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Did you know... that after barely changing for nearly 100 years, one-sheets had several changes starting around 1980? (Part Two)

Return to Did You Know Archive
Added: 03/26/2012

     (if you missed Part One, you will find it in club message #582, on our site at
     In Part I, we described that there were next-to no changes made to the size of one-sheets and larger posters from turn of the 20th century until around 1980. There were several small but important changes that occurred starting around this time. The first was that one-sheet posters had always been folded with the image on the inside, so as to protect it from the image getting smudged when it was handled (especially by theater employees with greasy popcorn-stained fingers!). But this meant you had no idea what the poster was without opening it, so they had employees stamp each poster on the back with its name, size and any special info (like style).
     But this was time-consuming and expensive, and yet it wasn't until around 1980, when someone came up with the idea of folding the posters outward, so that part of the image showed and they folded them so that the name of the poster (in small letters on the bottom) showed! This was made possible because they had switched to printing on a glossier paper stock that was MUCH more resistant to smudging.
     The second change occurred a few years later. First, some history. Why did movie posters have blank white borders around the edges anyway? It was because early printing presses needed a space where the machine would hold each blank sheet as it went through the press, and that necessitated at least one blank border. Since it looked odd to only have one such border, they added an even space all around, to "frame the poster".
     In 1929, Paramount experimented with posters that had a "full-bleed" (no blank borders) and this was likely accomplished by having the blank borders trimmed off during printing (and the small info was printed inside the very bottom of the image). But this resulted in slightly smaller posters, and likely theater owners did not like them because they did not fit in their existing frames, and at some point in 1930 the experiment was abandoned.
     But in the mid-1980s printing presses were made that COULD print full bleed posters, and at first posters had a full bleed on three sides and a thin area on the fourth side that contained the printer info. But they soon realized that the posters looked better with a full bleed on all four sides, and at that time the standard poster size was lowered from 27" x 41" to 27" x 40".
     A few years later, around 1990, studios experimented with unfolded one-sheets (likely because the folds were more noticeable on the glossier paper that was used, and that was quickly adopted as the standard, and soon after they began printing "double-sided" posters (ones that had either a full or partial reverse image of the front printed on the back) because these made the images display much better in the "light box" frames many theaters were switched to, which illuminated the posters from the back).
     Now none of these changes happened at an exact time! One studio would experiment with a change and when it proved successful the others would also make the change, but it might take a while for all of them to do so, so there would be an overlapping time where one-sheets could be found "both ways". You surely noticed that I have not been precise about the dates these changes started. IF ANYONE READING THIS HAS ADDITIONAL INFORMATION (or corrections) TO WHAT I WROTE ABOVE, PLEASE CONTACT ME AND I WILL UPDATE THIS INFO!
Next (in Part Three): What about inserts, half-sheets, and window cards?

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