The History of Posters

The History of Posters

Where did Posters of today come from?

Posters have been around for several hundreds of years. Predominantly text based, they were used to advertise events and specific products; they were used as placards, sandwich boards and billboards too. But it was only in the late 1880s that the modern poster evolved. This evolution coincided with technological, political and social changes of the day.

The technological changes occurred in the printing industry: the advent of colour lithography opened up a whole new avenue of possibilities. Previously, posters were text laden and bore information, whether about the newest dramatic performance being staged at the local theatre, government propaganda or local community information. Posters were seen as a way to reach a mass audience and convey the necessary information efficiently and effectively. But, the birth of colour lithography opened up a whole new world. Posters fast became visual, image-based designs created by artists, illustrators and designers. In fact, some of the earliest poster art was executed by artists who are, today, considered some of the best in the world. Two cases in point are Toulouse-Lautrec, famous for his series of posters advertising the Moulin Rouge, and Alphonse Mucha, whose Art Nouveau posters are highly sought after items even today.

While the colour lithography was crude in the early days, limited to reds, blues and yellows, it was highly effective and caught on very quickly. This, coupled with the introduction of chromolithography meant that suddenly posters were the a la mode method of key communication, utilised by those advertising a colourful lifestyle, governments recruiting troops, organisations publicising their works and companies selling a variety of products. Chromolithography was the means by which posters could suddenly be mass produced. In a time where literacy was still limited, it is no wonder that poster advertising took off to the extent it did.

From a political standpoint, the late nineteenth century also saw many governments in Europe relaxing their censorship laws too. This made poster production even more attractive. Here was a form of advertising and message conveyance much easier and much more attractive. Suddenly here was a medium to reach the masses that didn’t require high levels of literacy and had a wide reach.

Technological changes were not only revolutionising the printing industry. In fact, the manufacturing industry as a whole was undergoing huge changes, the most notable of these being the introduction of mass-produced consumer items. This had massive ramifications on socially too. Suddenly goods that were handmade and expensive were now being made cheaply and were accessible to all. And now with the help of mass-produced posters, these manufacturers now had a means by which to advertise their products.

Over the last hundred and fifty years, posters have evolved. Art movements have been intrinsically linked to the production of posters, from Impressionism and Art Nouveau to modern Bauhaus movement. They have gone from being dull, text heavy forms of communication to brightly designed memorabilia. Some of the most iconic imagery of the last 100 years has appeared on posters: Uncle Sam’s recruiting poster, the beautiful art of the Belle Époque, movie posters such as Gone with the Wind, ‘60s hippie posters advertising bands, protests and sit-ins, and even today’s famous Keep Calm and Carry On posters.

Colourful, fun and diverse. Posters are a great way to reach your audience and create art. For more information about poster printing contact Asset Print now.


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