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Creating a graphic design poster can be effective in relaying a specific message to a desired audience. It's a tried-and-true format that's been used consistently for over a century.

Related: 18 cool & creative poster ideas

To get your message across, you must pay attention to all the elements at your disposal. With the help of these six tips, your graphic design poster will be more fluid, unified and persuasive.

Poster typography

The typography of a poster refers to the type of font and style utilized. One of the most overlooked but key defining aspects of a poster is the font usage. Whether a font is curly and wavy or rigid and strict can help to relay your message in a way that is not glaringly noticeable.

While it may be tempting to pick multiple creative fonts to relay your message, it's also vital to consider how it relays your message. Ideally, you want to choose two or three fonts total in your design. Fonts used for titles should be a display typeface (either creative or sans serif fonts), while fonts used for text should be serif fonts because they are easily readable by the viewer. These fonts should be different enough to be easily distinguishable from one another, but also able to create a unified design when used in the correct way.

For more formal and serious events, a combination of serif and sans serif fonts can be used to create visual diversity and not be too casual.

Essential elements of poster design
This informational poster is a great example of font utilization.

Balanced poster design

Creating balance within your poster is essential to creating a unified, cohesive look. When design elements are not in balance, the viewer may feel uncomfortable looking at your design. In general, there are two different ways to create balance: symmetric and asymmetric.

Symmetric layout

In a symmetrically balanced layout, similar design elements are aligned in an equal way on either side of the vertical axis. Often, this results in a mirror-image effect. This layout is perfect for a formal or static look. This could include posters dedicated to formal events, art gallery viewings, and informative gatherings.

Below are a few prime examples of symmetrically balanced graphic design posters.

Essential elements of poster design
Source: Pinterest

Essential elements of poster design
Source: Debrownsky Design

Essential elements of poster design
Source: Amazon

Asymmetric layout

In an asymmetric layout, balance is achieved with an unequal arrangement of elements. Often, with the asymmetric layout, there could be a large object on one side balanced by a small object on the opposite side.

In general, these designs are more difficult and complex because the visual weight of each element and its arrangement need to be carefully considered. Asymmetric designs appear more casual than symmetric layouts and create excellent posters for rock concerts, museums and personal services.

Below are three excellent examples of asymmetrically balanced graphic design posters.

Essential elements of poster design
Source: Pinterest

Essential elements of poster design
Source: Principles of Design

Essential elements of poster design
Source: Pinterest

Color in poster design

No matter who your audience is, color is a language that is universally appreciated and can communicate a variety of things. It doesn't matter whether you're using color to demonstrate a specific meaning or just to create a unifying background. Color can have several different meanings and implications based on the specific culture that you are in.

The following list under the color wheel defines common associations between colors and their psychological implications in Western culture:

Essential elements of poster design

  • Black: Elegant, mysterious, ominous, sober, sophisticated
  • Blue: Calming, honesty, cool, reliable, sad
  • Brown: Earthy, organic, rich, flavorful
  • Green: Natural, growth, financial wealth
  • Orange: Hot, active, tangy, childlike, gregarious
  • Purple: Regal, majestic, creative, futuristic
  • Red: Stimulating, exciting, dangerous, aggressive, sexy
  • White: Pure, innocent, clean
  • Yellow: Sunlight, citrus, imaginative, cheerful, cowardly

Aside from specific color meanings, color can also be used as a unifying element. When deciding which colors to use, consider a harmonious color palette. Colors that include a harmonious palette include monochromatic colors, combinations based on complements, analogous color combinations, and color schemes based on triads.

Monochromatic colors

Limited to tints and shades of a single color or hue. When using a monochromatic color scheme, it is essential to take into account the meaning of colors in a specific culture and how they will reflect your message.

Complementary colors

These include colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel: red and green, blue and orange, purple and yellow. This type of combination can be intense and should be considered when a brash, surprising effect is desired. However, combining complementary colors that have been muted by changing their value of saturation can result in a harmonious palette.

Split complementary colors

Split complementary colors occur when hues in a color scheme are equidistant from one another on the color wheel. You choose two complementary colors, but for one of them, you take the two colors on either side instead of the color itself. For example, this could be green, red-orange and red-purple.

Split complementary colors tend to be natural for children's books and materials. An example of split complementary colors is shown below.

Essential elements of poster design
Source: Thadah (TD) Mua

Analogous color combinations

Analogous color combinations include colors that are right next to each other on the color wheel. A few examples of analogous colors:

  • blue, purple & red
  • yellow, green & blue
  • yellow, orange & red

These colors always look good together. If you desire more emphasis on one color, you can consider changing the value or saturation of the colors.

Contrast in poster design

One of the most important elements of design is contrast. Contrast occurs when you place two elements in opposing ways. This helps draw the eye and create a focal point within your design. There are many creative ways to integrate contrast within your design.

The elements you can use to create contrast include shapes, colors, lines, size and negative space. In the image below, you can see how the juxtaposition of distinct colors makes certain elements stand out.

Essential elements of poster design
Source: SMPS Arizona Chapter

Poster design hierarchy

In addition to contrast, incorporating hierarchy in your design also creates a focal point. Visual hierarchy is the arrangement or presentation of elements in a way that implies importance. Thus, it provides a direction for your eyes to move (from most important to least important).

Here are some ways to include hierarchy in your design:

  • Alignment
  • Color & contrast
  • Leading lines
  • Negative space
  • Perspective
  • Proximity
  • Repetition
  • Rule of odds
  • Rule of thirds
  • Size & scale
  • Spacing
  • Typographic hierarchy

Hierarchy is effective as a design principle because the human brain has an innate organizing tendency to place individual elements, shapes or forms into a coherent whole. When an element disconnects from the perceived whole, it stands out to the viewer. The elements that stand out the most are disconnected more severely.

Essential elements of poster design
Source: AIGA

Shapes in poster design

Shapes help create a path for the eye to follow as it scans the poster. Shapes can also give emphasis to the most important information in the poster. You can put a large rectangle behind the title or use the triangle of a mountain to point the eye upwards toward the headline.

Essential elements of poster design
Source: Behance

Shapes can also alter the mood of a design. Softer shapes with curves, circles and organic lines can create a more fluid and relaxed mood. Triangles, squares and other geometric shapes with strong, sharp edges can create an entirely different mood.

Grids & proximity

One essential part in creating a cohesive design is placing a grid. Grids are tools for organizing space, text, images and other elements placed in a design. They add structure and provide graphic designers with three tools to be successful: order, efficiency and consistency.

Order

Using a grid helps viewers to more easily find information. Grids are a natural extension of this simple order and organization. They help your audience predict where elements and information will be, making it all easier to find and navigate.

Efficiency

If you're not using a grid, it can be hard to ensure that all items in your poster are aligned and exactly where you want them to be. Using a grid helps to eliminate this pain. The wide variety of vertical and horizontal grids give designers room for endless creativity.

Consistency

Grids provide the user with a successful path to structural harmony in the design. Grids also offer a guide to the proper placement of information and visual hierarchy.

Essential elements of poster design
Source: Troy Templeman Design

Creativity partnered with these guidelines can lead to amazing ideas that will power your next project. For easy tools, helpful tips and creative ideas, take a look at Lucidpress's poster templates.

Feeling inspired? You can design and order your brand new poster right here in Lucidpress.

Pick a free template to get started!

Author Bio

Beth Jenkins and Jaycee Fraser are both seniors at Brigham Young University anxiously awaiting graduation. Jaycee spends her free time watching random movies. To date, her favorite movie is about a man who drove a lawn mower to meet his brother a few states away who lives in a hobo shack. Beth is an avid dog whisperer and spends her free time with her two dogs.