Make Your Own Awesome ’70s Style Retro Posters

James Bruce 15-04-2014

New things are cool, but old things aren’t. Unless they’re really old, in which case they’re cool again! That’s the gist of “retro”. Today, I’ll be showing you how to make your own retro poster in Photoshop, which would make for a great party invitations. You might also want to use the effect to create a unique Facebook cover photo How To Create An Original & Unique Facebook Cover Photo Without Using Photoshop A while ago, I told you about the 6 best place to design your own Facebook Timeline cover for free. All these places are still great, and Timeline is still very much with us, so... Read More .


Extract a Model

The first thing we want is a shamefully attractive model to be the centrepiece of our party invitation. Import your base image — in this case, a random party photo I have.


Use the Quick Selection Tool (press W but cycle through until you see the brush icon, not the Magic Wand), and brush over the areas you want to select. You can make the tool larger to speed things up or smaller for finer adjustment, and hold down the ALT key to remove bits of your selection if you’ve highlighted too much.


Once you’re roughly done, hit the Refine Edge button on the top toolbar. Play with sliders until you get an extraction you’re happy with – it really depends on the source material – then choose to output to a new layer. you should end up with something like this:



Create the Background

Create a new layer, and fill it with something very dark. I picked my hat colour for this. This will eventually form a border.

Next create another layer and select a slightly smaller rectangle than the full canvas size – fill this with a warm psychedelic orange, key to that ’70s look (#FF5117 is nice).



Now it gets tricky – we’re going to create a circle pattern. Start with a new 50 x 50 pixel document, and draw a black circle big enough to fill the entire canvas. Delete the background layer if it’s not already transparent, then go to Edit -> Define Pattern. Call your pattern circle-50×50.


Back to the original document, right click on the orange background layer and from Blending Options, create a new pattern overlay using your circle pattern at 8% transparency.

Next, I’m using a free sun burst graphic from (Warning: you’ll need to subscribe to some mailing list to get the download, but there’s a bunch of great freebies there so it’s worth it). Once downloaded, open up the sunburst-20 PSD file, select all with CMD-A, then copy this into a new layer on your original file, above the orange background. Its background is transparent, but the blue is no good.



Go over to Image -> Adjustments -> Hue / Saturation, and whack the Hue up to +180 and the Saturation up to around +50. When you’re done, put the transparency of that layer down to around 50%, select the orange background layer and merge the two.

Needs… More… Bubbles!

Next, create a new layer and hide all the others. Onto this new layer, draw a circle. Anywhere will do, but not too large. When you’re done, right-click and select Blending Options, and change the Fill Opacity to 50%, then add an 8pt black stroke. So you now you have a grey circle with a thick black outline.



Select your circle (Command-click, or Control-click in Windows, on the layer thumb is the easiest way), and go to Edit -> Define Brush Preset, and give it a name.

Now, trash the circle layer you just made, and turn on the orange and green background layers. Create a new layer above those, then bring up the Brush tool (press B), and the Brushes window (Window -> Brush). Find the brush preset you just created, and make the following changes in the brush settings dialog:

  • on Brush Tip Shape, change the spacing to 100%
  • on Brush Dynamics, change Minimum Diameter to 50%
  • on Scattering, enable “Both axes” at 1000%, with Count 5, and Jitter 1%.
  • on Transfer, select 50% for both Opacity Jitter and Flow Jitter

The preview below should give you a good idea of the random effect we’re looking for, so that’s good.


We’re going to create 3 layers of these circles. The first layer will have large circles, and be barely visible. Click a few times until you’re happy, then apply a large radius gaussian blur on the layer and reduce the opacity to 70%.

Make some more circles, smaller in size, on the next layer. Use less blur than the first layer, and set the opacity to 50%. Now you should have something like this:


Create another layer with even smaller circles, and use another gaussian blur at just a few pixels radius. Again, set the opacity to around 50%.

Finally, group all 3 of these circles layers and change the blend mode to color dodge. You should see something like this:


Tidy up by putting all these layers in a folder, if you like.

Use the Stunningly Attractive Model

Unhide and duplicate your extracted model to a new layer. Go to Filter -> Sharpen -> Unsharp Mask and set the values to 70, 3, 0. Or, tweak until it looks good to you, since it’ll vary by the source you use. Merge these two layers.

Create an adjustment layer for levels next (Layer -> Adjustment Layer -> Levels), and ask it to use the previous layer as a clipping mask – meaning the effect will only be applied to our model. If you forget, you can always right-click on the layer and select Create Clipping Mask from there. Pull the shadows and highlights sliders in slightly, so we’re removing some of the tonal range. Next, pull the midtones up a little. Something like this:


Add another adjustment layer, this time a Photo Filter. Set it to use the default orange colour, at 85%.

Now for a halo effect. Select the shape of your model, expand the selection by 8 pixels (Select -> Modify -> Expand), and create a black fill of this on a new layer beneath. You now have a big black outline.

With this new layer selected, contract the selection by 2 pixels and hit Backspace to delete it, leaving a thin black outline.


Click the fx button, create an outer glow, and a colour overlay in yellow. Finally, apply 2px of gaussian blur to that layer so you’re left with a cool yellow halo around the model. Nice.


Duplicate your model layer 4 or 5 times, setting the transparency at around 50% on each one. Move these to the left, resizing them each time to be slightly smaller than the last. I found it was easier to align them all at even spacings along the bottom edge first, then resize upwards.

We also need some text. I’m using a Willy Wonka font, free from


I set the blend mode to overlay, transparency to around 85%, added a very slight gaussian blur, then duplicated the layer a few times to make it more intense – this also gives a nice sun-faded white, I think.

The bottom left is then ready for some text about the event location and time, but I’ll leave that up to you.


Finally, to get a faded retro effect, highlight all your previous layers by Command-clicking (or Control-click) them, then hit Shift-Command-C (or Shift-Control-C) to copy as merged, and paste. You’ll find a new layer has been created with everything you have created so far merged into one layer. Use Filter -> Noise -> Add noise, 20% uniform monochromatic, then change the blending mode to screen and turn down the transparency (up to you how much). This’ll add a distinctive faded or badly printed effect.


For even more grunge, download these heavy scratch brushes, put the brush size up to 1000px, and a single click should do it. Blur this by about 1 pixel, and reduce the transparency.

This is where I ended up.


Not bad. Of course, this isn’t the only ’70s effect you could go for: the inspiration for this post was Daft Punk, who recently used a cool retro effect to advertise their latest merchandise; or perhaps you’d prefer this awesome video game style poster? Personally, I’m still a fan of tilt-shifting everything How To Make Your Own Tilt Shift Scenes In Photoshop Read More .

Related topics: Adobe Photoshop, Digital Art.

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  1. Maarten D
    April 15, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    Oh James. What have you done.

    But I'm definitely in for your 'party time'.

    • Dave L
      April 16, 2014 at 7:10 am

      Michelangelo has nothing on James Bruce.

  2. Justin P
    April 15, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    You should probably sell that poster online. It's going to be huge.

    • Maarten D
      April 15, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      The whole hippieculture is going to love this.