Poster presentation design guidelines

This is it. The ultimate guide for good poster presentation design. Use it to create a well-designed poster that stands out and effectively communicates your research. We want to help you achieve your goals and make the most of your conference experience.

We’ve created this together with conference organizers, scientists and universities. It’s based over a decade of experience with (visual) science communication.

Book a poster presentation workshop

Get personal feedback, and learn all the skills you need to create a great poster in our poster design workshop. Given as a lecture, afternoon or 3-day course:

  • Poster design & graphical abstracts

About the goal and content of your poster presentation & pitch

Before you dive in, let’s talk about the goal of your poster. Spoiler: it’s not to showcase your research (then you can just send people your paper). So have a look how to get more out of your poster and pitch in this blog:

  • Define the goal & pitch for your poster presentation

Things to keep in mind when creating a poster:

  • Your poster is a summary of your most important research results. If visitors want to learn more about the details, they can read (a printout of) your paper. This also means you do not need to include an abstract in the poster.

  • You have to stand out from maybe 300 other posters at the conference, so create a poster that will grab their attention.

  • People only spend on average 43 seconds per poster. So make sure you can tell your entire story in 200 words.

  • You can have a personal goal with your poster. Maybe you want to get feedback on your methods, discuss your outcomes with peers, or build a network in your field. Design your poster to achieve your own goals as well as showing your research.

Visual poster guide 1: Essential elements of a poster

1 Essential elements of a poster

All posters have these elements, however, you can style them as you want. See also our blog on poster design:

  • How to design a poster presentation so your research stands out

  • A large title that gives away your main message

  • The main outcome or conclusion of your research with a large (data)visual that gives evidence for your statement. This can be a sentence, a number, or a graph.

  • Full name of the presenter, affiliation and contact details (Optional: include a photo of the presenter, so people can recognize you when you’re not present.)

  • A call to action. Tell your visitors what you would like them to do: Give feedback and tips? E-mail you questions? Connect on LinkedIn?

  • Add logos of organizations, acknowledgments and a reference to the paper at the bottom of the poster and include a link to download the full paper. You can leave out departments and author degrees. If you’re using a QR code, tell visitors where it leads to and give an alternative for those who cannot use QR codes.

  • TIP: If everybody at the conference is familiar with your topic, you do not need an lengthy introduction. An example: It would be redundant to other diabetes researchers to write elaborate paragraphs about the rising rates of diabetes type II, and unnecessary to tell marine biologists that sea levels are rising, or computer science experts that AI might have harmful effects. Just write a single sentence (as a heading) explaining the context of your research.

Visual poster guide 2: How to use images and icons

2 How to use images & icons

If you’re looking for great websites for copyright-free images, or need tools to spice up your design check out our blog:

  • Draw attention with a large visual that shows your topic and supports your main message. Make sure it reflects your personality, this will make it more memorable for people (and make it more fun for conference attendees to browse posters).

  • Only use images that are essential for the understanding of your topic. Leave out any fun or decorative images and icons, unless it is a large image that is used to draw attention to the poster. Make sure that you own the copyright of the image.

  • Use only icons that clarify your message and make your poster easier to scan. Avoid using vague icons that people might not know the meaning of, and always combine icons with text.

  • Use inclusive images that avoid stereotypes or biases. We encourage you to acknowledge diversity and use appropriate descriptions, including those for gender, sexual orientation, racial and ethnic identity, disabilities, and age.

  • Create a consistent professional design by using icons in the same style (choose between line icons and solid icons) and do not combine illustrations and images from different styles (line-drawings, 3D design, or photographs). Also apply the same styles to elements like boxes, lines, and text throughout the design.

Visual poster guide 3: Write & design clear texts

3 Write & design clear texts

For more tips on how to style texts for better readability, check out our blog:

  • Improve the readability of your text with content design

Can people actually read it? Font-size guide for your poster:

  • From far away (> 3 meters, 10 feet) your audience should be able to read your title. That’s why it’s big and bold between 100 – 150 pt.
  • When people are interested and standing 2-3 meters (6-10 feet) from your poster, they should be able to easily read the title and main story headings.
  • When your audience is interested in the details they usually stand closer than 2 meters (6 feet), so your paragraph text, graph details should be between 30 – 40 pt.
  • For details, don’t make text smaller than 24 pt, or people need to take out their reading glasses.
  • Title: 100 – 150 pt

  • Headings: 60 – 80 pt

  • Sub heading: 45 – 55 pt

  • EYEBROW HEADINGS: 36 – 50 pt

  • Paragraph text: 30 – 40 pt

  • Write in simple and active language. Write “We analyzed the data” instead of “The data was analyzed”.

  • TIP: Write as if you’re talking to your visitor. Read your text out loud to see if it makes sense.

  • Every sentence should contain a verb. Limit the use of bullet-points to actual lists with only a few words.

  • Sentences should be short and to the point. Keep most sentences to a maximum of 14 words if possible. Paragraphs are no longer than 35 words, or 5 lines.

  • Make your poster easy to scan by creating headings that tell the story of your research. And give clues on how to read your poster (from left to right, and top to bottom).

  • Your main title should be bold and easy to read, between 100 and 150 points. If your title is too long, split it up with a short bold main title, and a smaller subtitle with more nuance or details.

  • Section headings should be bold and between 60 and 80 points. The text of your headings should include important information (and not just introduction, methods, results).

  • The paragraph text of your poster should be between 30 – 40 point size. Viewers should be able to read it from a few steps away. Details and references can be smaller, but don’t go below 24 point size.

  • Keep to a total maximum of 300 words for your main text (excl. references).

  • Use bold sans-serif fonts for headings (e.g. Arial, Bahnschrift, Tahoma, Roboto, Figtree, Poppins, Work Sans bold, Rubik, Oswald), and smaller lighter fonts for paragraph text (e.g. Arial, Tahoma, Mulish, Roboto, Work sans, Assistant, Abel). And stick to a maximum of 2 fonts.
  • Left align all your text, title and headings, and do not justify your text. This makes it easier and faster to read.

  • Do not write in UPPERCASE letters (unless there’s an acronym, or you’re using it for a short eyebrow heading), and do not capitalize the first letter of words. This makes it easier to read.

  • Do not underline text, unless it’s a link (for example in an e-poster).
Visual poster guide 4: visualize your data

4 Visualize your data

We’ve created a online tool so you can create simple percentage visualizations:

  • Create graphs instead of tables to make it easier to see trends and compare data. Tables take too much time to understand in the limited time you have to make your point.

  • Give the conclusion from your graph in the title above it (instead of a descriptive title), and highlight the data that support your main conclusion. You can even write sentences inside graphs to clarify certain data.

  • Use direct labels instead of legends, having data labels next to the lines or dots (instead of further away) makes it easier to understand your data.

  • Save space by visualizing only the most important results from your research that support your main message and give evidence for your conclusion. One or two graphs is enough. There is no need to include diagrams, tables, or graphs in your introduction or methods.

Visual poster guide 5: using colors

5 Limit your colors and create enough contrast 

  • Choose only 1 or 2 colors (apart from white, black and greys). Try to match the colors from your images, with your text, icons and graphs. If required, you can pick the colors from your institution.

  • Make sure that the color of your text has enough contrast against the background color. The contrast between these colors needs to be at least 4.5, which you can check in this online tool https://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/ In general, combining white text with light (blue) backgrounds does not work.

  • Use high contrast (colors) to draw attention to the most important element in your poster. e.g. a title, conclusion, graph, or number. So step back to see which part of your poster stands out the most and make sure it’s not the details, references or a logo.

Visual poster guide 6: space, balance and alignment

6 Create balance, alignment & space

  • Balance all the elements in on your poster by aligning them to each other and apply the same amount of spacing between and around boxes.

  • Be consistent and apply the same styles to elements like boxes, lines, text, icons and images.

Checklist good design

Use this checklist to evaluate your own design. Did you think of everything on this list? That’s great, you probably created an amazing poster.

  • Is the main message clear at first glance?

  • Is there a clear hierarchy in the design?

  • Are important points properly emphasized?

  • Is the reading direction clearly indicated?

  • Are the texts and visuals easy to understand without extra explanation?

  • Does every sentence have a verb?

  • Is the meaning of the arrows clear?

  • Do all images, icons, and illustrations have a purpose?

  • Do all images, icons, and illustrations have a purpose?

  • Is the design balanced and consistent in terms of style and color?

  • Is the design accessible and inclusive?

Download our template

We hate templates, because they can be ugly and do not guarantee a good design. But we love templates because they save you time designing a poster! That’s why we created a simple PowerPoint template with the right format and text sizes. BUT NOTE: make it your own with a nice color scheme, image and layout. We don’t want any posters to look similar.

Hall of fame

We’re so proud of our workshops participants when they win a poster award! So we created a hall of fame to showcase great posters. As you will see, there is no one standard, you can create any type of poster and still attract attention. Each poster is made under different circumstances and conference requirements.

Digital Twin Prediction

Viviam won multiple poster awards with this personal poster (she loves to ride an electronic step). She was smart to ask for feedback on her poster and got a lot of tips on how to continue her PhD research!

It was an amazing experience and the outcome was exactly what I wanted, a lot of interaction with the public, feedback, questions, many post-it notes, lots of connections in LinkedIn and possibly new collaborations 🤩 also, my supervisors are extremely proud and happy. I couldn’t ask for more! THANK YOU

Viviam Solangeli Bermudez Paiva

Farming fish

Hanne & Kine made a newspaper style design with a very clear visual progress in Biorender. They also took the advice to add a large visual of the salmon, so that people can easily see what their topic is.

We just won a poster award and got a cash prize of 300 euros! We attended the Aquaculture Europe 2023 conference in Vienna. We definitely could not have done this without you!”

Kine Samset Hoem & Hanne Lillerovde Ørstenvik