Designing Effective Posters

Learn how to design and publish effective posters. This guide includes sections on design elements, the poster design process, and using software to create posters.

Writing Tips

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  • Boil down information into bullet points where possible.
  • Avoid wordiness and jargon.
  • Use active voice. (The Purdue OWL has a great guide on active vs. passive voice)
  • Use vocabulary that your audience understands.
  • Spell Out Acronyms The First Time You Use Them (SOATFTYUT) -- always! Even if you think your audience will know the acronym, you should still spell it out at least once.

Is all the information in the poster essential to your message?

Posters are not the same as research papers. Posters are intended to boil down a project or topic to its bare essentials, not provide details or supporting documentation. If some of your information is relevant but not essential to your main points, don't include it. Consider putting non-essential "nice to know" information in a supplementary handout.

Rainbow gradient heading saying "layout and text"

Content Layout

You have a lot of room to be creative when making a poster, but there are some general rules you'll want to follow to ensure that your poster is as effective as possible. The layout of a poster can drastically impact how well it is received by others. There are a few key features you'll want to include in your layout. 

 

Banner

This is the section at the top which includes the title of the poster, the author(s), and the authors' affiliations. The title should be the largest text in the poster, and the author names should be the next largest. The title should be large enough for someone to read from several feet away. On a standard size print poster, this is somewhere between 96-120 pt. text.

Many researchers also put the logo of their institution or department in the banner. See our page on UNC logos for more information on using a logo in your poster. 

 

Columns

Below the banner, a poster usually includes three or four columns of content. There are exceptions; in some cases you may opt for a different layout. 

 

Alignment 

Headings, columns, and graphics should be aligned whenever appropriate. For example, a poster is typically broken into columns. the tops of the columns should be aligned with each other, and the sections in each column should be left justified so that each paragraph is exactly at the left edge of the column.

Align graphics where possible. For example, you could align the top edge of a photo in one column with the bottom edge of a diagram in another column.

 

Balance and Spacing

Distribute the content and images in the poster so that it looks balanced. Strive to achieve an aesthetically pleasing, uncluttered look. Include a margin of about an inch along all edges of the poster.

 

White Space

Be sure to include some white space. Too much content can actually make it difficult for viewers to read the poster. 

 

Organization

This is one feature that people often don't think about. The way you organize the content on your poster has a big impact on how easily viewers will be able to understand it. In general, you want your content to move from left → right and top → bottom. This is the way we learn to read, so the eye naturally follows this same trajectory when viewing a poster. This means you'll want to have introductory information at the top or left side of your side, and your concluding information at the bottom or right side. 

Remember, if you're presenting to an international audience, you might have to think more about how to organize your poster! Some languages don't read left → right, so those viewers might not ingest the information in the same way as a native English speaker. 

 

Consistency

Use the same fonts throughout the poster. Use similar dimensions for illustrations and photographs.  Use similar color and design elements throughout the poster.

 

Color

Use color judiciously to add to the visual appeal of your poster. Consider using one or two accent colors (such as for shadows or or thin lines separating columns) or using a pale, solid background color. If you're using any images, charts, or other graphics, try picking accent colors that are already included in your graphics. 

 

Fonts

Feel free to use either serif or sans serif fonts, but be consistent in what you use! Many people use one font for the headings and another for the body text, but it's perfectly fine to use one font for the whole poster. More people are using sans serif fonts for posters these days because it feels a little easier to read, particularly on a digital screen. However, it's entirely up to you which font(s) to use. You want to pick fonts that are readable and don't distract from the content of your poster. 

This is a serif font.

This is is a sans serif font.

If you're creating a poster for a young audience or non-academic audience, you might want to incorporate a novelty font for headings just to keep things light and interesting. There are many websites that allow you to download fonts for free for non-commercial uses. 

 

Headings

Divide the poster into parts with major headings for each section. Make heading for each level distinct and consistent so that the viewer can easily see the structure of the content. You may also choose to add color to a level to set it apart. For example:

 

Heading Level One

Heading Level Two

Text 

Good organization involves breaking down your content into logical categories. Organize your information into major sections. For example, a poster describing a quantitative study might include section headings such as:

  • Background or Introduction
  • Purpose or Objectives
  • Methods or Procedures
  • Results
  • Conclusions
  • Lessons Learned or Future Plans

Don't feel as though you need to include ALL of these headings. Many students use 3-4 headings for a simple research poster. On the other hand, don't be afraid to use a unique heading where applicable. Pick headings that fit into your research and allow viewers to synthesize your content easily.

 

Font Size


It is important that your title and headings stand out so people can quickly see what your poster is about and how it is structured. The font sizes you should use depends on your overall poster size as well as the amount of content in your poster, and it is somewhat subjective.
If you are doing a PRINT poster (48 in. x 36 in.) here are some suggested font sizes: 
  • Title:  88 to 120 points 
  • Names and Affiliations:  70 to 90 points
  • Major headings: 54 to 80 points
  • Sub headings: 48 to 72 points
  • Text: 36 to 52 points

The above are only guidelines. When you have completed a draft, take a look at your font sizes and tweak them as needed to make them look good.

If you are doing a DIGITAL poster, disregard the font sizes listed above, unless you have increased the dimensions of your slide. PowerPoint slides default to 13.3 inches wide by 7.5 inches high. You don't need to increase the slide size if you are presenting a digital poster, since the computer screen will automatically adjust the size of your slide accordingly. More information on slide sizes can be found here

Generally speaking, titles and headings should be bold. Text should not be bold. 

 

Embedding Fonts

When you're designing a poster on PowerPoint, you may wish to embed your fonts. Embedding a font means that the style of the font itself won't be replaced with another font (or worse -- blank boxes) if you share your document with another person. If you have downloaded a specialty font, or if you created your poster on an operating system different than the one you'll use to present it, you may want to embed your fonts. The process only takes a few minutes and is a simple way to give yourself some peace of mind. 

If you're using Windows, you can embed fonts in Word and PowerPoint, starting with versions 2007 and newer. If you're using macOS, only Office 365 for Mac and PowerPoint 2019  for Mac support this feature. 

For a step-by-step guide on how to embed your fonts, visit Microsoft's page on embedding fonts

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