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AP 101: basic academic poster tech

March 2, 2011

(The first of two articles about creating academic posters. See part 2.)

ND Anthro student with poster

A professor in the college of Engineering at Notre Dame approached me this semester about a project he was considering, where where students would create and present academic posters. Presenting a poster is clearly a form of teaching and our center frequently assists faculty with presentation technique. Posters also involve technology, so it was appropriate for me to begin researching the technology involved.

I discovered that after many years of dutifully cutting and pasting pieces of paper onto cardboard or foam core, a new option has become popular – large format printers that produce the entire poster in one shot. These devices use rolled paper that is typically 36 inches wide, so the height can be 60 inches or more. It’s not cheap, though – a 3-by-4-foot poster can easily set you back $50 – 65!

A variety of different types of software are used in creating posters.

  1. Presentation – PowerPoint, Keynote
  2. Desktop publishing – Publisher, InDesign, Scribus (open source)
  3. Vector graphics – Illustrator, Inkscape (open source)
  4. LaTeX – typesetting and document preparation (open source)
  5. Poster Genius – specifically for making posters

PowerPoint is one of the most popular tools. It’s relatively easy to use, familiar to many people, and readily available on college campuses. It also provides tools for incorporating a variety of poster elements: text, images, shapes, clip art, lines, tables, and charts (also see our article about SmartArt). PowerPoint even has a grid-snap option to help line up items, and it’s easy to find templates you can use as a starting point. There’s lots of help available on the Internet, including this video:

Creating and presenting an academic poster involves visual design (layout, colors, fonts, images), content (identifying and summarizing key information), personal interaction (demeanor, appearance), and other factors. For students, an academic poster project can provide valuable experience in organizing their thoughts and relating with other people.

Eight useful resources

  1. Creating Effective Posters (NC State) – extensive information, well organized, popular
  2. Advice on designing scientific posters (Colin Purrington) – another popular general resource
  3. Tips for presenting a poster (Texas Tech) – advice on the face-to-face dimension
  4. Poster and Presentation Resources (North Carolina) – a page of links
  5. PowerPoint poster templates (No. Colorado)
  6. A page including sample posters (Penn State)
  7. – printing, tutorials and templates
  8. – printing site recommended by a colleague
  9. Better Posters – blog

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  1. April 17, 2013 2:27 am

    Reblogged this on Academic / Scientific Posters and commented:
    This 2011 post covers some basic compilation issues & has links to useful sites at the end. Its follow-up post though talks about moving from traditional posters to electronic posters & has a link to an assessment rubric. I rebloged this as it shows a transition from the traditional format, to a an IT format, but discusses issues of resolution / dpi. I dislike the idea of people having to view e-posters on standard pc screens, but the author mentions more of a virtual environment, which hints of an ‘afterlife’ for posters …. See what you think 🙂

  2. Sal permalink
    May 18, 2011 11:00 pm

    Layout in InDesign if you’re familiar with it – so, so much better for dealing with high resolution images without crashing the computer. Large format printers are the way to go for printing – we’ve pushed a few through FedEx in a hurry, they sometimes have one branch in a metropolitan area with a large printer. Better service through local sign shops, one near me called Alice June – – does extremely good work. Campus libraries sometimes offer highly subsidized pricing but less reliable as it’s busy help desk staffer running things.

    I’ve been at conferences which specifically discourage printing posters & opt for a virtual, bring-your-laptop type approach. The way of the future?

  3. Kristin Lewis permalink
    March 11, 2011 11:54 am

    We have been using PowerPoint for student posters in biology lab for quite a while. One work around the price cost is to have students print to 11×17 paper for about $1-2 at Kinkos. They still look nice and are readable by a TA or at close range. We have students set up the file as if it will be printed at full size so that they have a “real” template for use in the future.

    Colin Purrington’s site at Swarthmore that you mention in your post has always been a helpful resource.

  4. Chris Clark permalink*
    March 3, 2011 3:43 pm

    I am surprised as well – but at the same time not so much. For one thing, it’s difficult to make a meaningful animation. For another, a poster session is more about a personal connection than it is about a visual experience.

  5. Steve Ehrmann permalink
    March 3, 2011 8:54 am

    Several years ago, for the first time, I saw posters at a university teaching conference displayed on flat screens, not paper. They were touch screens, I think, and roughly the same size and shape as paper postesrs. As you might imagine, this enabled the inclusion of video clips and buttons leading to data, additional resources, etc. I’m surprised not to have seen that a second time yet, but it’s coming…


  1. Poster printing – Technology Resources
  2. Top 15 student media creation projects | NspireD2: Learning Technology in Higher Ed.
  3. How to design a digital media project « NspireD2: Learning Technology in Higher Ed.

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