So a couple of the trainees in the lab are preparing posters for the Dept retreat. In helping them (and other future trainees) get started, I dug out some of my own digital versions of posters out of the digital storage closet, and put them in a “Poster_examples” directory on the lab google drive. But along with those examples, here are a series of tips that I’ve learned over the years, which I’m remembering and committing to writing in this process.

  1. Be cognizant of the size of your poster. I think the most common dimensions are 36″ high by 48″ wide. For some conferences, they will allow you to make larger posters (probably depends on what type of poster boards they have). But also, different poster printers may have different dimensions. I’m sure most do 36″ or 48″ as one of their standard sizes, though you also want to figure out sizes your poster printer will do as one of its standard dimensions.
  2. Know how long it takes to print the poster. There are logistics to everything. Where are you going to get the poster printed? How far ahead of the guaranteed printing deadline do they need the submission? Again, it’s worth knowing this up front so you’re not scrambling at the end. Also, getting started a little bit early can definitely save you some misery later on.
  3. Plan for column-based viewing rather than rows. IMO, it makes much more sense to tell the story in a series of columns, where the viewer starts on the left of the poster, reads down the column, takes a step to their right, reads down the column, and so forth 3 or so times until they’ve seen the whole poster. Probably generally easier to read this way rather than horizontally through rows, and probably the ONLY way to see / go through a poster when it’s really crowded.
  4. Plan out how you’re going to talk about your poster as you’re making it. What normally happens in a poster session, is that you stand around all awkward and lonely in front of your poster until someone comes by that seems interested, and then you’ll introduce yourself and offer to explain it (and you can ask them who they are and what their background is so you can figure out what parts they may be particularly interested in or may struggle in understanding). Then you’ll explain this story, starting at the top left of your poster and winding down to the bottom right. Now, what would really help in telling this story is if the things on your poster actually illustrates what you’re trying to say. So, think about what exactly is the story you’re saying as you’re making the poster, so it’s all there when you need it.
  5. Always start by presenting the problem. It’s easy to get sucked into just saying what you’ve did. But nobody is going to understand why you did something until you tell them WHY you’re doing it. Which means there must be a problem presented, and your data is part of the solution in answering it. But if you want people to be on board, you definitely want to spell out the problem, and why it’s so important, up front.
  6. Do a light (white) background. The backing paper is going to be white. So why force them to cover the entire surface of the paper with ink?
  7. Consistency in fonts / font sizes. This is one of the hard ones. If you’re essentially making a scrapbook of different figures from different sources, it may be hard to get all of the fonts from the figures. In those cases, you may need to crop out the existing labels / text and add in your own of known / controllable size. Also, this is a good reason to always use the same fonts (eg. Arial) in all of your figures.
  8. Text size hierarchy. I hadn’t really thought about this before, but I think this makes sense: For the main text of the poster, it probably makes sense to have about 2 different text sizes: one for the main narrative text you may want the reader to read, and a smaller size for text that holds some detailed information (like a figure legend). The larger one is always meant to be read, while the smaller one is only to be read when necessary. The larger one should be able to be read a good couple feet away, so it’s definitely gotta be >= size 20 or something. Headers / section titles may also make sense too, and you can denote those using bold or by using a slightly larger text size. Of course, this is all not counting the poster title, which should be large and visible from across the room. Of course, you don’t want to overcomplicate things by having like 5 different font sizes.
  9. Not stretching / squishing figures. Nobody likes seeing images in weird proportions; sure, maybe it works with mirrors in a circus funhouse, but it definitely doesn’t work for conveying scientific information in a professional setting. So ya, make sure that if you’re adjusting a figure’s size, that you have the “height and width proportionality” box checked as you do it.
  10. Avoid having too much text. Nobody is at the poster to read the next great American novel. You’ll literally want the bare bones amount of text that you need to give just about all of the big structural information you need to. Everything else, like all of the details, you can convey in person.
  11. Don’t make it too crowded. Again, you want it to be inviting and easy to follow, so you want to give figures ample space to breathe. I’d also say don’t make it too sparse, but while it’s technically possible, I can’t imagine any serious poster has ever had that be an issue (eg. too much stuff to want to get in there).
  12. Consider expanding your illustrative palette. If you’re on your first few posters, it totally makes sense to use Powerpoint (or equivalent) to create your poster. That said, eventually, you may want to include other options. I’ve slowly shifted to using Inkscape, but partially since I’m much better / faster in Inkscape now than I am in Powerpoint. Also, BioRender is a great option for making some really aesthetically pleasing images / graphics relatively quickly with an easy-to-use interface. At worst, I suggest you generate some plots there, and just take screenshots that you can insert into your posters made in Powerpoint.

Also, I realize some of my own posters probably break some of these rules (eg. the “Avoid having too much text” rule). Nobody’s perfect!


Nisha just did the legwork on figuring out how we print posters here, and this is what she found out:
– FedEx office in Thwing (9am-5pm Monday thru Friday).
– General size that they work with is 36″x48″ , so that might be what you want your poster size to be.
– You can have it on a usb drive, or email it to them directly at [email protected]
– If submitted early enough in the day, they may be able to do same day turnaround, but better to submit 2 to 3 days before you need it just in case.
– Will update this once we know how payment works exactly, but I suggest showing up knowing one of the lab speedtypes to charge directly to one of them (R35 is a good candidate, but can always use the startup speedtype if needed).