Design a Retro Inspired Sci-Fi Film Poster

Design a Retro Inspired Sci-Fi Film Poster

Oh how I love vintage film posters, especially sci-fi genre. The artwork and the typography are always fun to look at, and often times the posters are better than the actual films. Lets take a look at how we can create our own sci-fi inspired film poster in Photoshop.

Here is a preview of what we’ll be creating in this tutorial.

Step 1 – The Right Inspiration

When setting out to create a design like this, it’s invaluable to gather the right inspiration. I did a Google search for “vintage sci-fi posters” and was presented with more than enough posters from this era to send me down the right path for this type of design.

Step 2 – Setting Up a Background

The background for our poster will help create the right mood. It’s dark, and we’re in outer space… That’s what we’re trying to establish with our background.

Create a new document at 558×837 at 72dpi. I’m not printing this design, so those dimensions will work fine for my purposes. If you’d like to print yours create your new document a 11×17 inches and 300 dpi.

Fill the background with solid black. Now create a new layer, and fill the layer with solid black. And choose (Filter | Render | Clouds ).

Now apply a radial blur (Filter | Blur | Radial Blur ) and set the layer’s opacity to 75%.

Now apply a Gradient Map adjustment layer above all other layers, and set the adjustment layer’s blend mode to overlay. Use a gradient of #0e3e63 to #fd7c00 for the gradient map.

To create the star field and nebula effect, I grabbed an awesome image from deviantArt user ineedfire.

Copy and paste the image onto your canvas in a layer below the gradient map. Set the nebula layer’s blend mode to screen, and the opacity to 75%.

That looks great, but I want to enhance the stars a bit by adding a few more. To do this create a new layer, this time above the gradient map. Fill it with solid black. Then click (Filter | Noise | Add Noise) and use a setting around 20 for the amount, and the distribution should be set to Gaussian.

Now choose (Image | Adjust | Levels) and move the outer arrows in a bit to remove some of the white dots.

Now set the layer’s blend mode to screen.

That does it for our poster background!

Step 2 – Applying Poster Edges

Now lets add a border around the background. To do this I made a selection, with the Rectangular Marque Tool (M), around the edge of the poster. Then I inverted the selection (Cmd+Shift+I) and filled it with #e8cfbd, on a layer above the gradient map.

To enhance the border a bit further… On a new layer,  I added one more selection, and applied a 1px stroke (Edit | Stroke) to that selection, using the same color.

Next, I wanted to add just a bit of a worn look to the poster. To do this I added a noise effect texture, from this set, to the topmost layer and set it’s blend mode to screen. If you’re not a WeGraphics member, adding this effect is completely optional.

Step 3 – Adding Flying Saucers

After searching around a bit, I found the perfect isolated space ship image at iStock Photo.

I want to add the top view of the ship to my poster, but I don’t need to extract it from the background, since we’ll be doing some blending with colors around the ship. So we can use the Rectangular Marque Tool (M), to select the top ship and copy and paste it to our poster. Place it on a layer above the gradient map. I’ve turned off the gradient map layer in the images below, so you can clearly see what edits I’m making to the ship layer.

Set the ship layer’s blend mode to multiply to remove the white background.

Apply a (Filter | Sharpen | Sharpen ) to bring out some of the detail. Now using a light gray you can paint a little bit of color to a layer underneath the ship to hide any stars or nebula that might be showing through the ship.

I also used a soft white brush on a layer above the ship to enhance the lights a bit. Set the light layer’s blend mode to overlay.

That does it for our ship. Now you can group all of the layers together in a layer group and duplicate the group as many times as you want and resize and reposition each copy until it looks like an entire fleet of flying saucers is approaching…. Beware Earth People!

Step 4 – Adding Typography

What’s a sci-fi movie poster without a gripping title treatment and some menacing tag lines!? Lets start with a title treatment. I’m using a free font called League Gothic.

Type out a large title, on a layer below the gradient map, and apply the following layer effects to the type.

The gradient used is #373636 to #e3e2e2.

Now rasterize the type layer by Ctrl+Clicking the layer and selecting “Rasterize Type”. Now use the warp tool (Edit | Transform | Warp) to shape the text similar to the way I have below.

On a layer above the type, I used a soft black brush set to around 30% opacity to paint some shadows over the type so that it looks like the ship is flying over it.

Lets apply some film credits below the main title. I don’t want to take the time to type out all of the credits, so I’m just going to copy and paste some existing credits from and old poster that I found here.

Once copied I convert the credits to black and white, and bump up the black with a levels adjustment.

Then I copy and paste the credits to a layer below the gradient map. I set this layers blend mode to screen.

For the type treatment at the top of the poster, I used League Gothic again, with the same layer styles applied.

Step 5 – Final Adjustment

As a final lighting adjustment I want to duplicate the gradient map layer, and drag it above all other layers, then set its opacity to 50%. This is just to help blend the colors a bit more.

Below is a look at the final poster.


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Nathan Brown

Nathan Brown is a graphic designer who loves working with various media. He combines traditional art styles with a little experimentation and digital flare. Nathan's works have contained everything from ink and paint to leaves and a box of dirt. Everything is fare game when it comes to his approach to art. Nathan lives in Austin, Texas where he has been working as a designer for 10 years.


(+add yours)
  1. Cool tut Nathan, and awesome result!

  2. Great tutorial ! Thanks you ;)

  3. Gavin Preece

    Simply WKD thank you Nathan :)

  4. Ali

    Great thank u

  5. Alex Molett

    i love this tutorial but i can find a good looking spaceship and that one you used costs like $50!! :(

  6. Really easy to follow, great tutorial!

  7. Don

    what color was used for INVADERS.

  8. tevedi

    great tutorial, thank you for sharing! however, I am designing this to be printed and when I render the clouds on a canvas of 11x13in the effect I get is nothing like what you have here. how can I make the rendered clouds more scattered? or is there another trick?

  9. Another beauty, beautifully explained– many thanks!

  10. sundake

    i’m little confused about the second step of “Step 2 – Applying Poster Edges”
    how did you add the 1px line inside the frame? by selecting a smaller rectangle
    and press shift+ctrl+I? I did so but the stroke didn’t appear.
    It’s a great teaching anyway!

  11. A really big thanks for the tips

  12. anduarto

    Love this. Thank you. But have to agree with tevedi, my clouds and radial blur look nothing like the ones you show here. Any idea why that is?

  13. Rydia

    I am having the same issue as tevedi. Any suggestions?

  14. I have struggled with Photoshop for years – knowing that it CAN do this or that, but completely unable to make the darn thing obey me. And somehow or other the Help facility is totally useless. If you know what the proper command it, Help will tell you about it. But if you do NOT know the proper command, you are out of luck. It took me a year to find “rasterize”. I sure do like the way you’ve laid it out and I’m bookmarking this to come back often. Thank you.

  15. I congratulate you
    Writing is an art that everyone does it. Congratulate you for having this art.
    Your blog is unique

  16. onlinedesignteacher

    very good I made one myself, check it out

  17. One of the modern methods to increase community awareness of the Internet. Nowadays, the Internet has been a very good position in this field achieved.
    I’m up for being in a particular field, your information will go to the Internet. Because this method is very simple and reliable. Glad that the visitor field increases conversancy There are sites that.
    Thanks for a very nice content site

  18. Eugene Grace

    I had a problem , the radial blur is too big that most of the things in my poster are in orange , the black skies and the stars are mostly blocked by it

  19. makord25

    thks to u nathan

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  23. I relish, result in I found exactly what I was looking for. You’ve ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

  24. Your style is very unique in comparison to other people I have read stuff from. Thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this web site.

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  28. anon

    I’m having trouble with the filter / blur /radial blur I set it up like in the screen shot amount 100, zoom, best but the result is not like yours is more like the spin. I’ve tried twice and still happened that drop on water surface look :( thanks!

  29. Wow.., amazing tutorial..,

  30. Diana

    This is such a great tutorial, I’m glad I came across this. Thank you so much!

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