Retro 101: Vintage-Inspired Graphic Design

Retro signNothing instills confidence in consumers as quickly as the timeless feel of retro graphic design. Immediately conveying a sense of déjà vu and familiarity with the brand being advertised, vintage-looking marketing materials suggest to potential customers that the company has been in business for ages and is, therefore, trustworthy. In today’s fast-paced world of blinking, computer-rendered, flashy graphics, a well-designed retro piece can really stand out.

Color Scheme

One of the first things to consider in retro design is color scheme. The marketing departments of yesteryear did not have four-color laser printers and affordable color printing services at their disposals, so full-color pieces were rare. The colors you choose for your retro-inspired design will depend on which era you’d like your finished product to evoke. To hearken back to the oldest of olden days, black-and-white or black-and-sepia-toned designs work well. More modern decades have come to have specific color schemes associated with them in Western culture. For example, anything in eye-popping fluorescent screams of the eighties; the seventies were generally painted with more muted, earthy tones. Remember these colors will need to transcend all media through which the company advertises—print, television, Internet—and choose accordingly.

Font Selection

Another important element of the design is its typeface. Remember that even just a few short decades ago, font choices were limited. Today’s designers have a virtually infinite number of possibilities to choose from and the ability to create custom fonts at will on their own laptop computers. To give your designs a retro feel, consider using a font that imitates old-fashioned block printing, the look of a typewritten manuscript, or even handwritten lettering. Keep the design clean and simple by choosing just one or two basic fonts for the piece.


Finally, be sure the graphics you select compliment the retro style of your piece. Digital cameras and Photoshop are relatively new technologies. Older advertisements employed hand-drawn images or simple geometric shapes. This doesn’t mean you can’t avail yourself of modern software. It’s quite exciting, actually, to be able to take a digital image of your product and give it a vintage feel with some creative photo editing. Also think about borders and call-outs that aren’t used much anymore but that were staples of old-time print ads. Study older pieces of advertising for inspiration—whatever jumps out at you as a textbook example of “bad” or “outdated” design in the modern era might be just the ticket to creating an eye-catching, vintage-inspired look.

Incorporating retro design elements into modern graphic design gives your work a timeless appeal. Whether you’re looking to create a piece that reflects those oh-so-often-reminisced-about Days of Yore or calls to mind the flashy, flapper-esque style of the 1920s, a few well-thought-out design choices in terms of color schemes, font selection and graphics placement can establish trust with potential customers by playing on their senses of nostalgia and momentarily transporting them to a simpler era.

Kerstin has a strong passion in graphic design. In between pinning her favorite graphics on Pinterest, she works in a promotional printing company based in Sydney. Kerstin knows back to front of her conference clients’ needs ranging from large format printing to printing personalized gift for the conference guests.