PowerPoint (PPT) 2003 Poster Tutorial

On this page we are providing you with some basics as you begin to design your own poster in PowerPoint 2003. On a separate page, we've included various PowerPoint templates to get you started. We provide these as a courtesy to those who are bringing their posters to us to print. For help in PPT 2007, go here.

Page Setup

Page setup
To begin your poster, create a new 'slide' in PowerPoint. Now you will need to customize the size of this document. Go to the File menu and choose Page Setup. Of course, you'll need to know how large you want your poster to be. Check with your meeting site to confirm the space that is available (as well as other specifications for your poster). Note that some venues require your poster to be vertical (or 'portrait') in orientation rather than horizontal (or 'landscape'). PowerPoint has a page size limitation of 56 inches. If you want your poster to be over 56 inches, consider setting up your page to be half of the final size (we will scale it up 200% when we print it). For a 3' x 5' poster (36" x 60"), then, you could set PowerPoint's Page Setup to 18 inches by 30 inches.

Helpful hint: If you are using one of our templates at the bottom of this page but need to adjust the dimensions a bit, make sure to adjust the Page Setup BEFORE you bring in your text, photos and diagrams. Otherwise, the photos and diagrams will likely lose their proper proportions (appear squished) when the page proportions change.

Basic Structure

Sometimes it is helpful to sketch out how your poster content is to be organized. If you are not following the standard 'Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusion' sequence, make sure you "Chunk up", or visually group, your content into organized sections. A poster converted from a 20-slide PowerPoint presentation will look like 20 slides on paper, unless you can somehow group similar slides under common headings. Consider using shaded rectangles, outlined rectangles, or prominant heading typography to let the viewer know which information is related.

Try organizing your content in 3 to 5 columns to begin with. These columns will probably need to be adjusted once all your content is brought in.

Font and Legibility Issues

font sizes
The final font size for most of your text should be from 18 to 36 points (or half that, if you are designing it half-size). This will assure your poster text is readable from about 6 feet away. You could go as high as 36 to 44 points if you have lots of room. Average is about 24 to 30 points. It's helpful to add line spacing of 1.1 to 1.25 to the text as well. Line and paragraph spacing settings can be changed by first selecting the text block you want to format, then going up to the main menu bar and selecting Format, then Line Spacing. A box will appear in which you can adjust the line spacing (space between individual lines of text) and the spacing before and after a paragraph. A good setting for paragraph spacing might be 0.25 lines after a paragraph.

Titles should be large--around 100 point type. It should be the largest type on the poster. Keep in mind that you want your poster to be readable from about 4 to 6 feet away. Usually a non-serif typeface, like Arial, or Arial Narrow, is best. We've found it to be more legible than Times New Roman and looks 'cleaner'.

If you are required to include an Abstract, you may wish to make the text in the Abstract boldface, or larger than the other text in your poster, or at least format it differently from the other content.

The width of text boxes should not be too long, since having too many words per line makes reading difficult. A good rule of thumb is to use no more than approximately 40 characters per line (or on average about 10-14 words per line). Then again, rules are made to be broken -- occasionally.

If you must use fonts other than standard Arial, Verdanna, Tahoma, or Times New Roman, you'll need to supply us with the font files, or check with us to see if we have them.

A Word about Text Boxes

Bounding box
Knowing how to format the 'text box' is key in PowerPoint. A text box is a paragraph or a series of paragraphs, table or bulleted lists in one clickable unit. When you select a text box by clicking on it, a bounding box appears around it (see picture at right). Text boxes can be filled with a color (light blue in this example) and stroked with an outline, if you wish. They may be made to have rounded corners. Also the Internal Margin -- that is, the space between the words and the outline stroke, can be adjusted as well.
Text box popup
When you double-click directly on the gray outine (bounding box) of a text box (once it is selected), a pop-up with six tabs will appear. This pop-up will allow you to tweak a number of formatting features in the text box. Some of these include line and fill colors, size and position. A particularly helpful option is within the 'Text Box' tab (circled at right). In this tab you can adjust the margins of the box (the space between the bounding box and the paragraph). This is helpful when you are outlining and filling the box. In the above 'Abstract' example, the Internal Margins were each set to 0.15".

If you want the bounding box to spring back to the edge of the text, you can check the 'Resize AutoShape to fit text' check box. This is particularly helpful when you're trying to line up text box margins to guidelines.


To bring the bulk of your content into the poster from a previously-created Powerpoint slide or from a Microsoft Word document, using your cursor, copy, then paste it into your Powerpoint poster document. The text MUST appear editable when in PowerPoint and NOT as a graphic image. Using your text cursor to copy the text will ensure that it is editable. When pasted, the text should appear in a text box. These text boxes can be adjusted in width and height by grabbing one of the eight points in the shaded selection box around your text. Text boxes can be left unfilled or they can be filled with a color.

Hint: To eliminate the offset margins in a textbox, select the text box, then double-click on the shaded selection box. A formatting box should appear with several tabs. Select the Text Box tab. Adjusting the Internal Margins will add or remove the amount of space between your text and the selection box. In most cases, I like to set this to zero for the top, bottom, and the two sides. This will make it easier to line up the paragraph to the guidelines. For text boxes or autoshapes that you want to fill with a color or tint, you will want to add some internal margin between the text and the box outline as discussed above.

Figures and Images

Bitmap images such as photos, illustrations, X-rays, etc, should be of adequate resolution. Tiff or JPEG files should be at least 200 pixels/inch at final printed size. To import a figure in PowerPoint go to Insert > Picture > From File.

Graphs can be created in PowerPoint, Excel or Word. From Excel and Word, these can be copied/pasted in most cases. WMF-Windows Metafiles can also be inserted into the file.

Avoid Transparencies and Special Effects

We've not had good results printing objects that use PowerPoint's transparency feature (It can be found within the Fill Tool). Partially-transparent fills either print with a strange pattern or with 100% opacity, so they are to be avoided.