As discussed recently, many people use PowerPoint to design posters, an act that borders on criminal. PowerPoint was designed for multiple projected images with minimal text, not one large image with complex text and graphics. People use PowerPoint because it’s the only thing remotely resembling a graphics software that people are familiar with. Microsoft Office simply doesn’t have a good, high end graphics component. Publisher comes close.
OpenOffice does have a graphics component, simply called Draw. If you are not willing to shell out the big bucks generally required of a professional graphics software package, Draw has several features in its favour.
First, it makes vector based images. This means that the images created in it will stay sharp even when printed very large.
Second, it has a PDF export function. This makes it easier to print at just about any workstation with a printer.
Third, it is free.
It is not as feature rich as commercial software, and I’ve found it to be a trifle buggy. It is not perfect, but whereas PowerPoint might get you 40% of the way to what you need to make a good poster, Draw probably gets you closer to 80% of the way there.
If you’re looking to put pixel-based images on your poster, but don’t have a full professional graphics package (though every scientist should have one), check out GIMP.