Posters and prints enjoy a number of obvious similarities. For example, both are multiples, which simply means that more than one version of the image exists, and posters and prints are often produced using the exact same techniques. In the case of a poster, though, the edition size is not necessarily fixed or even documented. To make matters more complicated, some of the earliest fine-art etchings and woodblock prints were produced in what are sometimes called “open editions.” Today, however, prints are typically signed and numbered, which is the main reason why prints tend to be more highly valued than posters.

One important difference between the two categories is that many printmaking techniques go back much further than poster technologies such as lithography, which only dates to the late 18th century. Historians believe that woodcutting probably originated in China around the early 9th century. By the 15th century the German engraver Albrecht Dürer was using this ancient technique to create prints of incredible detail.

The rise in advertising during the Victorian Era spurred inventions such as the four-color lithograph, which was used to produce, among other things, appealing images for advertisers. In 1867, Jules Cheret, inspired—perhaps ironically—by Japanese woodcuts, used the newly-developed system to combine text and images into a poster. Soon, European artists like Alphonse Mucha and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec were creating posters combining Art Nouveau aesthetics with easily understandable sales pitches.

American artist Maxfield Parrish used printing techniques to create multiples of his paintings, including “Dreaming,” “Stars,” and “New Moon.” His work was sought out by the fine-art crowd as well as advertisers, who used his blue-hued imagery of beautiful female figures posed in romantic landscapes to sell everything from soap to soda pop.

Throughout the 20th century, fine artists produced limited-edition prints that were often variations of subject matter they focused on in their paintings. The great prewar narrative painter Thomas Hart Benton made both paintings of rural American life as well as lithographs of the same. By the 1960s, artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein were giving equal attention to their prints, if not more.

In parallel, advertisers were producing some of the most sought-after posters of the century, from James Montgomery Flagg’s recruiting lithographs printed in 1917 or Universal Studios’s horror-movie posters from the 1930s. Other collectible posters from the century include political, sports, circus, aviation, and railroad posters.

By the 1960s, music posters were becoming an international phenomenon. In London, Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, working as Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, produced psychedelic updates of Art Nouveau posters for Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and The Who. In Boston, the owners of a club called Boston Tea Party tended to take a clean, graphic approach to publicize concerts by everyone from local heroes J. Geils Band to New York’s Velvet Underground. Detroit had the Grande Ballroom, whose resident poster artist was Gary Grimshaw and house band was the MC5. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Dahlgren made posters for a club called the Kaleidoscope, whose posters were always circular...

The U.S. city that’s best known for vintage rock posters, though, is San Francisco. A combination of multiple music venues and lots of talented artists was the catalyst for the vibrant scene. Over at the Avalon Ballroom, Chet Helms hired Wes Wilson, followed by Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley, to make posters for shows featuring The Blues Project, Captain Beefheart, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Grateful Dead.

Over at Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium, artist Wes Wilson created posters that helped define the psychedelic lettering style of the day. Another influential artist associated with the San Francisco scene was Rick Griffin, whose February 1968 "Flying Eyeball" poster (BG105) for Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall, and Albert King is an icon of the art form.

What makes music posters so interesting to collectors today is that they have once again blurred the line between posters and prints. Many contemporary music posters, particularly those created for rock bands such as Phish, Pearl Jam, and Dave Matthews, are produced in signed and numbered editions, just like a fine-art print. Some artists such as Jim Pollock, Emek, and Chuck Sperry will see posters they have created for a particular concert appear on eBay the morning after the show for double or triple the price.

This trend continues even with artists whose poster-like prints don’t advertise anything at all. For example, Shepard Fairey, who gained widespread acclaim for the poster he created for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, recently produced a limited-edition print of Muhammad Ali that has proven to be quite popular with collectors.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

London Transport Museum Posters

London Transport Museum Posters

A must-see collection of 5,000 vivid, colorful British posters from the early 1900s onward. Browse by artist (over … [read review or visit site]

Fillmore and Avalon Collection

Fillmore and Avalon Collection

Wish you'd visited San Francisco in the late 1960s? Get a quick hit with this comprehensive collection of psychedel… [read review or visit site]

USSR Posters

USSR Posters

Ben Perry's Flickr photoset showcasing almost 1500 Soviet propaganda, advertising, theatre and movie posters from 1… [read review or visit site]

New York Public Library

New York Public Library

The New York Public Library's impressive Digital Gallery offers free access to over 500,000 historical images inclu… [read review or visit site]

The American Memory Project

The American Memory Project

This amazing Library of Congress site includes about a hundred photo and document collections (see complete list) o… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Pearl Jam Poster Wrigley Field Chicago 2013 By Emek Not Trading CardsThe Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed Rare 1969 Mono Lp With Poster And Sticker.Original 1911 Peters Cartridge Co. Ammunition Poster Sign Remington Winchester The Adorable One Just Looking For Fun Marq Spusta From Studio 50% To CharityOriginal 1909 E.c. Or Schultze Dupont Powder Poster Sign Remington Winchester Antique Ellison Hoover New York Central Park Washington Arch Lithograph PrintRare Original 1916 Peters Cartridge Co. Loaded Shells Shotgun Steel Poster SignMondo Print Mike Mitchell Koona T'chuta, Solo? Star Wars Greedo Artist ProofOriginal 1913 Peters Cartridge Co. Big Game Ammunition Poster Sign CaribouPearl Jam Poster Wrigley Field Chicago 2013 Munk One Not Trading CardsOriginal 1913 Hercules Powder Poster Sign Infallible E.c. Remington Winchester The Raconteurs Live In London 2lps 7' And Poster Tmr Vault #2 Third Man RecordsOriginal 1913 Dupont Smokeless Shotgun Powder Poster Sign Remington Winchester Widespread Panic 7/13-14/11 Los Angeles Poster; #264/525; Chuck Sperry; La Lady***original*** 1960's Mid Century Modern Twa Los Angeles Poster ~ David KleinChuck Sperry Trps 2013; San Francisco Ca 10/19/13 The Rock Poster Show; #apWidespread Panic 11/16/13 Madison Square Garden New York City Poster Chuc SperryMorly Grey "the Only Truth" *orig 1972 1st Pressing Psych Lp With Poster NiceMagnificent Medical Atlas 82 Hand Colored Plates/9 Fold-outs/iconographie/1866Genuine Faile Print "eat With The Wolf" Brooklyn Street Art Banksy Obey BastOriginal Flytwa Airlines Africa Travel Poster - David Klein Litho # 4-1091Pearl Jam 2016 Wrigley Field Chicago Posters - Complete 5 Poster Set!Guns N Roses Official La Show Poster/xl Shirt Night 1 Los Angeles Dodger StadiumPearl Jam Fenway Park Concert Poster (by Steve Thomas)Pearl Jam Fenway Park Concert Poster (steve Thomas)Original 1977 Star Wars Us One-sheet Style "a" Poster (first Print)Original Lithograph Travel Poster Canada Air France Sign Jean DoréPearl Jam Poster Moline 10/17/14 Iwireless Center3 Widespread Panic Oakland Ca Poster Set; 3/19-21/15 Fox Theater; Chuck SperryPearl Jam Fenway Park Concert Catch Poster Steve Thomas Boston 2016 NewPaul Insect B1971 Limited Edition Screenprint "star Eyes" Urban Art Retails$1600Song Of Love And Nozu Mini Screen Prnt By Marq Spusta From Studio 40% To CharityShuffle Along Cast Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra Mcdonald Signed PosterGuns N Roses Official San Francisco Show Poster 8/9/16 Dirty Harry. Att Park Dead And Company Bob Weir Autographed Poster With 1930 Comtesse Maritza Flapper Art Deco French Poster Vintage Stone LithographOriginal Maxfield Parrish Lithograph From Les Maitres De L'affiche Plate 123Widespread Panic 3/28-29/14 Fox Theater Oakland Ca Concert Poster; Chuck SperryNibbles And Nibbles Mini Pack By Marq Spusta From Studio 40% To CharityOriginal Lithograph Poster Britannic Cunard Cruises Usa To Canada C.e.turnerGreat Framed Vintage Color Print Of Indian Maiden With Warbonnet-jane M CookPhish Poster Jim Pollock Spac Set 2010 Signed & Numbered Not TicketsSong Of Love And Lil Listeners By Marq Spusta From Studio 40% To CharityPanic At The Disco Lp A Fever You Can't Sweat Out Gold Vinyl Poster Gatefold NmWidespread Panic 6/20/14 Chicago Il Concert Poster; #150/425; Chuck SperryInsane Clown Posse Jwyttwd Poster Rare Twiztid Esham Icp Hollywood Records LotThe Tragically Hip Kingston Tour Poster - August 20, 2016Genuine Faile Print "burning Bright" Brooklyn Street Art Banksy Obey Bast SwoonMr Brainwash - Serigraph Street Art Ufc 200 Event Sbc Autographed PosterPhish Poster Jim Pollock Chicago 94 Signed & Numbered Not TicketsKilian Eng Jurassic Park Print Regular #/15 Rolling Stones Let It Bleed Uk Boxed Mint Top Audio 1 Stamps Poster Inner~ 1970 Marvelmania Doctor Doom Poster • Jack Kirby1970 Marvelmania Captain America Poster • Jim SterankoTragically Hip Poster--final Tour 2016!!!!Paul Jacoulet Boys With Yellow Eyes - Japanese Woodblock Print RarePearl Jam Chicago August 20/22 Wrigley Field 2016 Limited Edition 5 Poster SetMichael J Fox Christopher Lloyd Signed Back To The Future Poster 27x40 Proof Psa1970 Marvelmania Spider-man Poster • John Romita