Adobe Illustrator for Science Posters
March 8, 2010 2:32 PM   Subscribe

I am interested in designing my next technical science poster using Adobe Illustrator. Can anyone suggest good tutorials that explain this?

I've used PowerPoint for many of my posters in the past, but I've recently been working with Creative Suite and I think Illustrator will give me more control. I'm looking for guides or tutorials geared toward the design of science or humanities posters. I'd also appreciate any general poster font and color tips. Thanks!
posted by Aanidaani to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You really want to do this in InDesign, not Illustrator. Illustrator is for fine-tweaked and/or complex vector based illustrations. InDesign is for putting all the elements (Photoshop and Illustrator) together in a layout, and will give you absolute control over type features and formatting (unlike Illustrator, which is an absolute nightmare for typographic styling).
posted by iamkimiam at 2:38 PM on March 8, 2010

I have to severely disagree with iamkimiam on this one. Illustrator is a great tool for poster creation. And I'm very confused about the comment that Illustrator is a nightmare for typographic work. I've been using both Illustrator and InDesign for a long, long time and find them both quite powerful typographic tools. In fact, when it comes to something large-format like a poster, I find Illustrator to be far superior, thanks to the ease in which one can work with type as an illustrative object.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:00 PM on March 8, 2010

Nah, I get with iamkimiam is saying, the type tools in Illustrator feel bolted on (which they were), where as in InDesign, they feel as though they've been crafted from scratch.

I doubt there are tutorials specifically geared towards science or humanities posters, simply because those are niche markets/concepts, (which I don't mean in a disparaging way). Generally, tutorials are concerned with using the features of a program to create things, which can be used in a variety of media (like a tutorial on embossed type). Is there something specific about science/humanities posters that differs from other posters? If so, can yo articulate what that difference is, so people could point you to specific tutorials?

Otherwise, I highly recommend learning Illustrator's tools, which will enable you to design anything you want, let alone niche posters. Adobe's Classroom in Book series are very good, especially for someone new to the various programs. The books start out with basic tutorials and gradually build in complexity as they introduce you to Illustrator's many features.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:15 PM on March 8, 2010

Some really basic rules for non-designers designing stuff:

Pick 2 fonts, and only use those. One could be a sans serif, the other needs to be a serifed body text (which is much easier to read big blocks of). None of them should be comic sans, curlz, papyrus or impact. Examples. Try Myriad and Minion.

Set your body font in black on a white background ONLY. Titles can get away with color, or reverse (that is white on color).

Pick 2 accent colors and stick with it. If your school colors include neon orange please feel under no obligation to assault retinas with it.

Understand the difference between print and web/screen resolution. A 2in by 2in photo taken from a website will not be a good looking 2x2 printed photo. Try to keep everything vector, or start with the largest resolution photo you can.

Create visual hierarchy. This is the most important part. Order your information in a logical manner, and then convey that order through use of visual cues, and a logical top to bottom order. Once you have this hierarchy established stick to it. Assuming your poster will have 1 main topic, several supporting topics or information, sub-supporting points, and a conclusion you'll need 3 levels of information hiearchy. PowerPoint would have you establish those levels with bulleted lists and increasing indents. I think it can be much better designed with paragraph styles and sub title headings/numberings.

Don't make eyes read body text wider than 6 inches. People read in sentences, not letters or words. Your eye can't connect long lines of text, and reading becomes more difficult. Columns are your friend.

You really don't need boxes around everything. I have no idea why academic posters always feel the need to constrict everything. If your design is logical and organized, (as is hopefully your argument) white space can direct the eye from one section to the next.

Your poster does not need to contain the entirety of your thesis. Edit down your content. Yeah, it's fab you did 300 iterations of your data, I don't really need to hear about each one, just the fact that you did them should be sufficient for your poster. If someone really needs to know details (and you won't be there to explain) have a url to your paper.

And a final, more specific tip. LaTeXit is useful for typesetting equations, and exporting a vector file, perfect for your poster, if you've already got LaTeX installed.
posted by fontophilic at 3:37 PM on March 8, 2010 [10 favorites]

Would you be able to take a class on it? I used to teach Photoshop and Illustrator classes, and you'd definitely get the technical knowledge you need, but you could also get some valuable critique in terms of your use of the principles of design. This could be a very important step for you if you plan on creating material that could help you develop a career.

Choice of tool is a weird one. I used to work as a poster designer. I liked Illustrator, and my co-worker preferred to do every one of her posters in Photoshop.

Since you're coming from Powerpoint, I'd say that Photoshop, Indesign, AND Illustrator are, all three of them, great choices compared to Powerpoint.

My students tended to like Photoshop better than Illustrator. Their love for Illustrator was a function of their experience with the concept of vector graphics. The Photoshop students just liked that they could do "real" bitmap work, "good-enough" vector work, and "pretty real" 3D work.

in order to really appreciate Illustrator, you have to be aware of the limtations and capabilities of vector art. Otherwise, you start to question why effects and such are so processor-intensive compared to Photoshop (for one).
posted by circular at 3:38 PM on March 8, 2010

I disagree with a couple of fontophilic's points.

Pick 2 fonts, and only use those.

Per-project, yes. Per-career, not so much. Somebody at the OP's level is going to want to get broad experience, and depending on the type of poster, will probably want to use different decorative fonts (for headers only, not body text) to pull people into the poster.

Set your body font in black on a white background ONLY.

Disagree strongly. Please be open to using still-light-but-not-white backgrounds, even textured. And black...bleh. My advice is to use a limited set of colors that are appropriate for the project, and don't rely on black and white so much.

Pick 2 accent colors and stick with it.

You should define "accent color" for a beginner.

Create visual hierarchy.

Totally agree. Would add: Don't use bolding or italics inside your body text more than once or twice per poster. If you need to use it more than that, reorganize your information so that the information organization is friendlier to the eye. Never use underlines (for beginners).

Don't make eyes read body text wider than 6 inches.

Uhm, posters violate this all the time, because they're expected to be placed at a greater distance from the eye than a book would be. Look at this in relative perceptual terms rather than absolute inches terms.

Anyway, feel free to browse my principles of design page and typography page if you'd like more guidelines on this stuff.
posted by circular at 3:49 PM on March 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

And tipping in my $.02 on InDesign vs Illustrator. InDesign would be ideal here. I'm thinking perhaps Thorzdad hasn't seen lots of academic posters, which tend to be the contents of 5-8 single spaced pages crammed onto poster. Treating text as illustrative objects isn't what you're going after, it's controlling the chaos of content.

InDesign will give you more control over text, applying text styles, controlling columns, and generally make your life easier, once you know how to use it. And yeah, theres the rub. Neither is particularly newbie friendly, but I'd give the slight advantage to Illustrator there, less to learn. Either way, saddle up with an intro text first. At least read descriptions of every item in the tool box.

Also, I should have mentioned this before, but ask around in your department if theres a design pool you could have access to, or projects/departments might have templates for your use. (hint, give graphic designers work please!)
posted by fontophilic at 3:50 PM on March 8, 2010

I do these fairly often and I would also recommend using InDesign. Here's an example
(Feel free to use this as a template if you want.)

Depending on how large your format is and how many graphics are involved, be aware that you may need plenty of RAM (at least 4MB) in your machine. My files can routinely run in the 25 to 50 MB range for 6 ft. by 3 ft. posters.

I agree with much of the design tips from fontophilic and circular, although I would add that the rule I was taught for type is to limit line lengths to two alphabets (52 characters)...that will account for type size.

For training, I use and always get my $25/month worth and more.

Good luck!
posted by Gusaroo at 4:43 PM on March 8, 2010

ask around in your department if theres a design pool you could have access to, or projects/departments might have templates for your use.

He could certainly try this but I'd expect that while there are a great many templates available, they're all in PowerPoint, as it seems like that's the standard tool used for most academic posters.

The academic/technical science posters I've seen have a number of things in common (which you'll want to keep in mind or avoid as the case may be).

1) They're massive, and full of a tremendous amount of information.

2) The text is almost always set in several color-coded boxes.

3) There are often graphics of the type generated by Excel, graphs, tables, what-have-you (note: if you're using these kinds of graphics, do whatever it takes to output them from Excel in high-quality PDF format and place them in your document, or recreate them in Illustrator from scratch)

4) Logos from the academic institution involved are almost never of the quality required and usually look terrible. Make a special effort to seek out an eps version of the institutional logo.

5) Bitmap graphics are almost never sized appropriately. Here's what you need to keep in mind: what you want is an image that will be at least 72 dpi and no more than 300 dpi at the final printing size.. If your poster is going to be 3'x4' and you have a 5"x7" picture, you should set it at 5"x7" and 150dpi. It is a misconception that you need to have all your images at 300dpi for print resolution, particularly for large-format printing (usually inkjet-based) where jagged edges are usually smoothed out quite a bit. The point is you're trying to strike a balance between optimal resolution and optimal file size. If you zoom in on your image so that it's about the same size on your monitor as it will actually be on your poster and it looks OK, then it will probably print OK.

6) People who create color-coded charts where several colors are quite similar end up disappointed because the printer can't manage the subtle color differences. If you need to use color to differentiate elements, make sure you REALLY differentiate them with contrasting colors.

Beyond all that, I'd say spend some time looking at the links circular posted as those look pretty good to me.
posted by wabbittwax at 4:52 PM on March 8, 2010

Oh and on the inDesign vs Illustrator question: If you're going to be bringing together several different kinds of graphics as well as text, you should be using InDesign. When you've got lots of bitmaps and vectors and text boxes all placed in an Illustrator document you run the risk of crashing and corrupting the file as it becomes too big to manage. InDesign and Illustrator have very similar tools for setting type, but InDesign's tools work better for larger blocks of text.
posted by wabbittwax at 4:55 PM on March 8, 2010

poster is going to be 3'x4' and you have a 5"x7" picture, you should set it at 5"x7" and 150dpi.

I didn't explain that quite right. That should read, "you're placing a 5"x7" picture in it somewhere and the picture will print at THAT size, you're totally fine setting it 150dpi at 5"x7"

(if you were turning a 5"x7" picture into a 3'x4' poster it's a different thing altogether)
posted by wabbittwax at 4:59 PM on March 8, 2010

I use CS4 daily but am self-taught. Use InDesign. Illustrator is quite powerful but very cumbersome unless you know what you're doing! It's good to get familiar with it so that you can edit vector images (for example change colors, move objects around, etc) but you will have a much better time using InDesign. Make sure you turn on "smart guides" in Indesign, it makes it super-easy to line everything up!
posted by radioamy at 9:11 PM on March 8, 2010

« Older Remote area internet access   |   Suggestion on route from Kansas City to San Jose? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.