Making Scientific Posters in LaTeX

Recently I had to make a scientific poster for the Berkeley neuroscience retreat. I had asked my lab mates what they used to create posters. Most of them, I think, used PowerPoint, which I can't use since I'm on Linux. Using LibreOffice Impress also seemed like a pain. And I really wanted my poster to be in PDF format.

So I stumbled upon using Scribus, which is used for desktop publishing. Scribus can create print-ready PDFs and has facilities for wrapping text around images. I used it for about a week until I finally gave up. It turns out that Scribus is a real PITA to use. Laying out text with the story editor is irritating to say the least. For example, if you try to emphasize text like this in the story editor, you can't see it within the story editor. On top of that, you have to select all the text you want to change, like if I wanted to change from Arphic Uming to Courier or whatever, I have to select everything. But because the font's not automatically previewed within the story editor, you don't realize that you've changed absolutely nothing by using the drop-down menu. There's also no undo history as far as I can tell, which is probably why it's recommended to edit your text in a .txt file first.

What?! How is there no 'undo'?!!

I think I got to finishing the layout before quitting on Scribus. I started looking for some LaTeX ways to edit my poster. I had used PGF/TiKZ to layout my hipster PDA "Zeitplanungmaschine" (see below) way back in 2009, so I knew arbitrary graphics layout was possible in LaTeX.

A hipster PDA made entirely with PGF/TiKZ

I found two good ways of laying out posters in TiKZ: tikzposter (formerly fancytikzposter) and baposter. I settled on using baposter, and now I don't remember why. I think the examples in baposter felt simpler, but don't quote me on that.

Baposter seems to essentially be a wrapper around TiKZ, making layout very quick. Positioning of boxes can be done relative to other boxes, which is great because I had real trouble with that in Scribus.

Here's an example of some LaTeX code for baposter:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Donec a
diam lectus. Sed sit amet ipsum mauris. Maecenas congue ligula ac
quam viverra nec consectetur ante hendrerit. Donec et mollis
dolor. Praesent et diam eget libero egestas mattis sit amet vitae
augue. Nam tincidunt congue enim, ut porta lorem lacinia
\headerbox{Some box}{name=somebox,column=0,span=2,below=introduction}{
Donec ut libero sed arcu vehicula ultricies a non
tortor. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing
elit. Aenean ut gravida lorem. Ut turpis felis, pulvinar a semper
sed, adipiscing id dolor. Pellentesque auctor nisi id magna
consequat sagittis. Curabitur dapibus enim sit amet elit pharetra
tincidunt feugiat nisl imperdiet. Ut convallis libero in urna
ultrices accumsan. Donec sed odio eros. Donec viverra mi quis quam
pulvinar at malesuada arcu rhoncus. Cum sociis natoque penatibus
et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. In rutrum
accumsan ultricies. Mauris vitae nisi at sem facilisis semper ac
in est.

I just have to put "below=introduction" in the second headerbox to place it underneath. It'll automatically be resized if the introduction changes size. I never really figured out how to do that in Scribus...

There are a lot of benefits of using LaTeX to layout posters. It's very easy to comment out text, plus you can use your favorite text editor (*cough* Emacs *cough*) to do all your editing. Changing styles is fairly easy, and usually just involves redefining a macro. Changes can easily be tracked with something like git as well. Here's what my finished poster looked like:

A poster I created using baposter

Not bad.