Many Hamilton students come to us to print posters: virtually every science major for their senior thesis, students doing summer research in a variety of disciplines, even some courses in government, English, Africana studies and more. What does it take to design a good poster? Once you have the design, how do you implement?


Students can use Photoshop or PowerPoint to create large format posters (LFPs). Photoshop has some helpful tools for manipulating images, but most people don’t really know how to use this particular software, so PowerPoint is probably the easiest, most popular way to go about creating LFPs. Some professors assigning posters provide their students with the Resource Center document on LFP creation in PowerPoint, but many people making posters (e.g for summer research) have never seen it.

A poster can be created on either a Mac or Windows computer; however, the final proofing and printing are done with a Mac machine. Be aware that there are some incompatibilities between the Mac and Windows PowerPoint versions.


Printing appointments should be submitted at LEAST one full week in advance of presentation date. Last minute requests or walk-ins are accepted if and only if there is availability. Often during the last few weeks of school, many classes are printing simultaneously and there are no appointment slots available on short notice.

Request Appointment

The Process

Before even opening PowerPoint, you need to do some thinking about what you are creating.

  • Who is my audience?
  • What is my poster about?
  • How can I get my idea across?

These are questions you need to ask yourself. A good place to start is the attached Visual Literacy Worksheet. Once you've done that, create a rough sketch of how you think you want your poster to look.

Visual Literacy Worksheet


In column #1 write down adjectives (descriptive words/phrases) that comes to mind when you think of your topics and the feelings/ideas that you would like your audience to take away from interacting with your project. Then write down images and colors in columns 2 & 3 that support those ideas.

  1. Descriptive Words
  2. Imagery 
  3. Color

Note: Keep this worksheet and refer back to it while you are working on your project. As you make decisions about the design make sure those choices are reflecting the ideas above and effectively communicating those ideas to the audience.

Once you have written down your ideas and have a rough sketch, you can start putting your poster together. Using PowerPoint, create a background, add text and images, and construct your layout. You will find that with everything planned out it's much easier to go ahead and make the poster. Here are a number of resources to help you with the creation phase.

Finding Color Themes

Adobe Color - Locate a number of already created color themes or create your own.

Color in Motion - Learn about colors and the meaning behind them through fun and interactive videos.

Finding Images

Creative Commons - A great search engine for finding copyright free images.

Finding Fonts

dafont.com - Thousands of fonts, free to download.

When you've finished a poster, it's important that you reflect on and evaluate what you created. This is why drafts are important. Nobody gets things perfect the first time, and by creating a draft, you can receive feedback from others and make further improvements to your poster. This ultimately leads to a better final product.

In order to print a poster at the library, save it as a PDF. Then request an appointment for proofing and/or printing your poster from this online form.


Pixels, Resolution, and File Types

Posters are inherently graphic ways of communicating information. When dealing with digital imagery, it’s important to start by understanding the technical basics, and how they help you obtain a quality result. Please watch or read the following documents about pixels, resolution, and file types.


“Pixels” means “picture elements,” and they are little, monochromatic squares that make up all bitmap images. Watch this video to understand how pixels work.


When making a poster, you need to have print quality resolution. Image size and resolution are some of the basic elements of a bitmap image, but ones that frequently trip up the uninformed user.

Resolution is a function of the information, the amount of pixels, in an image, measured per inch (dots per inch or pixels per inch). This matters most when it comes to printing, as most printers create the best images, with photographic quality, at 300 dots per inch (dpi). If you need to raise the dpi for printing, you have to decrease the size in inches the image prints at. Since in most programs one pixel is equal to one dot, it’s a simple formula: the number of pixels divided by the number of inches is the print resolution; put another way, the number of pixels in an image divided by the desired dpi is the number of inches the image will print at that dpi. If you want it to print at 300 dpi, you’d divide the number of pixels of the width or height to find the size the image will print at 300 dpi. If you want to print a 10 inch wide image at photographic print quality, it will need to be 3000 pixels (3000p/300dpi=10in). If your image is only 1000 pixels, the largest it will print and still be photographic quality is three and a third inches.

Lucking for us, Photoshop or Preview can do the math for us—and change to the appropriate size in inches for us at the same time. Watch this video to learn how size and resolution are related, and how they can be manipulated without distorting the image—one of the most common needs from patrons making large format posters. While the tutorial uses Photoshop, the process is identical in Preview.

File Types

This information is very useful for assisting patrons: what’s the difference between JPEG, PNG, and TIFF? What’s Camera RAW mean? And when should a project be saved as what file type? Follow the links above for an explanation of the different types of files you can save images as, and when to use each one.


A good rule of thumb is to use no more than two fonts, unless you’re making a conscious choice to use multiple fonts as part of your design. But no matter how many fonts you’re using, if you’re using more than one, you'll want the fonts to look good together (which is why it can be hard to design effectively with more than two fonts). Learning how to properly pair fonts can go a long way to making your design pop anywhere that you have text: posters, videos, and even titles and subheading of essays.*

  1. Read this comprehensive tutorial about the logic behind font pairing
  2. Explore this game to apply your new knowledge of font pairings, to learn more, and to get a list of good font pairings for your future use.
  3. You can also check out the resources section on typeconnection.com for a ton more information on typography

Tips and Tricks

Most of the tools for making effective posters with PowerPoint can be found in the Resource Center, such as giving an image a transparent background, turning off autofit text, and aligning objects. One advanced tool that can save a lot of trouble is auto-duplicating objects.

Duplicating Objects

To quickly and easily duplicate an object, click and drag that object. Press and hold the alt/option key before you release the mouse. You will now have two copies of the object: one in the original position, and one wherever you dragged the mouse to. This is especially nice because it allows you to duplicate and position an object at the same time.

This trick works for text boxes, images—anything that can be copied.

Citing Your Information

Don’t forget that you need to cite the information you are using for your poster! Use the Help With Citing Sources guide for assistance.


Research & Instructional Design Staff

Help us provide an accessible education, offer innovative resources and programs, and foster intellectual exploration.

Site Search