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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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Large Format Printing: Double-Sided, Backlit Movie Posters

In addition to my print brokering, design, and writing work, I install movie “standees” and signage. This side work gives me a unique view of a number of printing processes, up close. It lets me see first hand exactly how a number of promotional items have been designed, printed, and assembled.

One Sheets Are Printed on Both the Front and Back of the Poster.

The next time you go to the movies, pay attention to the multitude of light boxes lining the walls, displaying movie posters for all the new releases.

Among these large format printing posters are “one sheets.” One sheets possess a number of intriguing qualities, foremost of which is their two-sided nature. On the front is the image of the poster, and on the back is the exact same image (text and photography) printed backwards (“wrong reading” in commercial printer’s language).

Why Print on Both Sides?

One sheets are installed in a light box. In some respects they are similar to the back-lit films (Duratrans) that you may see in light boxes in subway stations or at the airport. The back-lighting makes colors in the one sheets appear more brilliant than posters merely hung on a wall. The double-sided commercial printing actually gives more of an impression of depth and dimensionality as the light travels through the gloss paper stock.

How Do They Do This?

More than anything, this double sidedness attests to the precision of offset custom printing. That a huge printing press can align an image on the front of a press sheet exactly with the reverse-reading image on the back of the press sheet, while maintaining color that matches on both images, reflects the skill of the pressman, the close register a press can hold, and the consistency of color that can be achieved on press.

These Posters Are Not Always the Same Over Time.

If you pay close attention, you may see changes over time in a movie poster. Not always, but sometimes. The first posters may be swapped out with others providing new promotional information about the upcoming theater release. These changes may be subtle, maybe a small addition, but they reflect the ongoing nature of movie advertising as a dialogue between the moviegoer and the studio. The goal is to pique the interest of the viewer while providing the most up-to-date information on the new movie release. In some cases, a series of almost identical posters introduced over time may be the answer.

The Posters Are Always Vertical.

The lightboxes into which these double-sided posters must be clamped are always vertical. (A sheet of glass covers the lights, and clamps on the top, bottom, and sides hold the one sheet flat. Then another sheet of glass in a frame covers the posters.) Therefore, the large format printing posters must always be designed in the same “landscape,” as opposed to “portrait,” orientation.

The Posters Are Always Rolled.

In the past, movie posters like one sheets used to come to theaters folded with one vertical fold and three horizontal folds. Now they always come rolled. Therefore, you cannot see any creases when the posters have been installed in the light boxes.

The Dimensions of the One Sheets Are Always 27” x 40” or 27” x 41”.

These posters are consistent from theater to theater because the light boxes are uniform, giving equal prominence to all of the movie posters lined up side by side.

Movie Studios Provide a Larger Poster for Major Productions.

However, there is another version of the movie poster called the Bus Stop/Shelter. This fits in a backlit display case as well, or you may see it outside in an actual bus stop enclosure. Like the one sheet, the bus stop poster is presented in a vertical format. It may or may not be double sided. Usually measuring 45” x 70”, the bus stop series gives more prominence to a particular movie than does a one-sheet. The large format poster is usually printed on a thicker coated stock or vinyl-like material, and like one sheets these are shipped by the commercial printer to the studios or theaters rolled rather than folded.

The Studios Control the Posters.

Like “standees,” movie posters (both bus stops and one sheets) are advertisements. The movie studios control all uses of these images very tightly, making sure that all exposure to these promotional items will foster their marketing goals.

Therefore, if you ask for these large format printing posters after their useful life, most movie theaters will turn you down. The posters are owned by the movie studios and must either be returned to the studios after use or destroyed.

In this way they are similar to the printing plates from which a limited number of offset art prints have been produced or a mold used to create only a few plaster sculptures.

In all of these cases, the value of the image or item lies in its scarcity. And in the case of the movie posters, the value lies in its controlled presentation to those groups of people the movie studios consider prime prospects for potential ticket sales.

How Does All of This Relate to Your Design or Print Buying Work?

What can we learn from these large format printing posters, beyond their individual aesthetics and their pull toward the diversion and imaginative nature of movies?

  1. They may not be high art, but as advertisements these posters are powerful. I make it a point to study the overall design, color, and typography of all movie posters that hook me. Then I can apply what I learn to my own design work. In addition, you can learn a lot about promotional work and advertising in general by studying the standees and signage in a movie theater.
  2. You will have an additional option for your own design work if you consider back-lit large format printing posters as an option for a promotional job. (You might consider either two-sided paper posters for installation in a lightbox or back-lit posters printed on Duratrans film.)
  3. You may get a deeper appreciation for both the precision a printing press can achieve and the need for precision in preparing art files when you see how one sheets have been printed on both sides of the paper in perfect register.

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