist effect, the original shape is unrecognizable.
Vectorizing the image
For the Hendrix picture, I vectorized a low-res image in Illustrator. Image Trace can be a frustrating tool—it comes tantalizingly close to producing great results, but ultimately it gives you an image that screams “Image Trace.” For better results, prep the image first in Photoshop. Anything you can do to selectively adjust the contrast and mask elements you don’t need beforehand will save time.
For this particular image (Figure 5), I masked the background, and applied an Unsharp Mask filter to accentuate edge detail. Then I increased the contrast using a Levels adjustment layer and painted in selective contrast on a Dodge and Burn layer filled with neutral gray in the Overlay blend mode (painting with white at low opacity to lighten the image beneath and in black to darken). The result may look crude, but all I’m concerned with is how Image Trace will interpret the pixels. Using a Black and White trace, anything darker than 50% becomes black, anything lighter turns white. I want a result that’s as simple—and as iconic—as possible, while still conveying the essence of the portrait.
Figure 5: The low-res screen capture is prepped in Photoshop with a mask and contrast adjustment. This can then be image-traced in Illustrator and filled with color.
Links work the same in Illustrator as in InDesign, so I can go back and forth to adjust the result: place the image, apply Image Trace; then, as necessary, I can edit the image in Photoshop to make adjustments based on what I see. Photoshop offers far more control over the contrast than the Image Trace controls—I want to use these, but only after I’ve adjusted the contrast to get it as close as possible to what I want.
For the Image Trace settings, in the Advanced options, I moved the Paths slider to the right for a more accurate trace, and chose Ignore White, so that the negative space is not drawn as a vector object (Figure 6). This meant that I needed to add
a solid shape behind the face detail, because having the background show through is distracting.
Figure 6: Advanced options in the Image Trace dialog box give you much more control over the final results.
Adding the type
When browsing typefaces for the Jimi Hendrix poster, it’s hard to overlook one that’s actually called Hendrix. Wary of falling into the novelty font trap, after trialling some others, I think it’s the best for the job. “Hendrix” is available from fontcraft.com for $18. You can download a trial version from dafont.com.
Illustrator has excellent features for working with display type, including the ability to add multiple strokes to live type through the Appearance panel (Figure 7).
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Figure 7: Illustrator offers more features than InDesign for creating effects with live text, including multiple strokes to text and for warping.
And then there’s the ability to apply warping to the text (Photoshop has the same 15 warp styles). These canned styles are just the starting point. Thereafter, you can customize the warp using the Mesh tool, pulling the individual nodes to shape your type like Silly Putty, adding or subtracting nodes as necessary, which is essentially what I did with the venue and date text. And all the while, the text remains editable. That said, there’s no point in fetishizing “live text”—ultimately there’s more flexibility with the rotation and scale of individual letters if you convert the type to outlines (Type > Create Outlines or Command/Ctrl+Shift+O). Just get it as close as possible in its still-editable state before you commit.
Adding the texture
To finish the piece, I added texture in the form of some folds and creases to “age” the poster. This is easier in Illustrator or Photoshop than in InDesign. While Photoshop allows more flexibility, I prefer to keep the whole composition in Illustrator. For that reason, I placed the texture on an Opacity Mask layer in Illustrator (Figure 8).
Figure 8: Using an Opacity Mask to add texture to the composition.
This may seem confusing at first, but after a few goes, it makes sense. Here are the steps:
Open the texture in Photoshop (I used files from texturepalace.com). Because we only need the gray values, I converted the file to grayscale and increased the contrast with a Levels Adjustment layer.
In order to retain the layers, I saved it as a .psd file.
For the texture to apply to the whole composition, you’ll need all the artwork on one layer. Organize the individual elements into logical groupings, naming each group, and then make a master group of everything: you can drill down to the sublayers to manage the artwork thereafter.
Target the layer, and then, in the Transparency panel, click Make Mask. This will create a mask that is black: deselect the Clip option to revert it to white. With the mask thumbnail selected (it will have an orange border), place the texture file and size as necessary. If you need to adjust the contrast of the texture, use the Links panel to edit the texture in Photoshop, and then update the link.
The other three posters applied similar techniques—to avoid repetition, I’ll only discuss the differences.