15 FREE Wanted Poster Templates (FBI and Old West)

Wanted Poster Templates (Modern & Old West)

Wanted posters were popularized in the Old West in the 1800s and were distributed to the public to inform them of an alleged offender that was wanted by the law. In many cases, they were often tagged with the phrase ‘wanted dead or alive’ and included a reward for the person that captures the offender. These posters have come a long way since then, and their use has somewhat evolved. This article tells you everything you need to know about the wanted poster template.

What Is a Wanted Poster?

A wanted poster is a document commonly prepared and distributed by law enforcement to notify the public of an individual that is being sought by the law. It typically includes a picture or facial composite of the person and a brief description of their alleged offense. In some cases, a reward may also be indicated for the person who captures or aids in the capture of the wanted individual.

What Is a Wanted Poster Template?

A wanted poster template is a model document that can be customized to display a missing or wanted person or object. It contains blank spaces that hold the picture and description of the person being sought and other relevant details.

Essential Elements of a Wanted Poster Template

A wanted poster should be brief and concise but informative. Here are some key elements that must appear in the document:

  • An image of the wanted person. It could be a picture, facial composite, or sketch drawing.
  • The name of the wanted person.
  • A brief description of the wanted person’s attributes such as age, gender, hair and eye color, and height.
  • An overview of the crimes allegedly committed by the wanted person.
  • A phrase indicating how the authorities want the person captured. A common but obsolete example is the ‘wanted dead or alive’ phrase.
  • A reward amount for the person who will help the authorities capture the wanted person.
  • The contact information of the law enforcement agency looking for the individual.

Wanted Poster Templates (Modern & Old West)

History of the Most Wanted Poster

Wanted posters grew in popularity in the Old West because they were the only way law enforcement could inform the public about a crime and offender. Most posters included a composite drawing or – rarely – a photograph of the wanted person alongside the crime they had committed and a few descriptive characteristics. In some cases, law enforcement would also list a reward for the person that captured the offender. The facial composites were not very good and did lead to some cases of mistaken identity.

Of all the wanted posters that were ever circulated, one of the most famous was that of John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated American President Abraham Lincoln. It carried a huge reward for Booth’s capture and was sent out to the public five days after the assassination in 1865. Booth was captured twelve days after the circulation of the poster. Today, this poster is very rare and has a going auction price of more than $225,000.

Fast forward to 1919, and the first ancestor to the modern most wanted list was produced for William Bishop, a military deserter. It was issued as an Identification Order (IO) and was followed by over 6,000 more since then – all featuring fugitives and criminals. These posters were printed on eight-by-eight inch flyers and contained the fugitive’s photograph, background information, criminal records, and fingerprints. They were posted in police stations and post offices everywhere.

Some of the most famous names to go on wanted posters date back to the Old West, including Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, and John Dillinger. The wanted poster for the latter – issued in the 1930s – carried a $10,000 bounty from the FBI. Close to a century later, the FBI posted a $2.1 million reward for the person that turned in James “Whitey” Bulger.

Wanted posters have not always been used solely to catch criminal offenders – they were sometimes used for propaganda by media houses. A good example is the September 4, 1939 edition of the British Newspaper, Daily Mirror, that ran a piece tagging Adolf Hitler a ‘reckless criminal’ that was ‘wanted dead or alive.’ Similar tactics were used years later in the poster for terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden.

Fact: The most wanted poster for Osama Bin Laden was issued in 2001 and carried a reward of $25 million – one of the highest bounties in history.

Over time, the use of wanted posters evolved as law enforcement agencies updated their techniques and policies. ‘Wanted dead or alive’ posters grew out of use in the late 1900s, and, in 2007, the FBI started posting their posters on over 5,000 billboards in the country. The agency also posts ‘most wanted’ lists on their official website.

So, from simple flyers with often inaccurate composite drawings to online wanted flyers, it is safe to say that the wanted poster has evolved over the years accordingly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can wanted poster templates be used for?

While still used to look for criminal offenders, Wanted posters have also grown in popularity on social media. People use them for humor, fun, events, and playtimes with kids. In some cases, they are used to look for missing people, pets, or items.

When were wanted posters first used?

Wanted posters were first used in the 1800s, with the first use believed to be in 1865 when law enforcement agencies were looking for John Wilkes Booth.

Do wanted posters still exist?

Yes, wanted posters are still used, albeit in different formats. The ‘wanted dead or alive’ poster is obsolete and, today, the FBI posts wanted posters on over 5,000 digital billboards around the country as part of the agency’s investigative publicity program. Additionally, it issues more wanted flyers for terrorists, fugitives, missing persons, etc., on its official website.

What font do wanted posters use?

The best fonts for wanted posters are western-style fonts that are typically slab serif fonts. The distressed slab serif, Nashville, has been dubbed the quintessential wanted poster font, but it is usually used alongside Rio Oro or Bou Western because it does not contain numbers.

Who invented the wanted poster?

The first recorded use of a wanted poster – that is thought to be the origin of the practice – is credited to Allan Pinkerton of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. A wealthy family hired Mr. Pinkerton in 1874 that had lost two young boys to kidnappers. In searching for one of the boys, Charlie Ross, he made a wanted poster with the boy’s photograph and started the use of picture wanted posters to look for missing people or objects.

That said, it is important to point out that some posters had been used before then (John Wilkes Booth, 1865), although they didn’t contain pictures.

What were wanted posters made of?

Wanted posters were usually printed on paper and consisted of a simple sketch or picture of the wanted person as well as some background information.


Law enforcement agencies in the 1800s and early 1900s had limited avenues through which to share information with the public. This is why many stations had a wanted poster template on hand to notify the public of wanted criminals. Today, these documents are still in use, albeit in different forms. The FBI issues electronic wanted posters, and ‘wanted dead, or Alice’s phrases are no longer used. All in all, there is no denying that wanted posters go a long way in ensuring the capture of wanted criminals.

Related Posts