10 Must-Read Retro Graphic Design and Illustration Books

by Dustin Lee June 17, 2020 5 Comments

10 Must-Read Retro Graphic Design and Illustration Books

Graphic design and illustration books are one of the best ways to improve your skills, learn more about design history, or just get a quick dose of inspiration. 

In this article, we've included the best retro books on graphic design and illustration. Whether you're looking to brush up on your typography skills or create more authentic retro illustrations.

Cartoon Modern

01. Cartoon Modern

Take a in-depth journey into the history of modern cartoon and illustration work. This book is packed with a detailed history of the art as well as tons of inspirational images including everything from 1940s Disney to 1960s cartoons and more.

House Industries: The Process is the Inspiration

02. House Industries: The Process is the Inspiration

House Industries is one of the best type foundries and design studios carrying the torch of historical American design. This books helps creatives to find inspiration via stories, lessons, and case studies. The book is a whopping 400+ pages so you're sure to find plenty of inspiration for your design work.

 How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way03. How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way

One of the original books on drawing comics. I remember getting this book as a kid and using it so much the pages were falling out. Using Marvel artwork as examples, this book guides you through just about every step of illustrating a comic book from sketches to anatomy to panels to inking and everything in between. 

The Elements of Typographic Style

04. The Elements of Typographic Style

A must-have guide to typography. In this style-guide Robert Bringhurst helps designers understand typography in theory, practice, and history. 

Draplin Design Co.: Pretty Much Everything

05. Draplin Design Co.: Pretty Much Everything

One of the definitive design books of the last decade. Draplin Design Co.: Pretty Much Everything is a design book that makes you feel like Aaron Draplin is sitting next to you sharing stories from the trenches, lessons, and life advice.

Junk Type by Bill Rose

 06. Junk Type

If you're a designer who loves the analog aesthetic this book should be in arms reach of your work area. Bill Rose spent a decade traveling across the country documenting his finds at antique shops, estate sales, yard sales, and junk yards. The result is a virtual encyclopedia of classic American badges, logos, matchbooks, packaging, and more.

Mid-Century Modern Graphic Design by Theo Inglis

07. Mid-Century Modern Graphic Design by Theo Inglis

A deep dive into mid-century graphic design this book is an in-depth look at the history of the movement, tons of inspirational images, and profiles on mid-century designers like Paul Rand, Alvin Lustig, Jim Flora and tons more. 

Mail-Order Mysteries by Kirk Demarais

08. Mail-Order Mysteries by Kirk Demarais

While not a traditional graphic design or illustration book — Mail Order Mysteries answers the question "Are the products advertised in old comic books as cool as they look?" 

Read the book and you'll discover the answer varies largely by product. This book is packed with nostalgic illustrations, design created to sell products in a glance, and beautiful process print illustrations.

Meet Mr. Product

09. Meet Mr. Product by Warren Dotz

Mr. Product contains two volumes packed with retro advertising characters. The books start with a fascinating history of advertising characters and eras (this takes up about 25% of the book but it's useful and interesting). After that each page is packed with inspirational design and illustration work grouped by categories like kids, fast food, and cars.

Trademarks and Symbols by Yasaburo Kuwayama

10. Trademarks & Symbols

A massive multi-volume collections of, well, trademarks and symbols. I originally discovered this book in an Aaron Draplin video. The book looked like an amazing resources for ideas and inspiration for logos and identity work.

Unfortunately, with Aaron Draplin's endorsement the price of this rare book shot through the roof. I saw people selling it for over $1000 in some cases.

Luckily, the prices have dropped and with a little research you can find it for under $100. 

What retro design/illustration books did I miss?

Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list of the best retro graphic design and illustration books.

Which ones should I add to the post? Do you have one of the books and love it? Is one of these books undeserving of being on the list? Let me know in the comments!

Dustin Lee
Dustin Lee


5 Responses

Jim Parrillo
Jim Parrillo

June 23, 2020

This is a great list with a few that I was not aware of. Taschen has a number of fantastic books of Mid-Century Modern Advertisements that are fantastic as well as a few vintage “pornography” books (extremely tame by today’s standards) as well as a retrospective on 1940s-1950s pin-up artists. Phaidon also released two absolutely amazing books on Mid-Century design in the USSR as the USSR Space Race propaganda. I’m always hitting up resale / thrift stores / garage sales and antique dealers for original magazines pre-1960.

During the time when the baby boomers were growing up, there was an immense number of movie magazines, kids magazines, monster magazines, sci-fi magazines in 2-3 color print with illustrations. I can usually find these for as little as 50 cents. I also look for old editions of magazines like ‘House Beautiful’, ‘House and Garden’ and science magazines like ‘Popular Mechanics’ that would routinely have a lot of illustration work.


June 21, 2020

i definitely have the first book..a bit pricey here in my country but simply worth it..the also recommend the by decade big book of advertising especially the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s..thank you for this post Dustin..the other books you mentioned i am also aware and some haven’t yet..i will hunt them as money will permit.. :-)


June 19, 2020

Great list. I had never heard of Mail Order Mysteries or Mr. Product.

Someone on Pinterest has posted images of Trade Marks & Symbols Volume 1 content.


June 17, 2020

“The ABC of Custom Lettering” by Ivan Castro is a good one. Modern book with a retro nod and great practical lessons.


June 17, 2020

Definitely add “Inks, Drinks, and Catfinks” to the list

Leave a comment

Also in RetroSupply Blog

Brian French: How to Make Your Clients Come Back for More
Brian French: How to Make Your Clients Come Back for More

by Julia Sagar June 01, 2020 2 Comments

French Papers’ sixth-generation salesman Brian French explains how a small, 150-year-old, family run paper mill won over designers and agencies to become America’s go-to for custom paper and envelopes.

View full article →

Procreate 5: Drawing App Gets Crazy Good Update with New Brush Studio and More
Procreate 5: Drawing App Gets Crazy Good Update with New Brush Studio and More

by Dustin Lee December 13, 2019

Procreate 5, the popular drawing app from Savage Interactive, is now available for iPad Pro. New features include Brush Studio, the ability to import Photoshop (ABR) brushes, an new Color Harmony section, and more. Discover the five new features in the Procreate 5 update we think illustrators will love the most.

View full article →

30 of the Best Free Retro and Vintage Textures
30 of the Best Free Retro and Vintage Textures

by Julia Sagar September 03, 2019 13 Comments

Our hand-picked collection of the very best free textures – both retro and vintage textures – for Photoshop and Illustrator. (We’ll show you where to find the best premium textures too...)

View full article →