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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: “One-Sheet” Movie Posters

I was overjoyed to receive a phone call from a reader yesterday. My fiancee and I were driving to our art therapy class with our autistic students when my cell phone rang.

The reader asked me about movie one-sheets. She needed to have some printed, and she wanted to know what percentage of ink her commercial printing vendor needed to use to print the back of the one-sheet. I was clueless, so I suggested that she have her offset printer check the back of her sample one-sheet with a densitometer or spectrophotometer (the former checks the density of an ink film on a press sheet, and the latter determines the specific color based on its wavelength).

When we got home I went to school on one-sheets, researching the topic on the Internet. I found some interesting information, which I want to share with you—and particularly with the reader who called my cell phone.

First of All, What Is a One-Sheet?

I have mentioned in prior blogs that, among other things we do, my fiancee and I install movie signage (standees, banners, one-sheets, and the like). One-sheets are posters that are produced specifically for installation in light boxes (also called marquees).

The first time you install one of these, you will see that it is usually printed on both the front and the back. On the back is a lighter image printed backwards. On the front is the original, right-reading image.

To install a one-sheet, you open the light-box door and then pry up four spring-loaded clamps, one on each side of the rectangular light box. You slip the one-sheet into the lightbox, over the frosted glass covering the lights, lower the clamps, and then close and lock the marquee box. Done.

Uses of One-Sheet Posters

Not all one-sheets–even for the same movie—are the same. One might be for a premiere, another might note a particular movie opening date. You might even find a lenticular copy of one of these posters. In this case, in addition to displaying the promotional information for the film in stunning back-lit color, the one-sheet will display the image with the three-dimensional illusion provided by lenticular custom printing.

But even though the content of the one-sheet may vary from poster to poster, in all cases their purpose is the same: to advertise an upcoming or current movie and generate “buzz.” Given their relatively modest cost to produce, this is a good use of advertising funds (and delivery and installation funds as well).

History of the One-Sheets

Apparently the one-sheet has been around since the early 1900s, produced via traditional lithography (stone lithography) on thinner paper and later, in the 1930s, by offset lithography on clay-coated glossy stock. Originally, the larger, 27” x 41” size was the norm, but now the smaller 27” x 40” size is common, with the poster image bleeding on all four sides of the sheet.

Go to for more information. This was my first stop in my research.

Double-Sided Printing

Starting in the 1950s, movie theaters were printing on both sides of the sheet. On the front, the image and text were right-reading; on the back of the sheet the image and text were wrong-reading (backwards). What this meant is that when the back-lighting from the fluorescent tubes shone through the movie poster, the front and back images on the sheet would align perfectly.

The result was a more intense color (a sheet printed on one side might appear washed out when back-lit—although the white background did help maintain the color saturation on the front to an extent). And there was an added sense of depth and realism in the image, even without lenticular printing.

Obviously, these are much more expensive to produce than single-sided posters, but they are also far more effective.

The Percentage Screen of the Back-Printed Image

The PIE Blog reader who called me asked specifically what percentage the back-printed image should be. She was producing a one-sheet of her own, and her custom printing supplier had asked this question.

Based on my reading, the answer is that the back-printed image is 30 to 40 percent of the density of the inks on the front of the poster.

What You Can Learn from This Anecdote

    1. Sometimes it’s just fun to learn new facts about commercial printing history.


    1. Beyond this, it is interesting to note that posters of this sort are very effective marketing tools. After all, in one local theater we service there are no more than seven standees on each of the theater’s two floors. However, there are far more one-sheets both in the theater and out in the adjacent mall. Posters are like postcards. They’re cheap to make and they’re effective advertising.


    1. The fact that a commercial printing press can align the two images perfectly on the front and back of a one-sheet shows the precision that can be achieved on press.


  1. What you print on the back of something makes a difference. Think about it. If you print on acetate without first laying down a white background, the colors you print on the clear sheet will be washed out. (Non-one-sheet posters have white on the back of the poster for this reason.) Also think about this when you design a perfect-bound print book. (If the paper is not opaque enough, or if the ink on one side of the sheet is too dense, the image on the back of the page can be seen through the front.)

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