Scientific Poster Tutorials

Design & Design Principles
2. Planning Ahead: Available Space and Your Poster Size

Jump to Section: Portrait vs. Landscape | Storyboarding | Gathering Content | The Poster's Flow

"Measure twice, cut once"

So, find out the dimensions of presentation space before you design your poster. Also check whether the space is vertical or horizontal (see section below for more information regarding the two). It isn't uncommon to have a 4x8 foot horizontal display area, but this does not mean you need to fill the entire space! In fact, we discourage it. Not only will it be difficult to hang by yourself, but you will most likely be blocking an area of the poster while presenting. Once you know what size the poster will be, our page size calculator can determine what page size to use in PowerPoint. We also have page size converter if you've already created your PowerPoint file but must change the page aspect-ratio (proportion of width/height). For more detailed information see our section on the aspects of poster size and resizing.

You can decide to design your own poster from scratch, but to save yourself a lot of time and frustration you can start with one of our many templates.

For more detailed information see our section on the technical aspects of poster size and resizing.

Portrait vs. Landscape

Portrait vs. Landscape

Portrait orientation is when the poster is taller than it is wide, whereas landscape is the opposite. It is wider than it is tall. We consider 36"x72" and 72"x36" to be one in the same size, so you won’t have to worry about whether your poster will be printed with the correct orientation. When you order your poster, we will rotate it accordingly to fit best on the paper.

Storyboarding and Gathering Content


Sketch out a design on an 8.5 by 11 paper ahead of time.

It's important to stress that clear design ultimately begins with clear thinking. Before you even begin working in PowerPoint (or any other program - see our resources section), you may want to sketch out a design on an 8.5" x 11" paper ahead of time. Alternatively, you could begin with one of the PowerPoint templates provided on our website. This will determine how your final poster will look.

Gathering Content

On average, a viewer will spend 5-7 minutes looking at your poster presentation. So, before you start gathering and sorting through images, graphs, and charts, take a step back and ask yourself the following question:

"If a viewer was only able to take away one thing from looking at my poster, what would that one thing be?"

Got an answer? Well congratulations, that is the overall theme of your poster. All of the text, images, charts, and graphs are going to help reinforce that theme.

We support all versions of PowerPoint, both Mac and PC. Don't worry about saving your file in "Compatibility Mode" for previous versions of PowerPoint—save it as a .PPTX. We will be able to open and print your file.
Avoid switching back and forth between working on a Mac and a PC.

Gather all of the text and graphics in one place so that it is easy to transfer all of the content to wherever you need. For example, you might have an existing file you'd like to grab content from, or even your actual paper that may be a Word document. Try to avoid switching back and forth between a Mac and a PC. Generally speaking, this causes compatibility issues.

Don't forget about graphics and figures such as Excel graphs and photographs taken from a surgery or through a microscope. It is best to go back and get these pictures directly from the original source, rather than transferring from one software to another. If you need to scan photographs, do so in .JPG format. Do not worry about converting your graphics from RGB to CMYK mode or vice versa. Just use the original and we will print using the best method for your graphics.

At a distance of three to four feet away, an individual should be able to quickly understand what each section is and why it is there.

Remember, your poster is trying to tell a story. The research poster explains to anyone reading it what you did, how and why you did it, and the conclusion you came to from doing it.

The Poster's Flow

Examples of spacing

Negative or empty space is essential for a poster to be easily readable. Resist cramming every bit of information on to your poster. Summarize paragraphs and consider grouping related text and data together with a border, so your reader can more easily digest bits of information.

Don’t run your content up to the edge of the page, make sure to leave some space.

The natural flow of a poster is in columns (vertically) that flow from left to right. "How many columns?" you ask. The size, width, and number of columns you have depends on the size of your font (and your content overall). The reader should be able to easily scan a line of text and move to the next line without losing place (too long/ wide) or getting a headache from jumping to the next line every 5 words (too short/ narrow).

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