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Poster Design: Design

Whether you are planning to present at the Spotlight on Student Research or gearing up for your conference poster presentation, this guide should help you avoid some of the most common mistakes and provide some ideas to help you get started.

Get started in just a few easy steps

These instructions were written for Microsoft PowerPoint 2010. The directions may vary depending on the version of software you have.

  • Open PowerPoint. An easy way to design a poster is to use one slide as the entire poster. 
  • Click on the design tab > page setup
  • From there, select custom from the slides sized for dropdown menu
  • Indicate your size, probably 36"x48" for portrait or 36"x24" for landscape
    • Remember for the Student Spotlight on Research the maximum width is 48"
  • Then you are ready to begin adding text boxes, images, and other components of your poster

There are many other programs that will help you design an effective poster, such as Adobe Illustrator, Mac Presentation, or even Google Drive Presentation. 

Read a short presentation on poster design and theory that also has lots of great examples of creative posters. 

Basic Elements

Generally scientific posters follow a similar structure to academic papers:

  1. Title and authors
  2. Introduction/background
  3. Methods
  4. Results/ Discussion
  5. Conclusion
  6. References

Outreach and class project posters may have different sections. 


  • Use san-serif fonts for the title, such as Calibri, Helvetica, Arial, Verdana. It is easier to read from a distance.
  • Use a serif font for the body, such as Times New Roman, Garamond, Georgia, Palatino
  • Use larger font size or bold as section headings
  • Use complemetary colors. If you don't know what that means, visit
  • Avoid titles with colons (;) if you can. These are overused and tiresome.
  • To help make the sections of your poster stand out try to make the text boxes a lighter color with a darker background. 
  • Cite any images you use, even if they are your own. A simple URL or "Image credit: username" is usually sufficient if you don't have much space.
  • Use italics to draw attention to key ideas. This is less distracting than underlining.
  • Label and explain charts, graphs, tables, and figures. 
  • Font should be at least 24 point for the body, 36 point for the title. 


  • Don't use dark lines to outline the text boxes. This distracts the reader.
  • Don't make the font too small. 
  • Don't use too many words. You should not cut and paste from your research paper.
  • Don't say, 'data is" because the word "data" is plural. Data are fun!
  • Don't forget to include your references list and an acknowledgements section (if applicable).

Poster Design

Poster design is as much as it is art as it science. Most sites will tend to agree on general poster design, although there are a few areas where they deviate. In all cases, think about "WHY?" before you put anything on a page.