Retro design ideas are everywhere, and designers today as they do in every era are finding cool and fresh design ideas by mining the look and feel of the past. How can you give your sticker designs that retro touch?
There is a saying, a cliché maybe, that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. This is so true in the world of design, but in a good way. There is a kind of statute of limitations on what’s cool and what’s not; something seen as bad taste becomes cool again if you wait for a decade or three. For example in the 1970s the retro styles of choice were the 1950s and even Art Deco from the turn of the last century, and in the 1980s the 1920s was popular as a source of graphic influence and style.
Now in the “teenies” we have a huge range of retro styles to choose from, 70s disco style, 50s diner style, 80s dayglo and 8 bit computer styles. Even graffiti has made a huge comeback, as have tattoos and pinups of the 1940s. If you’re looking for fresh design ideas a good place to look is not the future but the past.
In The Mood
Retro looks are about nostalgia, for sure, but they are also about mood. Retro moods can be dark, grimy steampunk moods, or noir detective story moods. But they can also be bright sunny picket fence, gingham apron and cookbook moods or rock’n'roll diner moods. If you are promoting a band or a service, a sparse, stylish retro design can make your stickers stand out from the modern digital noise, and even be a decorative item to adorn school books, business report folders, car bumpers and windows. What better advertising could you wish for than making something which people willingly display to others because they like the design?
When making retro stickers you have to pay attention to a few things, mostly fonts, colors, weathering and layout. For inspiration and reference look at genuine old signs and posters, record sleeves and product packaging. Use your graphics program to steal the exact colors they used and build a retro color palette. Use the reference material on the base layer of your graphics program and build your sticker on top of it, copying the layout. Until you do this there are lots of details you don’t really see in old layouts; the lines that serve no purpose but decoration, the amount of space around the elements, the heaviness or lightness of the fonts.
Fonts For The Memories
Then you need fonts. Fonts are the design equivalent of magic. Designers who make fonts are like sorcerers or alchemists, turning tiny lines and curves into complicated statements of mood. It’s easy to think fonts are simple but once you try and make your own you realize what awesome gods of design typography artists are. You get good fonts, you get good design, hands down. The great news is that now you have access to a fantastic range of retro fonts for free.
As well as making fonts, choosing them is an art. You need to use your eyes to see what fonts are used in your chosen time period and select fonts which are suitable for that time, which give you the same feel. Another thing you can play around with for days and days if you aren’t careful is color. What color font against what color background is right for you? It’s a matter of taste, and best of luck getting it just right. If in doubt just use the colors on your reference material. It may be that your existing logo can be remade with slightly faded retro colors, but that doesn’t always work.
Once you have a font which is authentic for the period you are trying to recreate, and colors which match and a layout in keeping with the times, all you have to then is simulate the passage of time.
Aged To Perfection
The thing about genuine retro artefacts is they have been around a bit. Time does things to materials like paper that are hard to simulate without great skill, but you can do what all the best artists do. You can cheat.
To simulate creases in paper, find something genuinely old that you can scan. Preferably something dark so that the light paper showing through in the creases is easy to pick out. Scan it into your graphics program and adjust the contrast so you have just white creases on a black background. If you have the graphics chops you can even extract the creases and leave the rest behind. Once you have white creases on a black background you can use them as a mask to fade creases onto your artwork or use a layer effect to merge them with it.
Also you can scan in old paper (or download an old paper image off the Internet) and use it as the base layer of your design an add the other layers on top using the multiply blend mode. (Look up in your graphics software docs for hints on how to do that.)
Apart from anything else, making retro stickers is fun, and if you can have fun and make something people will love, it’s a win-win!
- 40 Free Retro Fonts for you to use in your designs
- DaFont free fonts, retro designs where you can see your own text in the font online
- For design ideas try this Google Search