Argonne National Laboratory

Guide to Effective Poster Design
“The aim [of education] must be the training of independently acting and thinking individuals who, however, can see in the service to the community their highest life achievement.” —Albert Einstein

Poster Design

Presenters use posters to entice audiences to (1) read about their work and (2) understand and remember the information presented.

Design can help you achieve both of these goals. A good poster attracts audiences with a clear, uncluttered design that has a pop of color. It has information presented in logical order such that audiences can navigate through the material easily. In addition, a good poster is not overloaded with text; it contains only the most essential bits of text and graphics needed to tell the story. The following summarizes the design elements that make up a scientific poster.

Key Features

At its core, a poster is made up of four key features: a title, graphic(s), text, and white space. Layout, flow, and color affect the order and style of these four key features.

Title

The title is a descriptive indicator of the contents of the poster, and should not exceed two lines of text. For your title, we recommend using 48-point font (or larger) and bold lettering.

Text

Posters typically employ around 800 words (and no more than 1000 words) of text. Your text MUST be organized into sections and labeled with appropriate section headings so that readers can easily navigate the contents of your poster. The text should clearly describe the objective of your study, the procedures used, the results obtained, and any conclusions based on the results presented.

Graphics

Graphics must appear in context with the main text. When choosing graphics, always choose high-resolution images (300 dpi or higher) and make sure that these images are large enough that a person standing 5 feet away can see them. Avoid pulling low resolution images from the web, always use captions for figures and tables, and always credit sources where appropriate.

White space

White space exists as key feature because it is necessary for defining the borders of your presentation. It also create “breathing room” within your poster, which helps viewers not feel overwhelmed by the information being presented. Roughly speaking, 30% of your poster should consist of white space, 40% should consist of your title and text, and 30% should consist of graphic images.

Layout

There are many design options for the layout of a poster, including numerous free templates available online. Some popular options include vertical columns, contrasting fields, and graphic-centered designs shown above. Ultimately, the right layout for your poster will be the one that best illustrates the purpose of your report. For example, if your objective is to compare and contrast two different categories, a contrasting fields layout will likely be a better option than a vertical columns or graphics-centered layout.

Flow

Flow coordinates with how your readers' eyes move around the different sections of your poster. As you are choosing your layout and labelling the different sections of your poster, you should always consider the flow of your design. In the best poster designs, the flow is logical and readers are never confused about how to find information on the poster or how to connect the dots between different sections. Above is an example of how a vertical column layout would flow. 

Color

Adding color to a presentation is an excellent way to draw a reader’s gaze and define the different sections of your poster. But color should always be used sparingly and with considerable thought. Indiscriminate changes in font and color only distract from your message; therefore we recommend you do not use more than three colors and two font types for your text. One simple way of incorporating color to your poster is to use a different color for your headings and subheadings.

Tips for Creating a Poster

  • Use no more than two typefaces.
  • Use sans serif fonts like Arial, Calibri, or Helvetica. These fonts work better for posters and PowerPoints, while serif fonts are typically reserved for papers.
  • Write the authors' names, collaborators’ names, and subheadings using 48-point font or larger.
  • Use 30- to 36-point font for the narrative text.
  • Keep the margins of your poster and the space between columns at a minimum of 2.5 inches.
  • Avoid mixing low-contrast colors (for example, yellow text against a white background) because it often makes text and images hard to see.

Programs for Creating Posters

  • LaTeX (free)
  • PowerPoint
  • InDesign
  • Illustrator
  • Inkscape
  • PosterGenius