PowerPoint vs. InDesign for Scientific Poster Layout

We understand the lure of using PowerPoint for scientific poster layout. When it comes to content development, PowerPoint is versatile and easy to use. But PowerPoint slides are meant to be projected on screen, not printed on a piece of fabric or laminated paper. To get the best results when laying out your scientific posters, here are a few reasons why you’re better off using a layout program like InDesign.


Scientific posters often undergo many rounds of revision. Since text boxes don’t link up in PowerPoint the way they do in InDesign, text needs to be reflowed manually. So each round of revisions take longer to accomplish. It also increases the margin for error, which can lead to additional unnecessary rounds, more proofreading and more time.

Version control

We see a larger percentage of version control issues in scientific posters that are laid out in PowerPoint. This can be due to the nature of the review process. InDesign files are reviewed in pdf format. Reviewers annotate their revisions, which are then sent to a designer to implement. So only one person ever touches the master design file; and therefore, version control is a non issue. But in PowerPoint, authors are often making changes to native files. So it can be difficult to notice that changes have been made and even more difficult to determine if changes were made to the correct version of the file!

Limited Font Selection

For the same reason, font selection in PowerPoint is limited to universal system fonts. But while system fonts do a great job ensuring text and symbols don’t disappear when files are opened on multiple computers, they don’t leave much room for creativity. The limited font selection in PowerPoint often tempts users to use non-system fonts. As a result, file corruption rates are high in PowerPoint. In fact, studies show that 30% of PowerPoint files corrupt between users.


Screen-based visuals, like PowerPoint, use different combinations of red, green and blue (RGB) to accommodate the way light reflects off the screen. But printers use Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK) inks. So when you print from a PowerPoint slide, you’re using CMYK ink to print RGB colors. This means the colors on your poster might not match what you’re seeing on screen. InDesign gives you the option of using CMYK or Pantone colors, which are more appropriate for printing.

Size Limitations

PowerPoint has a maximum page size of 56″. Since most scientific posters exceed this size, users need to set the page size to 50% and print at 200%. This can leave you vulnerable to printer error, especially if your print vendor is unaware that the file is set up at half size. Working at half size also makes it more difficult to determine measurements you may need to accurately design specific aspects of your layout, like the height of a title or the border width on your poster.

InDesign was developed exclusively for publishing. It has the right tools for hassle-free scientific poster design and layout, including:

  • Greater font selection

  • Print-specific color options, such as Pantone and CMYK

  • Style sheets to keep recurring elements like headers, bullet points, and fonts consistent

  • Special tools to import figures with all of their elements intact

  • Automated text wrapping features that allow you to easily add, remove or move images, charts and tables without having to reflow the entire poster

It’s true, you may need to partner with a professional graphic designer, but when you factor in the time you’re spending trying to force PowerPoint to be a layout program, it’s an even trade. And with one person at the wheel, you’re less likely to experience version control issues and unnecessary rounds of revision. Plus, you’ll gain valuable insight that may give you a cutting edge over your competitors. We’ve been producing scientific posters for the healthcare community for over 25 years. We use design techniques that we know from experience will save time, maximize space and enhance readability.

Creative MediaWorks offers custom web development, graphic design and print solutions to the Life Science industry and their agencies with a focus on quality, deadline and accuracy.  We achieve our quality standards through defined workflow processes, direct access to on-staff project talent and proofreading and quality assurance expertise, backed by an uncompromising commitment to the most responsive customer service in the business. For more information, visit our website www.CreativeMediaWorks.com.