Academic Posters

How to make a poster that effectively conveys the contributions of your work.

Your poster should be optimised for the following conference experience:

  1. A person walks past your poster and sees enough from a distance to get the key idea.
  2. The person decides to either (a) keep walking, or (b) learn more.
  3. If they choose (b), there are figures on the poster you can use to explain your work.

Optimising for this has a few implications:

  • Have a short (5-20 word) explanation in a large font that communicates the key idea.
  • If there is a key figure, make sure it is big enough to be read from a distance too.
  • Have a clear visual style and be consistent, so that appearance doesn’t hurt the impression you give.

Note that this is similar to, but not identical to, the better poster idea [TODO CITE]. In particular, I see more scope for variation in style and layout.

There are two general stages in making a poster:

  1. Find an effective layout. Put all the key figures and a rough version of the text down and move them around. Don’t worry about the details at this point, and come up with a bunch of different options, then stand back and compare them.
  2. Fine tune. Many of the notes below are about this - getting the poster to look polished by cleaning up details.

What to include

  • Title and authors.
  • Some indication of the institution.
  • Key figures that explain your contribution.
  • A brief explanation of key prior work.
  • A QR code to the paper / software / data. If you do include one, make sure it is big, so people can scan it from a distance.

What to leave out

  • References, people can read the paper for them.
  • Giant results tables.
  • Experiments that aren’t critical for the core story.


General notes:

  • Don’t go too close to the edges (might get cut off in printing).
  • Use space in proportion to how much something matters. This means university logos should be small, while the key figures explaining what you did should be large.
  • If you have a box containing text, make sure the space between the text and the edge of the box is the same on all four sides.
  • If you have multiple similarly shaped objects (e.g. a set of boxes containing text) make sure they are either aligned or far from aligned (being a few pixels off looks sloppy). This applies to text, shapes, figures, tables - anything that occurs more than once.
  • Keep the spacing between sections consistent in width, and if there are both vertical and horizontal gaps, keep them consistent too.


  • Make sure all the text is big enough (axis labels, values, the legend, etc).
  • Consider showing a subset of the results to make graphs easier to read.


  • Text should be fully justified, meaning the lines are a consistent width. For posters this can often look bad at first because words have to be spaced out too much. In that case, edit the text to make it fit nicely.
  • Do not use ALL CAPS
  • Strike a balance between monotone and a disco ball of colour.
  • Check spelling and grammar carefully.


For a local event, print anywhere and carry it to the event.

For an event you have to fly to, either:

  1. Print at home, buy a poster tube, and carry the poster with you.
  2. Order a fabric poster. You can pack this in your luggage, just remember to unwrap it when you arrive and try to steam it (e.g. use a hotel iron, or hang it in the bathroom so the steam from the shower gets wrinkles out).
  3. Print in the place you are going. In the US there are FedEx stores everywhere and you can order the poster to be printed online (just make sure to do it early enough, a week is generally safe). Outside of the US you should search online. In either case, make sure you have a planned time to pick up the poster at least a day before you present (that way if something goes wrong you have time to get it reprinted, usually for an additional fee).

I’ve done all of these and like (3) the best. Fabric posters have more muted colours, and carrying a poster both ways is a pain.