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Poster Presentation Design

Provides basic design tips for those creating poster presentations for class or research conferences.

Keep the Audience in Mind

When designing a poster for presentation, it is important to keep your audience in mind. Tiny font and vibrant colors can be too hard to read and focus our eyes on for an extended period of time. You are allowed to be creative in designing your poster, but be very aware and respectful of any strict rules on poster structure that the conference provided, and the cultural norms of the audience you will be presenting to. Remember, the purpose for your poster is to grab positive attention from across the room, but also to convey information about your research to others in a professional manner.

Use the information and tips below to help ensure that your poster is both legible and inviting to a general audience.


  • Posters that use only black/white fonts and backgrounds can be exhausting for the eyes and unwelcoming to your audience.
    The same can be said about posters that use too many colors. Use color in backgrounds or fonts strategically to make posters easier to read.  
  • Keep your color theme/color palette simple.
    In addition to black and white, choose at most 2 or 3 base colors and use these colors (in combination with their lighter and darker shades) to create posters that are visually interesting and easy to read. Additional colors may be used in charts, graphs, and images.
  • Maintain high contrast between fonts and their backgrounds.
    Yellow text on a white background is especially difficult to read. Pale color fonts can become less visible on lighter backgrounds, while deep colors blend into dark backgrounds. An additional problem to keep in mind is that colors often print lighter or darker than what appears on your computer screen.
  • The ability to visually distinguish certain colors from others may be less common than you realize.
    Select color combinations wisely. If you wish to use color to convey information (through color-coded graphs, etc.) it may be helpful to the audience to use both color and background patterns in bar charts to help distinguish which bar represents a specific variable.

    Want more tips and information regarding designing and selecting color combinations for audiences that may have difficulty distinguishing one color from another? The Usabilla blog post "How to Design for Color Blindness" may help!


Tips for Successful Fonts and Font Sizes

  • Bold fonts become blurred the smaller the font size. Reserve bolded text for larger fonts.
  • Fonts that only include uppercase/capital letters may be appropriate for chart labels, poster section headings, etc. but should not be used for longer portions of text as these fonts can become challenging to read after a few words.
  • Title Placement and Size
    The title of your poster should be placed near the top of your poster and should be legible from about 10-15 feet (approx. 3-4 meters) away
    • 50pt. or larger font size should be used so that letters are 1-inch to 2-inch (3-6cm) high when printed.
  • Section Headings / Subheadings 
    Use 28pt. font or larger font size so that letters are about 0.5-inch to 1-inch high when printed.
  • Body Text / Paragraphs
    Should be readable when standing 2-4 feet (about 1 meter) away from the printed poster.
    • 24pt. font or larger is recommended for paragraph text, but absolutely should not be smaller than 16-18pt. in size. Depending on the font used, a font size bigger than 24pt. may be appropriate and easier to read.
  • Be aware that different font types are meant for different formats. Serif fonts, or fonts with little flags on most of the letters, such as Times New Roman, are intended for reducing eyestrain when reading paragraphs of text in print formats. A serif font would be a great choice for the main text of your poster sections. Sans-serif fonts, such a Calibri and Arial, do not have flags. Sans-serif fonts may be good for poster headings and are preferred for large portions of text meant to be read on a computer screen or device. In the comparison image below, compare the "r" "i" "n" and "t" of the serif and sans-serif fonts.
    ​​image illustrating lack of "flags" in sans-serif fonts

Backgrounds & Images

Because poster space is so limited, any images and charts included on a poster should be highly relevant to the research being presented and should not distract from the poster's informational content. Don't use images just because they are interesting. Below are some tips for successfully incorporating images and charts into your poster.

  • Charts and graphs make methods and results data easier to understand in a short amount of time. When considering what to include in a graph or chart, consider which data will be most significant to the audience (sample size and composition, specific test results, etc.).
  • Charts and graphs should be labeled, and these labels should be fairly easy to read. You may reduce font size for axis labels, etc. but labels should still be legible when read from no less than 1ft. (30 cm) away.
  • Background images- Though not common, if you choose to use a background image or pattern on your poster, please ensure your research information and text does not become hidden within the image or hard to read. Place text in a solid colored text box to make the text legible to the audience and then layer the text box in front of your background image or pattern.
  • If an image on your poster is not yours, give the creator credit. When in doubt, cite.
  • If you frequently find that you've been asked to describe what an apparatus, object, or computer output used in your research looks like; consider taking a picture of the item and including the image on your poster. This will help the audience understand your project setup more quickly and will usually allow discussion to focus more on research results.
  • Image resolution- Keep in mind that low resolution and smaller images frequently become pixilated or blurry when enlarged and then printed. If you choose to include an image, you will want to ensure that the audience will be able to understand what they are seeing in the image from 1ft or 3ft (30-90 cm) away.


For further information on formatting charts and tables in a professional way, explore Chapter 5 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) or the current style manual for your preferred format. Keep in mind the recommendations found in these resources for font sizes etc. are typically intended for print articles and manuscripts. You may need to adjust sizing as appropriate for the needs of your poster presentation audience. Pfeiffer Library provides the university community with online guidance for APA style of figures and tables through the Academic Writer interface, which may be accessed through the hyperlinked image below.

Figure Guidelines

Learn about the guidelines for creating a figure, including when it's appropriate to use a figure, how to create standard figure types and what to use them for, and what visual standards to apply to all figures.

Academic Writer

© 2016 American Psychological Association.