Create and Design a Research Poster using InDesign and Adobe CC

The tutorial walks the user through the creation of a research poster using the tools of the Adobe Creative Cloud and specifically focuses on InDesign. Adobe Creative Cloud is the name of the suite that consists of Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, Dreamweaver, and a handful of other design-oriented software programs. The tutorial is a purpose-driven exercise to illustrate the interoperability of the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of design software and Microsoft Word, while showing the use of a wide variety of tools, from beginner to advanced, in the Adobe package. Materials for the session can be downloaded at the following link.

Download the Materials

This session will outline a scenario, and step through some of the pieces of laying out our research poster. Let's get started!

The Scenario

A research project you have been working on with a group of colleagues in the MIT Random Pictures and Text Lab is submitting a poster to the 2017 RandomCon, taking place in Seattle in April 2017. You have a great random project that will be perfect for the conference adn the poster session will be a good opportunity to showcase your work and gain exposure for your lab. Upon researching the session, you found the following requirements for the poster:

  • Session consists of posters exhibited for informal browsing with opportunities for individual discussion with poster authors
  • 15-30 posters per session
  • AV consists of poster boards only

Use the poster format for your presentation when your material lends itself to visual rather than verbal communication. Each presentation should make a unified, coherent statement. Materials, both textual and visual, should be of professional quality and be clearly legible from a distance of four feet. Graphic materials should be no larger than 36 inches by 24 inches. Textual material should be confined to brief statements. Presentations consisting mostly of text are more appropriate as paper presentations.

You have compiled a couple of images, would like to place a nice graphic in the poster, and have the text you would like to place on the poster compiled in a word document, you now just have to piece the components together. These materials are contained in the download above. Let's begin our workflow.

1. Determine your Layout and Concept

When working on a large graphic project, such as a poster, your first step is to sketch out and layout your design. You have learned from previous poster sessions you have taken that one of the optimal layout methods for a research poster is to use a modified grid like pattern, and organize your content into columns. Placing your content into columns allows the readers to work from left to right down one column and the move to the next. To summarize, it should look like the following.


For those interested in learning more, the DUSPviz primer on how to layout and design a poster is in the session found at the link below. It covers many of the fundamental basics on laying out a poster and designing your poster presentation.

Link to DUSPviz Research Poster Design Presentation

In our case, we have our poster laid out. Laying out your poster can be conceptual at this point, but when you start to implement your design you will want to specify your specific margins and columns. Here is our desired layout.


Our desired specification:

  • Extent: 36 inches by 24 inches (specified by the requirements for the conference)
  • Top and Side Margins: 1 inch
  • Bottom margin: 2 inches
  • Distance between columns: .5 inches
  • Distance between title/header and body: 1 inch

2. Layout our Poster in Adobe InDesign

On your computer, login and start up Adobe InDesign CC 2014. Adobe InDesign is layout software that allows you compile and design the various components of your poster into one central location. You can create your content in other locations, such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop, and use InDesign to compile the pieces.

i. Set your page extents and margins.

After starting up InDesign, navigate to File -> New -> Document. The New Document dialog will appear. In the New Document dialog, you can set a number of initial settings for our document, including extent, margins, and gutter. (*Gutter is the distance between columns.) Because we have laid out our desired specifications, lets do this. An important note, when working with print documents, InDesign works with Picas and Points, which are common typographic units of measure. The conversion is as follows:

1 inch = 6 picas
1 pica = 12 points

Pica is commonly abbreviated as p, and points are commonly abbreviated pt. You will see these abbreviations in the InDesign software.

Fill out the new document window to the following specifications. A hint, you will need to unlock the Margins.


Click OK when done, and you see our empty InDesign layout. There are lines on here, but the lines are actually just guides, and will not appear when printed. They are there to help you, and you can snap objects to them in upcoming steps.


ii. Add a container for your title.

Use the Type Tool type_tool (hint: hit T on your keyboard) and drag a box on to your page. Having dragged the text box on to your layout, click on the black selection arrow (S) selection_arrow and navigate to what is called the control panel at the top of your InDesign user interface. Set the specifications of the box to be 34 inches wide by 2 inches tall. When done, click on the text box and move it into place, you will notice that InDesign will snap to the guides we created when we created our document.


To add text to our text box, double click on the text box we just created for our title. The control panel at the top of the screen will change to the Type controls. Set the font to be Open Sans (or whatever font you would like to use), change the font size to 72 point. It is okay if this is big, this is our title. Set the paragraph justification to be Center to center our text in the type box. Type in our title. For mine, I will use Poster Design Session: Using the Adobe Creative Cloud.


Our document will now look like the following. To adjust the type in your Type Box to be middle justified vertically, with the type box selected, navigate to Object -> Text Frame Options, and set Vertical Justification to Center.


iii. Add a rectangle frame that will hold text.

Next, we want to add some of our content. As mentioned above, InDesign is at its best when it is organizing and linking to documents from other software. The tool that creates a frame in which we can place other documents is called the Rectangle Frame Tool rectangle_frame_tool. Select it, click and drag a frame on your layout in the first column. We will use this one to hold text from a word document in our materials.

Drag and snap the text box into place. We know, given our specifications above, that we want 1 inch between our header and body, meaning it will be 4 inches from the top of the page, so set the location attributes in the control panel to represent this. We can change the vertical height if we want later, right now mine is 17 picas and 3 points. The control panel should look as follows.


Your document should look like the following:


iv. Add text from Microsoft Word.

Now we are going to add text to this document that currently exists in Word document format. Working with Microsoft Word to create your text and build the content of your prose can be helpful. Word allows for easy writing and creation of content. Adobe InDesign allows for interoperability with Word and has the functionality to import Word Documents into your InDesign layout. Navigate to 'homer-iliad.docx' in the downloaded materials. This is a word document containing large blocks of text. In InDesign, click on your rectangle frame and hit CNTL-D (or File -> Place). Upon doing so, navigate to 'homer-iliad.docx' in the downloaded materials. Click OK. The text from your Word Document will appear in your poster layout. You can edit this just like we were editing the title. You might need to zoom into see it.


I'm going to format my text a little bit by double clicking and using the type options from the control panel at the top of the interface.


Note the little red box and cross in the lower right corner of the type box we just filled with text. Click this, you will see something unique appear. This is because there is much more text that we imported that is not being shown. We can continue on this text in other text boxes by clicking the red cross, then clicking again and outlining another text box below our first one.


Click CTRL-Zero to zoom to the full extent of your page, and view your layout. We have added two text boxes and automatically populated them with content from Microsoft Word.


3. Use Photoshop to Add an Image to your Poster

In the materials package, you will find a document called national_park.psd. A psd document is a Photoshop document and can be fully manipulated and edited in Photoshop. Do not open it just yet, we are going to place it in our InDesign file. Navigate to the Rectangle Frame tool rectangle_frame_tool and create a new box between the two blocks of text you just created in the previous step. Something like the following.


In InDesign, click on your rectangle frame and hit CNTL-D (or File -> Place). Upon doing so, navigate to the national_park.psd file and click OK. The image will appear in your designated block. A slightly opaque circle will be in the middle. Click on this to get the ability to edit and move the image you just added.


Resize the image to fit the frame. Click and hold shift to retain proportions of the image. Hit Escape or click on another object when completed.


i. Open Photoshop and edit the image.

When we added this image to InDesign, it was actually just linking to the image document, not including it in the file. To edit the image, we open up the PSD document in Photoshop and make adjustments. Open Photoshop and open the national_park.psd file. Edit the file in some way. I am going to simply change mine to greyscale, save the image.

ii. Update the image in InDesign.

After completing this, return to InDesign. You picture will not change automatically, but you will notice a little yellow warning logo at the upper left of the frame your PSD document is in. In the main menu on the right side of the page, find the links tab. Click on it, navigate to national_park.psd, and right-click. Select Update Link. The image will update to the reflect the edits you have made in Photoshop.


Hit CTRL-Zero and zoom to the full extent of your poster. The first column is coming together.


4. Utilize Illustrator to Adjust a Vector Graphic

In the materials package, locate the file. A .AI file is an Adobe Illustrator file. Following a similar workflow as we did for the Photoshop document, this graphic displays a site plan we created that we want to include on our poster. Lets add this to our poster.

Navigate to the Rectangle Frame tool rectangle_frame_tool and create a new box in the center column of our poster. Something like the following.


In InDesign, click on your rectangle frame and hit CNTL-D (or File -> Place). Upon doing so, navigate to the file and click OK. The image will appear in your designated block. A slightly opaque circle will be in the middle just like it was with the PSD document. Click on this to get the ability to edit and move the Adobe Illustrator graphic you just added.


i. Open Illustrator and edit the Illustrator Graphic.

Just like above, we have linked to an outside document. Open Illustrator and open the file. One thing I noticed is that the title box I created was falling off of the screen, so I am going to move this down, and then maybe add a line of text. I just added YOU ARE HERE. When done with changes, save the image.

ii. Update the Illustrator graphic in InDesign.

After completing this, return to InDesign. You will notice the same process as with the Photoshop document, and you will see a little yellow warning logo at the upper left of the frame your AI document is in. In the main menu on the right side of the page, find the links tab. Click on it, navigate to, and right-click. Select Update Link. The image will update to the reflect the edits you have made in Illustrator.


Hit CTRL-Zero and zoom to the full extent of your poster. The poster materials are coming together nicely. Using the workflow above, I added another type block to see more of the Iliad text in the middle column. Your poster will look something like the following.


5. Finish Design in InDesign and Export

i. Turn off the Guides

Once you have finished adding all of your links and elements to InDesign, it is sometimes helpful to turn off the guides we created when first created the document. The toggle off the guides and see what our poster would look like if printed, go to View -> Screen Mode -> Preview. This will preview what your document looks like if it were to be printed. Doing this, our poster looks a bit empty, but that is just because we haven't finished filling out the materials. There is nothing wrong with leaving the guides on, they will not print, they exist to help you with your design process.


ii. Export to a PDF

I would highly recommend, if you haven't already, saving your InDesign document. An InDesign document saves as an .indd file. Saving an .indd file is important, but this is not very useful if you don't have InDesign, so I suggest exporting to a PDF format. PDF is also an Adobe product, so it will work very nicely with this and other Adobe software. To save as a PDF, navigate to Files -> Export and select PDF. The type of PDF does not entirely matter, you can use default settings. Save your PDF along side your .indd file.

Congratulations, you have created a basic poster with InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop.

6. A Few Concluding Tips and Tricks

Before we wrap up this tutorial, there are a few tips and tricks you can leave with.

  • Design at Scale: While sometimes not possible, it is often best to set up your Illustrator files and Photoshop files to match exactly the frame they will be located on in InDesign. This makes matching content between the programs easier.
  • Remember an InDesign file does not contain all the components, but rather links to the components. This means that when you send an .indd file to someone, you need to include all images and graphics that you are linking to.
  • InDesign is great for text and compiling, but not very good at creating graphics within itself. Use the other software when needed.
  • While we designed a poster, there are many templates for brochures and books. When setting up a booklet, use page templates. The process to start a book would be to start a file by going to File -> New -> Book.

We have scratched the tip of the iceberg, but you are one step closer to having a nice poster you can submit at RandomCon 2017. We wish you luck at the conference!


Prepared by Mike Foster

Return to DUSPviz tutorials page