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    

Brian Bolland Animal Man -evolution- Original Poster Artwork No Reserve1957 Authentic Kiyoshi Saito Modernist Japanese Woodblock Print Daitokuji, KyotoShelby : Shelby Cobra 289 Fia 289 Fia Shelby 289 Fia Replica-unique Motorcars-hipo 289 Bfg Poster CarJeremy Geddes - Ascent - Rare Signed Limited Edition Print - Ed Of 250Vintage 1954 Kiyoshi Saito Japanese Woodblock Print, Shoji Katsura, No ReserveFantastic Mr. Fox Zeb Love Rare Limited Edition Poster Print Regular VersionPearl Jam Moline Poster. Ian Williams, Mint!New Pearl Jam Moline Poster Pearl Jam Moline PosterPearl Jam Moline Ian Williams Silkscreen Print John Deere Tractor Rock PosterDrive Movie Print Metal Portrait Tyler Stout Poster Mondo Ryan Gosling Hey GirlPearl Jam Moline 10/17/2014 Moline Illinois PosterDface Hollywood Boom Print One Of A Kind + Signed Dollar Barry Mcgee Obey FailePearl Jam Poster Moline, Il October 17, 2014Pearl Jam 10/17/14 Moline Poster Rare Completely Sold Out!! Mint ConditionPearl Jam Wrigley Field Chicago Kevin Shuss Cracker Jack Poster + Baseball CardsJimi Hendrix Lot Of 22 Lps Box Set Ladies Cover Electric Ladyland Poster 2 ColorDisney Disneyland "it's A Small World" Bank Of America 1960's Attraction PosterFine 60s Kiyoshi Saito Japanese Woodblock Print Mid Century Modern Architectural311 Day 2014 New Orleans Chuck Sperry Artist Ed Poster #319/411 Limited Edition Tyler Stout Guardians Of The Galaxy Mondo Print Artist Proof Signed Rare Ap Vintage Travel Poster United Airlines Chicago 100% Original Air Lines 311 Grassroots Music Festival Poster 2014 #16/211Foil Only 25.nine Inch Nails And Soundgarden By Emek!!!Batman # 181 - 1st Poison Ivy Vg/fine Cond. W/ Poster IntactAnthony Micallef Peace Keeper (limited Edition Signed And Numbered)Pearl Jam Moline Poster Artist Signed Ap S/nPearl Jam Moline Poster And StickerSan Diego Comic Con Sdcc 2014 The Walking Dead Cast Signed Poster Lincoln ReedusJay Ryan Aaron Horkey Workshop Print Ouroburos Art 2014 Poster ScreenprintHalloween * 1978 Original Movie Poster 1sh Michael Myers Mask Vintage Near MintJack White Fenway Park Boston Poster 9/17 White Stripes RaconteursChuck Sperry Widespread Panic Wsp Oakland Lady Print One-of-a-kind Shelby American 427 Cobra Poster Sign Gt40 289 427 Pantera CarrollPearl Jam 10/17/2014 Moline Poster And StickerThe Searchers Insert Movie Poster John Wayne & Jeffrey Hunter 1956 Western Chuck Sperry Widespread Panic Msg Poster Silver Hair Variant. Chuck Sperry Widespread Panic Oakland 2014 Ap Print S/n Shepard Fairey Obey Giant Hammer Star Worldwide Signed 19/140 2000 Rare Print Antique Authentic Peter Max Original Pop Art Signed 1960's Limited Ed PrintCy Twombly Ltd Edt Lithograph Print Signed Listed 30"x22" From "homage A PicassoPearl Jam - Moline Il Concert Lot Incl Poster, Pj Sticker And John Deere Button Space Invader Sea Of Slime Silkscreened Print. Like Banksy, Mbw, ObeyThe Curse Of The Werewolf * Original 1961 Linen Backed One Sheet Movie Poster Scarce Original V. Preissig Wwi Poster "find The Range Of Your Patriotism!"Obey God Saves The Queen Shepard Fairey Giant Print Poster Americana Box SetDaleast Lamost Print Signed & Numbered Ed Of 50 W/coa Banksy Dface Sold OutJack White Milwaukee Poster Von Munz Signed/numbered Third Man RecordsVintage Large Magic Poster! Carter The Great (original 1926)Queen Of Outer Space * Original 1958 One Sheet Movie Poster * Zsa Zsa GaborPearl Jam - Moline Poster - S/n Ap - Artist Print - Ian WilliamsNight Of The Living Dead 1968 Original Poster George Romero In Time 4 HalloweenObey Shepard Fairey Poster For George Harrison Print Signed #/400 18x24" BeatlesPearl Jam Poster Moline, Il October 17, 2014 No Code VedderChuck Sperry Black Keys Parchment Variant Poster Not Widespread PanicWidespread Panic Poster Chicago Northerly Island Chuck Sperry Print Summer 2014Kiss Poster Promo For "unmasked" Vintage 1980Pearl Jam Milwaukee Poster 2014 Ben Frost Rare Framed1995 New Orleans Jazz Fest Poster, Blue Dog, George Rodrigue, Louis ArmstrongNine Inch Nails Soundgarden Signed Autographed Poster Jermaine Rogers Print Rare

Recent News: Posters and Prints

Source: Google News

Does the new Apple iPad look familiar? That's not a coincidence
The Guardian (blog), October 16th

The only major variation in the basic recipe of the four-finger Kit Kat bar was during the second world war, when shortage of ingredients forced a temporary change from milk to dark chocolate. After the war, the recipe was resumed. Kit Kat A vintage...Read more

Ad campaign lures native New Yorkers to Staten Island for 'See Your City' stay ...
Staten Island Advance - SILive.com, October 16th

Staten Island vintage poster aims to draw native New Yorkers. Staten Island's St. George neighborhood is one of two island hot spots to appear in the city's latest tourism ad campaign. (Courtesy NYCGO). Lauren Steussy | lsteussy@siadvance.com · Print...Read more

First look: Filling a sweet void
Mumbai Mirror, October 14th

Do you sell cakes?" a hopeful customer steps in to inquire, tempted by no more than what looks like a vintage poster of a travelling fair with two jolly faces floating over polka-dotted bowties. School buddies, "proud St Maryans," Hormuz Mehta (33) and...Read more

Reiseerinnerungen mit der The Ritz-Carlton App bewahren –Neue App ...
Touristiklounge.de (Pressemitteilung), October 9th

Mit Hilfe von speziellen Filtern, Effekten, Zuschneide-Möglichkeiten, dem Einfügen von Ortsangaben und Briefmarken und der Möglichkeit Vintage Poster zu erstellen, steht ihnen eine große Palette an Optionen zur Verfügung. Die erstellten Werke lassen...Read more

Uncovered posters inspire spooky art show
The Columbiachronicle, October 6th

“Posters have a long history of being a popular art that is meant to be disposable, yet today vintage poster artists like Toulouse Lautrec, [who] has a gallery here at the Art Institute,” Mugnier said. “There is something very distinct about poster...Read more

The 14 Best Movie Theaters In NYC
Gothamist, October 2nd

Way back in 2005, the historic Waverly Theater was transformed into the IFC Center, a state-of-the-art theater featuring five cinemas, a vintage poster gallery and a hip repertoire of documentaries and independent and foreign films. Just a decade later...Read more

Ajay Rochester strips to star in video to raise funds for new sexy pin-up calendar
Daily Mail, September 28th

In one shot Ajay appears topless covering her modesty with her arms with the words 'every body is beautiful' scrawled across her arms in lipstick. In another image a vintage poster featuring the positive assertion, 'you wouldn't want a steak that as...Read more

Travel: Tuning into the Channel Islands
Milton Keynes Citizen, September 26th

It's a short walk from my hotel, the Duke Of Richmond, a higgledy piggledy collection of rooms in a sparkling, renovated property decorated with vintage poster prints and leopard-print upholstery. It's a signature design for the family-run Red...Read more