Create a Retro Poster In Illustrator

Retro designs are something that has been coming back in trends. It’s a huge favorite among the hipster trends! It’s something that was done in old offset printing in simple colors whether it be in monotone or duotones. It was a way to be bold and stand out in things like old style ads, propaganda and poster designs. In this tutorial I am going to show you how to create a quick and simple duotone Retro Poster design using Adobe Illustrator.

Let’s get started!¬†

original image preview

First you’ll need to get a good photo with some good contrast and elements in the image. I grabbed mine from which is my favorite place to grab high resolution images for projects.

Adjust art board size

Now open up your image into Adobe Illustrator (CMD/CTRL + O). Make sure you measure your artboard to be an appropriate poster size (Shift+O). In this case I want to measure it to be 11″x17″. This may require you to scale the image to fit that using the Free Transform Tool (E). Don’t worry if some go past the artboard. As long as the important elements are inside that’s what matters.

retro duotone effect

Now for the Duotone Effect! Make sure your image is selected and go into your Image Trace Object -> Image Trace -> Make.

auto trace panel

Once you hit the Make in the Auto Trace this will turn your image to be black and white. You are going to want to take it a step farther and start adjusting the values using the Image Trace Panel on the upper part of Illustrator panel. For a duotone effect you should keep it in black and white. This part will vary based on image just adjust the Threshold to get the right amount of black and white for your poster. Make sure you check the ignore white in the box. Once your values are how you want them, click the Expand Button to make it a vector.

make clipping mask

Now that the image is expanded out to be a complete vector, it’s time to remove the excess that isn’t on the artboard. Select your Rectangle tool and make a box the same size as your art board. With the rectangle selected, hold the Shift key and click on your image. Right Click and select Make Clipping Mask. This will clean up the edges so you can see your image that will be within the page.

background color

The image is still in black and white we can actually make the background into a solid color, Or a gradient effect to make it more visually interesting. Select your Rectangle Tool (M) and size it to be your art board. Color your background to fit with the mood of the image. With the rectangle selected move it to the back (CTRL/CMD + Shift + [ ).


If you want to change your foreground color from black to a different color use your Magic Wand Tool (Y) and click on the black. With everything selected go into your swatches and change the color to the color that works best. In this case I am sticking to black.

add text

Now to add in text! Select your Type Tool (T) and grab the font of your choice. I am using Aftershock font which can be found on

retro image final

And there you have it! A quick and easy duotone retro poster effect! This can be used in any format for any print. Because this is made in vector you can scale this to any size without getting pixelated and fuzzy.

Got a question on this tutorial let me know! If you want to see a tutorial topic in the future let me know and I will be sure to include it in future tutorial posts!

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