How to design a great poster


poster provides an overview of your project. The reader should be able to tell what you did, why you did it, and what the main conclusion is. Remember that most people at CCI will not be an expert in your area of study, so consider how you can make the information accessible to a general audience. You will also be standing near your poster during the event to talk with people, so you don't have to include every detail of your project on your poster. Most often, you'll find yourself giving an oral overview of your project while pointing to your poster both as a visual aid and as a point of reference, so your poster should be structured in a way that mirrors the sequence in which you would naturally present your project (see Organization section below). 


At a poster session, a viewer will likely pass right by a poster that is intimidatingly packed with dense text. Instead, present your project in bullet points or in short sentences. Clear images can help your poster be more concise. Keep the words to a minimum. Less is more. And allow for plenty of white space and a ½ inch border or more all around.


  • The font size must be large enough for a viewer to read from a distance. Don't use a font size smaller than 24 point.
  • Most posters use three font sizes (section headings, sub-headings, text, in decreasing order of size).
  • Make sure that you have good contrast between the background color and the text color.
  • Left justify; don’t full justify (like a newspaper column), as that is hard to read.
  • Limit yourself to two fonts (e.g., one font on the title and headings, and another for the text). Sans serif fonts (such as Arial and Helvetica) work well for headings; many have a serifed font (such as Garamond, Century, or Times) for the text.
  • Avoid all-caps, underlining, and italics, which are hard to read, unless content requires it. Use color or bold to make text stand out. Put your headings in a different color than the text so that they stand out.


  • A poster should have a logical organizational flow. For the typical elements and layout of a poster, watch this video by Ben Nargi.
  • Adobe InDesign is ideally suited to poster design. All Gustavus computers have InDesign installed, and you can also install the program on your own laptop through the Managed Software Center. Watch this video for a guide to creating a research poster using InDesign. 
  • PowerPoint offers a more basic but perfectly good alternative option for making a poster. For a step-by-step guide on how to create a research poster in PowerPoint, watch this video by Tamara Swedberg.


  • Gustavus' Printing Services (located on the lower level of the Campus Center) offers large-formatting printing at reasonable rates. 
  • The two most popular sizes for presentation posters are 24” x 36” and 32” x 40”. These currently cost $18 or $26.70 respectively (price current as of 2018). But check the specifications of the conference at which you are presenting, as many poster sessions give minimum/maximum size guidelines. If the cost of printing is a hardship for you, please email to request support.
  • Printing Services requires 3 business days to print your poster, so submit it by the Tuesday at the latest if you are presenting at the Celebration of Creative Inquiry, and don't forget to pick up your poster before closing time. 
  • Posters are to be submitted online in PDF format. For full details, see their overview at


  • Visual aids (illustrations, photographs, charts, graphs etc.) can increase audience interest, understanding, and retention. Choose your graphic images carefully. They should be relevant to your message, rather than just being tangentially relevant or haphazardly chosen clip art. They should be clear and easily understood.
  • When presenting data in graphic form, think carefully about how many data points or messages a graph contains. Elements should be labeled and figures should have an accompanying caption. This blog by Colin Purrington has some good tips, including specifics about presenting data and some examples of bad posters. 
  • Wikipedia Commons is a great place to find images that are in the public domain and can be reused without copyright infringement. Flickr also has many photos in the public domain.
  • Make sure that images are high enough resolution for large-scale printing. PowerPoint, Photoshop etc. allows you to view your image at 100% or “actual size.” If the images on the poster are clear at actual size, then you know that they won’t be fuzzy when printed. Pixelated, low-resolution graphics are one of the most common mistakes on posters. 


  • Spell check and proofread and have several other people proofread too. Typos on a poster are embarrassing. Proof read before sending to Printing Services (they don't do the proofreading for you).

Additional resources:

Design of Scientific PostersVirginia Tech. Provides guidelines for effective design, with several examples as well as a PowerPoint poster template.