Scientific Poster Tutorials

Design & Design Principles
3. Poster Design and Layout: From Font Sizes to Color Contrast

Jump to Section: Fonts | Font Sizes | Font Combos | Color | Contrast | Screen vs. Print | Backgrounds


When it comes to fonts and font styles, the possible combinations are endless. The key is not to go overboard and be sure to follow some basic font guidelines.

Generally, putting information in "bullet" form is better than using sentences.

  • Use sans serif fonts: these fonts are more legible than serif fonts from a distance.

    Sans Serif vs. Serif
  • Headings and other text having the same level of importance should be the same font size.
  • Avoid excessive text. (Poster should have roughly 20% text, 40% figures, 40% space)
  • Text and figures should be legible from around 5-7 feet away (or roughly 1.5m to 2m) (see our text size suggestions below)
  • Leave breathing space around your text.
  • Do not use a different font type to highlight important points - otherwise the fluency and flow of your sentence can appear disrupted.
  • Do not use all UPPER CASE type in your posters. It can make the material difficult to read.
  • Use the bold face or italics or combinations to emphasize words and phrases.
  • Left-align text. Using fully justified text will create large gaps between some words and make it difficult to read.

    left-align text vs. fully justified text
  • Microsoft should automatically change straight quotation marks ( ' or " ) to curly (smart or typographer's) quotes ( ‘ or “ ) as you type. If your document is not doing this, follow the video or follow the steps below to correct that.

    1. Go to the File tab and select Options.
    2. When the PowerPoint Options window opens, select Proofing and then select AutoCorrect Options.
    3. When the AutoCorrect window opens, select the AutoFormat As You Type tab and make sure that "straight quotes" with “smart quotes” is checked.

    AutoFormat As You Type

Font Sizes

Titles and headings should appear larger than other text, but not too large.

Many websites will have suggestions for the font size that should be used for posters, but keep in mind that each of these suggestions are based on a specific poster size. So, generally speaking a good starting point would be to use 24-36pt font, but most importantly… make sure the text fits! Once you have trimmed down the text to only what you need, put all of that text on to your poster and adjust the font size until it all fits well enough in the space you have. Keep in mind, each and every poster is different, so sometimes text will be a bit smaller, and sometimes it will be a bit larger.

Keeping in mind that suggestions are based on a specific poster size, here are a few general size guidelines for your scientific poster.

For the major sections of the poster:

Title: 85pt
Authors: 56pt
Sub-headings: 36pt
Body text: 24pt
Captions: 18pt

As for legibility, the following sizes are a good starting point:

To be legible 6 feet use 30 pt.
To be legible 10 feet use 48 pt.
To be legible 12 feet use 60 pt.
To be legible 14 feet use 72 pt.

Font Combinations

On the right are 10 font combinations that we have seen used frequently by our customers and we feel are very aesthetically pleasing for scientific posters.

It is important to try to avoid using more than 2 font types because too many fonts distract the viewer. This is especially true when they appear on the same sentence.

Two common fonts that are easy on the eyes are Arial and Verdana.
Don’t use a drop shadow unless it is absolutely necessary.

10 Great Font Combos

Color/Contrast/Screen vs. Print

Color Suggestions

Consider people who have problems differentiating colors. One of the most common is an inability to tell green from red.

When choosing colors for your poster, using 2-3 colors will give the best look. Too many colors make it look chaotic and unprofessional, but having no color makes it boring and plain.

If you are creating images on the computer, note that colors may appear different on your screen due to differences in monitors and the printing process. Blue text on a black background and vice versa is particularly hard to read. Even though there may seem to be enough contrast on screen, it does not print well. Try using a light grey instead of black, or lighter blue in the place of navy.

High Contrast

The background and text should have a high contrast. To ensure this, use a light color for the background with a dark colored text or a darker background with light text. Whatever colors you use, the background should not distract from the content itself. Where possible, let the most important item have the most important color and the greatest contrast with its background. If you are not a designer and this is your first research poster, we suggest sticking to light colored backgrounds. This offers more combinations and flexibility when designing your poster. Avoid very bright color combinations, if it makes you squint, don’t use it! You could use one of our research poster templates or colors from our templates if you are unsure of safe color choices.

Here is a bad example of contrast in a scientific poster:

Bad Scientific Poster Contrast

Now, a good example of contrast in a scientific poster:

Good Scientific Poster Contrast

Screen vs. Print

Something that looks easy to read on your screen may not look so good once it is printed, if you have to second guess yourself, choose a different color! The greater the contrast between the font color and the background color, the easier it will be to see and read.

Blues especially don't represent true to color on screen and tend to print purple. On screen your file may appear to have a blue background. In order to avoid this issue, change the RGB value of the blue color in question to contain less red (R) and more blue (B).

Some good blue values: Navy: (0, 30, 102) | Cobalt Blue: (0, 51, 153) | True Blue: (0, 0, 255)

Keep in mind that your screen is a nice, bright, backlit monitor and paper has no bright, built in light source. While all of our printers a very accurately calibrated, some of the colors and images may not be as vivid as you may expect once they are printed.

Here is a bad example:

Screen vs. Print With Scientific Poster

Here is a good example:

Screen vs. Print With Scientific Poster


Try to stay away from anything that is too busy. Often times a solid tone, or a very simple gradient is the best option. Also, choose a color that will complement the color you have chosen for your font.

Below are two examples that demonstrate the importance of choosing the best background for your poster presentation.

The background below can make the text hard to read:

Bad Scientific Poster Background Choice

This is a good example for a scientific poster background:

Good Scientific Poster Background Choice

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