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 Munk One Pittsburgh 2013 Show PosterSpace Invader Print Repetition Variation Evolution Poster Street Art Obey Giant Piet Parra No Work Today Print Obey Fairey Dface Bast Neate Whatson No Reserve!Phish Msg Baker's Dozen Jim Pollock #667/1300 Poster1690 Ciampini Vetera Monimenta Rome Architecture Archeology Churches 140 Plates!Pearl Jam Munk One Pittsburgh Tour Poster 2013 ShowBundle X 27 Iron Maiden Lp's Vinyl Singles Double Albums Pic Discs Poster 1980'sSdcc 2017 Exclusive Dc Justice League Cast Signed Poster + Shirt1967 Buffalo Springfield Todd Rundgren Cheetah Fillmore Era Concert PosterEddie Vedder Dan Mumford London Poster 2017Phish Poster Bakers Dozen David Welker Landland Phish Baker's Dozen PosterJim Pollocks Msg Nyc Bakers Dozen Phish Print / PosterVintage 1950's Coca Cola Coke Poster Litho Display Sign In Kay Frame Phish Poster Print Bakers Dozen Msg Nyc 2017 David Welker #dVintage Stan Galli Hawaii Outrigger PosterPhish Welker Poster Msg New York Nyc 2017 Bakers Dozen 7/21 - 8/6 (not Pollock)Phish Drew Millward Poster / Msg Nyc Bakers Dozen / Not Welker PollockPearl Jam Key Arena Seattle, Wa Ames Poster 1996Phish Pollock Statue Msg New York Nyc 2017 Bakers Dozen (not Poster)Phish Jim Pollock Pewter Statue Figurine From Msg Baker's Dozen 2017 Not Poster The Challenge: Invasion Of The Champions Signed Male Champs PosterPhish Darin Shock Poster / Bakers Dozen Msg New York Nyc 2017 (not Pollock)2005 Pride Fc Gp Final Round B2 Poster1966 Godzilla Toho PosterOriginal Wwii Poster By B. Perlin "americans Will Always Fight For Liberty!" Phish Welker Poster Msg New York Nyc 2017 Bakers Dozen 7/21 - 8/6 (not Pollock)2017 Niue Star Wars New Hope 40th Anv Poster 1 Oz Silver Ngc Pf70 Uc Er Sku485102017 Niue Star Wars New Hope 40th Anv Poster 1 Oz Silver Ngc Pf70 Uc Er Sku48510David Sylvian Japanese Promotional Poster For 1995 Slow Fire Tour (signed)Phish Poster Pollock Ae Doodled X/100 WelkerMetallica Concert Poster Phoenix 8/4/17 University Of Phoenix Stadium 170/400Phish Bakers Dozen Jim Pollock Poster Madison Square Garden #598/1300Phish Poster Msg Print Darren Shock Bakers Dozen 2017 New York Welker PollockThe Challenge: Invasion Of The Champions Signed Female Champs PosterBd Millward Phish PosterPhish Ken Taylor Poster Msg New York 2017 Bakers Dozen 7/21 - 8/6 (not Pollock)Supernatural Signed Poster Sdcc 2013 Ackles Padalecki Collins SheppardRoger Waters Us & Them Concert Poster 2017 Mint Cond., Wash, Dc Show #1000/10001940-50's Pan Am Clipper Ships Poster - Jamaica Van Arenburg -vibrant Graphics!!1977 French Color Litho 31/150 Le Soleil De Paris Signed Marc Chagall Cs48 (lea)Keith Haring, Original Signed Sikscreen Ed. 30 Plus 7 Numbered Artist ProofsMr Brainwash Mona Lisa Rare 2008Leroy Neiman "the Slugger" Mike Schmidt + Autographed Mike Schmidt Night ProgramMartin Whatson 'venus' 2015 Signed Numbered Edition Of 15Tom Wesselmann Still Life From New York Ten 1965Helen Frankenthaler Air Frame From New York Ten 1965Shepard Fairey Large Format Poster Print C'mon Everybody Limited Edition #/50Omg Old 1898 Framed Print "hope" Woman White Flowers Birds Bunnies 44" TallLilian May Miller Original Woodcut Print "japanese Dwarf Plum Tree" 1928 SignedOriginal Poster Summer Olympic Games Helsinki 1940 (cancelled) Italian VersionTakashi Murakami "dob Red" Signed & Numbered Lithograph,edition Of 300Phish The Bakers Dozen Jim Pollock Poster Msg Lowest Number On Ebay #142 Htf!!Original Poster Summer Olympic Games Helsinki 1940 (cancelled) French VersionCarlos Cruz Diez. Hand Signed-numeredRoberto Antonio Sebastin Matta Original Etching Signed And Numbered 74/100Roberto Antonio Sebastin Matta Original Etching Signed And Numbered 42/100Edouard Manet Fine Etching "charles Baudelaire" 1869 Framed, Authentic & Superb!Super Heroes Of Sports Multi Signed 34x46 Framed Poster 60 Auto 's Psa/dna Loa Linkin Park Autographed Hunting Party Tour Poster 5/2000