Using LaTeX to produce conference posters

This is a collection of words of wisdom on the fraught topic of producing conference posters using LaTeX. It's not bulletproof advice, but should get you started.

This document is in places maddeningly unspecific. However, on this topic, any advice is better than none. Please do send me any corrections, amplifictions, and other Words of Wisdom: help keep down world blood-pressure, and eliminate other night-before-departure angst!

Persistent URL: http://purl.org/nxg/note/posters
Version Hg:fef07e2f7bc0 of 2012-01-09T16:14:29+00:00, Creative Commons Licence

1 Getting Started

Examine the two templates for portrait and landscape posters.

In outline, you use the a0poster class (browse, zip) to handle the page size and fonts for an A0 plotter, and the textpos package (browse, zip)to place text at arbitrary positions on the page. The sequence of tools is:

% latex my_poster
% dvips my_poster -o myposter.ps
% gv my_poster.ps

Instead of going via Postscript, you can produce your poster using pdflatex [CT]. This has the advantage that pdflatex can handle several bitmap formats directly (for example, PNG, GIF, JPEG or TIFF files); this can make a big difference if you are including bitmaps in your poster. The latex->dvips route can handle only .eps files, so bitmaps must be converted to .eps first. However, the encoding of bitmap files in .eps is typically very inefficient, and results in huge .eps and .ps files, and this can cause problems, for example if it causes your printer to run out of memory.

Also, you can view PDF files using Acrobat, gv, or even the Gimp, which may have more flexibility, as well as making it easier to produce A4 previews.

The only, slight, disadvantage of pdflatex is that it can't handle EPS files directly, so they have to be converted using epstopdf beforehand.

If you're likely to be switching between latex and pdflatex, remember that, with the graphicx package, the command \includegraphics{file} will cause latex to search for file.eps, and pdflatex search for first file.pdf (or other appropriate file extensions). Thus if you have both file.eps and file.pdf (say) in your directory, then both latex and pdflatex should Just Work.

2 Previewing

2.1 On screen

To view a poster in gv select the 0.100 magnification setting in gv. Ghostview can examine A0 postscript files, although it does (in only some versions?) chop a few inches off the far side of the page. If this happens, you just need to view the poster upside-down or in `seascape'.

If you've used pdflatex (or even if you turn your Postscript to PDF using ps2pdf), you can view your work using a PDF reader.

Some versions of xdvi have terrible trouble with paper sizes this large (specifying the paper size with -paper reportedly [?] helps), so the most reliable way of previewing your poster (if you haven't generated PDF directly) is probably to produce postcript through dvips and use gv.

2.2 Draft mode

You can get an A4 preview using the draft option on the a0poster class. You invoke this option using

\documentclass[draft]{a0poster}

and this scales the output from A0 to A4.

Note, however, that the graphics and graphicx packages (which you will probably use to include figures in your poster) also have a draft option, and if you include this option on the \documentclass line, it will apply also to any include packages such as the graphics package. Its effect on that package is to suppress the display of the figures. If you do want to see the figures in the drafts (probably the case), then you will need to unset the draft flag, with either

Note also that, even when you use the draft option, the postscript file produced by dvips appears as A0 when viewed in gv. This can be terribly confusing, as it appears that the draft option has not worked, but it should print out OK when you send it to the A4 printer. The a0poster documentation suggests giving the option -Z to dvips if it still doesn't work.

2.3 psresize

Alternatively, you might want to avoid using the [draft] option, or there may be some reason why it is problematic, so you have to rescale the A0 poster instead.

The psresize utility (see below) will resize an A0 poster to A4 so that you can print it on a normal printer. To get the correct rescaling to A4 do:

% psresize -H238cm -h59.5cm foo_a0.ps foo_a4.ps

That's almost it. Unfortunately the resizer seems to offset the poster from the correct location on the page. Fortunately it's easy to fix. What you have to do is find the first line like "213.000 0.000 translate" (not necessarily those numbers exactly) and change it to "0.0 0.0 translate". You should find it just after the "%%Page" comment.

If you're already using the draft option to a0poster, then you don't need to resize the postscript file (see above). If you do, then you can end up with a poster which will fit on a business card, which can result in you tearing your hair out, and saying an assortment of things which would make your grandmother blush.

2.4 a0toa4.pl

Graeme has written a small perl script which will attempt to the whole conversion for you, it's called a0toa4.pl. Just pass it the name of the A0 postscript file:

% dvips my_poster -o
This is dvips(k) 5.86 Copyright 1999 Radical Eye Software (www.radicaleye.com)
' TeX output 2000.05.11:1612' -> my_poster.ps
...
% a0toa4.pl my_poster.ps
Wrote a4 version to my_poster_a4.ps

Let us know if it breaks!

Notes:

  1. gv still thinks the paper size is A0. Either change the size manually to A4 to preview it (printing works fine), or you can edit the postscript file by changing the bounding box to that appropriate for A4 paper (see useful sizes below).
  2. The script works fine with landscape posters, after they have been massaged by, for example, psnup (see below).

3 Printing the Beast

Printing an oversize document often appears to require a certain amount of magic, at least some of which might need to be specific to your printer, your local setup, software versions, and the current phase of the moon.

In general, try to produce your output in as few steps as possible, since each step gives gremlins the opportunity to add offsets, flips, crops and so on, into your poster.

Once you have postscript from dvips and you're happy with the results, you can print it to an A0 plotter. However, if you have a landscape poster you need to massage the postscript using a command like the following:

% psnup -w85cm -h119cm -f my_poster_from_dvips.ps \
    poster_in_proper_landscape.ps

This command flips the poster through 90 degrees, so that it prints out correctly in lanscape format (otherwise you get a poster in landscape going across the A0 page, and it gets cut off at the edge). It's not quite clear which LaTeX package is to blame for this (it might even be the printer), but do preview the new postscript again before you print it, just to check it's not truncated, especially along the top edge (use "Portrait", "0.100" and "A0" as your options in gv).

If you have to convert postscript to PDF at some point, there's more than one tool that can help. If ps2pdf has problems, then ImageMagick might be able to help[ST], with the command convert poster.ps poster.pdf. And vice versa; this is true even though the two tools both use Ghostscript internally.

When you have the final version ready, proof read it that one last time (see above for how to get an A4 draft version), then send it on its way to the printer in the usual fashion.

If you have to use a print shop to print the thing out -- that is, if you don't have a dirty great A0 plotter to hand -- you should talk to them about what formats they require. They'll probably be able to deal with Postscript (does anyone have general advice about how to make dvips output portable in this respect?), but might have problems with PDF files. If need be [CT], you could read a Postscript or PDF file into the Gimp (which incidentally allows you to do any final touching-up you fancy) and save it as a TIFF. The resulting file will be huge, but is a very well-supported standard format, and a print shop will almost certainly be able to handle it.

3.1 Printing onto multiple sheets

Another way to print the poster out is to split it into smaller (A4 or A3) sections, print them out, and reassemble them by hand. To split the poster up, you can use epssplit, though this handles only Encapsulated Postscript (the source for that script seems to move around a bit, but you might find it at freecode.com, or possibly on the wayback machine [TS]).

Alternatively, there is a tool called `poster', which is available at ftp://ftp.es.ele.tue.nl/pub/users/jos/poster/. This resizes a single-page image to poster size, or splits up a larger page so that it can be printed on A4 sheets. This works well, in my own and others' [JL] experience, and moreover works with printing-postscript as well as encapsulated postscript. For example, the command poster -iA1 -mA4 -pA1 poster.ps takes an input A1 poster and produces an output A1 poster on 8 A4 sheets, including useful crop marks. When I had to use this (advice: when you've been up half the night trying to get the blasted poster to print out, do try to remember to take your poster with you to the airport the next morning), I had a lot of trouble with included EPS graphics, which largely went away when I normalised the EPS files with the eps2eps utility which is part of the Ghostscript distribution.

For PDF files, there is a similar `splitting' tool, called pdfposter, directly inspired by the `poster' tool for EPS files [CC].

4 Other resources

4.1 Useful sizes

The paper sizes here are from Markus Kuhn's excellent page on ISO/International Paper Sizes.

A0 paper 841 x 1189 mm
A1 paper 594 x 841 mm
A4 paper 210 x 297 mm
1 metre 39.37in
= 2834 points
1 inch 72.27 points (traditional)
= 72 (postscript) points
= 25.4mm (by definition)
A0 bounding box -- portrait 0 0 2383 3370
A0 bounding box -- landscape 0 0 3370 2383
A4 bounding box -- portrait 0 0 595 841
A4 bounding box -- landscape 0 0 841 595

5 Contributors

The following folk have contributed comments, fixes or other observations. Many thanks to all.

6 Document history

Norman Gray
Graeme Stewart
2012-01-09
Copyright 2001-3, 2005-7, 2011, 2012, Norman Gray and Graeme Stewart