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Creating Research Posters: Poster Design Basics

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Color Choice

The colors chosen for a research poster have a huge impact on how readable the content will be. It may not seem like an exciting choice, but black text on a white background is extremely easy for viewers to read. It's best to use dark text on a light background for the body of the poster, using other colors or highlights sparingly.

The number of colors used in a research poster shouldn't be more than 3, though this doesn't include graphs or charts embedded within the contents of the poster. It's best to use colors that are relatively muted, as highly saturated/bright colors are visually distracting. It's also best to consider color schemes (for both the poster and for any associated charts/graphs) that are distinguishable to viewers who are colorblind.

Font Choice and Sizing

Font Choice

When picking fonts for your poster, it's best to stick to just two. The body text of the poster should be set using a serif font, like Garamond, Palatino, or Times, as the serifs make it easier for readers to recognize letters at smaller sizes and improve the readability of the poster. The title and headings of the poster can be set using a larger or bold version of the font used for the body, or with a sans serif font like Arial or Helvetica.

An image demonstrating the difference between serif and sans serif fonts

Image from David R. Stong's blog at Penn State University

You should always avoid elaborate or decorative fonts. They may seem like fun additions that will spice up your poster, but they can be very difficult for your audience to read. Remember, the more readable your poster, the easier it is to get you central message across.

Font Sizing

A poster's font sizing will depend a bit on the content and on the particular font, but should be chosen with readability in mind. A large, eye-catching title can be important, and for a standard 48" by 36" poster that could be anywhere from 100pt to 200pt. The body text should be at least 18pt, and could be up to 24pt depending on the font chosen. The rest of the font sizes should create a consistent visual hierarchy for the poster: larger sized text should correspond to more important elements of the poster (and vice-versa for smaller text), and elements of equal importance should use the same size text.

Font size guide; title should be 100 to 200 point, authors should be 70 to 90 point, headings should be 26 to 48 point, and body text should be 18 to 24 point

Image adapted from the guide "Creating a Poster" from the University of South Dakota Libraries and David R. Stong's blog at Penn State University

Less is More

Less is More

This is probably the biggest hurdle for first-time poster designers. Your poster should have enough information to get your central message across, but that's all. In order to be easily readable, a good research poster should be around 40% empty space. That's almost half, which seems like a lot, but the visual appeal and readability of a poster is extremely important.

A poster layout demonstrating 40 percent white space

Image from David R. Stong's blog at Penn State University

Poster Design

Design Tools

  • Are you required to use a specific template or tool? If not, how will you make your poster?

  • PowerPoint is a common tool and is accessible through Office 365, but requires tweaking as it is not designed with posters in mind

  • Adobe Creative Suite includes many high-powered graphics design tools (like Illustrator and Photoshop), but is expensive and complex; Several Macs and PCs in the Undergraduate Library, labeled "graphics computers," have Adobe Creative Suite installed

  • LaTeX is a typesetting tool which is commonly used in math and science, and can be used to create research posters

  • Canva is a "freemium" browser-based graphic design tool that offers good functionality but limited options for unpaid users

  • Inkscape is a free and open-source design tool meant to serve as an alternative to Adobe Illustrator

Royalty-Free Images

While you should always credit your resources, it is helpful to find sources that are royalty-free, or otherwise open-access licensed. Here are some sources for some royalty-free images; some may require you to create a free account. Always read carefully to be sure you're not committing to more than a free account.

Adapted from the guide "Creating Research Posters" originally created by Clayton Hayes, Wayne State University Library System.