Programs like PowerPoint, Keynote, and Adobe Illustrator are common tools for designing posters, but these programs have a number of disadvantages, including lack of separation of content and presentation and lack of programmatic control over the output. Designing posters using these programs can require countless hours calculating positions of elements by hand, manually laying out content, manually propagating style changes, and repeating these kinds of tasks over and over again during the iterative process of poster design.
The idea of using a document preparation system like LaTeX to implement a poster using code sounds fantastic, and indeed, there are a number of LaTeX templates and packages for making posters, such as a0poster, sciposter, and beamerposter. However, I didn’t like the look of the existing themes and templates — they all looked 20 years old — and this is what kept me from using LaTeX for making posters, even though I had been using the software for years for authoring documents.
I finally bit the bullet and spent some time designing a clean, stylish, and minimal poster theme for LaTeX, building on top of the beamerposter package. The result has been open-sourced as Gemini, and it makes it really easy to design posters that look like this:
There are a number of programs commonly used for making academic posters. These include:
- Word processing programs (e.g. Word, Pages, and LibreOffice Writer)
- Presentation programs (e.g. PowerPoint, Keynote, and LibreOffice Impress)
- Vector editing programs (e.g. Adobe Illustrator and Inkscape)
Why use LaTex over these programs? The biggest benefit is that LaTeX does not require manual effort to lay out contents and apply a uniform style to the entire poster. All layout and styling is done using code relying on TeX’s sophisticated layout algorithms, and there is a clean separation of content and presentation, similar to the content/style separation in HTML/CSS.
There are other benefits as well. TeX is a sophisticated typesetting system that produces excellent results for text as well as mathematical formulae; LaTeX packages provide support for plotting and algorithmically specified diagrams and vector graphics; and beamer provides support for column-based layout, including variable-width and nested columns. This means that all content in the poster, not just the text, can be produced using code: no more screenshots of mathematical equations; no more positioning shapes with the mouse to create diagrams; no more screenshots of plots where the styling doesn’t quite match the style of the poster; and no more manual positioning of blocks.
A modern LaTeX poster theme
Building posters with LaTeX is by far a better experience than using PowerPoint, Keynote, or Illustrator. I felt that the one thing missing was an aesthetically pleasing poster theme. There’s no reason a poster designed using LaTeX should look any less beautiful than a poster made using graphic design software like Adobe Illustrator.
This is what led to the creation of Gemini, a LaTex poster theme with a focus on being clean, minimal, and looking great out of the box while being customizable:
The theme is actually a pretty small amount of code; most of the functionality is provided by LaTeX and beamerposter. But making conscious choices on title and block layout, font families, font weights, color schemes, and other little details makes a pretty big difference in how the poster looks and feels.