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Posted by Mark Hine at 2:25PM   |  Add a comment

Research posters are a venerable art form that signal the true conclusion of a project - presenting and reporting results. They are communication tools. Sometimes entertaining, filled with charts and graphs and photos, and some times not, filled with text. To expand on this point, I like to use the word balance. A research poster is a graphic art and thus we should consider the best presentation layout to convey information. Part art - part architecture. And there is a formula for success that is based on a hierarchy that has evolved out of the hundreds of posters I have edited, printed and 'fixed'.

Let's start with the text elements of a poster. Think abstract, meaning a summary, not Jackson Pollock. Also think audience. And then put the two together to think relevance. Who is my audience and what do they absolutely need to know. Throw out the rest. A poster is not the place to detail complex theoretical processes akin to a post doctoral thesis. It can be very challenging to funnel down to something reasonable at 18pt (recommended minimum font). And this may be personal preference but Comic Sans is not a professional looking font. Choose Arial, Verdana, Georgia or Times New Roman. Personal favorite: Century Gothic Bold (but never italic). Impact and Arial Black work great for titles. Don't be afraid to mix fonts to separate content types but use the same fonts for similar content categories, e.g. body text, title text, figure text, labels, etc. Each of these elements should use the same font type/family.

Use images to tell the story and then use text sparingly to fill in the gaps and to identify relevance. Images need to be high quality or they detract - plain and simple. High quality means 300 dpi (dots/inch) at the size you want the image to appear in the poster. Think about it in these terms: if we examine a poster 42" wide, a typical layout provides three equally spaced columns of 14" each. If you want a picture to fill a column the image must originally be large enough to be set somewhere in the range of 10" horizontally. So the image, without enlargement, needs to be 10" or so native at 300dpi to be set at a reasonable size, centered in a 14" column. Hopefully you can extrapolate image sizes from there using different layouts. If you are comfortable with Photoshop or Photoshop Elements you can examine the size of your image. To re-size an image to 300dpi in Photoshop, use the menu Image>>Image Size and uncheck the box that reads Resample Image. Change the Resolution setting to 300. This will maintain the quality of the image pixels. It may make the image smaller but it is the only way to obtain a true 300 dpi image. Try not to scale up or down images in PowerPoint. Use an image editing application to do so, when possible.

The three column layout is typical but not required. Two columns of differing sizes can work well. Other versions that are not visually disruptive, meaning they read left to right and visually make sense, are certainly acceptable. A typical and effective layout is to begin with the abstract on the left, results in the center and conclusions on the right. Again, not required but it represents a linear view of your research or project.

We are asked this question the most. How big should it be? The answer often depends on the presentation space available to you. Typical sizes are 24" X 36" for easel presentations and 36" X 48" for landscape or hung presentations. Your presentation space provider may have exacting requirements so do ask. The most important aspect of size is in the design. For a poster to be printed at the target size desired it must be created at that target size. Enlarging a 8.5 X 11 design to anything larger will result in distortion and pixelization. To save paper, we recommend a horizontal width of either 24", 36" or 42" when possible. The max size we can print is 42" in one dimension (either height or width). 

Regardless of the application you use to create your poster, prior to designing it, go to Page Setup or Document Set up and set the final print size that you would like to have reproduced.

If we had our way, every poster would come to us in PDF format. PDF allows for the embedding of fonts, though they can become quite large when images are used. PowerPoint, for all its shortcomings, is the most popular poster design tool at Ithaca College, and for good reason. Layout is drag and drop. PowerPoint supports multiple image formats and many people are familiar with the application.

Think contrast. Use contrasting colors for your background and text. Blue text on a dark background is almost unreadable. White text on a yellow background, same idea. Use white space strategically to separate sections, ideas and meaning. Choose complimentary colors that go together- think wardrobe. You wouldn't wear pink and green together. Simple is better. Keep objects and text away from the edges by about 3/4". This will ensure readability and avoid object collision. When using charts and graphs from Excel, export them as an image within Excel then import them into PowerPoint. Do not copy and paste charts and graphs from Word to PowerPoint. Avoid reflection, heavy bevels, mirroring, dash lines (double rules often look nice though) and jamming too much information to make your poster look more important. Readability and comprehension should be the end goals for an effective research poster.


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