How to make a Mid-Century Matchbook Cover Mini Poster

by Lori Rudolph March 16, 2020 3 Comments

How to make a Mid-Century Matchbook Cover Mini Poster

In this tutorial, you'll learn how to make a mid-century inspired matchbook cover design in Adobe Illustrator.

Whether or not you think you'll ever create a matchbook design for a client project, it's a great exercise.


Because creatives that designed matchbooks mastered the art of grabbing attention quickly. Then burning brands into the consumer's mind.

By studying and creating a few of your own matchbook designs, you'll learn to emulate some of the attention-grabbing techniques used by matchbook artists.

The art of grabbing people's attention and hooking a customer is valuable, whether you're designing matchbooks, posters, merchandise, or just about anything else.

Products used:

Let's Start Making Some Matchbook Art! 

For years now I have admired the graphic look of Mid-Century Matchbook cover art. The bold use of color, the simple graphics, the varied messages whether they be political, environmental or just plain fun have captured my attention and serve as my inspiration for this tutorial.

I started with an 8” x 10” artboard set at 300 dpi in RGB mode, but you’re free to choose the size and color mode.


On a new layer create 4 equally sized and spaced rectangles and color them in accordingly.

Draw your artwork/imagery using the Pen tool for each image – being sure to put each image/motif on its own layer. Choose a sans serif font and add in the type.


Now you can begin changing the fill colors of the shapes and the stroke color of the line work. I used a gray background, so we could see the white line work and type. You can delete this layer later on.


I used two different brushes from the DryGoods (brush SC4 - for thicker strokes) and VectorSketch (brush PN6 - for thinner strokes) brush packs for this tutorial, and varied the size of the stroke for added interest.


Some of the motifs (as selected below) have been set to Multiply. To do this, go to Window > Transparency > Multiply. I left the strokes and fills at the default of 100% opacity, but you’re free to make them as transparent as you would like.

VectorFuzz IT!:

This is where the magic begins to happen. I used several of the RetroGrain brushes to add some visual appeal to many of the vector shapes.


Clipping masks were applied in two different ways. The first method becomes second nature, when you’ve masked items before and really is... easy peasy!

Then there’s the second method, with a couple more steps. Use this method when you have an object/shape that has a stroke on its edge. You will have to create an outline of that line/stroke and combine it with the object/shape it surrounds, prior to using it as a clipping mask.

Basic Clipping Masks – Easy Peasy!

See: the items marked as 1 and 2 below

Step1: Select the shape to be used as the mask,

Step 2: Make a copy of the object, CMD + C (Copy)

Step 3: Shift + CMD +V (Paste in place) and bring it to front Shift + CMD + ]

Step 4: Select both the object (on top) and the RetroGrain texture (below it),

and proceed with making the clipping mask, Object > Clipping Mask > Make or use the shortcut CMD + 7

Clipping Masks with strokes on edge of shapes

See: the items marked as 3 - 6 below

Step1: Select the object with line work, Object > Path > Outline Stroke

Step 2: While it’s still selected go to Object > Compound Path > Make or use the shortcut CMD + 8

Note: In the event the Compound Path doesn’t seam all the pieces together properly you may have to unite the paths first. In this case, select the object/shape, and select Pathfinder > Unite

Step 3: Make a copy of the object, CMD + C (Copy)

Step 4: Shift + CMD +V (Paste in place) and bring it to front Shift + CMD + ]

Step 5: Select both the compound shape (on top) and the RetroGrain texture (below it) and proceed with making the clipping mask, Object > Clipping Mask > Make or use the shortcut CMD + 7

See: the items marked as 7 and 8 below

These RetroGrain strokes have been used without any clipping mask being applied to them. One was used as an overlay on the lightbulb to help create the feel of a glow and shadow, the other used to mimic landscape.


To make the type to look older, it needs a bit of a fuzzy/blurred stroke around the edges. I used brush PN6 from the VectorSketch brush pack to add in a subtle stroke. I selected each block of type and selected TYPE > CREATE OUTLINES or Shift + CMD + O


Since I’m taking a stab at a vintage look - the edges of the four colored boxes can’t remain crisp and pristine. This is where you can play around a little bit more with the brushes. Use the Blob Brush tool to add a few strokes here and there – varying the brush size and style etc. to create some scratchy, distressed bits on the edges.


To further enhance the vintage/authentic look of a Mid-Century Matchbook cover I am going to apply one more, final layer. First find yourself a slightly scruffy (and FREE) photo of cardboard or textured paper and then place it on its own layer (on top of all the previous layers). Set your cardboard/paper layer to Multiply and adjust the opacity until you’re happy with the depth of its faux, aged look. 

I hope you had fun playing with the RetroGrain Shader Brush Pack, I know I did! If you create your own piece, be sure to share it on Instagram @retrosupply or #retrosupply

More Tutorial You Might Enjoy

Lori Rudolph
Lori Rudolph


3 Responses


March 30, 2020

A really great tutorial, thank you so much!


March 26, 2020

Great tutorial ! I love how simple the shapes are, but once the brushstrokes and textures are applied, magic happens !


March 26, 2020

tnx!!love it

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