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What tried and tested possibilities are there to set up a (nice) poster for a conference without using LaTeX?

I find LaTeX always cumbersome for that purpose and I am curious about alternatives.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please do not write answers in the comments.
    – cag51
    Aug 5 at 22:30
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In the past, I've found MS Powerpoint to be a very acceptable way to make nice posters since it supports large paper formats and scaling images well. If you need equations, you can make those in a standalone LaTeX doc and cut and paste them from the PDF to the poster pretty reasonably. It's been a few decades since I've had to do this, so LaTeX may have an improved way of doing this now, but it's there to back you up for better looking equations.

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    See IguanaTex add-in for including Latex expressions into PowerPoint.
    – atom44
    Aug 4 at 16:22
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    +1 - This is how I've made every poster for the past decade. It's not perfect and there are some frustrations, but it's simple and ubiquitous enough that I've never found the need to switch to anything else. Aug 5 at 13:41
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    I feel like PowerPoint is the only hammer in many people's toolboxes... You can use it for a lot of things, but often becoming more familiar with "screwdriver" or even "wrench" may turn out to be better in the long run, even if it seems more daunting up front. Aug 5 at 15:54
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – cag51
    Aug 5 at 20:35
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    The equation editor in modern MS office handles LaTeX now Aug 6 at 18:16
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My recommended tool for this is Inkscape. It uses vectorized shapes and is pretty intuitive to work with.

Inkscape poster example

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    Very seconded: it supports layers, object grouping, assists with alignment (configurable grid, rule lines, snapping to object boundaries, equal distribution of objects/gaps), drawing of basic shapes (only lacking in the number of pre-packaged standard shapes). Drawbacks: typesetting text still is less comfortable than with Powerpoint or InDesign. And mathematical formulas... better import them pre-rendered shapes.
    – ojdo
    Aug 5 at 9:26
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    Yes! You should mention that it can render LaTeX internally too; tex.stackexchange.com/questions/61274/…
    – Clumsy cat
    Aug 5 at 10:10
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    Also, if you are adding lots of complex graphics and have a normal computer you may need some tricks to work with the larger file sizes inkscape.org/learn/tutorials/avoid-performance-issues
    – Clumsy cat
    Aug 5 at 10:10
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    Inkscape is great for assembling figures for papers too! Aug 5 at 15:12
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    @Clumsycat: In particular, Inkscape's performance on MacOS is currently acknowledged to be poor. I'm a Mac user and I love Inkscape for small figures, but I'm not sure that I'd want to try assembling a poster with it. Aug 5 at 16:26
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Modern HTML + custom CSS works very well, assuming sufficient web-development experience or a good template. Done well, it has significant advantages over the usual "fixed layout" of LaTeX, Office, etc; specifically:

  • It adjusts to your reader's device, if you share the poster after the conference
  • It is accessible: it allows reader to use screen-reading technology, including for math, in a much more reliable way than PDF (or, gasp, image files)
  • It is easy to edit (boxes reflow automatically)

And of course, it can be printed to PDF as needed. Here is an example

Here is a template that I built not so long ago: https://github.com/cpitclaudel/academic-poster-template/ . There is also a concrete example and a tutorial.

There are a few examples of use from other universities in the "forks" list on Github. For posterity, I include a screenshot:

A poster about Kôika, a hardware programming language

And one of the mobile view:

A mobile view of the poster

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    Thank you. Having a presentation available across different media definitely seems worth checking out.
    – Ambicion
    Aug 5 at 6:55
  • HTML is probably the last thing I'd turn to if I wanted to print out a poster, but that is probably the go-to approach for publishing or sharing it electronically (for those willing and able to put in the work to create it).
    – NotThatGuy
    Aug 5 at 10:04
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    It seems to be a great device for online presentations but what is the best way of putting such an HTML poster into a common format, such as A0 or A1?
    – Ambicion
    Aug 5 at 11:08
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    Thanks for sharing your code! I've been doing my presentations in HTML/CSS/Javascript for years now and it has many advantages. I never thought of using this for a poster. Aug 5 at 15:15
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    @Ambicion you can print to a specific page size, using Chrome for example. Here's an A1 poster that I just generated: people.csail.mit.edu/cpitcla/links/…
    – Clément
    Aug 5 at 15:34
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I often use Adobe InDesign. InDesign isn't an introductory program, but I don't find it to be hard to use to do simple things like arrange text and color boxes.

Universities often have copies somewhere, for example, a set of workstations in a library. You could also pay for one month at a time (it's a subscription service) when you need it.

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    COVID. Not everyone can go back to work yet.
    – Bill Barth
    Aug 4 at 17:47
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    Affinity Publisher is a nice and much cheaper alternative to InDesign, although it also has a learning curve. And Affinity often has sales where you can get a copy for around $30USD. Aug 4 at 20:39
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    @ElizabethHenning I'd suggest making another answer! I haven't heard of it but I'm definitely intrigued by a non-subscription price ... Aug 4 at 20:44
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    @user3067860 Having only used InDesign, I'm going to keep my answer to what I'm good with endorsing. Aug 5 at 16:07
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    @VladimirF Hence why I mentioned that most universities have some copies available for use. Aug 5 at 19:55
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Well, some people use Microsoft Power Point (no idea how the manage) - Libre Office Impress is the Open Source alternative.

Given that a poster is more a layout, it might make more sense to look at Microsoft Publisher or Libre Office Draw.

Then there are Adobe Illustrator as another option and maybe also Adobe InDesign.

Depending on the type of layout and graphics you want to employ, you may even consider photo manipulation programs such as Adobe Photoshop, GIMP or Krita (Krita is great, on Linux and Windows). However for text heavy content you will have potentially a lot of issues organizing them.

Although I wouldn't call LaTeX cumbersome: LaTeX requires upfront work, but once you have figured out your approach of doing things, it is very efficient. I'd rather figure out how to make something work in LaTeX (with the option of asking questions here or elsewhere) than fiddling with incoherent drag and drop formatting options to end up with a worse looking document... Though some details might be subject subject dependent: MS Office is not able to properly print units (no half space) following SI recommendations and the typeset is too heavy and hence ugly for printer use (works well on screens though).

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  • Illustrator still exists? Aug 5 at 16:08
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    Second Libreoffice Draw; its free and about as good and easy to use as MS Visio.
    – plu
    Aug 6 at 3:10
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    @AzorAhai-him- It used to 10 years ago :D (I have sort of turned my back on Adobe products). Just checking and as of today; the 6th Aug 2021 Adobe Illustrator is still available thus yes, it still exists.
    – DetlevCM
    Aug 6 at 7:25
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    Adobe InDesign is a direct equivalent of Microsoft Publisher, while LibreOffice Draw is the equivalent of Adobe Illustrator, so those two should probably be switched around in those sentences.
    – BrtH
    Aug 6 at 11:19
  • @DetlevCM, yeah, that's what I meant haha, your answer suggests it doesn't. Aug 6 at 14:11
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In addition to all the great tools that have been suggested ( PowerPoint, Inkscape ) I suggest trying Microsoft Visio. It is was designed for schematics and plans but actually it works amazingly well for posters because it designed to allow clear and easy alignment. It might be an overkill solution but most of my students have managed to make great posters with it.

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    I use Visio to make block diagrams. It always takes way longer than I think it should. Am I missing something ??? Aug 5 at 14:46
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    @JosephDoggie Align and even-spacing functions? They usually help with organization and speeds up the process.
    – plu
    Aug 6 at 3:09
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On the mac, i use Keynote for posters. It supports vector graphics so images and text scale well. It has good and simple tools for alignment and grouping (but text flow/wrapping is not good). It has pretty good grouping and aligning/distributing. If i am presenting a 2m x 1m poster I will set the document size to 2000 x 1000 pixels so that i know that 1 mm == 1px.

I have found that Keynote hits the right level of simplicity for throwing together eps/pdf graphics and some extra text and annotations.

In my experience more powerful tools, like inkscape or illustrator or inDesign have a steeper learning curve and are not really necessary for what i want to do.

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    On the Mac, I would also recommend OmniGraffle -- nice PDF and vector graphics support. I've made several posters for conferences at Cold Spring Harbor with it.
    – Andrew
    Aug 6 at 17:40
  • @Andrew omnigraffle is pretty great but i stopped using it when it got expensive.
    – jerlich
    Aug 9 at 13:15
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If it's not too complex, try the online tool Canva.

The free part of this has a share of templates, font styles and graphics.

You can add in your own images.

For a fast slap-up, this is handy enough. See attached example.

A more elaborate poster there's a subscription for the pro Canva.

enter image description here

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Similar to the person here who replied Inkscape, I very much enjoy creating posters and even slideshow presentations using the Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP).

There are definitely pros and cons compared to LaTeX or Libreoffice Impress et al., but in general, if you have knowledge of even the most basic tools in GIMP, it gives you great flexibility and creative freedom, and you can do some really nice posters. My only caveat is you'd need to think how you want to layer the poster before you begin: it's flexible to change individual objects, but if you decide you want to go with an altogether different template half-way through, then it's not as forgiving. (unless of course you have such a template already made from a previous GIMP poster and you're happy to rearrange the individual elements manually).

Also, GIMP is very scriptable, with a relatively simple python interface. But that's if you want to go the extra mile for automation :)

Here's an example of a poster presentation a did a few years back for a conference:

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