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How to Prepare Your Poster

When preparing your poster, you have a couple options. The most common route is to make a giant slide in PowerPoint. For more control, you can use programs like Adobe Illustrator to create a PDF file directly.

Even if you design your poster using PowerPoint, we recommend making a PDF of it to submit for printing. Your poster will arrive faster and avoid PowerPoint printing errors. Click here for detailed, step-by-step instructions on converting PowerPoint to PDF.

PowerPoint Slides Are Easy

You probably already know the software, and you can quickly recycle the charts and graphics you've already created. Software like Apple's Keynote and the free OpenOffice can also produce PowerPoint files. Because PowerPoint limits the maximum size of your slides, we recommend making half-size slides:

Actual poster sizePowerPoint slide size (File | Page Setup)
36" x 42"18" x 21"
48" x 42"24" x 21"
60" x 42"30" x 21"
72" x 42"36" x 21"
84" x 42"42" x 21"
96" x 42"48" x 21"
36" x 36"18" x 18"
48" x 36"24" x 18"
60" x 36"30" x 18"
72" x 36"36" x 18"
84" x 36"42" x 18"
96" x 36"48" x 18"

Use our PowerPoint templates to get started easily! We have pre-configured templates for all common poster sizes.

Please do not embed Word documents, Excel charts & tables, or Visio drawings into your PowerPoint. These objects look OK on the computer screen, but they usually don't print correctly. Instead, convert them to images (JPEGs, TIFFs, EPS, etc.) before adding them to your slide:

  • Word text can be pasted into PowerPoint text boxes.
  • Excel charts can be printed to PDF (higher quality) or copied and pasted into Photoshop to make images (faster).
  • Visio drawings can be saved in many different formats using File | Save As.
  • ChemDraw files should be saved as TIFFs, or so we hear.

The only other trick is to make sure your graphics are embedded rather than linked; linked graphics will be missing when we try to print your poster. Just uncheck the "Link to file" box when using the Insert | Picture | From File menu. (Copy-and-pasted pictures are always embedded.)

PowerPoint files often do not look the same on all computers. To ensure fast and accurate printing, we suggest (but certainly don't require!) that you convert the final PowerPoint slide to a PDF before submitting it. You'll get your poster faster too. We've got detailed, step-by-step instructions for both Windows and Macintosh computers.

PDFs Give More Control

If you prefer an industrial-strength graphic design program like Adobe Illustrator, you're in luck. Just create a document that matches the printed size of your poster, and save it as a PDF. Almost all design programs support the PDF format.

For the rest, PCs with the full version of Adobe Acrobat (free trial) and all Macs can "Print to PDF", allowing you to create PDFs from any program you like. (See our detailed tips and instructions for using print-to-PDF with PowerPoint slides.)

Keep these points in mind for the best possible quality:

  • Embed all fonts to ensure any unusual text or symbols will print correctly.
  • Use CMYK color instead of RGB to get the truest color reproduction.
  • Make sure all graphics are embedded rather than linked.

Make it Look Good

There are a couple simple things you can do to make your poster look its best. In addition to the specific tips given above, we have these suggestions:

  • Make sure your fonts are big enough for people to read. We recommend at least 24pt for normal text, 48pt for headings, and 72pt for titles. Depending on your font, you may want to go larger -- maybe 40pt, 100pt, and 160pt. If you're making a half-size PowerPoint slide, you would use 12pt, 24pt, and 36pt (or larger) instead.
  • Pictures should be between 150 dpi and 300 dpi. Resolutions lower than 150 dpi make your images look blocky, and resolution above 300 dpi make your file bigger without improving the quality. ("dpi" means dots per inch: a 3" x 2" image at 300 dpi would measure 900 x 600 pixels.) You can find high-quality images to use on our affiliation logos page.
  • For readability, use black or dark-colored text printed on a white or pastel background. (Duke people, just say no to the ever-popular dark blue background.) You'll notice most of the great posters in our Gallery follow this advice.
  • Read Colin Purrington's advice on designing scientific posters. It's full of helpful information and yet funny. One of the best on the web.
  • Feeling lost on graphic design? Clean and simple is the way to go. A great guide to clear scientific graphics is Edward Tufte's The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

Getting Professional Help

We're all about doing it yourself, but sometimes you just need help. There are many firms offering design services on the Web, but allow us to suggest:

  • Virtual Apiary, Inc. Parker is a freelance designer with years of experience designing research posters. She can help you polish up a rough draft, or assemble the entire poster from Word documents, Excel table, and/or individual PowerPoint slides. Contact for rates and more information.