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Designing Effective Posters: Getting Started With PowerPoint and Adobe InDesign

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.


Microsoft PowerPoint was originally designed for created slide presentations, not posters. But it can also be used to create a poster.  When you create a poster with PowerPoint, you are creating the poster on only ONE slide (a very large slide).  

Getting Started

  1. Launch PowerPoint by clicking its program icon. Start from scratch by selecting Blank Presentation.
    When you start a new presentation, you may see default text boxes in the slide window.  
    These boxes are used for the title slide of a presentation. You don't need them, so delete them by selecting them with the mouse cursor and pressing the delete key. 
    Screen shot of the first slide prompt in PowerPoint showing two boxes with the word Click to add title in the top box and Click to add subtitle in the second box

  2. To specify the dimensions of the poster click the Slide Size icon under the Design tab. Then click Custom Slide Size.
    Screen shot of the menu for Design in PowerPoint.  The Slide size button is pushed with a menu showing three options.  An arrow points to the third option for Custom Slide Size.
    In the Slide Size dialog box, enter the Width, Height and Orientation for your poster.  Be sure that the printer you plan to use is able to print at the size you specify.  
    Screen shot of the Slide Size menu box.  The box lists that the slides are sized for custom, the width is 48 in, the height is 36 in and the slide are in landscape.
  3.  PowerPoint will then ask you concerning scaling your slides.  For posters, you want to select Ensure Fit.  You want to make sure all of your poster content will fit.

Screen shot of a menu selection for two options.  The options are Maximize or Ensure Fit.

Important Notes on Poster Sizing:

  • The maximum slide size in PowerPoint is 56 inches x 56 inches.

  • The standard size for PRINT academic posters is 48 inches wide by 36 inches tall.

  • DIGITAL posters may be STANDARD (4:3) or WIDESCREEN (16:9). PowerPoint has pre-sets for these that you may use. The poster will automatically adjust to fit the screen you are using. If you think you'll print out your poster, you may want to adjust the sizing. To fit these proportions, a 4:3 poster would be 56 inches wide by 42 inches high, and a 16:9 poster would be 56 inches wide by 31.5 inches high.

If you want a poster that is longer or wider than  56" we suggest that you create your poster at half-size. Then when you print it, print it at 200% size. For example, if you want your finished poster to be 40" by 80", set your poster size to 20" by 40". Then print it at 200%. Keep in mind that if you are creating your poster at half-size, everything in it (text, heading, charts, images) will end up being twice as large in your finished poster. So, for example, if you create a title that has a font size of 48 points, in the final poster it will be 96 points.

Getting Started with InDesign

Students at UNC can download the Adobe Creative Cloud library of products, including InDesign, for free.  To sign up for access, visit  You will go through a purchase process, but the cost is $0.

Once you have downloaded the Creative Cloud software, you will need to download the InDesign program to your computer.

For information and tutorials about the latest features of Adobe InDesign, see


Creating a New InDesign Document

To create a new InDesign document, click on New File when the program opens.

Screen shot from InDesign showing a blue button with the words New file within.


The New Document dialog box appears. Look first at the Units drop down box and change it to Inches if it is not already.  Enter in values for the page size, margins, and number of columns. Typical for a poster would be a page size of 60 inches wide and 36 inches tall, 3 columns, and margins of 0.5 inches on all four sides (top, bottom, left, and right).  Be sure your orientation is set correctly.

Screen shot of the New Document screen.  The settings for the poster are noted in the text above this image.

Moving around in the display

To zoom in on part of the document, use the zoom tool (). Or choose Ctrl + to zoom in; Ctrl - to zoom out

While you are zoomed in, use the Hand tool () to move around the image.

Press spacebar to access the hand tool when using another tool (except the text tool)

Working With Guides

Guides are useful for aligning the elements in your poster. Guides are lines that appear on the screen but do not print. To add guides, first make sure the rulers are visible (View menu > Show Rulers).  Then click in a ruler and drag to where you want to place the guide.

To hide or lock the guides, choose View menu  > Grids and GuidesHide Guides or Lock Guides.

Digital Posters

If you are making a digital poster, the exact slide size isn't necessarily important. You won't need to change the inches of the slide size. Instead, you'll want to focus on the type of screen you'll be presenting on: Standard or Widescreen. PowerPoint has two ratios to fit these sizes:

  • Standard is a 4:3 ratio and is more square
  • Widescreen is a 16:9 ratio and is more rectangular