An interesting (or annoying) thing about poster sizes is that the size name does not have anything to do with the number of panels it's printed on. Thus, a three-sheet is not printed on three pieces of paper. It's just named that way because it's the same size as 3 one-sheet posters vertically stacked next to one another. Isn't that something? A three-sheet is usually made up of two pieces of paper, or "panels." One panel is the size of 2 one-sheets and the other is the size of 1 one-sheet.
A six-sheet is the size of 6 one-sheets, HOWEVER, and here's the kicker, it's printed on four panels. That is, each panel in a six sheet is the size of 2 one-sheets.
Interesting thing numero dos is that these are not universal rules. Sometimes a three-sheet really is printed on three panels or sometimes, like in the crazy 1970s, they managed to fit it all on one panel. It just adds to the fun.
In my mind this is the most interesting thing about multi-panels: there are almost always slight (and not-so-slight) physical differences between the panels in a poster. If the split is across the middle of some text, the letters will never line up perfectly. If it's across the middle of a large field of color, the color will look different from panel to panel. The widths of the panels are often not quite the same either. They usually didn't even try to make them look the same.
A given poster would not be printed using the same printing press. The larger panel of a three sheet would be printed with one press, and the smaller panel would be printed on another press. Thus one panel in a given poster may have been the first one printed that day, and therefore have thicker, darker ink, and the other panel may have been printed later that day, and the ink would be faded. Even if they were printed simultaneously, printing (especially back in the day) is not an exact science and so the panels still won't match.
Why, you may ask? Why would they print a poster that way?
Because the poster did not start out as a work of art.
It was made as a temporary advertisement printed on cheap paper with cheap ink using whatever method worked best that day. If the panels didn't match perfectly, it was okay because not only was the poster meant to be viewed from across the street, but it was a totally temporary display. It was disposable.
(Just a heads up, most of the examples we are showing you today are progress photos taken after conservation but before any restoration work has begun. So if they look damaged, rest assured we did not let them leave that way. Unless the client wanted it so.)
The first difference we'll look at is sizing. The example is a poster of the 1942 movie We Were Dancing.
|A detail of the overlap (or split.) The difference in size is
noticeable on the right side. This is very common for three sheets. |
|Look closer and you can see the color discrepancies in the black and blue of the dancers' lower legs|
|In this 1923 Our Gang poster the large green field makes the color discrepancies very obvious. The reason for this is probably the top illustration was a stock image while the bottom was printed with several variations in the text.|
|For this poster we lined up the D in AND, but the bottom part of the Y is slightly too far to the right, while the bottom of the W is slightly too far to the left. This issue is just something that is part of large format posters.|
|Sometimes you get multiple printing errors in one poster. In this 1947 Love From a Stranger three-sheet, not only is there variation in the purple color, but every letter in "Richards" is skewed except the H.|
The photo above was taken after the poster was linen backed but before restoration work began. As you can see there are pretty clear differences in the shadows on her face between the upper and lower panels. Also the background area right next to her face is purple in the lower panel and white in the upper panel. John joked with the client that the 2 panels must have been printed by different Italian fascists who were experiencing different levels of non-sobriety. We did restoration work to blend and unify the shadows in both panels, and then painted the white bit of the two-toned area to match the purple of the lower section.
So the moral of the story is: if you need perfection, you may not want a large-format poster. Barring a miracle, there will be differences between panels. But as Shakespeare says:
In nature there's no blemish but the mind.