Creating Good Posters Using PowerPoint

Developed by Doug Foxgrover, Sean Fox, John McDaris, and Mary Savina.

The process of creating files that can be printed on large format printers (larger than 11"x17") goes beyond the familiar tools and techniques many of us are used to. This document describes a particular process and set of procedures that has been found to work well. Frequently, people who don't consider these issues, end up with documents that look fine on the screen but are either un-printable or of lower quality than they had hoped when blown up to life size. Invariably this discovery is made at the last, worst possible moment.

Before you begin

You'll first need to determine the size of your final poster. Many large format printers print on 36" rolls of paper. So you should know how you will be printing your poster and what any size limitations there are. Keep in mind that the larger the poster the more care will be required in keeping your file size small so that the final result is printable. Also keep in mind that just because you've been given an 8 foot by 8 foot space at the conference doesn't mean your poster has to fill it. Few people will read your important title 8' above the floor or your important conclusions 1' above the floor. In this case, Quantity does NOT equal Quality.

Get your content all ready to go

Next gather the text and figures for your poster. You can compose the text in a word processor and cut and paste it in when it's nicely polished. You can certainly add text directly with PowerPoint but it doesn't provide a particularly nice environment for creating nice prose.

If you're adding figures or pictures make sure you have the (digital) originals. For instance, if you're inserting a graph from an Excel spreadsheet make sure you have the original spreadsheet in hand. If you're creating other graphical output make sure you have the original file and access to the software used to create the graphic. Simply having a copy of the file is often not good enough. Frequently the file that you have, though it looks fine, may be inappropriate for large format printing. Expect to have to recreate each of your graphics from the original program (unless you've had the forethought to create your graphics with this purpose in mind).

Graphics and Pictures

Using Photoshop or another image-management tool, set the picture resolution for each picture or graphic to about 150 dpi (dots per inch) and the size (in inches) to the exact size you want it in the final poster. This combination of settings (the right size in inches and 150 dpi) will get the best possible results out of the printer. So for example if you're using Photoshop (though many different tools could do this) you go to the "Image" menu and choose "Image Size ...". In the "Document Size" section, set the resolution to 150 dpi and uncheck the "Resample Image" checkbox. (Check your image size in Inches - If your image is smaller (in inches) than your desired final size, then your image doesn't have enough information (too few pixels) to get the maximum quality. In this case, reset the resolution to its previous value. The resolution will be below 150 dpi, but it will still be as good as it will get (given what you're starting with)). Next, check the "Resample Image" checkbox, and change the image size (in inches) to match the desired size on your poster. Hit "OK" when you have finished.

Finally save your image in .jpg format with default compression before you insert it into PowerPoint.

Working with PowerPoint

Now it's time to fire up PowerPoint. You will be working all in one "slide" only. Make the slide blank – that is, remove any text boxes from the slide. [If you are using the most recent version of PowerPoint (2007): Change the Slide Layout to Title Only and put in title.]

In the File Menu -> Page Setup dialog box, set the page size to match the final size of your poster. (If you get a message about the size of your poster being larger than the paper size, choose "Don't Fix".) Now save your document on the computer. [PowerPoint (2007): On the Design tab, go to Page Setup to set the size of the poster "slide".]

Use Text boxes to add text to your poster, or to import text from Word. Choose appropriate fonts and font sizes for the different parts of your poster: Put the title in a San Serif font (at about 72 -150 point size), and put the main text areas in a Serif font (at about 24 - 48 point size). Don't use multiple fonts in the text of your poster.

Add graphics, pictures, and more text boxes as you would to create a regular PowerPoint slide. When you have the content you want on the poster, look again at the Guidelines below - don't crowd, focus on the most important ideas, don't use too much text, etc. Edit what you've added to the poster to make it leaner and more focused.

Save your file often as you are working on it.

Guidelines for Making a Good Poster

  • Focus on what's most important and build your poster around it.
  • Give yourself enough time to complete your poster and get it printed. It takes a number of hours to create a good poster and proof it for possible mistakes and misspellings.
  • Posters are not papers. They rely more on graphics and images than on text to carry their message.
  • Posters should be good-looking enough to attract attention, and clear enough to communicate your ideas or research results.
  • Do not overcrowd your poster with too much text, too many colors, or a background color or image. Too much text is the number one reason people don't read posters!
  • Common sections include: Title, Abstract, Introduction, Authors, Materials and Methods, Results (present numerical data graphically, if possible), Discussion, Conclusions, References. Which of these sections can you leave out (remember the prime directive)?
  • Work on your graphics outside of Power Point to make them as good as you can (readable at the appropriate size, not pixelated), and as small as possible (in computer storage terms).
  • Choose colors very carefully:
    • Font color and slide background color must have high contrast
    • Be wary of colors that do not mix well, red and blue, for instance.
    • Be aware of low-contrast combinations that make text hard/impossible to read.
    • Don't let background colors or images distract audience from your message.
  • Arrange your poster for "flow", typically from upper left to lower right, to guide the reader.
  • Align your paragraphs and blocks to each other – it keeps your poster from looking sloppy.
  • Check all your spelling and punctuation.