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When you see a movie poster, an album cover, or advertising from the past, it’s often pretty easy to guess the time period it came from. You’ll get a real sense of nostalgia from movie posters and album covers of the 80s.
While they had their role during their time, it’s tough to find a home for those typefaces in our era. Designs featuring these fonts can look dated – and not in a cool, ‘Mad Men’ kind of way. Unless you’re trying to tap into a nostalgic 80s vibe, it’s tough to repurpose them into something we can use today. But sometimes it just takes fresh eyes to see new possibilities.
Let’s take a look at a few key designs from the past featuring 80s fonts, look at why they worked, and whether we can find a place for them now.
Bruce Springsteen — The River
The type on Springsteen’s ‘The River’ is obviously custom type, likely created from a thick brush. The biggest hint? You’ll notice that all of the E’s are slightly different.
On close inspection, you can see that all of the horizontal strokes of each E vary to some degree. Some are really thick and some are medium in thickness while trailing off to be much thinner at the end.
A few months ago, I would have said that handmade brush fonts looked dated, but if you receive frequent email blasts from design bundle websites, you’ll quickly realize they are making a comeback in a big way. While many designers are hooked on precise, elegant fonts, there’s no doubt that handmade ‘artisanal’ fonts can bring a breath of fresh air.
It would be fine to use a handmade brush font like the one used on The River because the trend is currently in. As always, it’s good to keep in mind that you should use design trends sparingly. Avoid using them on projects that require more longevity, such as logos and signage.
Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom
Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom is a classic movie filled with adventure. The title font has a distinct look, and you can find a similar digital version called (appropriately) Adventure. There’s also Fedora, which works, too. Similar fonts have been used for years as they instantly give you the impression of an adventure or a safari. You immediately think of an exploration or a jungle trek.
This font is commonly used in promotions today. You might not consider using this font, not because it isn’t effective, but because of the fact it has been overused in nearly every scenario imaginable.
The Temple of Doom font is a completely different font. It initially seems a little out of place because it has more of a futuristic look to it. It looks like a variation of something simple to Eurostile, which fits well. The only real difference is that the lowercase ‘m’ is more rounded.
Def Leppard — Pyromania
The band Def Leppard and an album name like Pyromania go hand in hand. Def Leppard’s band logo screams the 80s look, with sharp angles and an exaggerated height. Unless it’s used for display purposes today, it would be tough to use such an exaggerated font. You wouldn’t want to use it for body copy. Anything you use it on would immediately have an 80s Rock feel.
The font used for the word “Pyromania” needed to be a geometric font, simply because the “O” needed to be circular enough to be adapted into a crosshair symbol.
Tina Turner — Private Dancer
This Tina Turner album was an anthem for a lot of people during the 80s. When I saw the title text for this album, I immediately recognized that it was a variation of Bodoni.
After searching through my own font collection, I discovered the font used was in fact Bodoni Std Poster Compressed. It has such an exaggerated height with elongated, tall serifs for the capital T.
Tina Turner was an icon, so it’s no surprise that the title font for her name would be something tall and dominant while still being elegant and sophisticated.
Bodoni is a go-to font for a lot of designers, for its distinct look and elegance. However, this version of Bodoni is distinct. Those elongated serifs should be used sparingly. When using this font, you should stick to titles, posters, and book covers. I wouldn’t use it anywhere that it could break down, such as in smaller print.
Maximum Overdrive is a movie about a world where vehicles control themselves, written and directed by legendary author Stephen King. It demanded a title that was bold, edgy, and futuristic.
A lot of films of this era were about the future and sci-fi. You’ll find a lot of metallic text and metallic sheens on type treatments. That look is dated by itself. Add to it the fake 3D aspect to the bold text and you have the makings of a typical 80s movie or album title.
I found a modern font that is similar to the one used here called Passion One Bold, and you can find it here. You could definitely use the font in designs of today, but you may want to stay away from adding a metallic, 3D treatment to it. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a look similar to Maximum Overdrive’s title, and other titles from the 80s.
Typography is an art form all by itself. Just as you can look at a painting and tell what time period it is from, we can look at a lot of music albums and movie posters and tell what time period they are from. If you combine those fonts with specific type treatments, it can further enhance the look of being from a specific time period.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that those fonts no longer have their place. A talented designer can repurpose nearly any font and use it in a new, interesting way.
Font fads, just like clothing and hairstyles, come in cycles. Every now and then a fad will re-emerge and artists will breathe new life into it. Knowing where a font originated will help you to understand how you can use it in new ways.
Sign up for the GraphicStock Ultimate ‘80s Movie Poster Contest and get ready for your chance to win the $5000 first prize. The Ultimate 80s Movie Poster Contest runs through November 16, 2015. Submit as many times as you like. Submitted posters must be original works, make use of at least 1 item from the GraphicStock library, and must not contain or make use of any copyrighted materials.