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Design Process

What is a poster session?

A poster session offers an alternative to the lecture-style presentation or formal workshop as a means of delivering your ideas to a walk-up audience that can be engaged at a very personal level. It is an informal way of sharing content with your colleagues.

A poster session can take the form of a poster printed through a print shop; a hand-pasted compilation or collage on poster board or tri-fold; an electronic presentation, such as a web site or PowerPoint presentation; or even simply a meet and greet or demo (some visual aids or handouts recommended).

What outcomes will participating in poster sessions have?

Posters will be presented during Highline’s Opening Week this fall. Presenters will stay with their exhibits and be available to share and answer questions.

In addition to the benefit your poster session will bring to Highline, you can take your presentation on the road and present it at academic/professional conferences you attend.

The Design Process

Here’s the process as we see it:

  • Storyboard

  • Sketch

  • Draft

  • Design reviews

  • Final draft

  • Print

  • Session set-up

  • Be there!

  • Post-session evaluation


For assistance  contact Janice Adams,, ext. 3650.

Our poster and this handout (see link to .PPT at left) are based on information from a web site by Jeff Radel, 1999. Text in boxes is copied and pasted directly from his site:


The Poster's background

Two basic rules to keep in mind are that

1) Artistry does not substitute for content

2) The fancier the poster, the greater the time investment.


There are several common approaches.

  • Some folks use pieces of mat board (or Bristol board) to make a solid background for the entire poster. They may then choose to use a complementary color as a border for important elements of the poster.
  • Others use smaller pieces of board to frame only the elements of the poster, leaving spaces between the elements empty.

Either approach works; the former gives a unified appearance and is easier to hang straight, while the latter is easier to carry to and from the meeting. It is also possible, but often expensive, to have a commercial house reproduce your completed poster as a single large sheet of paper, which can then be rolled into a cylinder for transport.



Miscellaneous comments

This page contains comments applying to presentations and meetings in general, rather than to the details of poster assembly.

  • Since a poster is essentially a visual presentation, try to find ways to show what was done - use schematic diagrams, arrows, and other strategies to direct the visual attention of the viewer, rather than explaining it all using text alone.
  • Design the poster to address one central question. State the question clearly in the poster, then use your discussion time with individuals to expand or expound upon issues surrounding that central theme.
  • Provide an explicit take-home message.
  • Summarize implications and conclusions briefly, and in user-friendly language.
  • Give credit where it is due. Have an acknowledgements section, in smaller size type (14 - 18 point), where you acknowledge contributors and funding organizations.
  • Vary the size and spacing of the poster sections to add visual interest, but do so in moderation.
  • Do not wander too far away from your poster during the session; be available for discussion!



Sequencing contents

The poster should use photos, figures, and tables to tell the story of the study. For clarity, it is important to present the information in a sequence which is easy to follow:

  • Determine a logical sequence for the material you will be presenting.
  • Organize that material into sections (Methods, Data/Results, Implications, Conclusions, etc.).
  • Use numbers (Helvetica boldface, 36 - 48 points) to help sequence sections of the poster.
  • Arrange the material into columns.
  • The poster should not rely upon your verbal explanation to link together the various portions.




Title fonts

Make it easy on your information-saturated audience.

  • Use a simple, easy to read font. A san serif style, such as Helvetica (Mac) or Arial (IBM), is ideal.
  • Use boldface and all-caps for the title itself.
  • Use boldface and mixed upper/lower case for the authors names.
  • Use plain text, no boldface, and mixed upper/lower case for affiliations.
  • Use boldface for the poster session number (the number you are assigned by the organizing committee).


Title sizes

The most important parts of the title banner, the title itself and the poster session number, should be readable from about 25 feet away. Your title will lure viewers closer to see your imaginative and exciting study. The rest of the title, and the body of the poster, should be readable from about 10 feet away.

  • The final size of letters in the title itself should be about 1.5 - 2 inches tall. That is about a 96 point size (or 48 points enlarged by 200% when printed.
  • The authors names may be printed smaller, at 72 points (1 - 1.5 inches)
  • Titles (Ph.D., M.D.) are usually omitted, although the meeting organizers may require that the presenting author, student authors, or society members be indicated.
  • Affiliations can be even smaller, at about 36 - 48 points (0.5 - 0.75 inch)
  • The poster session number should be printed separately, at about 96 point size. It typically is placed in the top of the title banner, to the left, right, or at the center.



Poster text

Double-space all text, using left-justification; text with even left sides and jagged right sides is easiest to read.
The text should be large enough to be read easily from at least 6 feet away.

  • Section headings (Introduction, Methods, etc.); use Helvetica, Boldface, 36 point
  • Supporting text (Intro text, figure captions, etc.); use Helvetica, 24 point (boldface, if appropriate)
  • If you must include narrative details, keep them brief. They should be no smaller than 18 point in size, and printed in plain text. Remember that posters are not publications of record, and you can always come to the session armed with handouts.

One option is to consider using a larger size (36 pt) for the Conclusion text, and a smaller size (18 pt) for Methods text.
Attempt to fit blocks of text onto a single page:

  • This simplifies cutting and pasting when you assemle the poster.
  • For the same reason, consider using 11 x 14 inch paper in the landscape mode when printing text blocks on laser printers.
  • Other options for fonts include Helvetica, Arial, Geneva, Times Roman, Palatino, Century Schoolbook, Courier, and Prestige. Note that these fonts represent a range of letter spacing and letter heights. Keep in mind that san serif fonts (having characters without curliques or other embellishments) are easiest to read.
    Finally, be consistent. Choose one font and then use it throughout the poster. Add emphasis by using boldface, underlining, or color; italics are difficult to read.


Use of color

Mount poster materials on colored art, mat, or bristol board:

  • Mat board is available in a large range of colors.
  • Mat board is heavier, making it more difficult to crease the poster while traveling.
  • Mat board has a more durable surface than other art papers.
  • Mat boards is, however, heavier and more difficult to attach to display boards in the poster session.

Use a colored background to unify your poster:

  • Muted colors, or shades of gray, are best for the background. Use more intense colors as borders or for emphasis, but be conservative - overuse of color is distracting.
  • Two to three related background colors (Methods, Data, Interpretation) will unify the poster.
  • If necessary for emphasis, add a single additional color by mounting the figure on thinner poster board, or outlining the figure in colored tape.

Color can enhance the hues or contrast of photographs:

  • Use a light background with darker photos; a dark background with lighter photos.
  • Use a neutral background (gray) to emphasize color in photos; a white background to reduce the impact of colored photos.
  • Most poster sessions are held in halls lit with harsh fluorescent light. If exact colors are important to the data, balance those colors for use with fluorescent lighting. Also, all colors will be intensified; bright (saturated) colors may become unpleasant to view.


Edit ruthlessly!

There ALWAYS is too much text in a poster.

  • Posters primarily are visual presentations; the text materials serve to support the graphic materials.
  • Look critially at the layout. If there is about 20% text, 40% graphics and 40% empty space, you are doing well.
  • When in doubt, rephrase that text or delete it. (Keep chanting this mantra: There always is too much text. Always too much text.)
  • Use active voice when writing the text; It can be demonstrated becomes The data demonstrate.
  • Delete all redundant references and filler phrases, such as see Figure ...
  • Remove all material extraneous to the focal point of the poster.
  • Since the abstract is usually published, there is no need to repeat it in the poster. The brief introduction should be sufficient to identify the purpose of the study.
  • Since graphs & figures will have explanatory captions, there is no need to label the graphic with Figure 1, Table 2, etc.

The poster is not a publication of record, so excessive detail about methods, or vast tables of data are not necessary. This material can be discussed with interested persons individually during or after the session, or presented in a handout.


Before you go any further, save & back up your work!

Don't say I didn't warn you . . .



 The success of a poster directly relates to the clarity of the illustrations and tables.

  • Self-explanatory graphics should dominate the poster.
  • A minimal amount of text materials should supplement the graphic materials.
  • Use regions of empty space between poster elements to differentiate and accentuate these elements.
  • Graphic materials should be visible easily from a minimum distance of 6 feet.
  • Restrained use of 2 - 3 colors for emphasis is valuable; overuse is not.

Show no mercy when editing visual materials!

Once again, ruthless editing is very important. Visual distractions increase fatigue and reduce the probability of viewers giving the poster a thorough read.

  • Restrained use of large type and/or colored text are the most effective means of emphasizing particular points.
  • Use short sentences, simple words, and bullets to illustrate discrete points.
  • Have the left edges of materials in a column aligned; center alignment produces ragged left & right edges. This makes reading the poster more difficult.
  • Avoid using jargon, acronyms, or unusual abbreviations.
  • Remove all non-essential information from graphs and tables (data curves not discussed by the poster; excess grid lines in tables)
  • Label data lines in graphs directly, using large type & color. Eliminate legends and keys.
  • Artful illustrations, luminous colors, or exquisite computer-rendered drawings do not substitute for CONTENT.
  • Lines in illustrations should be larger than normal. Use contrast and colors for emphasis.
  • Use colors to distinguish different data groups in graphs. Avoid using patterns or open bars in histograms.
  • Use borders about 0.5 inches all around each figures. Border colors can be used to link related presentations of data.
  • Colored transparency overlays are useful in comparing/contrasting graphic results

Jeff Radel *


Design Reviews

Get feedback on your poster at every stage of its development. Here are some suggestions:

  • Get outside viewers
  • First let them look at it; watch them, and listen
  • Give them a task (or tasks) to find information
  • Ask them questions to determine if your poster is communicating to viewers as you plan

Set-up and Presentations

  • Overestimate the time you’ll need to set up
  • Be prepared both to describe your poster to viewers, and to only answer questions
  • Make handouts


  • Obtain event evaluations if possible
  • Do a self-evaluation of the process


Good luck and enjoy the process!

Other good URLs: Page showing sketch illustration. Browse through a lot of color palettes.


*Our poster and this handout are based on information from a web site by Jeff Radel, 1999. Text in boxes is copied and pasted directly from his site: 

Last updated: July 24, 2007

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