Creating logos with a retro look

By Dan Antonelli

Posted on Friday, January 13th, 2023

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My favorite genre of logo design is retro logo design. They just seem to be so much more fun than corporate logo design—and you have the freedom to really build creative and unique brands that capture the “trusted” feel of the brands of yesteryear.

For a lot of small businesses, a retro-themed logo can elicit a positive feeling in the viewer. First and foremost, there’s a sense of nostalgia. Additionally, the retro style can make even brand-new companies appear to have been around for a very long time. That perception of longevity also contributes to the feelings of trust and good service. We find this approach works especially well on service-oriented businesses, like contractors and electricians.

Our approach to this type of work begins with a great deal of research. We study old advertisements, branding and even a lot of old signage. We do a number of pencil sketches and renderings. I usually show some more refined sketches to the client to get them to buy into the concept. Since all the artwork is built from scratch, I want to be as efficient as possible. So the sketch approval really saves us the time of building out several fully-rendered concepts before we have an approval.

Ideas and inspiration for retro logo designs

I’ve accumulated several sources that I refer to for ideas when I begin a retro design project. There’s an abundance of old ads and logos on Flickr, and you can search directly within Flickr for retro logos. Spending some time searching the Web will get you great results, too. One book I find especially helpful is Logo, Font & Lettering Bible by Leslie Cabarga.

Here are a few Web sites you’ll want to check out:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/agilitynut

http://www.michaeldoret.com/

http://www.letterheadfonts.com/

http://www.fontdiner.com/

http://www.misterretro.com/

http://www.csaimages.com/

http://www.plan59.com/main.htm

When it comes to the illustration work, there are rendering styles that can be utilized to complement the logo style. Posterization is one popular technique that was used in years past in print as well as outdoor mediums.

Again, you need to review design work from the era you’re getting your inspiration from. Panel shapes also can help bring the retro look to life. Many of those unique panel shapes have their roots in the actual signage panels and neon signs of the era. Our illustrator, Jeff Devey, is really a master at replicating older illustration styles.

I spend a lot of time on the lettering effects, with most techniques borrowed from traditional sign and billboard painters. Some techniques include prismatic lettering and shading techniques. Of course, any lettering effect that is chosen should primarily serve to enhance a good, effective layout.

A nice hand-drawn script gives an element of nostalgia to this tailor’s new logo. I love to use a sunburst behind logos or part of a design element. That design effect was commonly used in advertising of the ‘40’s and ‘50’s.

 

Here’s a fun retro logo design sample for an established electrical contracting company. The drop shadow on the lettering uses different shading to help create the illusion of depth, yet the design still remains fully vector. This shading was a common approach by sign painters to add depth to their lettering. This design was fun to carry out through the stationery and vehicle. Note the clever electrical outlet in the icon. The truck lettering was also designed to be more retro looking. Font selection is critical to pull this off. I added the inline to the main copy, which again, was a prevalent design effect used by sign painters in those days.

 

For this logo, we wanted to create an image that paid homage to the sign shops of the ‘40’s and ‘50’s.This will also eventually be made into an existing sign, so we wanted to house all the elements in various panel shapes. The lettering for SIGN was built from scratch.

This design was meant to look like some of the union or trade organizations of the early
‘20’s and ‘30’s. Most lettering was built from scratch.

Here’s a fun, playful approach for a garden center. The owner was really into hot-rods and wanted to have a bit of his personality integrated into the design. This design was also made into a sign.

This is a simple logo, coupled with a visually interesting composition to create an image reminiscent of the old style of posters.

 

Employing many art-deco techniques popular in the mid to late ’50s, this logo design is a clever brand for a plastic surgeon in Miami.

This panel-based logo has a simple graphic with some custom-built typography with an inline.

This was a fun logo to design for a mobile soda stand. The man was illustrated using a posterized style. The lettering was hand built and then two-color prismatic lettering with an inline was added.

For this logo design for a local flooring company, we used several panels and overlaying elements to create a lot of depth. I especially like the drop shadow and the shaded element.

Dan Antonelli owns KickCharge Creative (formerly Graphic D-Signs, Inc.) in Washington, New Jersey. His latest book, Building a Big Small Business Brand, joins his Logo Design for Small Business I and II. He can be reached at dan@kickcharge. com. Dan also offers consulting and business coaching services to sign companies. For more information, visit danantonelli.com. On Instagram: @danantonelli_kickcharge.

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