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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.

Created by Health Science Librarians

Getting started: Powerpoint and Indesign

PowerPoint 2013, 2016, and Office 365

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). 

NOTE: PowerPoint for Windows versions 2016, 2013, and Office 365 are very similar.  This section applies to both. Screenshots from the 2013 version may differ slightly from the 2016 version but most features work the same way.  

Getting Started

1. Launch PowerPoint by clicking its program icon. Choose a template, or 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. 

2. To specify the dimensions of the poster click the Customize icon under the Design tab. Then click Slide Size.

In the Slide Size dialog box, enter the Width and Height for your poster.  Be sure that the printer you plan to use is able to print at the size you specify.  

Important Notes on Poster Sizing:

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

  • PowerPoint 2016 slides are, by default, 13.333 inches wide by 7.5 inches high.

  • 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.

If you are using the Mac version of PowerPoint, please click here to view the same guide but with images that were taken from a Mac. 

Getting Started with InDesign

This section describes Adobe InDesign version CS6.  If you have a different version of InDesign, the user interface may look a little different but the procedures for creating posters are essentially the same. The user interface of InDesign is essentially the same on  the Windows and Macintosh platforms.

If you have questions or need further assistance, please contact  the Undergraduate Library Design Lab The UNC Chapel Hill Undergraduate Library Design Lab has InDesign software and staffed assistance most days from 10 am to 10 pm. For details, see:

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


Creating a New InDesign Document

To create a new InDesign document, you can click Create New Document on the splash screen that appears (unless disabled) when InDesign launches.


Or you can choose File menu > New > Document:

The New Document dialog box appears. Enter in values for the page size, margins, and number of columns. Typical for a poster could 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).

Note: If the measurement units in the above dialog box are something other than inches, you can change the units to inches by choosing InDesign menu > Preferences >Units and Increments. 


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 > Hide 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