On April 22, scientists, science-lovers, and at least one
Guy will be gathering in Washington, D.C. for the
Science. A week later, on April 29, the People’s Climate Movement
will march in favor of action against climate change. If you
plan to attend either event, you’ll want to voice your
support for science. And that means designing the perfect
Bigger is better, of course. Bold letters and ample surface
area are key. Then there’s carrying it. At marches in DC,
sticks are forbidden for safety reasons, which means science
fans will need to get creative with their poster grips.
To help you plan, Popular Science spoke with Michele
Demsky, an exec at poster company ArtSkills, about how to
stock up on materials and plan out the perfect sign—and what
to do with it when your arms (inevitably) get tired.
Choose your board wisely
Most people make their signs from either poster board or
foamcore. Each option has its pros and cons, so your choice
will really depend on personal preferences.
Poster board is cheaper, and you can roll it up to transport
it more easily, although this may give the board a curve so
it’s less likely to stay flat when you want it to. That
roll-ability also means it’s more prone to flopping over. To
bolster the less sturdy material, you can glue or tape flat
wooden paint stirrers to the corners.
Foamcore is more expensive, but it’s also sturdier and more
weather-resistant. “Foam board is stiff,” Demsky says, “and
it’s so light you can hold it with your pinky.” A foam sign
will stay upright more easily, and you can even add a
three-dimensional attachment—say, a Styrofoam model of the
Earth—without the edges flopping over. Because of this
stiffness, however, it can be awkward to transport from place
Can you handle this?
Once you’ve picked a material, you’ve got to figure out a way
to carry it. “If you have a type of handle, it’s easier to
hold onto,” says Demsky.
One solution is a product called an easel back, a self-sticking
cardboard attachment you can press to poster boards to make
them stand up on a surface. For our purposes, you can attach
two easel backs to the back of your sign where you’ll want to
hold it, fold them open, and trim the cardboard to make it
comfortably fit your hands.
You can also attach two small, light rods to the bottom of
your poster and hold them. Paint stirrers, for example, are
available for free at hardware stores, and even a pair of
cardboard paper towel tubes can support the weight of poster
board or foamcore.
If you’d prefer to avoid attaching objects to your sign, then
you should probably choose a foamcore base. It’s sturdy
enough that you can cut out your own handles in the sides,
the bottom, or both.
No matter which handles you use, holding up even the lightest
sign for hours will tire out your arms. So you’ll want a plan
“Get some string, cut two holes in the top of your
posterboard, and hang it around your neck,” Demsky says.
“It’s the easiest way of taking a break.” You can even create
a sandwich board by hanging one sign from your front and
another from your back.
Your message won’t do much good if people can’t see it. “In
order to get noticed, you have to plan,” Demsky says.
First, sketch out your words in pencil, using a ruler to keep
your lines straight and ensure even spacing. Make sure that
everything fits and is centered before you follow up with
marker or paint. You can also play around with size and
“What is it you want to say?” Demsky asks. “Make sure that
word speaks loudly; it’s got to be the biggest. Framing
something helps your eye land in the center.”
To make your words visible from a distance, letters should be
large and boldly marked. If you’re working up close to the
sign, say at a kitchen table, visibility can be difficult to
determine. You may want to stand back some distance and see
if your message will still be easily readable.
For maximum effect, Demsky recommends using stencils, or
drawing bubble letters and then filling them in. For the less
artistically inclined, there are stick-on poster letters, demonstrated
Color me visible
When you choose your materials, make sure to take color into
consideration. “White and black is good contrast,” says
Demsky, “but if you can get a rainbow or hot pink poster
board, when you have a bright color, the eye normally will go
Bright colors, shimmering or glittering materials, even
poster lights can draw more attention to your sign. But if
the colors of your letters don’t contrast with the color of
your board, your words will be harder to see. For example,
using rainbow colors for your letters might be eye-catching,
but if one of those colors is yellow, it will disappear
against a white poster.
If the words are your biggest priority, go with black letters
on a white poster (or white letters on a black poster). This
combination will create the most legible message. To spruce
up your sign, try black letters on a bright backdrop, or
bright letters on a white background.
“If you’re using a rainbow board or a bright neon, black is
your best bet for letters,” says Demsky. “Holographic neon
letters look great on a white poster.” These options maintain
a contrast between letters and board, which should make them
legible—even if they’re not as stark as black-on-white.
But what to write? We’ll leave that up to you.