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Everything You Need to Know About Fonts for Display Boards

The most important objective for your board is to effectively communicate the facts about your project. You can only achieve that objective if it's easy to read. Over the years, expert newspaper editors, as well as advertisers (Ogilvy 1983, 90) have formulated many rules of thumb for readability that we have translated for use on science project display boards.

Text Size

Suggestions for a Typical Science Project Display Board

Item Font Size (points) Comments
Title 150+ You want your title to be visible from across a room!
Headings 32+ Should be easily readable from 5 feet away by someone just walking by.
Subheadings 20+ This text is smaller than headings, but more noticeable than main text size.
Main Body Text 16 – 18 This is a comfortable text size for someone who comes closer to read more.
Captions 12 – 16 It's OK to make these a bit smaller than the body text if necessary.

Suggestions for Posters Where Close Approach Is Not Possible

Item Font Size (points) Comments
Title 150+ You want your title to be visible from across a room!
Headings 48 Should be easily readable for anyone walking nearby.
Subheadings 36 This text should be readable from at least 5 feet away.
Main Body Text 32 This is a comfortable text size for someone reading from a distance of 5 feet (7.5 m).
Captions 24 – 32 It's OK to make these a bit smaller than the body text if necessary.

The font size suggestions have their root in the optimum size of text for a book. To have similar legibility at different distances, we want the angle between the top and bottom of a character, as measured from the eye, to be the same. Using similar triangles (with vertices at the top of the character, the bottom of the character, and the eye), you can show that if you double the reading distance; you must double the height of the character to have the same angle at the eye.

Reading Distance and Font Size

Reading Distance Minimum Comfortable Font Size Comments
1.2 feet 0.35 m 8 points This is the typical reading distance for a book. Most people prefer text to be 10, 11, or 12 points at this distance.
2.4 feet 0.7 m 16 points This is the closest comfortable distance for reading a large poster.
5.0 feet 1.5 m 32 points In many settings this is as close as one can get to a poster. Sometimes this is because the poster is roped off, or in other cases, large crowds simply make close approach difficult.
25.0 feet 7.5 m 160 points For almost any setting, you want a title that can be read from at least this far away.

Alternatives To Printed Text

Stenciled letters and stick on lettering are both good alternatives to printing out a project title and headlines. In the United States, these are typically measured in inches. We suggest the following sizes:

Elmers E3062 E3067 E3068 E3070 E3096
Large repositionable and stenciled letters like these are good alternatives to printed text for science project display board titles and headlines.

Ogilvy, David. Ogilvy on Advertising. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1983.